Documentary chronicles long walk through post-3/11 Japan
BY MIDORI IKI STAFF WRITER
|Thomas Koehler, who traveled through Japan on foot, shows the "sugegasa" hat he wore during his long trek. With him is Jan Knusel, co-director of the film they shot of the journey, "Negative: Nothing." (Midori Iki)|
|Thomas Koehler tells a woman he has walked all the way from Hokkaido in the documentary "Negative: Nothing." (Provided by Jan Knusel)|
Koehler walks down a country path wearing a "sugegasa" hat in the
documentary "Negative: Nothing." (Provided by Jan Knusel)|
WINTERTHUR, Switzerland--A documentary about a man walking from northern Hokkaido to the most southern point of Honshu and his encounters with ordinary Japanese after the Great East Japan Earthquake is set to be screened in Tokyo this month.
“Negative: Nothing” traces the journey of Thomas Koehler, a 45-year-old from Switzerland who slung on a backpack and donned a “sugegasa” sedge hat in a quest to show the world that Japan was doing fine after the March 2011 disaster.
Warmly accepted in his native Switerzerland, the film shows Koehler calmly walking along coastal trails or on narrow paths surrounded by rice paddies. He's a stranger, but he attracts attention wherever he goes.
One person slips him a 1,000-yen ($10.80) note, saying, “You have to eat well.” Some invite him to visit their homes or treat him at an "izakaya" pub, even though it is their first meeting. Children run after him.
“I always thought the Japanese were shy, but in fact, they are very friendly,” said a moviegoer at a 2012 screening held in Koehler's hometown of Winterthur, Switzerland.
Koehler was a travel agent in Switzerland in charge of Japan tours before the earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan on March 11 two years ago.
The disaster caused a lot of cancellations at his travel agency, and the workload there dropped sharply. The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident continued to make headlines in Switzerland for months.
Speaking in Japanese, Koehler said he was worried “about an increase in misunderstanding that Japan was totally contaminated with radioactivity.”
He came up with the idea of walking through Japan to show the world that most of the country is safe.
He began his trip at Cape Soya, the northernmost point of Hokkaido, on Aug. 1, 2011, four and a half months after the disaster.
After five months, he arrived on the New Year's Eve at Cape Sata in Kagoshima Prefecture, the southernmost point of the Japanese mainland. He had walked a total of 2,900 kilometers (1,802 miles).
Jan Knusel, a former reporter for a local newspaper and Koehler’s friend, heard about his plan, and suggested making a documentary out of his adventure.
Knusel, who once studied in Japan, had been looking for ways to help the Tohoku region reconstruct after the tsunami.
Knusel quit his newspaper gig to come to Japan and film Koehler’s journey. Stephan Knusel, his brother, joined the project as co-director.
Most of the backdrops of the documentary are of the Japanese countryside. The film has had an appeal to Swiss viewers. Many said after viewing it they felt like visiting Japan, Knusel said.
“Through Mr. Koehler’s journey, I want people to rediscover the goodness of the Japanese, which even the Japanese did not realize,” Knusel said in Japanese.
The title “Negative: Nothing” comes from Koehler's daily blog about his journey. Each day he recorded the weather conditions and listed positive and negative experiences. And each day under "negative" he recorded “nothing.”
Screenings of “Negative: Nothing” will be held March 9, 16, 22 and 23 at Goethe-Institut Tokyo in the capital city's Minato Ward. For reservation, visit: (negativenothing.com/en/).