|On the road: Yasushi Ogura with young Vietnamese in Hoàng Xu Phì District, Hà Giang province . –Photo Courtesy of Ogura|
Yasushi Ogura is not a businessman, but this long-term visitor to Việt Nam invested his money to help a farming couple open a coffee shop in the northernmost part of the country.
His interest is not in earning a return on his investment, but to help preserve the indigenous culture of ethnic minority communities in Hà Giang Province.
His dedication has won him a special place in the hearts of ethnic minority residents of Lô Lô Chải Village in Hà Giang Province.
“It is the ethnic diversity in Việt Nam and the scenic landscape of the mountainous areas that has made me fall for Việt Nam, bringing me back, time and again,” said Ogura.
“I especially love Hà Giang for its pristine beauty and unique culture of local ethnic communities. That indigenous customs and traditions are present in the daily life of ethnic people really interests me. Some traditional crafts like linen weaving and wine-making are still well preserved and the traditional architecture is also well demonstrated in the locals’ houses in Hà Giang.”
But Ogura is concerned that the fast pace of development and modernisation could cause the indigenous culture, history and architecture of locals in the province might disappear soon “if we don’t take action.
“This has pushed me to do something for the locals, who lead such a hard life due to extreme weather and unfavourable conditions to do agriculture work.”
Lô Lô Chải, which Ogura sees as a second home, is a poor rural village at the foot of the Lũng Cú Flag Tower.
“Mông and Lô Lô are the two major ethnic groups in this village. I decided to support a Lô Lô family as the population of this ethnic group in Hà Giang is small and they do not have many opportunities to introduce their culture.
“What is more, Lô Lô people, who are very friendly and open, can speak fluent Vietnamese so it is easy for me to communicate with them.”
|Helping hand: Ogura joins locals in harvesting their rice crop. –Photo Courtesy of Ogura|
Last year, Ogura constructed a coffee shop near the Lũng Cú Flag Tower for Dỉu Di Chiến’s family.
“The coffee shop is for the family to do business to have a better life as well as to be aware of the need to preserve and promote traditional culture,” said Ogura.
The café, named Cà phê Cực Bắc, the northernmost coffee house, is an upgrade of Chiến’s house. The original architecture of the house has been maintained with a fence made of stones and a thick wall that keeps it warm in winter and cool in summer.
Chiến and his wife Lục Thị Vấn, were farmers before they took over the coffee house.
“Before 2015, we mostly worked in the farm and the rice we grew was just enough for the family, there was nothing to sell.
“Since we began running the coffee house, we can earn money to cover the studies of three kids and have a stable life," said Chiến.
The project was funded entirely by Ogura and some Vietnamese friends who he befriended during his stays in Việt Nam.
Trần Giang, one of Ogura’s friends said: “Working with Ogura, I was impressed and moved by his enthusiasm and optimism. He pays special attention to the sanitation of the area, so he reminds me to instruct the couple to keep the coffee shop clean.”
Last year, Ogura asked Giang, who has working experience in the tourism sector and in coffee making, to help the local family manage the coffee shop.
When the construction was almost complete, Ogura and Giang designed the menu for the coffee shop and she helped the locals to arrange the cups, clean the equipment and make a few drinks.
“The couple couldn’t write in Vietnamese. So during the first few days, I taught them how to write in Vietnamese and basic skills needed to manage the cafe. They were keen to learn new things and were fast learners. So things went smoothly,” said Giang.
To attract people to the coffee house, Ogura passionately talked to his Vietnamese and Japanese acquaintances about it.
“I saw that the northern mountainous provinces of Việt Nam were mostly visited by western tourists. Not many Japanese visited this area. So I told my Japanese friends about the pristine beauty of this area and more people have come here,” said Ogura.
|Amity: Yasushi Ogura with a Vietnamese friend. The 59-year-old Japanese has a made a lot of Vietnamese friends during his visits to the country. – Photo Courtesy of Ogura|
Ogura, 59, first traveled to Việt Nam in 1995, but it was only in 2002 that he made his first trip to Hà Giang.
“That first time and even until now, when I travel throughout northwestern provinces of Việt Nam, I always find the Đồng Văn karst plateau really special and unique, a beauty that can be found nowhere.”
That year, Ogura stopped in Tuyên Quang City for a day on the way back to Hà Nội before returning to Japan.
“While I was taking a stroll in Tuyên Quang city, I saw a lovely student who was in 8th grade. I took a photo of her, which made the little girl very excited and happy… .
“I still vividly remember that when I took photo, she smiled broadly with vibrant eyes. It may be among the rare occasions when she met a foreigner, so she was curious, happy and excited. She then told me to send her the photos.”
As promised, Ogura sent the photo to the girl after he returned to Japan, and a month later, the girl responded to him. Though Ogura had sent photos to some people before, he had never heard back from them due to the distance and the scarcity of internet connections.
“At that time, I hadn’t studied Vietnamese, so I had to use a dictionary to translate her letter. I was happy and surprised to hear from her. Her handwriting was very nice and the content was interesting.”
|Business is good: Funded by Yasushi Ogura, the northernmost coffee house in the country, just a kilometre from the Lũng Cú Flag Tower, is popular among domestic and international travelers. –Photo Courtesy of Ogura|
Since then, Ogura and the Vietnamese student have written a few times to each other. “Thanks to her, I know more about the life of Vietnamese people and it was truly a memorable thing in my heart. Only recently, we met each other again in Hà Nội. The eight-grade student has turned into a doctor now.
“I clearly remember her from 15 years ago. The meeting with her not only gave me a chance to know more about Việt Nam, but is also one of the reasons I love this country,” said Ogura.
In the last few years, Ogura has taken to visiting Việt Nam once a month and befriended many Vietnamese.
“Vietnamese people, especially the young, like talking to foreigners, especially Japanese and have a high sense of respect for seniors. So I have made a lot of friends along the way.
“It is very interesting that I make friends with the hotel receptionist and then not only their friends, but friends of their friends would make friends with me.” — VNS