Wishing you could be in Japan
02nd Dec 2020
For those of us fortunate enough to be in Japan, November has proved to be a great time to enjoy the settled weather and the rich red and yellow autumnal colours of the nation’s forests. Japan, of course, is almost devoid of visitors at the moment but we are trying to make the most of the opportunities we are presented with. Hopefully our activities related in this newsletter and posted to our Facebook and Instagram accounts, provide some pleasant if vicarious succour, should you need it, and inspire a degree of confidence in the future.
In common with so many people around the world, we are looking forward to the time when international travel becomes possible and we can run our tours again. Recent announcements about the efficacy of new vaccines, the relative success of Japan at dealing with the pandemic, and the reported start of inter-governmental discussions to establish air-bridges between Japan and other countries are causes for a greater degree of optimism that we may meet in person some of our customers sooner rather than later.
Whilst the pandemic has led us to implement some unwelcome tough decisions, we are confident that Walk Japan is well placed to restart where it left off as the leading provider of top-quality tours to Japan. To this end, far from passively waiting to start again we have been active throughout the country creating some great new tours, generally re-exploring the nation and making new friends.
The second and third tours are in inland Tohoku around Aizu-Wakamatsu. Here we explore a variety of old trails that weave through verdant countryside dotted with farmsteads overlooked by Bandai-san, a towering dormant volcano. A redoubt of hardy samurai at the end of Japan’s feudal period, the locals remain fiercely proud of their heritage. A region of heavy snowfalls, we plan to make one of these tours the first winter version in our Onsen-Gastronomy series of tours.
Finally, the fourth tour takes us to the south-west of Shikoku to the lesser-visited, rural prefectures of Kochi and Ehime. Here we explore more of Shikoku’s famed 88-temple pilgrimage route not covered by our Shikoku Temple Pilgrimage tour, complete a one-day 88-temple mini-pilgrimage in a remote mountain village, and explore a trail that was once used to transport salt from the coast to the mountains deep inland. We also follow in the footsteps of Ryoma Sakamoto. An heroic but ultimately doomed figure in Japan, Ryoma escaped from his samurai life under pain of death in 1862 to agitate for the fall of the shogun and the restoration of the imperial throne. His escape path through forested valleys dotted with villages and hamlets leads us from Kochi to Ehime and the delightful towns of Ozu and Uchiko.
Staying usefully occupied
Many of our colleagues have also been active making the most of the time they have on their hands. For example, Ayuki, who works as a cabin crew member on international flights as well as a Tour Leader for Walk Japan, took the opportunity to pursue her dream of working in the countryside and travelled to Hokkaido from her home in the Tokyo region to assist on an organic flower and vegetable farm.
Giorgio, who hails from Venice, has found growing success with his Italian home-cooking classes in Tokyo, for which he orders ingredients from small-scale organic farmers including the farm that Ayuki worked at. This led to an invitation for Giorgio, who manages all our Tour Leaders, to hold classes for the farm owners and other locals. More classes are planned for Hokkaido and also in Nagano, where another Walk Japan colleague, Takuya, is usually based. When at home he has been hard at work on his rice paddies and when out and about he has been surfing and exploring old trails. Together they will hold classes using locally-grown rice to make risotto. Giorgio also teamed up with Kathleen, another of our expert Tour Leaders, to conduct the fall semester course on tour guiding, a joint venture between Temple University in Japan and Walk Japan.
In Kunisaki, Tetsuo has begun welcoming visitors to his newly opened guest house, Midoriso Nada Beach House, set aside the Seto Inland Sea within the forested grounds of a Shinto shrine. The shrine’s iconic torii gate stood atop a rocky outcrop in the waters off Nada Beach's wide sandy shore until a typhoon swept across southern Japan in September this year, smashing the gate into smithereens. Tech-savvy Tetsuo established a crowdfunding campaign to repair and reinstall the gate on behalf of his village neighbours. The campaign has reached and exceeded its target and he extends his heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed.
Other colleagues have been visiting different regions of Japan to help the locals develop their tourism resources and to cater better to the inbound travel market. This activity has included a seminar in the Tohoku region on the theory and practice of tour guiding for both Japanese and overseas nationals living and working in Japan.
Meanwhile, colleagues at our wholly-owned Japanese affiliate, The Japan Travel Company, have renewed its website. This is now available in both the Japanese and English languages.
Most recently, our CEO in his role as Vice-President of the William Adams Club visited the British Embassy in Tokyo to attend the unveiling of a memorial to the first British person to visit Japan. William Adams, known in Japan as Miura Anjin, led an extraordinary life that included being shipwrecked in Kyushu in 1600 and then, within a few years, being elevated to the rank of a high-status samurai warrior. The memorial commemorates the 400th anniversary of Adams' death in 1620.
Meanwhile, we continue our series of webinars on different aspects of Japan’s history, society and culture. Most recently, one of our customers who we have known since 2011 and who has visited us in Kunisaki on several occasions since, provided us with an intriguing presentation on the early ages of Shinto and Buddhism in Japan and their respective influences on the Japanese. We are looking at ways to open our webinars up to a greater audience and hope to be able to invite you to join in the near future.
