03rd Jun 2021
The increasing speed in rolling out vaccinations and their apparent effectiveness is great cause for cheer. Although Japan is tackling some Covid-19 clusters in major urban areas, vaccines are now being rolled out in earnest and, from our unscientific cursory survey, the populace seem keen to receive their first jab.
Meanwhile, at Walk Japan we continue preparing for the day when we can welcome the first participants on our tours. We are very encouraged to know that there is a pent up demand to join us in Japan, which only spurs us on to make sure that we provide the most pleasurable and interesting experiences; tours that are second to none.
Our tour research and development program is a vital element in the continued success of Walk Japan and, as we find our way through the pandemic, has also helped us maintain a positive mindset and faith in the future. Over the past year or so we have introduced the Shio-no-Michi: The Salt Road, Michinoku Coastal Trail, Tohoku Aizu Explorer and the Kunisaki Wayfarer. The first three join our series of guided walking tours and the fourth is a self-guided tour. This work continues apace and we are now pleased to announce the Snowy Aizu tour, which is the newest addition to our Onsen Gastronomy series and the first of these acclaimed tours in the winter season. All told, we now have 34 scheduled and seven self-guided tours that explore Japan through all four seasons, from frontierland Hokkaido in the north to sub-tropical Okinawa in the south and many points between.
Of course, we always like to walk in Japan and, given half a chance, also talk at length about the lovely qualities of the country and its people. Our Talk Japan online series of presentations, which has allowed us to keep chatting at length even if we cannot stroll around too much, is proving very popular and encouraging us to schedule more topics. In the early spring, NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, came knocking at our door once again giving us even greater opportunity to spread the word on what we get up to with our tour business and Community Project. The update for the latter introduces some of our Tour Leaders who have been flexing their muscle and applying their skills revitalising old properties as homes. Meanwhile, the cerebral labours of some of our other Tour Leaders (and some friends of Walk Japan) has led to the authorship of books on an eclectic range of subjects.
We continue to hope that you are all faring as well as possible and that the contents of this newsletter provide interest and inspiration.
Paul Christie, CEO
Llew Thomas, Managing Director
Onsen Gastronomy: Snowy Aizu
We are pleased to introduce the Onsen Gastronomy: Snowy Aizu tour, the latest addition to our series of speciality onsen, food and walking experiences. Onsen Gastronomy tours are shorter trips of five days combining gentle walks of up to five kilometres (3.1 miles) with mouthwatering explorations of Japan’s wonderful cuisine and luxurious bathing in onsen hot springs.
Each year snow falls deeply in Aizu transforming this delightful rural region into a beautiful snowy setting. We explore on snowshoes, which always provide fun-filled adventures, and complete every day soaking in onsen hot spring baths. The quality of Aizu’s rice, which is attributed to these long snowy months, is essential to the sakes, considered to be amongst Japan’s best, brewed here. Throughout the tour we make the most of Japan’s famed libation, which is always paired with the delicious local gastronomy.
This 5-day, 4-night tour includes an exploration of the samurai heritage of Aizu-Wakamatsu epitomised by the towering Tsuruga-jo, the city’s resplendent castle. In the footsteps of warriors and farming folk, we venture along old trails in the surrounding countryside and visit Ouchi-juku, a charming village of traditional thatched buildings. We round up our travels in Urabandai, a unique landscape of multiple lakes with naturally and vibrantly tinted waters towered over by an active volcano, Bandaisan. For further details please see our website or contact us.
More Talk Japan
After enjoying a great response to Talk Japan, a series of online talks given by our colleagues and friends expert on a wide range of Japanese topics, we have scheduled more presentations. So far we have introduced the hidden history of Tokyo’s Ueno Park; Japan’s plentiful water and the cultivation of rice; an introduction to sake and how best to imbibe Japan’s subtly flavoured libation, and Power and magic in the planning of Edo. The latest additions are: Approaching World War II; and, Discovering Tokyo: History sleeping beneath your feet, and we are lining up more speakers expert on eclectic aspects of Japan.
In Search of a Ray of Hope
In July 2020, Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, aired a TV program on our CEO Paul Christie, our tour business in the face of Covid-19, and on our Community Project for the popular show ‘Where We Call Home’. Earlier this year, NHK returned to the Kunisaki Peninsula, where Paul has lived since 2002, for a follow-up program, In Search of a Ray of Hope, on our progress and developments since then. Both programs are available in English and on demand at NHK World's website linked to in the text above.
Our Community Project has several core elements designed to help infuse a rural area on the Kunisaki Peninsula in Oita Prefecture with vitality and provide it with a viable future. These include farming, forestry, the restoration of degraded natural environments, care of public parks, and the provision of employment. It also includes the restoration of akiya abandoned buildings as homes, work and educational spaces, and rental accommodation. Koumori-tei, Walk Japan’s first office in Japan, was a long-disused thatched farmhouse that, with water seeping through the roof, was in bad shape and under threat of collapse. It became the first in a number of properties in Kunisaki we have subsequently refurbished, giving them new leases of life. One of our more recent projects was the renewal of a wonderfully situated beach house, which had been little cared-for over the years. Now, we rent this out to an IT entrepreneur who recently relocated his company to Kunisaki from Tokyo.
