Reasons to be cheerful 1 2 3
11th Nov 2021
In 2022 we reach our 30th anniversary so please let us blow our own trumpet a little. The years seem to have flown by, but the pleasure of introducing Japan to our customers remains as fresh and as enjoyable since we made our first tentative, dare we say it, steps. We pioneered walking tours for overseas visitors to Japan with an emphasis on little-known but fascinating rural regions. Our beginnings were with our now classic Nakasendo Way tour, and over the years we have created an unrivalled roster of 34 scheduled guided and self-guided tours that provide enjoyable experiences of Japan; tours that really become one with its daily life, customs and culture. 2022 is necessarily special to us so we definitely want to feel positive about next year!
Since early 2020, we have all been through phases of optimism and pessimism as restrictions were lifted and then reinstated as waves of the pandemic swept over us and then receded. Now, however, with vaccination programs firmly established, we can all have a sense of optimism that maybe we are beyond the worst and well on the way to Covid-19 becoming an endemic issue, rather than the widely disruptive pandemic it is. Increasingly it seems to be the case that Covid-19, which undoubtedly will not be something we can take lightly for some time, will, with care, be something that will have a much reduced impact on our lives.
As of 10th November 2021, 74.3% of Japan's population has been fully vaccinated with 78.1% (NHK website) having received at least one shot. It is reasonable to expect that 80% of Japanese will be fully vaccinated by the end of the year if not sooner. Additionally, all those who have been fully vaccinated are eligible for a booster shot eight months after receiving their second shot, and the expectation is that the uptake will be high.
The comparative success Japan has had at containing the virus, together with the rollout of its vaccination program and the wide acceptance of vaccines amongst the populace certainly allows the government much more policy room to open up the country to international travel. Indeed, all Japan’s domestic states of emergencies were lifted in early October and life is, from cursory observations, gently returning to normal. We do not think it unreasonable to feel that the current restrictions impeding leisure travel to Japan will remain in place for too much longer. And, sticking our necks out, we think it may happen sooner rather than later after the new year. But please do not hold us to this prediction yet!
Viewed in a wider context, international leisure travel within Europe and to Canada has resumed in earnest over the last few months, while travel to the United States and a number of Asian nations is becoming less onerous. This seems to be underpinned by a growing world-wide acceptance that a combination of vaccinations and public health measures is significantly reducing the severity of COVID-19.
Necessarily, of course, we have continually reviewed the situation both within and beyond Japan since the beginning of the pandemic as we look forward to the time when we can restart our tours and welcome you all to Japan once again. Perhaps the long wait we have all experienced is now nearing an end. We most certainly hope so and increasingly believe so.
If you have kept up to date with our activities during the pandemic, you will know that we have remained busy creating new tours and further developing our Community Project, which has grown significantly over the last 18 months. We also introduced our Talk Japan series of online presentations. The most recent of these, The Setouchi Art Islands, attracted an audience of over 300 people from around the world. This was most heartening, as is a slew of new applications from highly qualified people wishing to join us as Walk Japan Tour Leaders. A recent guiding seminar, which we were invited to hold aside Tohoku’s Michinoku Coastal Trail, was a great success and led to more enquiries by guides to join us. This newsletter's top image shows us together on the Trail.
We are accepting bookings for many of our tours from Spring 2022 onwards, and are already planning the schedule for a full roster by 2023, if not sooner. We are keenly aware that our plans and those of the rest of the world may not so easily come to fruition. Nevertheless, for the first time in a long while we feel reasonably confident about moving beyond Covid-19.
As we write this, the Japanese government is relaxing entry restrictions on business travellers and student visa holders. The major change is a reduction from 10 days to three-day self-quarantine. Hereon, we will endeavour to update you in a timely fashion about Japan’s changing travel restrictions as they develop along with their implications. So perhaps our optimism related above is well placed. Fingers crossed!
