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In a world where getting from A to B is dominated by cars, planes and trains, we all walk far less than people used to. 10,000 steps a day is an aspirational target for many. But for Craig Mod, that’s just a stroll before lunch.

Craig has spent large chunks of the past several years walking across Japan, completing months-long journeys along the country’s historical walking routes, like the Tokaido, the Nakasendo and the Kumano Kodo. As he goes, he documents his experiences, sharing essays and photographs through his member-supported newsletters, and his books, Koya Bound and Kissa by Kissa.

“Walking is everything.” he says. And if you’ve got the time and the inclination to do it, it is the best way to come to know the country, from beautifully preserved shrines and forests to the messier parts of suburban reality — pachinko parlors and all.

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Craig Mod: Articles | Twitter | Instagram
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Transcript

Note: Deep Dive is made to be listened to, and we recommend this transcript be used as an accompaniment to the episode. This transcript has been generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription, and may contain errors. Please check its accuracy against the episode.

Oscar Boyd  00:08

Hello and welcome to Deep Dive. From The Japan Times I’m Oscar Boyd. 

Oscar Boyd  00:13

In a world where getting from A to B is dominated by cars, planes and trains, we all walk far less than people used to. 10,000 steps a day is an aspirational target for many, myself included. But for Craig Mod, my guest on today’s episode, that’s just a stroll before lunch. 

Craig has spent large chunks of the past several years walking across Japan, completing months-long journeys along the country’s historical walking routes, like the Tokaido, the Nakasendo and the Kumano Kodo. As he goes, he documents his experiences, sharing essays and photographs through his member-supported newsletters, and his books: Koya Bound and Kissa by Kissa. 

“Walking is everything.” he says, and if you’ve got the time and the inclination to do it, it is the best way to come to know the country, from beautifully preserved shrines and forests to the messier parts of suburban reality — pachinko parlors and all.

Oscar Boyd  01:16

Craig Mod, welcome to Deep Dive. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Craig Mod  01:19

Hey, thanks for having me.

Oscar Boyd  01:20

You spend a lot of time walking. I think it’s fair to say far, far more than most people. You’ve walked the old Edo Roads like the Tokaido and the Nakasendo. Some of these are 1,000-plus kilometer walks. When did walking become your chosen method for exploring Japan?

Craig Mod  01:36

Yeah, it’s an interesting way to do it. I think if I had known about the historical paths earlier, I would have started walking earlier. When I first came to Japan, which is 22 years ago now, I hitchhiked across the country. I did it with a friend and we kind of didn’t know what we were doing. So we just hitchhiked like idiots and, you know, it was kind of interesting. But I think that the impulse to explore has been there since day one. And around 2010, I was invited to Koyasan, and that was kind of an eye-opening experience. I didn’t know anything about Koyasan, I’d never heard of it. I went there on kind of like a little retreat for three nights.

Oscar Boyd  02:19

And Koyasan is one of the big temple complexes that is at the heart of the Kumano Kodo down in, is it Wakayama Prefecture?

Craig Mod  02:28

Yeah, Wakayama, Nara, sort of right on the borders down there. But yeah, it’s basically right in the heart of the Kii Hanto, the Kii Peninsula. And I went there, and that kind of really opened my eyes in terms of extremely dense and culturally, historically rich, natural environments. It wasn’t just about the temples and the density of temples and stuff like that, but it was really about the air and the water, the vegetables that I was being served.

Oscar Boyd  02:51

The moss? 

Craig Mod  02:52

The moss. Absolutely, the moss is amazing. So all that sort of got me thinking like, ‘Oh, well, this is interesting,’ and kind of put up my little antenna. But it really wasn’t until 2013, when I was invited by a mentor and dear friend, this guy John McBride, who has a 40-year history with Japan, and has walked everything multiple times. And he said, ‘Hey, I’m starting to organize these tours around the Kumano Kodo,’ which is the paths in Wakayama and Mie and Nara. And he said, ‘Look, why don’t you come and join me and we can go explore a few.’ So I went with John and we did the Nakahechi, and we did the Kohechi — so basically, from Tanabe to Hongu, Hongu to Nachi. And then from Nachi up to Koyasan. That was really, really eye opening. It was just astounding, that there’s this kind of rigorous physical activity combined with a deep cultural history and this kind of human geography of these places. You’re walking through working villages, you’re walking past working farmers, and you’re able to communicate with these people.

