Patrick Carey thinks he may be the only non-Japanese to have walked the entire distance of the Old Tokaido, from Tokyo to Kyoto, and to have written about it.

Last year Global Oriental published his account of his 25-day walk, “Rediscovering the Old Tokaido in the Footsteps of Hiroshige.” This year Carey is broadcasting a series on the Old Tokaido for NHK Radio Japan. He said: “When I walked it, there didn’t seem to be any other non-Japanese who had done it. If there is someone, I’d be interested to know. Some Japanese have done it, and they whizzed along. I did it very slowly, not only because of the blisters on my feet but also because everything was so interesting. As an outsider I was spotting everything, seeing different things.” He was looking for “telltale signs, that somehow along here and there I was going to find what might be the Old Tokaido.” He compared today’s vistas with those depicted in the prints of Hiroshige’s 53 stages. At times he was astonished at how some landscape scenes have endured.

Carey has a consuming interest in research. After 20 years here he still has undiminished enthusiasm for teaching Japanese students. He was a war baby in England, born during a 1940 air raid, and keeps a vivid memory, from when he was barely 4, of the sky filled with airplanes towing gliders on their way to the Arnhem landing. His was, he says, a very happy childhood in a family of six brothers and sisters who became doctors, lawyers and teachers. His father, a doctor, and his mother, a teacher, set the level of achievement and happiness.

Thanks to a “wonderful teacher” in his preparatory school, Carey found he had a facility for languages. He was head boy at St. Edmund’s College, where he passed his A levels in Greek, Latin and ancient history. He played in his school’s first rugby team. At Christ’s College, Cambridge, he studied French and Italian, and social anthropology. He kept up his rugby, and also rowed for his college. “I was never very good,” he said. “I tried everything, and was middling at everything.” Later on he added Spanish to his language repertoire. He said: “My parents sent me during my school summer holidays to home stays in different places in Europe. At 12 I went to Belgium. That was the first, that continued till I was 18, and that led to lifelong friendships.”

Carey might have become a doctor, but his language abilities got in the way. “After finding languages so easy and enjoyable, aspects of scientific subjects were a great shock,” he said. He became a professional language teacher in London, whilst not entirely abandoning the thought of medicine because “I did not want to be defeated.” Eventually his love of languages won. By the merest chance he was appointed to a teaching position in London with a branch of the International Language Center that, a short time later, “asked if anyone would like to go to Tokyo. I thought I could try another language, and I came to Japan,” Carey said.

He came armed with a diploma from the Royal Society of Arts “that really taught how to teach, especially how to teach Japanese. It is important to be flexible in method, and try to meet interests and needs,” he said. At ILC Jimbocho in 1980, he was assigned to teaching ANA crews who were flying on the new Washington and London routes. Later he moved to part-time jobs at Tsuda College and Sophia University. Now at Reitaku University, he is associate professor teaching English in the faculty of international economics and business administration.

Carey and his wife love living in Yokohama, chiefly because of the mix of international people who live there, and because of the district’s many historical connections. He follows the leads of old personal stories that come his way, and of old buildings that intrigue him. On his Tokaido walk he met a man, now in his 90s, who corresponded during the 1930s until the outbreak of war with pen friends at Niagara Falls. Carey has set himself to try to find if any of those pen friends are still around. He is also trying to locate a 1923 movie made by a Ford Motor Co. team that traveled from Kagoshima to Hokkaido, and included the Old Tokaido.

For him, the Old Tokaido, probably the most celebrated of Japan’s famous highways of bygone days, is only the first. “I intend to walk all five of the well-known ones as I find out about them,” he said.