Recently, we started a social media project in the hope of providing some inspiration and positivity by encouraging walking in your own locality. Entitled Walk Japan Ichiman-po, or Walk Japan 10,000 steps, all are welcome to share images of your walks that aim to reach or exceed the daily recommended exercise of 10,000 steps anywhere in the world. We have already received and enjoyed many entries, which are available to view on Instagram. If you would like to participate please submit your images to Instagram or via email to: email@example.com
Community Project Update
Although our tours have all but come to a standstill – we are running Self-guided tours for residents of Japan - work on our Community Project has been as busy as ever. During the rice planting season in June, our CEO, Paul, and his family were joined in Kunisaki by a film crew to shoot scenes for NHK World’s English-language series ‘Where We Call Home’. The resulting program, which was first broadcast in July, is available to view on demand here. It received such good reviews it was also rebroadcast several times by NHK in the Japanese language for domestic viewers.
Despite a heavy and prolonged rainy season this year, we harvested five tons of rice, and generous amounts of garlic, ginger, potatoes, tomatoes, nigauri bitter cucumbers, marrows, nasu aubergines, satoimo taro, pumpkins and many other vegetables from our organic market gardens. To these we added blueberries, figs and kabosu citrus fruit which will soon be followed by persimmon, yuzu and buntan, the latter two of which are both varieties of citrus.
Isak and Ito, our two young colleagues who have contributed greatly to our Community Project over the past two and a half years, have just completed their final rice harvest with us before moving on to pursue their careers elsewhere. Although we are sad to see them go, and they will be greatly missed by the greater Kunisaki community, their departure has stimulated more of our neighbours to become involved, which bodes very well for not only the continuity but also the expansion of the Project.
Amid the rice paddies, our guest house has also been bustling with a string of domestic visitors: some are escaping more restricted environments in the big cities for tranquil and distraction free remote workspaces; while others are finding time to pursue long-held ambitions to visit the area. Notable are a South African couple, who have been unable to return home since March this year. They relate how they are ‘happily stuck’ in Japan and have been lending a hand tending to our vegetables and looking after the gardens at our guesthouse and beach house, and making delicious kabosu marmalade. They also became familiar figures to the locals on their daily jogs throughout the village and have been great companions as we re-explore the trails of Kunisaki and climb nearby Yufu-dake, which is undoubtedly one of the nicest mountains to ascend in Japan. It has been a pleasure to welcome and relax with them and other visitors to Kunisaki during this time, and are looking forward to welcoming more over the coming months.
Walk Japan on a virtual tour near you
As the end of each year approaches we look forward to venturing overseas to meet old friends and new customers. Notwithstanding that this is not feasible in person this year, we will be delighted to meet anyone online who would like to learn more about their bookings, our tours, our future plans; and the Covid-19 situation in Japan. We will also be delighted to learn of your interests and activities or to just say hello. To book an appointment please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Health & Safety: Covid-19
In preparation for the re-opening of borders and the resumption of our tours in Japan, we are continually re-assessing how to protect the health and safety of our customers, suppliers and staff. We are adhering to Japanese government guidelines and will incorporate any other good practices found elsewhere to achieve this.
Japan has a long enjoyed a good reputation for cohesive organisation and cleanliness. From our own recent observations and experiences travelling around the country, accommodation, transport and restaurants vendors, are taking this, under the guidance of the authorities and trade bodies, to a much higher level of care. As the regulations and recommendations of the Japanese Government and other authoritative bodies change, and as the knowledge and practices evolve in surmounting the Covid-19 pandemic we expect this level of care will remain high. Necessarily, of course, the measures we employ to ensure our customers can fully enjoy their tour with us confident that any risk is minimised will change accordingly.
Currently, we are amending our protocols about conducting our tours including the requirement that all our customers bring with them supplies of face masks and hand sanitiser. Our Tour Leaders will also carry additional supplies of the same and also carry out daily temperature checks, which will be recorded.
Japan has been successful in containing any major spread of the disease helped in no little measure by the co-operative nature of the Japanese themselves, their universally available high-quality medical service, and an efficient tracking and tracing system. Throughout the nation measures such as temperature checks, hand sanitisers and protective screens are ubiquitous, while social distancing is widely encouraged and commonly adhered to. Although schools and other public facilities were closed for a while, the fact that the nation is seeing widespread domestic travel attests to the efficacy so far of Japan’s handling of the pandemic.
We specialise in off-the-beaten-track tours of Japan. These mostly visit less-populated regions helping us to protect our customers’ welfare whilst allowing us more leeway to thoroughly enjoy our travels together. We have always worked to exceed expectations in every aspect of our business since we were founded in 1992 and will continue to do so in the face of the pandemic.
Revised booking conditions
To help reduce any worries surrounding Covid-19 and make it easier to book tours with us we have temporarily revised our booking conditions. We have relaxed conditions 13 and 14 to offer more flexibility when cancelling a tour booking and to make it easier to transfer to another tour. For further details please contact: email@example.com
Paul Christie, CEO
Llew Thomas, Managing Director