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A Journey by foot across Japan, the land of the rising sun
Welcome to my blog! This blog is about my walk across Japan that I did in 2010, from Cape Sata down south to Cape Soya up north. The journey has ended but I'm left with a blog stuffed with photographs, videos and memories. Feel free to have a look around!

The planning and construction of this site began in June 2009 and I set off in March 2010. Follow these links and read the posts from the bottom and up (they are sorted newest first) or use the navigation on the right to get started!

Thanks for stopping by, I hope you'll like it!
By Josef Nilsen at 2012-04-15 22:50:07 Comments (0)
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading, everyone! This was a great adventure, and we'll see if there'll ever be a book about it!

What the future holds in sight I don't quite know yet, but I hope to explore the rest of the world as I have explored Japan!

Over and out,
By Josef Nilsen at 2011-07-17 05:49:38 Comments (4)

  • Hottest day: 36-38 degrees Celsius. Hokkaido in August was terribly hot, similar temperatures in northern Honshu in June if not a wee bit more. In Tokyo it was pushing 40 degrees Celsius, but then I was done with the walk and only did sightseeing.

  • Coldest day: Near the top of Mount Fuji, about -5 degrees at night in May. Coldest regular day was in Kanoya in early March, about 0 degrees and snow.

  • Photographs taken: About 4740, plus the duplicates etc. that I deleted.

  • Videos filmed: 14.

  • Longest distance walked without proper rest: 66 kilometers (From the foot of Mount Fuji, near the top, down again and all the way to Gotenba). Took 38 hours including breaks.

  • Initial weight: 95 kilos.

  • Current weight: 72 kilos. I lost 5 kilos during the walk, 18 kilos during preparations.

  • Pairs of shoes worn down: 2.

  • Best pair of shoes: Meindl (really liked them!).

  • Distance walked: a little more than 3220 kilometers (2000 miles).

  • Average step-length: (53+48+50+52)/4 = 50,75cm.

  • Steps walked: (3 220km * 1 000m * 100cm) / 50,75cm = 6 344 827,59, so about 6,35 million steps unless I did something wrong here.

  • Days walked: 172 including days of rest, 172-27 = 145 excluding days of rest.

  • Days of rest (IIRC): 27 (Days 7, 20, 43, 58, 62, 63, 70, 84, 89-95, 97, 101, 112, 116-117, 123, 139, 143, 153, 157-158, 167).

  • Average distance walked per day (including days of rest): 3220/172 = 18.72km.

  • Average distance walked per day (excluding days of rest): 3220/145 = 22,21km.

  • Hours walked (estimating average pace of 4km/h): 3220/4 = 805 hours.

  • Weight carried: Varied between 24 kilos when carrying food, water and additional camera gear as well as wet clothes and sleeping bag and about 17 kilos after I sent it all home and didn't carry food and water and my clothes were dry. I often carried water at the very least in Kyushu, northern Honshu and Hokkaido. Average weight is about 20 kilos I suppose, including my boots and stuff like that.

  • Estimated average weight: (77+72)/2 = about 75 kilos weight + average 20 kilos carried weight.

  • Estimated calories burned per hour by walking at 95kg: 603.

  • Total calories burned from walking: 805*603 = 485,415.

  • Prefectures passed: 23 I think (Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Oita, Fukuoka, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Hyogo, Osaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Mie, Aichi, Shizuoka, Kanagawa, Tokyo, Saitama, Tochigi, Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, Aomori, Hokkaido).

  • Equivalent distances (along roads): This distance is equivalent to Copenhagen <-> Gibraltar, Seattle <-> Chicago, across China vertically on the middle and across Australia from Drawin to Adelaide!

  • Time spent blogging: 199*35 = 6965 minutes (6965/60 = 116 hours, assuming about 35 minutes per entry on average I would say).

  • Most enjoyable prefecture: Hokkaido with its milder climate, wide roads and open-minded people.

  • Least enjoyable prefecture: Iwate. Narrow roads, no beautiful scenery really. It felt like some people were being asses (the police woman for instance). That being said there were nice people in Iwate as well of course.

  • Things I never did but wanted to do:

    • See yokohama.

