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IMAZU, Shiga Pref. — Grabbing a firsthand taste of Japanese country life for a few days is proving to be a popular pursuit here, especially among children from the city.

Hakodateyama Minshuku Kumiai, an association of inns on Mount Hakodate in Imazu, northwestern Shiga Prefecture, began offering a holiday plan to this end in May 2001, in a bid to boost tourism during spring and summer.

Under the plan, visitors can immerse themselves in rural activities such as planting rice and making “soba” buckwheat noodles and straw.

Although the 850-meter mountain is a popular resort for skiers in winter, not many people visit the area during off-season periods.

Many of the local innkeepers are also farmers.

Giichiro Furutani, 65, who has run an inn at the foot of Mount Hakodate for nearly 40 years, came up with the plan because he wanted to reinvigorate the farming town and also wanted visitors from urban areas to enjoy a taste of country life.

“I was confident that we could tell visitors interesting stories that are never taught at school,” said Furutani, who also serves as the head of the Imazu Town Tourist Association.

“It must be interesting for them to experience country life, including farming.”

He said that conversations with city people led him to realize they have few opportunities to get in touch with nature.

In May 2001, some 160 junior high school students from Kobe visited the town for three days. On the first day, the students climbed the mountain, the summit of which offers a nice view of Lake Biwa.

Activities on the second day included rice planting, soba making, straw work, stargazing at night and talking with local farmers. Thank-you letters from the students gave Furutani and other innkeepers the confidence that the plan would be popular with city dwellers.

Last month, the local inns received 300 junior high school students who visited the area on school excursions.

What attracted visitors to rice planting was being able to feel the mud, although rice planting is actually hard work and needs skill and experience, according to participants in last month’s program, some of whom were covered with mud by the time they finished the day’s course.

The group plans to introduce rice harvesting and other farm activities in the fall.

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