Avi Lugasi is a Japan expat of nearly three decades, Kyoto resident, former Zen monk, founder of a bespoke luxury touring company and co-founder of Dento, a foundation dedicated to protecting and evolving Japan’s traditional crafts, primarily within rural communities, for future generations. It also connects some of Japan’s finest artisans with travelers, for a glimpse at workspaces and treasures that may otherwise be lost (directly translated, dento means “passing of the light”).
Below, Avi shares his unique perspective on Japan, including lesser-known destinations within the country to add to your travel wish list.
How has your experience as an “expat” in Japan changed over the 29 years you’ve lived here?
“I like the fact that in Japan, regardless of how long I live here, I will always be recognized as non-Japanese. Because I can speak the language, and because of the relationships I’ve developed, that gives me the unique position of being an insider and an outsider at the same time. I’m not expected to behave exactly as the Japanese, which I can sometimes use to my advantage—For instance, I was recently a guest lecturer for a sustainability seminar, and I pointed out that they had printed out my presentation for the audience, which was a complete waste of paper—at a sustainability seminar! This kind of criticism could not be made by a Japanese person in that situation.”
What is one thing you wish more travelers understood about Japan?
“Japan is indeed a very different place, where people work and think differently. Money cannot buy everything—and the way of the Japanese is through harmony, not confrontation.”
What are some of the most special experiences you have arranged for travelers to Japan?
“There are too many to count—and ‘special’ is very personal, so it’s hard to say. But making it possible to have kids participate in a Samurai movie, or a real Sumo school—and walking in a forest with trees ranging from 1,500 to 7,000 years old—those were magical moments. And I have my ‘secret’ restaurants that I like to take people to—and I prefer not to reveal their names, as I try to keep them under the radar.”
Can you tell us more about the Dento project and its ethos?
“Dento is oriented around the belief that ‘tradition is continuous innovation.’ To quote our mission: ‘Tradition is central to the existence of Dento, but the artisans and experts that Dento works with have always moved their techniques forward, developing and innovating, and that is how, over time, and across generations, they have perfected these skills. To continue this and to support it, Dento is in contact with specialists, designers, artists, fashion designers and other modern forms of artisans from a diverse range of fields and across the globe, forming networks, connections and opening opportunities to create collaborations with our Japanese craftsmen, allowing something completely new to flourish, and to bring further innovation into these traditions.’ The foundation coordinates between the Japanese government, universities, art schools, traditional masters and travelers to achieve these goals of cultural and artistic preservation.”
What areas outside of Japan’s major cities are you currently most interested in?
“The Japanese countryside has a special magic to it. From Niigata in the north—with its lesser-known but extensive art scene—to the Noto Peninsula, with its beautiful coastline, and the Tango Peninsula, with its amazing culinary and craftsmanship experiences. And places deep in the mountains, surrounded by rice fields and small villages. The list is too long to name them all.”
Contact your Indagare Trip Designer or Indagare, if you are not yet a member, to start planning a trip to Japan. Our team can match you with the accommodations, reservations and activities that are right for you.