    • Visit a sumo-beya (sumo stable).

    • See a Noh play.

    • See a Kabuki play.

    • See the 88 temples of Shikoku.

    • Visit Okinawa.

    • Visit Nagasaki.

    • See the view from Mount Hakodate on a CLEAR day.

    • Tsukiji fish market itself (not the tuna auction, I saw that already but had to leave in a hurry).

    • Stay at a Capsule hotel.

    • Experience a bunkasai.

    • See the Ghibli museum.

    • Have a bath at Shima onsen (which is said to have inspired the making of Spirited Away).

    • See the top of Mount Fuji - traditional style (I was 70 meters away, roughly).

    • Visit Tokyo Disneyland.

    • Visit Osaka (although I probably walked through the very outskirts of the town I'd like to see more of it).

    • Visit the Tokyo Game Show.

    • Visit the Tokyo International Anime Fair.

    • See a Japanese rock garden.

    • See the Cocoon Tower interior.

    • Eat remen.

    • Visit Furano in Hokkaido.

    • Visit the New York Bar in Tokyo (the bar in the movie "Lost in translation")

    • Visit Comiket.

By Josef Nilsen at 2011-07-17 05:35:39 Comments (0)
Random thoughts
Random thoughts:
- I often see Japanese girls with one eye patched. I wonder if they widen their eyes? The European look with wide eyes rather than the flat Asian ones is really popular, and the megastars all seem to have a bit wider eyes. Either they fix them or being born with them is just a trait of success.
- Near Asakusa it's possible to buy "Candy popcorn", "Icecream hamburgers" and chocolate dipped chips. Mmmm, yummy… not!
- I'm missing Tokyo Game Show with only two weeks! DOH!
- Why are people pretending to be such globetrotters when they are abroad? The typical hostel-syndrome where excited younger people try to seem all relaxed in an environment they are not used to is tiresome, as if they had been traveling every single day since they were born.
- It's funny how most Japanese homepages have elaborate layouts, but when you click at the English flag a completely white page with what, two lines of black text pops up saying something you can hardly make any sense of.
- An old man in Shinjuku even ate straight out of the trash. Seeing Shinjuku at night was really quite an experience…
- It's often common to run into people in Japan that claim to know at least five languages. Only knowing a few words often seems to qualify as knowing a language. A tea-farmer at the top of a mountain I ran into exclaimed in Japanese that it was great that we could understand each other so well, and that regardless of which language we spoke we would get through to each other. He didn't understand a word of English however, and I strained myself to understand what he said in Japanese. I also ran into a guy studying linguistics and he said that the tests he'd had at the university were kiddy grade level too. I suppose that goes for all languages but Japanese, where I think the bar is actually really high.
- The salesmen in Asakusa were surprisingly persistent to be Japanese:
Me: I'd like a Kokeshi that looks kind of like this one!
Salesman: Oh, you mean this traditional Kokeshi?
Me: No, I'm not interested in that one at all
Salesman: Look, you can move the head!
Me. I'm looking for a Kokeshi that looks a bit like this one (points at the one I just pointed at)
Salesman: Can you hear the sound it makes when you move the head?
Me: Look, do you have it or not?
Salesman: If you don't want this traditional one I can't help you!!!!
- This trip gave me chafes, corn (and not the type you eat), brown and blue nails, nails falling off, blisters and rash. God it will be nice to rest my feet for a while now, this trip has been ruthless on them!
By Josef Nilsen at 2011-07-17 05:33:29 Comments (0)
Days 184-185 (2010-09-01 - 2010-09-02)
I woke up, packed my bag and planned the day. Wachin was nice enough to give me a ride to the train which I took to Tokyo. I left my backpack in a locker and met up with a friend to do some sightseeing. We went to Meiji Shrine, a shintoistic shrine in Tokyo surrounded by 170,000 trees covering a total area of 700,000 square meters of land. We had brunch and walked around in Tokyo.

I returned to Tokyo station to look for an Internet café, but I couldn't find one so I headed on to the next station. Still nothing. I continued from Kanta to Akihabara, where I found one where I could use one of my many Internet Café cards. Normally you need a passport to get access to the Internet Cafés but if you are a member already you have your details stored electronically. I left my passport in my backpack at the station, and my drivers license wasn't a valid ID.

