On Foot With Walk Japan

For a taste of what Japan has to offer beyond the usual tourist destinations, consider a trip with Walk Japan, which boasts unique walking itineraries that will take you to the heart of the country. Paul Christie, CEO of Walk Japan, explains why discovering Japan on foot is worth experiencing.

Now that people are traveling to Japan with a vengeance, would you say people are seeking out more unique experiences? Is there a considerable increase in queries and bookings with Walk Japan?

Most of our customers have a sense of adventure and enjoy unique experiences that allow them to feel close to and engaged with the Japanese at large, something not easily found at popular sightseeing destinations or in guidebooks.

At Walk Japan, we have a great sense that the pandemic has fuelled this desire further for a wider population of travellers, which in turn is boosting the growth of queries and bookings with us. Since the reopening of Japan’s borders, queries and bookings for our tours in 2023 have already surpassed pre-pandemic levels. We have added many more tours for this year and now have 200 scheduled tour dates for 2024, with many hundreds more to be added over the coming months.

For those looking to embark on their first journey with Walk Japan, but have no idea how to get started, what are your top recommended tours?

Our five-day, four-night Nakasendo Way: The Kiso Road, is centered on one of the best sections of our classic 11-day Nakasendo Way tour, which also happens to be very popular for first-timers with more time on hand. Both focus on the pivotal and captivating Edo Period (1603-1868) when the Nakasendo Way became a crucial artery of the Tokugawa shogunate, an administration recognized as the most accomplished in Japanese history. Either tour is a great way to appreciate Japan’s history, geography, culture, and modern way of life. It takes us through the beautiful countryside providing us with intimate connections with the locals and their lives.

Our five-day, four-night Onsen Gastronomy series of tours are popular with Singaporeans. The Onsen Gastronomy: Oita & Kumamoto tour, journeys through the scenic island of Kyushu, meandering through serene valleys, tranquil rivers, and through charming villages, with overnight stays in authentic Japanese inns that each feature their own unique onsen hot spring baths. These tours offer exquisite cuisine composed of seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, sakes sourced from boutique breweries, hands-on experiences together with gentle strolls through bucolic countryside.

The seven-day, six-night Izu Geo Trail explores the Izu Peninsula, one of the most unique geological areas on Earth. Although only 150km (94 miles) from Tokyo, Izu – with its distinctly different landscape and climate akin to a sub-tropical island – is a world away from the capital. A little more stamina is needed for this tour, but provides lovely rewards that include spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean to Mt. Fuji, excellent fish-centric gourmet meals, and onsen hot spring baths.

Since the pandemic and the reopening of Japan’s borders, what new tours and programs has Walk Japan introduced? What are their USPs and what kind of traveler are you hoping to attract?

In January 2021, we launched the Michinoku Coastal Trail, which explores a new long distance footpath following the Sanriku Coast in Japan’s northern Tohoku region. This beautiful, but remote region’s economy has for centuries been largely dependent on the fishing grounds off its coast. Tour participants journey over grassy promenades, isolated beaches and coves, through small quiet fishing and farming villages, and onto larger port towns like Miyako, Ofunato, and Kesennuma.

Also In 2021, we introduced the third in this series: The Onsen Gastronomy: Snowy Aizu tour. This includes gentle snowshoeing over Aizu’s winter wonderland countryside in addition, of course, to plentiful onsen hot springs, delectable Japanese gastronomy, and delightful ryokan inns.

In 2022, we celebrated our 30th anniversary with the purchase of a dilapidated 21,500 sq. meter cedar plantation to rejuvenate over the coming years as an ecologically diverse woodland. It is the latest expansion of our ongoing Community Project, which is an initiative we established in 2007 to help reinvigorate Kyushu’s beautiful Kunisaki Peninsula where our in-country operations are headquartered.

As someone who has a deep understanding of Japan’s culture and landscape, can you paint us a picture of Paul Christie’s Japan?

Japan has been in my dream since I first ventured here as a student of the language back in 1987. I only intended to stay one year, but have spent most of the years since enjoyably immersed in Japan and its society. The country and its people have only ever shown me generosity and friendship, and the whole experience has been nothing short of incredible. I feel completely at ease here and doubt I will ever return to my home country to live there again.

In particular, I owe a great deal to my homestay family, who welcomed me with unconditional openness and warmth, and gave me my first deep insights into the true spirit of the Japanese people. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to come to know many Japanese from all walks of life – farmers, laborers, academics, government employees, businessmen and women, leading figures in society, even descendants of the greatest shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. They’ve allowed me to understand and appreciate just how vibrant and rich the culture truly is. I am grateful to have been privy to intimate portraits of their ways of life and to enjoy their company along the way. In so many ways, the real Japan starts first and foremost with these wonderful people. Over the years I have travelled the length and breadth of Japan; from its bustling cities to its remote quiet countryside and even further-flung islands. Wherever I go, Japan still intrigues and inspires me and I am grateful to call it my home.

Gourmet Traveller