Oscar Boyd  03:59

So how did that experience transform into your first big walk?

Craig Mod  04:09

Yeah, well I was doing these walks with John, and then I was like, ‘Wow, this is really fun.’ And I started inviting basically writers and photographers and entrepreneurs from all over the world to just come and join me for fun like, ‘Hey, let’s do this, we’ll walk for a few days.’ And people were really up for it. It’s a unique experience because say you do four days of walking together, you’re gonna bathe together like three or four times, and for most of these people coming from around the world, they’ve never bathed with anyone before. But the way a lot of these inns and minshuku and ryokan or whatever are set up is that it’s all communal bathing. And people are sort of freaked out, but then by day two, they’re super into it.

Oscar Boyd  04:50

So you find that these walks help you to build a very intimate connection with the people you invite to join you?

Craig Mod  04:56

Yeah, I mean, it just becomes very fraternal and open and I’ve had people say to me after a few days, ‘This is the most comfortable I’ve ever been with my body, ever in my life.’ The more I did those walks, the more I realized, like, ‘Oh, man, it’d be really good to just somehow capture this.’ We’re doing these walks, we’re having amazing conversations, and then it all just dissipates. And so in 2016, this would have been like my first “long walk,” which was eight days — I was like, ‘Oh, my God, eight days. How are we going to do this? Eight whole days.’ And Dan Rubin came over, he’s a photographer. And basically, Dan and I were going to walk these eight days, photograph the heck out of it, and then we were hiding in a farmhouse in Gifu. So we did that and we hid and we put together a book, and then that, like all these book projects, they end up dragging on a little bit longer. Ee wanted to make it a little more complicated and we just really leaned into it and then that became the book Koya Bound. And I was able to collaborate, Leica was a sponsor for it, we launched in the Leica gallery in Ginza, and that was the first object out of a walk, and it felt like, ‘Oh this works, and this is kind of interesting, and this is a lot of fun to work on.’ So that seeded the idea of longer walks and collaborative walks. But then it wasn’t until 2019, that I really went out on what I would consider my first super big walk, which was the Nakasendo plus a bunch of Kumano Kodo and Iseji and all that stuff. The first real mega walk.

Oscar Boyd  06:35

It’s interesting that you attribute so much of your passion for walking to John McBride, because you seem to follow in a lineage of writers who’ve walked Japan over the years. The book that comes to mind is Alan Booth’s, ‘The Roads to Sata,’ where he walks the length of the country from the north to the south. What do you think is the enduring appeal of exploring Japan on foot?

Craig Mod  06:58

Well, I don’t know if it’s unique to Japan. I think people like walking everywhere. Walking is the best way to experience a place, if you have the time, right? The only reason why people don’t do more walking is usually because of the grind, you’ve got six days, you’ve got three days, or whatever. So walking is what you do if you have essentially endless time. And I think if you have a connection to a country, and you’ve invested in the language, and you just want to get more of an intimate understanding of the texture of the place, walking is it. Walking is the way you’re gonna know it better than anywhere else. And this is why I have these strict walk rules for some of my walks. Like when I did the Nakasendo and the Tokaido, I had a rule that I was not allowed to skip any parts of it. And a lot of folks will say, ‘Oh, yeah I walked the Nakasendo.’ But all they did was like Tsumago to Magome.

Oscar Boyd  07:59

These are two of the main post towns on the Nakasendo. They’re the real landmark places to visit.