Actually you need your passport to exchange money as well, and to stay at the hotel. And the police can at any time ask you to show your passport. If you can't show them your passport they could arrest you. As I passed a Koban (police box) I asked for the directions for instance. They asked me for the passport and of course I had forgotten it at the hotel. They were nice enough to let me go though. I heard of one guy who walked Japan when the G8 summit was held here, and he had been questioned by police 8 times in a day! Tight security for us foreigners!

I caught a cab to Shinjuku to get a few shots of Mode Gakuen, an award-winning skyscraper. The subway had already closed, which surprised me. I thought this city was big enough to keep the subway running around the clock.

What I saw at Shinjuku shocked me however. Tokyos homeless, many well-dressed men with pulleys, carefully folding their clothes, laid down straight on the ground. There were hundreds, and it didn't quite smell of roses. I felt sorry for them, as I could see that they were trying to maintain what little dignity they still had left by keeping up a proper exterior as far as it was possible. Some of them unpacked cardboard they were carrying to make their own little separate space. Early morning there would be no trace of them, their pulleys nor the cardboard.

Some were definitely worse off than others. I saw an old man without a single belonging, and several centimeters long nails, blacked out in the middle of the walkway. He smelled of both shit and puke.

Mode Gakuen was closed as well, I had hoped it would be open at night since some people study at night in Tokyo (talk about no free time, even to sleep!). I headed on to Tsukiji, the worlds largest fish market. It's only possible to enter in a guided group, but the entrance is surprisingly free of charge.

The staff at the fish market shouts repeatedly at the visitors, clearly frustrated that they are in the way. Some people more dense than others in the group would still stand in the way and not understand enough to move aside, which managed to piss them off even more. The space we could move around at was really limited, and although I witnessed a tuna auction (and heard what seemed to be a language of its own spoken on the auction), I didn't think it was that big a deal.

I realized the time had run away, and that my plane was leaving real soon. I hurried back to the station to get my backpack in the locker. The electronic lock wouldn't open, so I had to call for an attendant to help me. I was already quite stressed out. I barely made it to the airport and onto the flight for Beijing.

As I landed in Beijing I met one of the Pakistani brothers I had previously met in Kobe, whom I had PREVIOUSLY met on the Japanese countryside. Amazing, running into some guy you casually talked to thrice! There were thousands of people standing in line as well. What are the odds? Must be as low as winning the lottery.

In Beijing I switched for a connecting flight to Stockholm/Arlanda, at the airport my family waited to greet me and that marked the definite end of this adventure!
By Josef Nilsen at 2011-07-17 05:19:06 Comments (0)
Days 182-183 (2010-08-30 - 2010-08-31)
I woke up late and did some surfing in the afternoon. I looked for a cool tattoo to get in Tokyo, I wanted to a tattoo tebori-style, without the use of a machine, but purely by hand. I also had a look out for things to do in Tokyo. There was another barbecue, I had some beer and met a lot of new people!

The next day I was supposed to meet a friend in Tokyo. I got there late however, and by that time she was already gone. I phoned to apologize, and then headed to the Imperial Palace, and I walked around in the palace gardens for a while, as the palace was closed. As far as I know you are only allowed to enter the palace on new years day.

I out to get a few shots of the Shinkansen trains. I was surprised to find there was a 130-yen admission ticket to the platform alone, which doesn't exist in Sweden. I moved on to Odaiba and had some great shots. Odaiba is a really beautiful place, with a great view of the rainbow bridge, a replica of the statue of liberty as well as several very cool buildings like the Fuji-TV building.

As I was crossing the rainbow bridge I ran into a couple of young girls, who really wanted their picture taken with me for some reason. I remembered an English teacher I met in the beginning of my journey saying "Sometimes I feel like a whale in the zoo here, merely being a tourist attraction". I felt a bit like that as well, even though it was fun to have a chat with people.

