02nd Jun 2022
Walk Japan’s nengajo New Year card celebrates the Year of the Tiger, our 30th Anniversary and the purchase of a new forest. 2022 marks our thirtieth year pioneering innovative, enjoyable and fulfilling walking tours in Japan and we are very hopeful that it will prove to be an auspicious year not only for us but also for the rest of the world.
Japan is opening up to the world again and we are very optimistic about welcoming customers to Japan and doing what we like best; running our tours. The focus of our anniversary celebrations is the purchase of an abandoned cedar plantation. We have already started the work to re-establish this as a much more natural and ecologically diverse woodland environment. The forest is the latest addition to our Community Project, which continues to prove its worth further by helping a young Australian couple to settle here and add their skills and enthusiasm to our increasingly vibrant neighbourhood.
Although we have been unable to welcome overseas visitors to Japan, we have been running self-guided tours for residents of Japan, most recently our Kunisaki Wayfarer and Michinoku Coastal Wayfarer tours. These two are the latest additions to our large roster of tours. Others, who have been unable to come to Japan, have joined our online Talk Japan series of presentations, the most recent of which was a presentation on our Community Project.
We have managed to stay busy during the pandemic but are now raring to start our tours once again. Watch this space!
Paul Christie, CEO
Llew Thomas, Managing Director
As you will undoubtedly be very much aware, domestic and international travel is once again widespread in the West and becoming more so in the wider Asia-Pacific region. In recent weeks the Japanese government has steadily relaxed entry restrictions for business travellers and students, and is also preparing to do so for all other visitors. The latest announcements combine an increase in the number of these travellers permitted to enter Japan daily from 10,000 to 20,000 and the removal of testing and quarantine requirements for most arrivals. This will become effective from 1st June 2022.
The Japanese government has also stated that from 10th June 2022 entry to Japan for tourism purposes will be permitted subject to certain conditions. These conditions have yet to be made fully public, but we are confident that customers will be able to join our tours soon.
Our optimism is shared by our customers who have been enquiring and booking with us in numbers not seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Currently, we anticipate running a minimum of forty tours during the coming autumn, while our tours scheduled for 2023 are also filling up. So, for those of you holding a credit memo from Walk Japan, we recommend contacting us as soon as possible to ensure that you will be able to book on your preferred tour and dates. All credit memos are valid until the end of 2023.
We always want our customers to feel confident in their booking with us so our more flexible cancellation and transferral policy, which was necessitated by Covid-19, will remain through to the end of 2022. As ever, we continue with our stated ‘No minimum’ policy, which means that if we accept a booking we will operate the tour irrespective of the number of participants.
We have been gathering regularly with our tour leaders and other staff to refresh our guiding knowledge and skills, exchange ideas, establish best practices in the post-pandemic era, and renew friendships as we look forward to celebrating in the best way possible - by taking our customers on tour again.
New tour: Michinoku Coastal Wayfarer
Walk Japan’s 10-day, 9-night Michinoku Coastal Wayfarer tour explores the dramatic Sanriku coastline in Japan’s northern Tohoku region and includes some of the best sections of the newly established Michinoku Shiokaze Trail. This 1,025 km (637 miles) long linear route has been created amongst beautiful and spectacular countryside aside the Pacific Ocean to encourage visitors to the region and help reinvigorate the many communities that were so severely impacted by the earthquakes and tsunami that struck dramatically here in March 2011. Besides wonderful walking, it also provides opportunities to appreciate the resilience of the locals, the efforts they continue to make in rebuilding their communities, and their warmth and cheerfulness in the face of adversity.
The immense Pacific Ocean is the constant companion of the Sanriku coast, which has been wrought by the forces of nature since time immemorial into coves, soaring cliffs, and intricate bays. Amongst this remote and wonderful scenery, the Michinoku Coastal Wayfarer leads from forests to beaches, bluff-top shrines and fishing ports, and on to tour accommodation, which is most often aside the sea and where meals are a feast of freshly caught local seafood. On mornings of fine weather, the sun rises brilliantly across the ocean providing a vividly inspiring start to any day’s walking.
As the tour winds its way south along the trail, signs of the destructive forces that are visited on this region from time to time become more apparent. Yet the locals, who have lived for generations with a deep respect for the ocean that provides them with an unceasingly rich bounty but also very intermittent traumas, show a quiet hard-working spirit, ingenuity and tenacity that can only but inspire visitors.
The Michinoku Coastal Wayfarer, in common with all our Wayfarer tours, equips participants with the logistics, knowledge and confidence to make the most of and thoroughly enjoy their solo travels in Japan. To find out more about this tour please see the full detail on our website and/or contact us.
Walk Japan's 30th Anniversary
2022 marks Walk Japan’s 30th year as the pioneer of innovative, enjoyable and fulfilling walking tours to Japan. Our first tour, the Nakasendo Way, was the first to explore this fascinating ancient highway, which had been largely overlooked since its heyday in the Edo Period (1603 - 1868). One of our founders, Richard Irving, first walked its entire 534km length from Kyoto to Tokyo while a research student at Kyoto University in the 1970s. He and his fellow founder, Tom Stanley, started taking their students at Hong Kong University on study trips to the Nakasendo Way in the late 1980s, and interest amongst their academic colleagues led the two of them to establish Walk Japan in 1992.