Japan is awash with disused buildings; a result of the nation’s declining population. We were one of the first to appreciate the opportunities this situation presented. Now many others, both Japanese and non-Japanese are following suit including Walk Japan Tour Leaders.
In a previous newsletter, we introduced Tetsuo and his delightful Midoriso Nada Beach House, which is beautifully sited in a pine forest aside a two kilometre-long sandy beach on the Kunisaki Peninsula. He and his wife rejuvenated Midoriso from a dilapidated inn, much to the joy of local villagers and guests alike.
Also in Kunisaki, Mario and his wife are refurbishing a 130-year-old house that was once the home to generations of a local landowning family who also served as shinto priests. This sizeable property, which would have been central to local village life, had been left empty for 20 years before Mario and his family moved in. They have remained in residence as building work continues around them. Interestingly, Mario’s parents built their lovely family home from scratch many decades ago in Shizuoka Prefecture. His father-in-law and brother-in-law, who are both carpenters, have led Walk Japan’s Community restoration work and are heavily involved with Mario's project.
Ben and his wife moved from their modern home in Nagasaki City to a village in the surrounding countryside where they have taken on the revival of an old farmhouse. They have spent the pandemic months restoring their new home, most recently re-roofing it with traditional kawara ceramic tiles. Ben relates that neighbours delight in gathering around the restored irori sunken hearth, the traditional focus of any Japanese rural home. While sipping cups of green tea they recount their memories of good times enjoyed with the previous inhabitants and how happy they are to see life being breathed into the building and, correspondingly, their community.
Three years ago, Jon took on a 100 year old farm property in Usuki in Oita Prefecture and, between work and caring for his family, is gradually renovating it. In Australia, he once worked for a construction company specialising in renovation, and has brought skills learnt there to bear. Currently, he is transforming an outbuilding before tackling a bigger project, the main house. Wherever possible Jon repurposes old materials for new uses, such as turning weathered wooden storm shutters into kitchen cabinetry. Under the guidance of local experts, Jon is also adding traditional Japanese shikkui lime plastering techniques to his construction skills.
In future issues of this newsletter, we will update you on how Mario, Ben and Jon's projects are progressing. We will also introduce other Walk Japan colleagues who have taken on the refurbishment of empty properties.
All Walk Japan Tour Leaders have a great reputation as expert guides knowledgeable about Japan. All also have particular areas of interest developed from their experiences living, studying and working in the nation, which add extra-special levels of depth to all Walk Japan tours. A small number of us have also put pen to paper and published books providing informative and entertaining reads, which we think you will enjoy.
Tim Screech, who is the Professor of the History of Art at SOAS University of London, has authored many books, most recent of which have been The Shogun’s Silver Telescope and Tokyo before Tokyo. The first of these two books describes in vivid detail the earliest days of Britain and Japan’s relationship centred on a technological marvel of the era, a telescope presented to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu by King James I. The second delves into contemporary sources such as diaries, guidebooks, and woodblock prints to illustrate richly the history of Edo, the samurai citadel that became Tokyo.
Maya Aoki is a Walk Japan Tour Leader and an adventurer. Her charming book Nanairo Pedaru describes her transformational journey from mundane office work to exploits on her bicycle odyssey through the Americas. Available in Japanese only.
We should also mention here the publications by two friends of Walk Japan. Tom Lockley and Karen Hill Anton.
Karen is the mother of Mario, one of Walk Japan’s longstanding Tour Leaders and mentioned in the article immediately above. Her memoir, The View from Breast Pocket Mountain, is a fascinating and lively read about her lifetime journey from New York via Europe to Japan, where with a pioneering spirit she raised a family of four children in a rural community with her husband, a fellow-American.
Tom is a faculty member at Nihon University’s School of Law and recently published a book introducing the extraordinary life story of Yasuke, the first non-Japanese to become a samurai warrior. African Samurai: The true story of Yasuke is available in both English and Japanese.
In the near future, please look out for a forthcoming book on William Adams by Richard Irving, Emeritus Professor of Policy Studies at Kwansei Gakuin University and also a founder of Walk Japan. Richard reveals decades of research on William Adams, who was shipwrecked in 1600 in Kyushu making him the first British person to arrive in Japan, albeit accidentally. Like Yasuke, Adams’ life story is an extraordinary journey from humble origins to samurai warrior.
Walk Japan on a virtual tour near you
As we are unable to travel internationally and meet in person, instead we will be delighted to speak online with anyone 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
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
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