As I was standing in an escalator on my way to the train back to Kazusa Ichinomiya some guy tapped me on the back and told me I was bleeding. Apparently I had been for a while, without noticing. I had a wound on my leg and quite a lot of blood had come out. Weird!
By Josef Nilsen at 2011-07-17 04:55:41 Comments (0)
Days 180-181 (2010-08-28 - 2010-08-29)
I checked out at 10 am and went over to Asakusa to pick up the kokeshi I had scouted the day before. One of them was particularly hard to find, for my aunt. I left for Shinjuku to buy new bathing shorts, I had some ramen and gyoza for lunch and talked to the chef. I was looking for Rikugien Garden, but since I didn't know what garden was in Japanese I kept saying Rikugien Park, which no one understood. It was closer to 40 C in Tokyo and given this high humidity it was really quite a killer. The tall buildings would make sure that the flow of air was fairly limited as well. It was just a boiling pot.

Finally I reached it however, an old and very well-kept garden. I dropped by backpack off in the reception, since they were kind enough to hold it there for me so that I could move around freely. It was very beautiful, with small streams, lots of carp in the ponds, beautiful pine trees and so on. It almost felt like traveling to ancient Japan.

As I was catching the train to Kazusa Ichinomiya I was told to stand in a certain spot. I did. I leaned forward to ask if the seats were reserved, and she told me that it was fine for me to enter there, but that I had to do so last in line since I had leaned out of the line. She was fairly clear about me not being allowed to cut any corners, as she saw it. The language barrier is fairly irritating, especially as I did as I was instructed to, and waited longer than most just to get to stand last in line.

I arrived a little late at the surf house my friend Rob and and his friend Wachin was running. A mix of people was gathering up for the evenings barbecue. A girl who had been a dancer started showing off, and another girl, a photographer, asked me if she could borrow my camera. A professional lightning supervisor joined in and the evenings entertainment was settled.

The next day I had bacon and bread for breakfast. I sat down in front of the computer since it was pretty much too hot to do anything. At least 36 C, which felt like a lot in this humidity too. I did nothing until it was lunchtime, when me, Rob, his girlfriend Noriko (who was kind enough to let me stay at her place in the beginning of my journey) and Simon ("Kes", someone me and Rob knew through Hattrick, a game I was developing at the time).

When the worst heat had subsided I tried surfing. It was hard, but a lot of fun. At my last attempt after a couple of hours I finally got up and away a bit, but it was as fastest when I stayed down and had a chance to balance and steer in the right direction. It was a quite a workout for my upper body, and I was surprised I got so tired in the upper body (my legs were fine) since I considered myself pretty fit, at least in the legs and shoulders, thanks to my heavy backpack.

Everyone surfing was really muscular however, and I felt a bit silly. Especially my upper body was completely white, since I had been wearing a shirt all the time, and it's not like I had a six-pack. I was staying with several avid surfers, even professionals, and I couldn't even stand at the damn thing!

I cooked up a quick meal at the surfer shack and headed to bed fairly early, tired from the heat and the surfing.
By Josef Nilsen at 2011-07-17 04:38:36 Comments (0)
Days 178-179 (2010-08-26 - 2010-08-27)
I slept in the first morning, after which I looked for kokeshi dolls as requested by family members back home. I had some good food and surfed the web looking for interesting stuff to do, planning my stay in Tokyo. Suddenly the time was so much that everything had closed.

The next day I overslept, and spent the day with a friend. We went to the Mori art museum (as opposed to the Mori Art Center I think, which turned out to be something else which we originally intended to see). We had lunch and some sweets. It was a fun day all in all, and I got some really old coins from Nagoya as a gift! Really cool!
By Josef Nilsen at 2011-07-17 04:19:31 Comments (0)
Day 177 (2010-08-25)
I woke up early even though I went to bed late - I only slept about 4 hours. I walked over to the bus station to get back out to Cape Soya in order to get a few shots of the landscape around the cape. The last bus had already left however.

I tried to hitch a ride, but people just looked at me as if I was crazy as they passed, so I walked back to the minshuku. The old lady at the minshuku was quite nice however, and offered to drive me there.