Craig Mod  08:05

Exactly, like basically, super well-maintained Disneyland-esque style, post town bits, which are fascinating, they’re wonderful, I’m glad they’re there. But you’re not really walking the Nakasendo. And for me, one of the interesting qualities of doing the full walk is that it forces you to contend with the messier bits. I’m really interested in how the cultural geography is manifesting today, and how a road that’s 400 years old was transformed into a contemporary road and what happens now in between post towns that essentially have no purpose. You know, that’s when you get the pachinko parlor strips, and you get the weird suburban sprawl strips, and you get the keiba horse racing bits, and stuff like that. And you see a bunch of drunk guys at nine in the morning in certain areas of Aichi or whatever. I think it’s really important to walk past, say hello, chat with these people, and feel that quality of Japan and feel how Japan is contending with whatever that is. It’s not meant to be a romanticization of the country going on these big walks. There are parts that are beautiful, and you’re in the woods and it’s amazing, and you find an old shrine, and it’s still being maintained in this kind of really beautiful, respectful way. But also, walking past 10 hours of pachinko parlors is its own thing that you have to recognize as part of Japan. That’s what doing those parts of those walks gets me, and I’m really grateful for it, and I get a kick out of it. I think it’s very fascinating.

Oscar Boyd  09:40 

The crucial role that boredom plays in Craig’s walks, after this short break.

Oscar Boyd  09:51

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Oscar Boyd  11:13

Could you take us inside one of your walks? What’s it actually like on the road when you’ve got 1,000 kilometers ahead of you? Do you have a set objective every day? Or an idea of what you’re hoping to discover? Or is it much more freeform than that?

Craig Mod  11:27

Yeah, I mean, I’m very preparatory for these walks. So I book all of my hotels, I book all the inns, I book everything before I leave. I don’t want to think about any of that on the road. So every day the main goal is to just get to that next place. And sometimes it can be 15 kilometers, sometimes it’s 25. Sometimes it’s 46. I think I had a 50 kilometer day once. 

Oscar Boyd  11:50

That’s long.

Craig Mod  11:50

Yeah, crazy, really too long, too long, too long. I think the best is like 15 to 20. 15 to 20 lets you go really slowly and lets you dip into anything and have as many conversations as you want along the way. Fifty, you can’t stop, you’re just walking from six in the morning until eight at night. But for the most part, I run these pop up newsletters on the walks. And so every night I know I’m going to be writing something. So I’m sort of in this mindset of just paying attention: what are interesting details that I can pull forward and write about at the end of the day. And if you’re just alive and looking, there are so many stories every day to be found and to be delighted by and you can pop into barber shops and kissaten and little yoshokuya. You can go in anywhere and say hello to anyone and there’s a story there to be pulled out and to be written about and to be delighted by. That is really the main focus. It’s being present, it’s connecting with the folks along the way. It’s trying to cast really a gentle eye on everything. I’m very self aware, both how my mind is reacting to everything, and also how I’m writing about it, not to ever other anyone. I want to contend with these people on as natural and organic a level as possible. And I could be in Japan, I could be in North Carolina, I could be in Egypt and I want it to all feel on the same level of contention. Where it’s not, ‘Look at this strange person, look at this strange thing.’ It’s not about that. It’s really about: there’s a humanity and the great gift of walking is you can experience it slowly. I finish these days, and I just feel exhausted to the core, to my bones and just physically and mentally. When I turn out the light at night, I am just done. But it’s a doneness that feels so full and so rich and like, ‘Ah, you know, we lived today.’

Oscar Boyd  14:04

Yeah, it sounds like a very contented experience being on the road. But I am curious about what actually goes through your head as you walk. Because, I think when someone thinks ‘Oh, you’re doing a 1,000 kilometer walk,’ the first thing that comes to mind is the physical nature of it, ‘Oh, you’ve got to do 1,000 kilometers of walking and a million steps, or however many it is to achieve that.’ But when you think about longer term projects, longer term physical projects, endurance is a mental game too. I know you’ve written about your experience of boredom on the road as well. How does boredom factor into the way that you walk and that you examine and appreciate your surroundings?

