At Walk Japan we take our Corporate Social Responsibility seriously. We actively operate our company in a way that recognises the important role and responsibilities that business has in society. Foremost for us this means being committed to and supportive of the communities in which we operate our business.
Corporate Social Responsibility: Commitment
This commitment to corporate social responsibility is embedded in our company’s core values, which include respect for people whether within and without our company and a belief that all people deserve full and equal civil rights. We also firmly believe that with rights also come responsibilities.
We are committed to our customers, suppliers and colleagues at Walk Japan and run our business without reference to age, gender, race, sexual orientation, creed or nationality. We also expect all at Walk Japan to share a commitment to one another that is mutually supportive based on respect and integrity. Without any of this we do not believe we can run a sustainable and successful business.
Corporate Social Responsibility: Support
Corporate social responsibility also means for us working hard to make sure that our tours have a positive impact on the areas that we visit. Wherever possible we use and support family-run and other local businesses. This is not just because we think we should, and we do strongly, but because we also know that collaboration with these entities is an essential element in providing authentic and enjoyable experiences of Japan.
Corporate Social Responsibility: Environment
Talking about the environment for a travel company whose customers often fly around the world to join us leaves us open, rightly, to criticism. We have to recognise that most of our customers are reliant on flying to Japan to join our tours. On top of which, we regularly fly to where our customers live to meet them in person and to meet our colleagues – we are spread over four continents and six countries. That being the case, however, we really do try hard to balance our business interests with environmental concerns.
Walking tours, by their very nature, generally have a small environmental footprint. We use public transport wherever possible. Again we see this as not just as a virtue but vital in providing authentic and enjoyable experiences of Japan.
There are number of ways we could ameliorate the impact of our flying with carbon offset schemes. We have, however, decided to take a far more immediate and personal approach to this aspect of our corporate social responsibility by caring for and creating woodlands ourselves as part of our Community Project.
Corporate Social Responsibility: Community Project
Our Community Project is a very tangible aspect of our social corporate responsibility. The Project holds the key virtue of marrying our general responsibilities to wider society, including human, social and environmental issues, with what we can do practically as a company and as individuals.
For over two decades we have taken thousands of customers to many off-the-beaten-path areas of Japan. Whether deep in the mountains of central Japan, isolated villages or remote islands, these places offer insights, elusive to most visitors to Japan, into the nation and its people, its culture and natural beauty. They also highlight an often hidden side of Japan that is far from its common image as a technological advanced and crowded nation. Rural Japan is in a gentle but seemingly unstoppable decline.
Unused and overgrown paddies and arable fields are found throughout Japan. Forests are often uncared for and farmhouses in various states of ruin are prominent almost everywhere. Through this landscape bamboo growing rampant seems to be on a destructive march through everything standing in its path.
Dick Irving a founder of Walk Japan and Professor of social geography at Kwansei Gakuin University in Kobe, is an expert in the field of issues facing rural Japan. For more than 30 years Dick has been researching and documenting rural Japan in his study area of Ayabe in Kyoto Prefecture. Dick’s research paper, Environmental caretaker – Who wants the job?, eloquently describes the problems of a declining and ageing population and their growing impact on rural communities.
In late 2007, we established our Community Project in Kunisaki since when it has increasingly become a potent symbol of our corporate social responsibility. Kunisaki is a region that faces an uncertain future as the local population continues to shrink and age. We provide funding for local labour to work on the project and our staff also help when they can. Current work is centred on the revival of plantation forests; the re-establishment of mixed forests and natural environments; and the rehabilitation of long disused fields. The long-term aim is to help the communities of two, small neighbouring valleys maintain their environment and provide for a more vibrant and prosperous future. Between now and then, though, there is a lot of work to do and we will be providing details of progress and future plans on this page and in our blog.
Our local base in Japan is in an old farmhouse in Kunisaki that we have converted for the purpose. The building had been empty for over 17 years before we took it over and is, so far, symbolic of what we are achieving. The office has been reconstructed with the aid of local craftsmen using locally-sourced timber. An excellent natural air flow through the building means that in the summer months we have no need for air conditioning and rarely need to use fans. We have just installed a wood-burning stove for warmth in the winter months. The wood for the stove is sourced from a nearby coppice. Coppicing is an ancient technique that was common throughout the world helping to sustain and protect woodlands. We have also installed a simple but effective composting toilet and all lighting is low-energy LED. Other planned additions, including solar air and water heaters, will make our office one of the least energy intensive work environments possible. The office is the first of a series of environmentally low-impact and low-energy intensive structures, including accommodation for our customers, we plan to build over the coming years.
Moriyama san is one of three locals employed full-time and part-time by us to help us maintain and develop our Project. He is using his skills learnt as a lumberjack to re-establish natural woodlands and properly maintain cedar plantations. The woodlands are to include many varieties of native trees and provide habitats to support as great a wildlife as possible. With our local help we are also reviving arable fields, some left untended for as long as 40 years, and creating orchards to provide a great range of fruit including citrus, peach, figs, chestnuts, cherry, mulberry and plums. In time we will also be establishing a small vineyard. With some of our village neighbours we have also taken over the maintenance of a park area that had long been neglected and is now a resource for everyone to enjoy again.
Other activities in Kunisaki involve all our staff in finding long disused and lost, old trails; maintaining established trails; and lending their time and effort to support other local community groups planting trees and picking up rubbish. Customers on our Kunisaki Trek, Kunisaki Retreat and Kunisaki & Yufuin Walk tours get to see what we are doing but anyone interested is welcome to come and see what we are up to in this beautiful part of Japan. Or, if you cannot come to Kunisaki we have a blog that provides updates on what we doing and discovering.
Please contact Walk Japan for further details.