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LunchTrip Learning About the World as if on Holiday, While Enjoying a Delicious Lunch!

(L to R)  Long-term friends Naho, Kyoko, and Ami, are totally in tune with one another.

(L to R) Long-term friends Naho, Kyoko,
and Ami, are totally in tune with one another.

This month's Close Up introduces LunchTrip. LunchTrip commenced in 2008 as a study group for young employed people who like to travel overseas. While enjoying delicious lunches, the group allows participants to learn real information about different countries that cannot be obtained from media sources or simple tourism. This is done by both events held at foreign cuisine restaurants, and by organizing visits to embassies located within the metropolitan area. The group's activities, which were started by three young women who "love to travel" and "love to dine," have now aroused the interest of so many people that LunchTrip events are booked out as soon as they are advertised. On this occasion, we spoke to LunchTrip's Director Ami Matsuzawa (Ami), and founding members; Naho Hatada (Naho), and Kyoko Hasegawa (Kyoko).

Q.Could you describe LunchTrip, what sort of project is it?

A.Naho: LunchTrip's concept is "Yummy! smile" is a direct flight to the world. At each event, we simulate the idea of flying to the country we will "visit," with our staff being the "crew," our participants being the "passengers," and the people who speak about the country being the "guides." During the two and a half hours of each "trip," the agenda is divided into three components: the lunch, the presentation, and the workshop. Through the cuisine of the country, through listening to the guides for the country, and through discussions held among passengers, understanding of the country in question is deepened. LunchTrip provides a place to learn new aspects of the world in which we live. Our mission is to create an open-minded society, where people are willing to understand and respect other countries, regions, races, and cultures.

Presentation by His Excellency the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran. ©LunchTrip A workshop with Iranian exchange students. ©LunchTrip A lunch buffet of Iranian cuisine at the ambassador’s residence. ©LunchTrip

(L) Presentation by His Excellency the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
(C) A workshop with Iranian exchange students. (R) A lunch buffet of Iranian cuisine at the ambassador's residence.
(Photos from the Iranian embassy flight; September 21st, 2013)
©LunchTrip

Q.What made you think of commencing such activities?

A.Ami: When in the United States as an exchange student, I was shocked by a hate crime in my neighborhood, and this experience was one influence that started LunchTrip. A man in a turban was murdered because he was thought to be a "Muslim who was an enemy of America." However, he turned out to be a member of the Sikh faith. Because the culprit had "no opportunity to know otherwise," I believe this crime resulted from two misunderstandings. The first was that "Islam equates to evil." The second was that "wearing a turban equates to being a Muslim." However, countries and people are much more complex. Thus, at LunchTrip, we feel it is important to know the "unexpected about a country," including its good and bad aspects. Also, the LunchTrip format goes back to when I was an exchange student, when I held a sushi party for friends who knew little of Japan. This party can be linked to LunchTrip by the idea that; eating delicious cuisine while talking to others is enjoyable both to those conveying information and those listening to it.

Q.How do you go about selecting those countries featured in LunchTrip events?

A.Ami: Countries may be selected because we crew have a personal interest in them. There are also cases of countries being decided upon based on feedback from our passengers who tell us; "We want Country A selected." For example, concerning the event held at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran recently (held on September 21st, 2013), the event was realized due to negotiations carried out after the opportunity arose to participate in an embassy event. Before that, however, for a long time from passengers who previously visited Iran, there were comments such as; "Although there is a lot of negative press generated by the media regarding Iran, it is a really great country and we want you to select it!" Furthermore, concerning our Iceland flight, there was a young woman among our LunchTrip passengers who offered to act as guide because she "had studied in Iceland and wanted to tell others just what a great country it was." This got Iceland selected for an event.

Ms. Mio Sugiyama, the guide on the Iceland flight.  She talked about the country’s wondrous nature and also about living there as a woman. (February 10th, 2013) ©LunchTrip

Ms. Mio Sugiyama, the guide on the Iceland flight. She talked about the country's wondrous nature and also about living there as a woman.
(February 10th, 2013)
©LunchTrip

Scandinavian cuisine on the Iceland flight (L to R):  Herrings in mustard sauce, egg caviar, roast leg of lamb flavored with rosemary. ©LunchTrip

Scandinavian cuisine on the Iceland flight
(L to R): Herrings in mustard sauce,
egg caviar, roast leg of lamb
flavored with rosemary.
©LunchTrip

Q.What sort of people act as guides for presentations?

