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From 0 to 100: A transformative tourism in zero-waste Kamikatsu

From 0 to 100: A transformative tourism in zero-waste Kamikatsu

During my time learning about indigo in Tokushima, one of my favourite activities is to surround myself in the mountains. I have always been naturally drawn to the mountains—the mellow smell of moss and rain, the light of the forest creating beautiful shadows, the sound of the leaves rustling to the wind and flowing water from the nearest stream. Each time is an experience to each its own! 


Kamikatsu: Taking a drive uphill

(Image credit: INOW)


We as humans have depended on nature all our lives and it became exceptionally clear when I witnessed the harmonious connection between humans and nature in Kamikatsu (上勝).


Kamikatsu is a mountain town in the eastern part of Tokushima (徳島県 Tokushima-ken), an hour away from the city. The nearest train station Minami-Komatsushima Station (南小松島駅) is about 35 minutes away by car from Kamikatsu, so getting to this mountain town is only possible by car or by bus. Buses run frequently in and out of the town—simply take bus 82 from Tokushima Station to Yokose-nishi Bus Stop, and transfer for the local Kamikatsu bus to Kamikatsu Bus Stop—so this won’t stop you from visiting this beautiful town which has increasingly been on the radar for its many accomplishments, including being a zero-waste town. It is also the very place where I crossed paths with many inspiring individuals who had taught me about this sense of freedom from materialism which is hard to describe.


Here is a list of eight things to try in zero-waste Kamikatsu to experience this indescribable feeling for yourself.


1. Kamikatsu Beer

(Image credit: Felix Nai)


When you drive along the narrow and winding road uphill, the first prominent building you will probably notice is the Rise & Win Brewing Co., the birthplace of Kamikatsu Beer (上勝ビール)—a locally-crafted Tokushima beer that can be found in Tokyo!


Built on the mountain, you get to unwind amongst the mountains and enjoy an unobstructed view while sipping on a pint of freshly-drafted craft beer and having a BBQ on the yard behind the building. The brewery carries a wide range of craft beer from sours to stout, so there is definitely something for everyone.


On top of all the good food and drinks is the fact that the facade of the building and installations were all made with the zero-waste concept—the outer walls of the buildings are made up of locally-grown trees, the chandelier inside arranged from empty glass bottles, the floors are made up of repurposed bricks from old buildings, and the featured wall made up of savaged windows from the town.


Apart from dining in, you can also purchase groceries from the general store, which includes items like nuts, granola, and washing detergent that are sold by the weight. When you’re here, bring your own bag and container—this habit is practiced in almost every store in Kamikatsu so don’t forget this! 


RISE & WIN BREWING CO. BBQ and General Store
Address: 237-1, Hirama, Masaki, Kamikatsu-cho, Katsuura-gun, Tokushima 771-4505
Opening hours: 10am–8pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Tel: +81 885-45-0688
Note: Advanced bookings are required for BBQ and operation after 6pm


2. Ikkyuu-Chaya Farmers’ market

Kogomi, a springtime mountain vegetable. (Image credit: Felix Nai)


What is experiencing “local” without stopping by a farmers’ market?


This farmers’ market, Ikkyuu-Chaya (いっきゅう茶屋), is where seasonal harvests from the Kamikatsu can be found. Whenever I’m around town, I’d be sure to drop by the farmers’ market to see if I can get any interesting finds from the season. 


Early spring quickly became my favourite season in Japan, because this was when I was first introduced to mountain vegetables. Kogomi (コゴミ), also known as Fiddleheads, are baby ferns that just emerged during early springtime in the mountainous region. They are best eaten when they are young, before they uncoil and harden up.


Ikkyuu-Chaya (いっきゅう茶屋)
Address: 76-2-Shimohiura Fukuhara, Kamikatsu, Katsuura-gun, Tokushima 771-4501
Opening hours: 8:30am–4:30pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Tel: +81 885-46-0198


3. Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center

(Image credit: INOW)


When you travel further uphill—just a short 4-minute walk from the farmers’ market—you will arrive at  the only waste facility center in Kamikatsu.


