Swiss travel agent Thomas Koehler specialized in travel to Japan, but after the March 11 earthquake last year, there were only cancellations, no bookings, and no money. Instead of twiddling his thumbs in Switzerland, Thomas Koehler decided to fly to Japan to walk the length of the country to prove it is still a safe destination for tourists.
Anyone who has followed the trend in foreigners walking the length of Japan since the 1980s will have read the classic The Roads to Sata by Alan Booth (1985). It’s the tale of a walk from Cape Soya at the northern tip in Hokkaido to Cape Sata in Kyushu, roughly 3,200 kilometers. I first read it soon after it was published when I had been in Japan about two or three years. In other words, a greenhorn and… I found the book so depressing I couldn’t finish it. Roughly five years later, with a bit more Japan under my belt, I read it again and treasured it for its spot-on descriptions and comments on the country and its people.
Personally, I have so far been able to resist the lure of trekking Japan, but The Roads to Sata has inspired others to traverse the country on foot. Here are some of them, but a simple Google search will turn up more.
In 1996, Craig McLachlan published Four Pairs of Boots about his walk, the title referring to the number of boots he wore out on his trek. Inspired by the national obsession with the advance of the cherry blossoms in the spring, Will Ferguson hitchhiked the country to keep up with the “Cherry Blossom Front” and described it all in Hokkaido Highway Blues (1998). Chris Stanton blogged about his walk in One Man Walking (2008) while Chris Lynch and Ian Fraser teamed up with Ian going east to west, and Chris south to north, documenting the experience in the Four Corners of Japan blog (also 2008). Tyler “Kintaro” McNiven did it to impress his girlfriend and made a film about it, Kintaro Walks Japan (2004), available to watch for free on Google video. Adding some edge to the trek, William, the Wannabe Hobbit and Mami, his wife, walked the length of Japan barefoot, while Mick and Miki Tan raised the ante by traversing the length of Japan on stilts in the Pongo Hogo Hogo Challenge (2009-10) to raise money for the orangutans in Borneo.
Where will this end?
Here is the trailer for Negative Nothing, the documentary of Thomas Koehler’s walk in 2011. Do watch. He is absolutely adorable.