A.Naho: Some of our guides are from the countries they talk about, others are people who have either lived in or traveled to a particular country, etc. Thus, there are a wide variety of people who offer to act as guides. In terms of a common trait, all of them have a strong desire to convey information about a particular country.
A.Ami: When we have a flight to an embassy, we might request they organize for the ambassador to act as our guide. When we had a flight to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, we were joined by the well-known newscaster, Mr. Akira Ikegami. Although you might think that without specialist knowledge it would be impossible to act as a guide, that isn't the case. If somebody has visited a particular country, and they have a message to convey, we greatly look forward to hearing from them. Considering our first, second, and third LunchTrip events, these were flights to Cambodia, to Hawaii and to Israel. These saw Kyoko, Ami (me), and Naho acting as the guides, and we leveraged our own travel experiences when doing so. Although being a guide is tough, I believe it offers a good opportunity for the individual to organize their own travel experiences and thoughts.

Q.What sort of people are common among your passengers?

Filming the Iran flight for “Woman Mix,” a documentary program on shown on BS Japan ©LunchTrip

Filming the Iran flight for
"Woman Mix," a documentary program
on shown on BS Japan
©LunchTrip

A.Ami: People who are the same as we crew in that they like "cuisine," "travel," and "learning." There are also those who enjoy the opportunity to meet with others who share common interests. Originally, there were lots of passengers in their 20s and 30s because our group grew out of friendships. These days, however, because LunchTrip activities have been covered in different media, passengers from wide-ranging age groups are now attending our events. Furthermore, because there are also a lot of people confident in English, we are working to create groups where English is used in workshop discussions.

Q.Do you release topics to your passengers in advance?

A.Kyoko: We put links to pages that include information regarding the country to be visited, and we ask that passengers check out these articles. The information we provide stirs the same sort of interest as is experienced when referring to guide books and the Internet to find out information before actually physically traveling to a country. It would be good if passengers view the information we provide in a similar light.
A.Ami: Our message to passengers is not, "you can't attend unless you prepare in advance," rather we frame our requests as, "please prepare in order that you can enjoy your 'trip' more." Basically, preparation only takes about 30 minutes to complete. Thus, some passengers actually do their preparations while traveling on the train to attend our events.

Q.Please tell us about the content of the workshops.

A.Ami: For the Iran flight for example, we created tour plans for visiting Iran. Prior to the event, we had passengers select from the themes of education, business, and art, etc. We also asked passengers to do some advanced study of these themes. In the actual workshops, we created tours plans matching the different themes. This was done while asking questions to Iranian exchange students.
A.Kyoko: On our embassy flights, by having the embassy introduce exchange students from the country, and by having the students join our workshop groups, we've received feedback from everyone that; "including the exchange students in the workshops and being able to talk about a range of topics with them is very good, because the small structure of the groups allows for the overcoming of any sense of distance felt among the participants."

Taking up the challenge of planning a tour during the workshop sessions using knowledge gained through advanced study. ©LunchTrip

Taking up the challenge of planning a tour during the workshop sessions using
knowledge gained through advanced study.
©LunchTrip

Iranian students were attached to each group.  They offered explanations using photos and PCs. ©LunchTrip

Iranian students were attached to
each group. They offered explanations
using photos and PCs.
©LunchTrip

A.Naho: Via Skype, for the Syrian flight held at the start of this year, we were able to talk with an evacuated Syrian currently taking refuge in Turkey. After doing so, we held group discussions as to whether we could offer any assistance from Japan via the Internet, etc.

The Syria flight held at J’s Café, JICA Global Plaza (April 14th, 2013)  Via Skype, an evacuated Syrian student was able to participate as a guide from Istanbul. ©LunchTrip

The Syria flight held at J's Café,
JICA Global Plaza (April 14th, 2013)
Via Skype, an evacuated Syrian student was able
to participate as a guide from Istanbul.
©LunchTrip

A.Ami: Rather than just listening to what guides have to say, I feel it is very important that passengers talk among themselves during workshops and express their feelings regarding the different issues. Even during a discussion lasting approximately 20 minutes, there is the opportunity for everybody to think about what comes next regarding the topics discussed.