In Kamikatsu, there are no garbage trucks. Instead, food waste gets composted and residents bring their other general waste (cleaned and dried) to be sorted out into 45 different categories for recycling. They have an amazing recycling rate of up to 80%!


(Image credit: INOW)


My first thought when I heard of the system was, “What a chore!”. But as I spent more time with the residents of Kamikatsu, I realised that it was my lack of awareness for all the materials that go into the things that we deal with on a daily basis that made me categorise them all as “trash”.


(Image credit: INOW)


It was only by sorting them that I became more aware of what goes into the things that contributed to my mere five minutes of convenience—and that shook me. I looked around, still in a shock, to find everyone around me leading a life of being responsible for their own consumption or usage.


It is impressive how these practices have already become a norm to all the residents in Kamikatsu. ”How do they do it?” was the question that got me trying to uncover the secret behind these practices. After spending time with friends from Kamikatsu, I slowly started to understand the magic behind this town.


Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center (上勝町ゼロ・ウェイストセンター)
Address: 7-2 Shimohiura, Fukuhara, Kamikatsu, Katsuura-gun, Tokushima 771-4501
Opening hours: 7:30am–2pm (Weekdays), 7:30am–3:30pm (Weekends)
Tel: +81 80-2989-1533


4. Cafe Polestar

Zero Waste Certified Cafe

(Image credit: Felix Nai)


Buried deeper into the mountains resides a one-level building built with simplicity and fine taste—Cafe Polestar (カフェ・ポールスター). From the moment you step into the cafe, you’ll spot a floor-length window that frames the surrounding nature like a piece of art. Next, you will be able to sense the perfect balance in space and utility and that nothing is put to waste.


The chef and owner of the cafe, Azuma Terumi, is also a strong advocate of zero-waste in the community. Terumi believes that zero-waste is about finding a balance between time, effort, money, and mindfulness of not using these resources wastefully. 


The perfect meal for both the body and the soul. (Image credit: Felix Nai)


Enjoy a beautifully-arranged and delicious lunch at this local zero-waste certified cafe! The food served in Cafe Polestar is also nothing less than amazing. The lunch set is usually a well-balanced meal made from locally-sourced ingredients and decorative leaves. You may also arrange for a takeaway bento and bring them to your hike and dine in nature!


In the cafe, there are a wide selection of books, products, and information on the town or about living a zero-waste life.


(Image credit: Sugitoyama / KINOF)


In the cafe, you will also find products from KINOF, a local effort in turning cedar wood tree fibers into fabric items in order to restore biodiversity in Kamikatsu. These are sourced from excess cedar wood trees left in the mountains.


(Image credit: INOW)


In Cafe Polestar, sometimes you will get to meet with participants of the INOW Program, a local homestay program (more on that later), who will have their cooking and baking workshops with local ingredients. I hope that you would consider supporting them or be a part of the experience to appreciate the things around us.


Cafe Polestar (カフェ・ポールスター)
Address: 32-1-Hirama Fukuhara, Kamikatsu, Katsuura-gun, Tokushima 771-4501
Opening hours: 10am–3pm (Weekdays, closed on Thursdays & Fridays), 10am–5pm (Weekends)
Tel: +81 885-46-0338


5. INOW Program

The co-founders of the INOW Program, a homestay program that encourages their participants to experience Kamikatsu with zero-waste and sustainability in mind. (Image credit: INOW)


I was so mesmerised by this town that sometimes, I forget that everything here was made with the zero-waste concept. Before visiting Kamikatsu, my impression of zero-waste was musty and dull, like an old vintage store.


