Swiss man takes the 2500km road less traveled
BY SOPHIE KNIGHT STAFF WRITER
Thomas Kohler at the beginning of his walk (Provided by Thomas Kohler)
As the sweltering August heat continues, most people in Japan are trying to stay indoors and as inactive as possible.
Not Thomas Kohler, however. The Swiss travel agent is lugging a 14-kilogram rucksack for 20 kilometers a day in an attempt to walk the 2,500 kilometers from the northern tip of the Japanese archipelago to its southernmost point.
"After the quake happened, I was trying to think of ways I could help Japan. We've had enough bad news about Fukushima. I realized it was important to let people know that they could still travel safely in the country," he explains.
Kohler was forced to quit his job when 90 percent of his travel agency's customers canceled their vacations to Japan following the March 11 earthquake.
Fascinated by Japanese culture since childhood, he spent three years in the country studying the language during the 1990s and has visited every year since.
He came from Switzerland to volunteer in the tsunami-hit town of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, after the disaster. Seeing the devastation, he resolved to travel the length of Japan, recording his impressions on a blog to show a more positive side to the country than was shown in coverage of the tsunami and nuclear disaster.
"Japan is a fantastic country, you never stop learning when you're here," he enthuses. "The people are extremely considerate and generous, and, as I'm Swiss, I also appreciate their desire to do things just right."
His native country has also given him the perfect training ground for his arduous journey. He spent months doing practice hikes in the mountains near his home in the city of Winterthur, testing out shoes, tents and sleeping bags with the help of a friend who sells expedition equipment.
"Many people are helping me do this, so I don't like to refer to it as a solo expedition," says Kohler. "I've got people translating the blog into English and Japanese and the Japanese tourist board is also helping me with logistics."
Kohler is, however, covering all of his own costs and faces a solitary battle against oppressive humidity, downpours, typhoons and snow on his epic journey. He also has the wildlife to contend with.
"I told some local people that I was planning to sleep on the beach one night, but they told me there were bears around. That plan didn't last very long," he says with a laugh.
Kohler started his trek on Aug. 1 in Cape Soya, Hokkaido, and anticipates reaching Cape Sata, at the very bottom of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's main islands, in December. He will walk along the west coast, along the Sea of Japan, bypassing the larger urban centers such as Tokyo and Osaka, in an attempt to explore Japan's "less touristy" side.
Despite the fatigue that comes with walking a half marathon on concrete surfaces every day, Kohler remains irrepressibly positive.
"Get along with yourself and you'll enjoy even lonely days," he says.
You can read Kohler's blog in English, Japanese and German at (http://www.japanfenster.ch/japantrip/en/).