Tyler Lynch

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Tyler Lynch

    Main guest

    Originally from Seattle, Washington (USA), Tyler Lynch manages a ryokan, a traditional Japanese hot spring inn, in Nagano Prefecture. The inn was originally established in 1955, and Lynch took over the running of it with his wife, whose family owned it. Lynch strives to understand the preferences of each customer, and cater to his or her specific needs. He picks up this information in the course of casual conversations, then keeps it in mind during their stays. He also serves as a bridge between tourists and the town's residents by leading local tours that draw fresh attention to nearby businesses. These tours are just one way in which Lynch seeks to enable his foreign guests to immerse themselves in the local Nagano experience, and appreciate the treasures the area has to offer.

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September 26, 2017

Japanophiles: Tyler Lynch

*You will leave the NHK website.

This edition of "Japanophiles," the series within Japanology Plus that profiles foreign residents leading exceptional lives in Japan, centers around Tyler Lynch, an American who runs a traditional inn, or ryokan, in Nagano. In addition to seeing Lynch's everyday activities, we get a look at Japanese hot springs and hospitality, as well as what life is like in a small Nagano town.

If the word "Nagano" rings a bell outside Japan, it's most likely thanks to the Winter Olympics held in the prefecture in 1998 (that occasion marked the third and most recent time Japan has hosted the Olympics; Tokyo 2020 will be the fourth). The slogan of the Nagano Olympic Games was "coexistence with nature," a motto which accurately describes the prefecture as a whole. With the population of its largest city hovering around 350,000, Nagano is known largely for its mountains, produce, and, as we see in the program, hot springs—onsen in Japanese.

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Nagano contains some beautiful scenery.

In fact, Nagano has over 200 onsen areas, which is said to be the second-highest number of all Japan's prefectures (as Lynch points out in the program, Nagano also produces the second-highest number of apples in the country; the prefecture seems to have a thing for the number two).

It's difficult to overstate how important onsen, and bathing in general, are to Japanese culture. The Japanese emphasis on cleanliness is even embedded in the language: "kirei" means both "beautiful" and "clean." That said, Japan's bathing culture isn't just about getting clean: indeed, this author is roundly chided by his Japanese friends whenever he suggests a simple shower might do the trick. Hot springs are thought to wash away fatigue and even help cure illness, and also serve as spaces for local communities to bloom—there isn't much to do in the bath but chat, after all, and the experience of sitting around together au naturel seems to breed a certain bond you can't get with all those darn clothes on.

But when it comes to hot springs (or any public bath), you can't just jump in. As with many things in Japan, there are specific procedures to follow, and for first-timers from outside the country, the fear of making an onsen faux pas can be a huge barrier to entry.

This is one of the things that makes visiting Lynch’s inn so appealing: acting as a bridge between cultures, he takes foreign first-timers through the steps of using an onsen and staying in a ryokan. One pertinent example comes when he explains to a guest that she must wear her yukata left over right—kimono are only worn right over left when the wearer is deceased.

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Peter enjoys a post-bath cup of sake.

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Lynch also gives tours of the town.

Lynch's cultural bridge travels in both directions: in addition to introducing foreign guests to traditional Japanese culture, he incorporates American touches into the inn, specifically in his cuisine (Tyler, if you're reading this, feel free to send the recipe for those cookies over to the Japanology Plus offices!).

Lynch's story—that is, a foreign-born person doing a job that would have disappeared otherwise—is actually part of a larger conversation going on in Japan right now. The country's population is expected to go from 127 million to 100 million by about 2050. There has been talk of reforming the immigration system, and some steps have been implemented to bring in more foreign workers, specifically in areas facing labor shortages like elder-care work.

While a traditionally-minded Japanese might do a double-take seeing a towering American running a historical Japanese inn, those like Tyler Lynch, who have a passion for preserving and showcasing Japanese culture, while adding touches from their home cultures, may be the future of Japanese hospitality—and Japan in general.

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Lynch uses his homemade cookies to bond with a fellow baker.

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Introducing Japanese culture to foreigners—and vice versa.

*You will leave the NHK website.