I’m sure many of us have seen the term “sustainability” being thrown around in recent years. Well, Kamikatsu has taught me that sustainability is more than just a word or something we are told to practice because it is only “right” to do so. It was through my meeting with the co-founders of the INOW Program that I was enlightened and got to appreciate Kamikatsu through a zero-waste lens.


By engaging with the local residents in Kamikatsu, witnessing what they do and learn by doing has helped me to reflect and understand that the term sustainability is more like having a gratitude or appreciation for the people or things that are around us—which will help us in making conscious decisions. It changed my perspective that integrating our lives to become zero-waste has more value than glossing over inconveniences.


Through the founders of INOW program, I found out that they organise exclusive access to local experiences like the Kamikatsu Awa Bancha tea tour, organic farm visits, and craft workshops that are not open to the public!


6. Kamikatsu Awa Bancha

(Image credit: INOW)

Kamikatsu Awa Bancha (上勝阿波晩茶) is a type of tea which is made with the process of fermentation! The product is a slightly sour, but crisp-tasting, fermented tea that is good for gut health.


(Image credit: INOW)


The entire shape of the leaf is preserved during fermentation. During late summer, make a visit to Takagi san to experience how the tea leaves are being harvested, fermented, and dried.


Kamikatsu Awa Bancha Association (一般社団法人 上勝阿波晩茶協会)
Address: 91-1 Kamino, Ikumi, Kamikatsu, Katsuura-gun, Tokushima 771-4503
Opening hours: 9am–5:30pm (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays only)
Tel: +81 90-2786-3531


7. Farming with organic farmers

(Image credit: INOW)


Meeting with the local residents was one of my best takeaways in Kamikatsu. Did you know that many Kamikatsu residents can speak English? It is part of the effort to welcome international guests to experience the zero-waste life.


(Image credit: INOW)


Volunteering to help the organic farmers, spending time, and talking to them has helped me to see the heart and soul put into production, which in turn stirred a deep gratitude for them. While there are many other farms to consider, two of such organic farms that offer this volunteering experience are Narumi Farm and Tennen Amaru who have their farming spots situated at different corners of the mountain.


8. Local crafts workshop with Nakamura san

(Image credit: Felix Nai)


The founders of the INOW Program also connect their participants with local residents. One of the highlights of Kamikatsu was when I was brought to the hermitage of a local resident/artist who guided me through an arts and craft workshop in his private space.


(Image credit: Felix Nai)


Consider visiting this arts and craft workshop owned by (and conducted by) local resident and artist, Nakamura san, who lives a simple life up in these mountains, where he prepares his meals on a wooden stove with ingredients from his own vegetable garden.


I’ve had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with Nakamura san to hear about his philosophy in life. When he was younger, he took time to explore the world before making a conscious decision to reside in Kamikatsu. Time passes very quickly when you are with him pondering about life philosophies. 


As the story started unfolding, I got the chance to reflect on my journey in Kamikatsu thus far—everything I have experienced has started to become answers to my first question of how do they do it.


“Let’s go home”

On reflection, being able to meet the co-founders of the INOW Program was a blessing. They had opened doors to many connections I never would have reached as a visitor to the place. Being able to engage in intimate conversations with the residents of the town and be let in on their motivation to integrate life into a more sustainable future was an honour. 


As I close my article, it’s also interesting to note that INOW or イノウ (pronounced ee-no) means “Let’s go home” in the local dialect. Whenever I leave Kamikatsu for home, I bring nothing away with me but a heart full of love, and a mind filled with empowerment. Home is wherever we choose to be—and Kamikatsu will always be a part of my home.


Header image credit: INOW


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Writer's profile: Ex-aspiring fashion designer, ex-steward, ex-military officer and now, indigo dye practitioner extraordinaire. It's been two years of honing his skills with Watanabe’s, an indigo dye haven in Tokushima Prefecture, and he doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon. In fact, his next step is to spread the wonders of the dye, and to foster the importance of the environment and sustainability. 


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