The innkeeper from Japan

By Huo Yan in Guangxi and Gan Tian in Beijing(China Daily) Updated: 2012-08-28

The innkeeper from Japan

From top: Hayashi and his wife Dong Bincai work in their garden. Hayashi and his son Kitaro in their home at the foot of Laozhai Hill. The innkeeper enjoys reading at home.

In 1979, he had gone to a remote foothill village in Nepal, where he found locals cutting down trees for fire at night. They had no electricity, but the chopping of trees was damaging the fragile environment.

Hayashi noticed that there was abundant water, but the villagers could not afford hydroelectric power. Hayashi decided to help build a hydropower station.

It took him nearly 10 years shuttling back and forth between the village and Japan, supervising construction and fund-raising at home. But it was completed.

His feats slowly gained recognition in Japan. In 1987, he fell off a mountain while carrying wood and sustained 13 fractures. The story captured the attention of the Japanese media and he became a celebrity.

News about him snowballed and Hayashi is now a household name back in his country, and his story is even told in English textbooks in Japanese schools.

His project in Xingping didn't stop with the construction of the stairs and pavilions on the hill. He also wrote articles to media back in Japan promoting the beautiful scenery the mountain boasts.

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Thanks to his efforts, Laozhai Hill became increasingly popular among photographers, backpackers and travelers, especially those from Japan. Over the past years, tourist arrivals have jumped from a few thousand to almost a million.

The locals stopped calling Hayashi names and instead, he is now one of the most respected leaders in the community.

He decided to build his inn at the foot of the hill soon after he finished the building of stairs. But, his decision to stay for good took a toll on his marriage. In 2000, he was divorced.

Two years later, he was interviewed on television when his inn was finally ready. Dong Bincai, a 28-year-old shop-owner, saw him on TV where he spoke about his life and his quest for someone to share his life.

Dong was moved by his story, but did not think more about it - until she had a dream that night in which she saw herself with Hayashi and two children. Dong decided it was fate knocking on her door.

"As we communicated through letters and phone calls, we found we had many things in common. That's how our love just blossomed," Dong says, eyes shining.

They were married in 2002 and two years later, their son, Kitaro Hayashi, was born. He is named after the famous Japanese musician, a favorite of both parents.

The couple now runs the inn as their main source of income. It has five guest rooms, and enjoyed a constant flow of visitors in the first few years, Dong says.

"But due to the economic recession in Japan, the situation isn't as good as before," she says. But the couple still keeps all the rooms ready for visitors every day.

Hayashi not only cleans the inn, he also keeps Laozhai Hill litter free, and does a rubbish-collecting trip at least once a week.

"In peak seasons when there are more tourists than usual, his workload is much heavier," Dong says. "It often takes him five hours to go up and down the hill."

Hayashi brushes this away, saying "I don't feel tired at all. It's good for our environment. And sometimes, I have Kitaro for company".

His face brightens up whenever he talks about his son, and his wife says his greatest joy is giving his son a piggyback ride to and from school.

Kitaro is effectively bilingual and takes turns teaching his father Chinese and his mother Japanese.

"He is very smart," Hayashi declares. "Kawaii," he adds in Japanese, which means cute or darling.

Hayashi has a brother and sister back in Japan, but since he settled down in Xingping, he has only gone home once in 2011, to settle his pension. But Dong says her husband pays close attention to news about Japan.

When earthquakes and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, Hayashi watched television all day to follow the latest developments.

But for Hayashi, home is now where his young family is, along with his beloved Laozhai Hill. He takes great pains inscribing the names and greetings left by visiting media, and hangs the stone tablets in front of his inn.

For him, these are the little pleasures that make life wonderful.

Huang Feifei contributed to the story.

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