Renowned travel writer Bruce Chatwin believed passionately in the importance of walking in the wild. The problems of humanity, he contended, were borne out of people being settled and static.

But if you wanted to rediscover your nomadic self in a heavily urbanized country such as Japan, where would you go?

In the summer of 1988, at age 19, I visited Japan for the first time. The first weeks of my two-month holiday were spent riding trains from Tokyo to Kyoto and Niigata to Sapporo. But there seemed to be something superficial about this trek from one urban center to another. I would gaze out the window for hours, becoming hypnotized by the rural landscapes outside. Japan's greatest secrets seemed to be located out there.