I surfed the web while she was finishing stuff up at the minshuku, and at 11 am we headed out in her car. She was a little shy to ask for money for the trip, but I offered her a couple of thousand yen as compensation for driving me. As I was paying I said it was cheap, then she told me that she had given me a discount.

A funny old lady, secretly giving discounts! Apparently the old lady from the previous minshuku had said I was such a sweet little boy, so I had been given a discount.

I was quite tired from the lack of sleep and from everything that had happened the day before, but I still think I got a few good panoramas of the beautiful landscape. We continued farther down the rode, where even the minshuku owner hadn't been before, just to realize there was nothing there but forest, so we turned back.

When I got back I had kaitensushi, the kind where the sushi plates spin around and you just pick what you want, and where the plates are color coded after price. I got back to the minshuku and packed up, and the old lady drove me out to the airport. I arrived only 25 minutes before departure.

First they couldn't find me in their booking system. When they finally found me I decided to go to the toilet, dropping the ticket straight into it. I went back to the counter again and had to explain it in my broken Japanese, which was fairly embarrassing.

The first-class travelers had priority, so I boarded first even though I came there last. I sat down in one of the wide seats and was offered a wide selection of English newspapers they had prepared just for me, since I was the only foreigner aboard. I asked for some champagne as well, and the stewardess replied "of course, sir", when I was done drinking she came back asking "would you like some more, sir?". I found being called sir a lot of fun, people should call me sir more often I think! The airplane food was also quite good compared to what I was used to.

I realized that what took three months for me to walk took about an hour to fly. Mans advancements in technology are pretty amazing after all, I thought. I caught a monorail and switched trains to head to Asakusa, where I had decided to stay at Toyoko Inn.

Toyoko Inn may be cheap, but they have some odd rules:
- To prolong the stay is fine if you want another night, but in that case the room service MUST enter the room to do cleaning on the day you prolong your stay, even if you don't want room service.
- If I do the economy package deal with limited cleaning I get a discount since limited cleaning is more environmentally friendly than the full cleaning (like not washing towels etc.). If I choose no cleaning at all however, which should be even better, I get no discount at all.
- They need a copy of my passport every time I stay with them, even though I'm a member. Why not just store it digitally and just confirm that it's me?
- Sometimes they say in the reception that they have no rooms free, but I can use their public computers in the reception to make a reservation.
By Josef Nilsen at 2011-07-17 04:13:26 Comments (0)
Day 176 (2010-08-24)
I woke up early and got treated by some melon by the old lady as she told me of a 70-year old Japanese man who had passed a couple of years earlier, and stayed at the same minshuku. Apparently he had walked all the way from Okinawa. Right on the finish line I found myself outdone by a 70-year old, wow. He must be one of the toughest guys out there, I thought. When I was done with breakfast I strapped on the backpack for the last day of walking, with Cape Soya as the destination.

I kept a high pace, and 11 kilometers down the road I sat down to have a few sandwiches. Just 4 kilometers further down the road a man approached me. It turned out he was a local journalist, and for the first time this trip he was actually there to ask me a few questions about my trip rather than about works of art or the Nara deer.

We managed to get through the interview in Japanese fairly quickly, after which I continued again. I stopped at a Seicomart convenience store to get some lunch and ran into a long distance bicyclist about my age, drinking a mineral and vitamin drink. Does your legs hurt too? I asked. Yeah, it hurts a lot, he said. I'm trying to drink healthy drinks and all, making sure I'm not malnutritioned, but it still hurts. I thought of my own vitamin, mineral and omega3 pills. Great minds think alike I guess!

Suddenly a man from the city office of Wakkanai, the northernmost city in Japan I had just stayed in, came up to me and told me he would like to congratulate me at the cape. We had a quick talk and he said he would like to meet me at the cape at 5 pm. It was pretty tight time-wise, but I said I would hurry. The bicyclist said he would like to see me reach the cape too, so we decided to meet there.

I hurried there, cheered on by several people passing by in cars and on motorcycles. Once I reached my destination I met another reporter who also interviewed me. Apparently the old lady at the minshuku had told the city office and the reporters about me.