Paul Christie, CEO
Llew Thomas, Managing Director
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
Daily life on Kyushu’s beautiful rural Kunisaki Peninsula, where we centre our Japanese operations, has continued largely unaffected, almost regardless of the pandemic. A recent and annual milestone has been the safe conclusion of our rice harvest, which came in at a record for us of over 4.25 tonnes. We have already sold the bulk directly to consumers and donated some of the remainder to two organisations working with young adults and children. 120kg is going to the Oita Kodomo Sien Net, an non-profit organisation supporting young adults, who otherwise have no family or other social network to help them, cope successfully with wider society. We have already delivered another 60kg to Tanpopo Kitchen, which is run by a wonderful husband and wife team. Old friends and neighbours of ours in Kunisaki, over the years they have raised many foster children and through Tanpopo provide meals twice a month for less privileged children and a small respite for their parents.
Most recently, we have purchased a young sugi cedar plantation to add to the forestry already under our care. This time we are taking over a substantial area that has been left uncared for since the owner died three years ago. This new project will be at the core of our celebrations to mark Walk Japan’s 30th anniversary and, beyond that, provide a legacy for future generations. We are at the early stages of planning but the essence is to gradually clear the cedar monoculture while re-establishing a much more natural forest environment. Within the plantation are some derelict ponds that were once used to irrigate long-abandoned rice paddies. We will revive these to help broaden the ecology of the forest.
An inspiration for us has been the work of CW Nichols in Nagano’s Kurohime region. Nichols, who was born in Wales and became a household name in Japan for his environmental and TV work, was a pioneer in raising awareness of the beauty of Japan’s traditional forests and made great progress in re-creating a naturally diverse and environmentally sustainable community forest. Nichols died in 2020, but his work continues as The C.W. Nichols Afan Woodlands Trust.
The sheer size and current poor state of our newly purchased plantation, which is really a largely barren piece of hillside, presents us with a multi-year challenge in turning it into a diverse ecological habitat for current and future generations. Given the opportunity, we also intend to expand it into neighbouring plantation areas. We have already gained the good support of locals, who are very happy to know another area of their village will now be cared for again.
We are adding the forest to our Kunisaki tours, so participants will have the opportunity to walk through it and see the progress we make. A Canadian couple, who happen to live locally, have already begun volunteering on our Community Project including the early stages of clearing the undergrowth. An article about our Project was recently featured in The South China Morning Post, but please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to know more about any aspect of our Community Project, our new forest project and, if you wish, learn about ways in which you may help out.
Akiya & Inaka: Kunisaki Visit
In our June newsletter we took a look at restoration of akiya abandoned buildings, as homes, work and educational spaces, and rental accommodation. We have already revitalised five properties and they have all become integral parts of our Community Project. So, we were delighted to welcome Matt Ketchum of Akiya & Inaka, an innovative consultancy specialising in the art of successfully navigating the pitfalls and problems when purchasing and restoring properties in Japan. His six-day sojourn allowed him plenty of time to view our activities, visit Walk Japan colleagues based in Kunisaki, and appreciate the possibilities of the area. Matt’s visit took an exciting turn as our CEO and long-term resident of Kunisaki, Paul Christie, took him on a dramatic traverse of Nokogiri-yama - a classic hike drawn from our Kunisaki Trek tour. An avid videographer, Matt’s footage of their hike together is already available to view on YouTube here. Matt promises much more to come, including an interview with Paul, over the coming weeks.
William Adams: The English Samurai
We are pleased to announce the publication of the first two of five volumes of Richard Irving’s biography of William Adams: The English SamuraiWilliam Adams, the English samurai. Richard, who is Emeritus Professor of Policy Studies at Kwansei Gakuin University, is a founder of Walk Japan. His biography is the culmination of decades of research on Adams, who was shipwrecked in Kyushu in 1600 becoming, albeit unintentionally, the first British person ever to arrive in Japan. Richard’s writing is always an entertaining and informative read, and his books are available through Amazon. The third volume is available soon with the final two volumes due by 16th May 2022, the 402nd anniversary of Adam’s death.
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