The Nakasendo Way has since become one of Japan’s most popular destinations and we are very proud to have been the catalyst for this. Not to rest on our laurels, we now have a roster of 34 scheduled guided and self-guided tours that cover much of the length and breadth of Japan including such classic tours as the Kunisaki Trek, Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, Basho Tohoku Tour, Nagano Snow Country, Inland Sea Odyssey, Shikoku Temple Pilgrimage and Hokkaido Snow Tour. In 2019, we introduced a new series of onsen hot spring and gastronomy tours, which proved to be an instant hit, and during the pandemic we have created the Michinoku Coastal Trail tour, which explores the Tohoku region’s fascinating Pacific coastline. And, over the years to come we will keep adding more great tours to experience the best of Japan.
Our tours are definitely analogue in nature. After all, they are all about people; our customers and the Japanese. But we have never shied away from the digital world, and fully incorporate this behind the scenes to help us provide as seamless and as efficient a service as possible. We also keep an eye on the future and the technology that may have an impact on everything that we do. We do not yet know how we may be able to utilise blockchain, NFTs, virtual and augmented reality, AI, avatars or some other revolutionary new technology into our business, but we certainly intend to embrace these whenever we can.
Since our earliest days, the world’s media has been covering Walk Japan and our tours, helping enormously to bring us to the attention of many around the globe. We are also recognised in Japan as leaders in our field and are regularly asked to run seminars, provide presentations and consultations. Japan’s print media also follow us closely and, from time-to-time, TV programmes are made about us. Currently, we are in discussions for another production as and when our tours restart.
We are proud of the Walk Japan community including staff, providers, friends and supporters and, of course, customers. We are also deeply invested in our Community Project, which embodies our inclusive spirit backed up with positive action. It has been very satisfying that our CEO, Paul Christie, has been made a Cool Japan Ambassador by the Japanese Cabinet Office, an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Ambassador, and an Onsen Gastronomy Ambassador; all are honours that help underline the work and progress made by all at Walk Japan over the years.
Throughout our 30 years, we have remained a wholly independently owned and managed company. We intend to stay this way to help us retain resources for the betterment of our tours, customers’ experience, providers, staff and the wider community. To mark this significant milestone in Walk Japan’s progress, we are undertaking a number of new initiatives the most prominent of which is our new forestry project. Details follow in the Community Project Update below.
Community Project Update
The focus of our anniversary celebration is the purchase of 21,500 sq. metres (5.3 acres) of forests, which brings our total of kunugi sawtooth oak woodlands, mixed forests and cedar plantations to 143,000 sq. metres (35.3 acres). 15,000 sq. metres (3.7 acres) of this newly acquired land is an overgrown young cedar plantation, which had been left untended for many years as the owner had died. Currently in poor condition, we have already begun the work, a long-term project, to regenerate it as an ecologically diverse, sustainable environment - a mixed woodland supporting a variety of wild flowers, lichens, wild mushrooms, insects, birds and animals. In turn it will be a site of recreation and relaxation (it is already incorporated into our Kunisaki Trek, Kunisaki & Yufuin Walk and school tours to the area), aesthetically pleasing, guardian of water sources, and a source of food, fuel and raw materials. Very importantly, it will have an elevated ability to sequestrate carbon.
Encouragingly, we have already been asked by locals to incorporate their neighbouring land into the project. Given the opportunity, we will add further land through purchase or incorporation over the years to come.
Over the last few years, interest and support in our Community Project has grown with more visits from a range of people interested in what we are up to and to help out including university researchers and students, bureaucrats and politicians, Japanese and other nationals, Walk Japan colleagues, locals and people from other regions of Japan. In late 2021, we welcomed Roxy and Shimon who stayed with us for three months greatly helping out with many aspects of the Project adding their ample energy and enthusiasm to our village life. They hail from Australia but decided to emigrate to Japan and travelled through much of the nation looking for a place to settle. Liking their experience here so much they recently bought a place of their own nearby. They have kindly written about their experience with us, which follows.
"Nestled deep in the heart of the Kunisaki Peninsula lies a sleepy mountainous village named Ota. At first glance it seems to be a run of the mill rural town. Rice fields, elderly inhabitants, declining population. On closer inspection there was much more bubbling under the surface. 20 years prior an eccentric English raconteur decided to call it home after a chance bicycle trip through the area. Since then, with the support of his wife, kids and company, they have embarked on a noble quest to reinvigorate the area, The Walk Japan Community Project. (read the full story below)
More Talk Japan
Our Talk Japan series of online talks, presented by colleagues and friends expert on an eclectic range of topics, provide fascinating illustrated verbal journeys into Japan. Our most recent Talk Japan presentation was given by Paul Christie, our CEO, who led us through life on the rural Kunisaki Peninsula and the origins of our Community Project, its aims and scope. The next two presentations are virtual tours of the Tokaido, one of Japan’s greatest highways, and following in the footsteps of the itinerant haiku poet Basho.
