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Akita City – The city of rice and helicopters!


The trek from Noshiro to Akita city took us alongside rice paddy fields that stretched as far as the eye could see. Our sea of blue was replaced by a sea of green that was kept that way by a fleet of remote controlled helicopters directed by the steady hands of elderly farmers. It seemed technology was catching on in the country. It was an amusing contrast to see farmers of a generation mostly forgotten by technology, happily fingering the controls of these bicycle sized pest controllers. With harvest a few short weeks away, the playful image masked what really was an important process in ensuring a successful crop in one of Akita’s biggest and most famous industries, rice. With food taking on more of an importance as the kilograms fell away it was something that we were looking forward to indulging in.

A large part of our challenge involved raising awareness and funds for the orangutans and their situation in the face of massive deforestation that is rife in both Indonesia and Malaysia. As such, the media was always going to be an important part of our challenge in getting that message out. However, as we had our hands full with the job of simply walking on these bamboo legs of ours it was not something that we could actively pursue ourselves. Before the challenge started we had attempted, unsuccessfully, to approach some media agencies, but as we soon found out, news requires more than simply an idea. So we decided that the best option was to just start walking and see what happened as a result. That meant that we never knew what was waiting around the next corner and it was an exciting way to live each day. As we entered Akita’s city, we were about to find out that there was more waiting for us than simply its rice.

“Mitsuketa! I’ve found you,” came the husky voice of woman running up behind us.
A short athletic woman with the brown glow that only comes from years spent chasing the perfect wave, was standing behind us, holding up her business card for us to see. Sasaki san, as it turned out was a roving reporter for Akita’s main FM radio station who had come out in search for us on the request of a number of listeners who had spotted us. If the card hadn’t said as much, the blue and white mobile radio station that was parked a few metres behind her would have given it away sooner or later. Finding us was not a difficult feat. For the first time, Miki and I were sporting identical outfits, both choosing to wear our yellow challenge T-shirts over long blue tracksuit pants. It was the thing that many listeners had been attracted to first, well next to the fact that we were on stilts of course. She wanted us to be a part of her live broadcast which would start in 15 minutes. We were happy for the break and settled down with Sasaki san and her other reporter as they readied their equipment for the transmission. Their easy going manner made for relaxing conversation and within minutes we were all chatting and laughing like we had known each other for years. The nice thing was that for once, it wasn’t about our stilts. While Miki had done a radio broadcast in Hokkaido, it was to be my first time in front of the microphone that would beam live all that we said to all who were listening. Thoughts of my Hokkaido TV cock-up came flooding back, however the girls, sensing something amiss, did a brilliant job reinforcing the relaxed atmosphere. As the broadcast began, our conversations continued just as they had in the moments before, making for a fun piece both to do, and judging from the honks and cheers of passing motorists, to listen to as well. We walked our last kilometers into Akita city to the accompanying shouts of ‘Ganbatte’ from well wishers who had been listening.

Like a wildfire, the spark that came from a simple appearance on a morning radio show, erupted in to a media fireball that lasted the next two days. Both TV and print called for stories about a husband and a wife and furry red orangutan called Pongo who always sat happily on the bag of one of them. For us it was a welcome diversion from 10 hour days in the sun, but for Pongo, it was the chance to let people know his story, and what the rest of his family is facing each day in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra.

Asahi Newspaper Journalist - Yajima san (Aka Matt Damon)
The article went national.

posted by Mick and Miki Tan @ 12:34 AM,

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