27 kilometers in just under 7 hours, an average of 4 kilometers an hour. I walked it more or less non-stop excluding a few really short breaks. The city office guy had made a poster saying something about me, and he and the bicyclist held it up behind me while the reporters took photographs. I asked them if I could take a photograph of them in return, but the female journalist apparently found it an outrageous request, and promptly denied it.

Cape Soya was somewhat of an opposite of Cape Sata, my starting point. Busses trafficked the flat roads, passing several convenience stores and restaurants, and it seemed to be a meeting place for motorcyclists, cyclists and hikers. In retrospect starting in a remote location with lots of tough mountain roads and no public transportation might not have been the best idea, but it was an adventure in itself.

The day had gone by in a blink - suddenly I was just there. I took a few moments to go down to the sea and touch it at the very edge of the cape. I suppose this is where I should think back and get nostalgic, but I was just shocked that it had ended just like that. The six hardest months of my life had came to an end, and the challenge was over.

The weather had been great the past few weeks, and I had regained some of the tan I lost during the rainy season. Even though I had promised myself several times during the journey not to do an adventure of this magnitude again, and although I was glad to have succeeded in crossing Japan by foot, I felt that I wanted it to go on further. I felt a little sad, I didn't want to stop walking just yet. I guess there will be more of these adventures, I thought to myself, and smiled.

The guy from the city office said he could give me a ride, and that he would show me something on the way back. We headed up a narrow road leading up the hills, and a spectacular view unraveled. The landscape was vast; there were several large and grass-clad hills, with irregular shape. Some with slopes looking like stairs, some soft. I saw herds of sheep and cows, and a few seagulls, and an observatory on one of the hilltops. It was truly a view fit of tying up this journey. We also stopped on a very old shrine on our way back.

When I got back I washed my clothes as well as the backpack, I re-charged the camera and cleaned out my bags contents, throwing some stuff I didn't need anymore away. I had dinner and opened the expensive bottle of sake that the tourist guide in Sapporo had previously given me to celebrate my achievement. Now that things had calmed down and I had some time to myself I started reflecting over the journey.

So was it worth it? I was probably the last to find out, being a whole lot of people had already made up their minds before I even left. What surprised me the most was perhaps the number of people willing to go out of their way to let me know I was wasting time and money, that I wouldn't be able to do it and that trying was just plain stupid. Jeeze, people should ease up a bit more.

I had decided however, and no matter how much a monkey-brain I was to some, I was dead-set on going. After all, how could they know better than I what was right for me to do? I think I've been worrying too much about other peoples opinions in the past, and this made me realize I probably shouldn't take other people too seriously when it comes to what I want and need.

I've walked thousands of kilometers through snowstorms, heavy rainfall and scorching heat. I have crossed scarce mountains and lush valleys. I have walked through Tokyos metropolis as well as Hokkaidos wilderness.

I have realized that Japan is a country with as many faces as it has people. I have met judges and lawyers, veterinarians, adventurers, artists, world-record holders, drunks, photographers, english teachers, hair dressers and random weirdoes. Some even kind enough to lend me a hand as I passed by.

So this is what it feels to be an adventurer, huh? I thought to myself, thinking back at how much I had grown in the past six months. When I left Sweden I had never even raised a tent or walked longer distances with the bag. I had never even been to Japan and I couldn't speak the language other than from what I had picked up from movies. Being stubborn helps sometimes, I thought and smiled.

A trick I used for motivation was letting people know what was planning on doing before I went an did it. If you think it'll be hard then talk big before you head out, I figured. I hate having to admit I couldn't do something I already told people I could. Sometimes this trick works, and the times when it doesn't you get so bloody pissed with yourself you swear you'll make it happen the next time.

When you end up in a pinch all you have to think about is that if you chose to give up you'll prove all the people who didn't believe in you right. Besides, realizing a dream isn't meant to be easy! There is also the classic expression "I plan on doing it, later", but is there always a later? From here on out I will give realizing the rest of the dreams I have my all, because this was truly an adventure of a lifetime, and I don't regret a thing!

If there is anyone still reading this outdated rambling of mine, feel free to drop a few comments! I'd love to read them!

Distance walked: 27 kilometers
By Josef Nilsen at 2011-07-17 03:40:09 Comments (2)