Q.What is important when being involved in LunchTrip?

A.Ami: It is important to be conscious of the multifaceted nature of the countries that we visit. With the Syria flight for example, although the country's current situation is very difficult, we didn't just focus on that aspect. In that we also wanted passengers to appreciate the country's beauty, we invited an archaeologist who told us something of the country's history.

The Bhutan flight whose theme was; “What’s it really like? A Happy Country” (May 11th, 2013).  Cuisine based on recipes supplied by Japan's sole Bhutanese restaurant. ©LunchTrip

The Bhutan flight whose theme was;
"What's it really like? A Happy Country" (May 11th, 2013).
Cuisine based on recipes supplied
by Japan's sole Bhutanese restaurant.
©LunchTrip

A.Kyoko: Concerning the cuisine that is served at events, we try to have dishes prepared that are as close as possible to what is eaten locally in each country. However, on the flight to Bhutan, in that Bhutanese cuisine is described as the hottest in the world, we had food prepared that was the hottest manageable by the Japanese palate.

Q. As a result of LunchTrip, are there people whose lives have changed?

A.Kyoko: One such person is me, a crew member, a person not originally very interested in overseas issues or societal contribution; what changed my outlook initially was a student trip to Cambodia. At the first LunchTrip event, I gave a presentation on my experiences there. After this, I continued as an active member of the LunchTrip crew, and while learning more and more about the world through LunchTrip and thinking that I would like to see more of it, I began to think about what I could do concerning the wide range of issues that confront the world. The outcome was that, for two years from 2010, I lived in Burkina Faso in West Africa while working in early childhood education with the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). I believe what led me to act were my experiences as a LunchTrip guide and crew member.

Kyoko as a JOCV member in Burkina Faso, West Africa, she is shown here with administrators from government agencies to which she was assigned, and teachers from public kindergartens she visited. ©LunchTrip

Kyoko as a JOCV member in Burkina Faso, West Africa,
she is shown here with administrators from government agencies
to which she was assigned, and teachers from public kindergartens she visited.
©LunchTrip

Q.Please tell us about how you want LunchTrip to develop in the future?

Wanting to spread Lunch Trip even further! The three crew members spreading their wings to pursue their dreams. ©LunchTrip

Wanting to spread
LunchTrip even further!
The three crew members spreading their wings to pursue their dreams.
©LunchTrip

A.Ami: What we want to do can be divided into three major categories. These are developing LunchTrip nationwide, spreading it to other generations, and conducting Japanese flights overseas. Currently, we have expanded LunchTrip to Osaka, Fukuoka, and Shizuoka. However, we are considering whether or not we could create a system that would allow for anybody to easily host a LunchTrip event. Concerning the generations issue as well, there is a sense that we have grown among older generations due to participation resulting from learning about LunchTrip via newspapers and television coverage. We would like to create the opportunity whereby younger generations can also experience LunchTrip. I feel it would be good if events could be held at schools, kindergartens and preschools, etc. Finally, "Japanese flight overseas" is a dream of mine, and it is what I most want to achieve. The sushi party I held when an exchange student to convey Japan to other people represents the starting point of our activities. LunchTrip will definitely realize Japanese flights!

Q.And finally, could we ask you for a message to our readers.

Kyokoさん

A.Kyoko: In Tokyo, there are restaurants serving the cuisine of many different countries. Thus, you can enjoy tastes from around the world as if you were traveling. Let's take a trip together. Furthermore, participating in LunchTrip actually makes you want to visit that country. Last month, I went to Iceland!

Nahoさん

A.Naho: As is the case that eating together allows you to better understand each other, I feel that by learning about the culture of a country through its cuisine, it is possible to more deeply understand the country. As an opportunity to learn about the world, I invite you to participate in LunchTrip events. It would be good if we could increase the number of people helping us in our mission of creating an open-minded society that respects other cultures.

Amiさん

A.Ami: Even among those people who say, "I have no interest in overseas," I think there are those who like to eat. In that I feel a good place to start is an interest in food, I would really like your readers to come to LunchTrip. The world will open up for you! We look forward to seeing you.