Back to the Wild

Posted by on Dec 6, 2011 in Oita, Travel Volunteer Journey | 2 Comments
Back to the Wild

Travelling as native English speakers we’ve found our mother tongues getting progressively worse. A sentence like: “Mum and dad’s garden became bigger over the years,” can devolve to something clunky like: “The garden of my mother and father has become more big.” It’s part of making yourself more understood, but when you suddenly bump into other English-speakers – in today’s case fellow Brits – then the difference can sound ugly and surprising.
When Paul Christie and Naomi Addyman of Walk Japan picked us up this morning, we found it especially hard to flip back and forget that we were speaking to folk from our own country.
Paul: “So where are you from Katy.”
Katy: “Oh the south east [of England]”
Paul: [Knowing that already from the accent] “Yes, but where?”
Katy: “Near Canterbury.”
Paul: [Knowing the Canterbury area already] “Yes, but where?”
Katy: [Forgetting that we were speaking to English people] “Oh, sorry, Ashford.”
Paul: “Ah right, I’m Whitstable [only 32km from Ashford] born and bred.”

This sort of thing is fairly common, and it takes a while to overcome – I’m sure each time we return home, to our friends and family we sound like faltering robots. But after we got past that today it was a rare, pleasant treat to be able to relax our mouths and just chat.
At least when we could find the breath to do it; climbing up through a thick wood with Naomi, camera gear on our backs, it was hard to find the puff to do much of anything other than relentlessly put one foot in front of another.
It seemed like only a few moments ago that we were doing this kind of thing in Yakushima – our calf muscles had only just returned to normal, and we were off again, scaling another Japanese landscape. This one though, could hardly have been more different from the sodden conditions on the Kagoshiman island, with a largely dry path leading across rocks and out, again and again, to stunning vistas.

Although we’ve done it twice in the last week, for a country that is dominated by mountains, trekking in Japan seems a fairly rare pastime. On a couple of occasions, we’ve seen Japanese tourists decked out in some incredibly expensive hiking/survival gear to go on what is little more than an amble in the countryside. There’s not been a sniff of a gaijin doing it. It’s a big contrast to other countries (Argentina, Nepal) so similarly blessed with hiking opportunities.
Paul, Naomi and the rest of the team at Walk Japan realised that the country was under-served in this area some time ago, which is why we could enjoy the Kunisaki trek today.

Here in the east of Kyushu, we were scrambling up to a ridge, then navigating along the spine of a mountain range, with hundreds of miles of views on both sides of us. At times, we had to drag ourselves up rocks with ropes; at others we were abseiling with chains. It was tough going, but worth every step.

Within just a few hours of being in Oita, we knew we were in a special place, but, like so many areas of Japan, it suffers from a huge amount of urbanisation. It’s a process that seems impossible to stop: people abandoning this rural life, beautiful as it is, to chase hard cash the mega cities. The result is an absence of young people, and a rapidly decreasing population that is largely made up of retirees. It’s a process Paul is trying to reverse with Walk Japan’s community projects.

One of the major drawbacks of so many able bodied people leaving for the cities is that formerly tended land quickly becomes overgrown and ugly – especially here in the fertile growing environment of Kyushu. It might sound like a childishly simple ploy, but by making the land more appealing, Paul hopes to give people less reasons to leave. Things like the Kunisaki trek will should help, too – opening old half-forgotten routes, giving it greater exposure, bringing money to the area… There’s also a local movement to revive agriculture on a small scale, allowing the community to try and, in part, provide for itself. One day there might be a kind of community tourism, where people can get away from the trappings of the urbal sprawl and come down here to lead a simple life for a couple of weeks, getting back to nature, chopping wood for fire, harvesting their meals and so on. It’s ambitious, and a hugely laborious process when there’s a growing tour company to run; and especially when some people can be suspicious of the tall gaijin’s motives.

But listening to him talk about his vision with such energy and passion we were totally won over (the fact he said it all with a beautifully clear, sonorous English accent probably helped, too). Much to Katy’s delight, it seems appropriate to end with a quote from her hero, the recently departed Steve Jobs: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently.”



今朝、WALK JAPANのポールとナオミが私達を迎えに来てくれたのだが、本来の会話のペースをつかむのに時間がかかり、ついつい同郷の人と話しているというのを忘れてしまっていた。




ポール、ナオミ、そしてWALK JAPANのチームは、この未開拓の分野に魅力と可能性を感じ、そのことが今日ここ国東半島でトレッキングを楽しませてもらっているかにつながるのだ。


大分県に到着して数時間、私達はここがとても魅力的な場所だと感じていた。だが日本の他の場所と同じように、ここも都市化の波に押されていた。それを食い止める事は不可能にみえる。人々はこの美しい田舎での暮らしを捨て、都市での生活を追いかけているのだ。それは若い人の減少につながり、そして過疎化を生む。ポールはWALK JAPANのコミュニティープロジェクトでそれを食い止めようとしている。





  1. Eric
    December 6, 2011

    Me too, I want to “Walk Japan”! :-)

    Seriously, I hope I’ll get an opportunity to come down to Kyushu and meet Paul & Naomi; they seem like wonderful people with beautiful ideas…

    Great post & pictures again, folks!


    • Katy & Jamie
      December 7, 2011

      We really loved our day with them both and the Walk Japan tours are on our ‘to do next time’ list (which is HUGE!). Can not recommend it enough!