We record each talk, so if you missed one they are available on our Vimeo channel. For more information about Talk Japan, future presentations and to register for an event please see our website.
Walk Japan on a virtual tour near you
As we have traditionally done over many years, Covid-19 has, of course, prevented us travelling internationally to meet you in person as we would like. As the next best thing, we are delighted to speak online with anyone who would like to learn more about their bookings, our tours and future plans, the Covid-19 situation in Japan, our Community Project, etc. We will also be delighted to learn of your interests and activities, or just to 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
Community Project update continued:
Through a succession of fortuitous circumstances, we found ourselves here on the tail end of a whirlwind honeymoon. Road tripping around Japan, in the middle of a global pandemic, we searched for a new place to call home. After waiting patiently for the opportunity to enter the country, we packed up our lives in Australia, in the midst of yet another strict lockdown, and set off on a journey of our own. It felt as though we had narrowly escaped the world closing in, rolling under the heavy door cascading down from above us, just in the knick of time. This sense of auspicious timing has been a recurring theme on this trip.
Over 6 months, we made our way through more of Japan than most locals see in their entire lifetimes. Drawn by the warmth of climate and people, we chose Kyushu, and specifically Oita as the setting for our new chapter. Arriving on the ferry from Misaki, the easternmost tip of Shikoku, we stayed in Usuki on the hunt for a new home. In the gift shop at the Usuki Stone Buddhas, we met Miyuki, who upon the discovery that we were Australian, invited us out to dinner with Jon, the other Australian in town, who happened to be a Walk Japan tour leader. Over dinner we realised we had mutual friends and he kindly suggested we visit Paul and his family in Ota. An incredibly serendipitous encounter that introduced us to the Walk Japan Community.
Unsure of what to expect, we had planned to stay a week or two while we figured out our next move. Upon arriving in Ota, nervously, excitedly anticipating the beginnings of a new chapter, we knocked on their solid bright blue door and were immediately welcomed by Paul and Mimi’s beaming smiles, assuaging any doubts that we were anywhere other than where we were supposed to be.
Two months later, we’ve been helping Paul realise the vision for his various projects around the town, namely the 30th Anniversary Forest and the Forest Garden. Throughout the winter, we’ve been taking advantage of the milder temperatures to clear areas of obstructions (old fences, bamboo, rocks) and cut the grass. This is a vital step, as it aids with the efficiency of land management in preparation for the unbridled growth that summer brings.
Postwar Japan saw the proliferation of monoculture forests all over the country, as the timber industry became a lucrative pursuit. However, many of these forests are no longer productive and the legacy of the monocultures prevailed. Paul hopes to intentionally revitalise these spaces and restore the rich, biodiverse environments they once were. As we ourselves are interested in starting a food forest project of our own, it’s been eye opening to see the amount of practical knowledge, dedication and labour it takes to nurture these spaces.
Alongside our work with Paul, we have endeavoured to make ourselves useful to the wider community. Etchan is the soul of the Community Project. Her family has been in Ota for generations, and her casual wisdom reflects that fact. Working together with her skilful and tireless son in law, Hideyakisan, we assisted with transporting the inoculated kunugi logs from the mountain side to their next destination. Through the dappled light in a nearby hinoki forest, the logs are placed upright in rows. Here, the conditions are perfect to encourage a plentiful harvest. The shitake grown here has a substantial, succulent texture, markedly different from what you can find at your local supermarket.
We were overjoyed to hear that our stay coincided with a company hike up Yufudake, the tallest mountain in the region. As inexperienced hikers it was reassuring to be accompanied by members of the Walk Japan team. We were lucky enough on the day to have warm blue skies since we otherwise lacked the proper gear to make it to the peak.
At the foot of the mountain, it’s almost incomprehensible that in a mere 2 hours, you could be at the top. A variety of different terrains unfurl as you ascend. The magnificent view reveals itself during the last third of the hike and thanks to the clear weather we could see as far as Yamaguchi and Ehime.
The descent was perhaps our favourite part. Engulfed in tall, golden grass, it felt as though we were traversing through a scene of an Ozu film. We ended our hike on the bustling main shopping street of Yufuin, amongst the hoards of unwitting day trippers and tourists. Glancing back up at the mountain from there made the feat ever more satisfying.
It was part way through the Walk Japan Christmas party where we looked around and couldn’t help but smile at each other. The sheer concentration of intriguing people gathered in one room, buzzing with energy in this sleepy town. Throughout our time here, we’ve met so many people from diverse backgrounds engaged in interesting projects. Either through their direct involvement with Walk Japan or mutual friends, each introduction has left a lasting impression. It is impossible to overstate how grateful we are to the incredible people we have met during our time in Japan, but topping it off with our stay here in Ota has exceeded all expectations. We’re so thankful to have discovered this community and are excited to nurture it’s growth over the years to come."
Shimon & Roxy