A Waseda University student has hiked about 400 km through Tohoku as part of a field survey to choose a path for a new national park to be established by rebuilding areas damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“I wanted to help support the disaster-damaged areas one way or another,” Shunsuke Goto, 22, said of his decision to participate in a survey launched by a Tokyo consulting firm on behalf of the Environment Ministry.

The selection of the 700-km “Tohoku Kaigan Trail” — a coastal path from Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, to Soma, Fukushima Prefecture — is one of the core projects in building Sanriku Fukko (Reconstruction) National Park. It’s a symbol of Tohoku’s rebuilding effort.

Goto began walking with ministry officials and others from Kabushima in Hachinohe on Dec. 1. In commuting between his whereabouts on the route and Tokyo, he has traversed roughly 400 km so far.

“A fisherman let me stay at his home and I talked with construction workers I met at an inn,” Goto said. “I really enjoy getting to know people.”

On a Monday in mid-February, Goto left Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, amid snow at 9 a.m., dropping into a restaurant in town where owner Eiko Narisawa, 58, let him in to enjoy a bowl of noodles and other local delicacies before opening time.

“People in Tohoku are very warmhearted and help me at all times,” Goto said.

Goto continued his trek on the coastal road, noting the mountains of rubble along the way. At one point, he turned into a forest trail covered with knee-deep snow, eventually reaching a mountain path at an altitude of around 300 meters on the Minamisanriku-Ishinomaki border after two hours. From the snow-blanketed path, he peered down at the port and residential areas still scarred by the disasters.

Descending from his perch, Goto reached his goal for the day at the mouth of Ishinomaki’s Kitakami River. In all, he had covered 16 km in 7½ hours, including breaks.

Based on reports from Goto and other participants in the field survey, the ministry plans to partially open the Tohoku Kaigan Trail this summer. To fill the shortage of lodging facilities and camping sites available, the ministry plans to enlist the help of local businesses and public offices.

“Anyone who walks on the trail should learn something,” Goto said. “I hope it will be a path that reminds people of their bond with others.”

Satoshi Nitakai, a 35-year-old official at the ministry’s Tohoku branch, also participated in the survey. He said the regional trail will allow people to grasp the virtues of nature and “connect people inside and outside areas stricken by the disaster.”

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