Craig Mod  14:41

Oh, it’s critical. Boredom is everything man. I think our loss of boredom in contemporary society is one of the greatest weird ambient losses. It is one of these things that it’s very hard to quantify the value of it. And we’ve lost it so completely and totally that we very rarely have moments to even re-experience it, unless you do it intentionally. And so for me, yeah the boredom of these walks is, I would say, 50% of the value of it. It’s forcing yourself into a place where you’re not teleporting mentally. You just have to be there. And you have to recognize, like, ‘Oh my God, I have these thoughts.’ And it’s been extremely therapeutic. It’s a form of therapy, for sure. And certainly, for me, intentionally or not, subconsciously perhaps, it was a way to force myself to just rethink through things like childhood, for example. A lot of what I think about, when I’m on the big walks, is growing up. And I grew up in this kind of weird town, that was a mess and, you know, I didn’t have any siblings, I’m adopted. And my best friend from elementary school and I were essentially brothers. I think a lot about what we used to do and where we used to play. And for me, I found that to be really valuable, because this friend of mine, he was murdered actually, right after we graduated. 

Oscar Boyd  16:12

I’m sorry. man. 

Craig Mod  16:15

I mean, I grew up in this place where this was not uncommon. Folks going to jail, folks getting murdered, people carrying guns. It was kind of a weird, a weird place. But this guy, this kid was essentially a brother to me, and carried around with him half of my childhood experience. And when you’re 17 and someone gets murdered, I don’t think you understand the value of that loss. And so it wasn’t really until I started doing these big walks, and I started reflecting more on what it was that we were doing as children, and what that experience was, and how difficult it was in a lot of ways, and how we were there to kind of support each other. And then thinking about, ‘Oh my god, it would be so amazing to be able to call this guy right now.’ And just say, ‘Tell me what you remember, what do you remember?’ So it’s become this, in that sense, when I’m reflecting back on those moments, I’m kind of doing it in the memory of this guy. And this is why I don’t allow myself to use the internet or listen to podcasts, or use social media when I’m doing these big walks. Because as soon as you find your mind going into this kind of frictive, less comfortable place — you may think about what could I have done to help this guy — you’ll reach for your phone, you’ll reach for Twitter, you’ll go on Instagram, you’ll look at TikTok or whatever the heck you do.

Oscar Boyd  17:27

The easy way out.

Craig Mod  17:28

You’ll teleport away, right, you’ll get out of that place. But when you’re on a big walk, what’s nice about walking is that you’re doing something. So it’s not like you’re just sitting and you’re trying to be quiet. You’re moving, you feel like you’re accomplishing something, you’re being useful, you’re using your legs, you’re burning calories. It’s good, it feels good. We are programmed, I think genetically, so that the more we walk, the better we feel. And then when you have that whitespace, that blank space, that boredom, to then butt up against these things that may have happened a long time ago, or that are happening right now, it allows for this kind of perfect problem solving space. There’s nothing new about what I’m saying. Philosophers and scientists and mathematicians and artists have always talked about solving stuff while walking. But to do it on this slightly more radical level, instead of just, ‘Oh, after lunch, I’ll take a walk,’ to go, ‘I’m going to walk for 40 days non stop,’ there’s a reason that’s biblical. Because you get insights, you understand yourself, the world, your psyche a little bit better. If you do it in the properly bored way.

Oscar Boyd  18:52

When you feel yourself feeling bored — and you have this conception of it which is that it’s not necessarily a negative thing to be bored — how do you react to your own feeling of boredom as you come across it?

Craig Mod  19:05

Well, yeah, I did a 10-day Vipassana retreat a few years ago. And that was, I think, the best training for this that I could have had.

Oscar Boyd  19:16

This is one of those super-low stimulus, silent meditation style retreats.

Craig Mod  19:20

Exactly. Having done that, a day of walking is pretty easy. You’re stimulated, I can talk to people, the boredom is pretty low-grade boredom in the grand scheme of boredoms. So you just kind of lean into it. But you do go a little bit nuts, you kind of go, ‘Oh my god.’ But it’s a good forcing function to connect with people too, because you’re like, ‘Ah, I just need stimulation. Let me go into this random tatami shop.’ ‘Hey, tatami people!’ And they’re like, ‘Who are, what, why are you here?’ ‘Ahh, I’m just walking. I walked all the way from Tokyo.’ 

Oscar Boyd  19:41

‘Tell me your ways!’ 

Craig Mod  19:51

Yeah, well, the great thing about being in the middle of the big walk is you go, ‘I walked from Tokyo.’ And you know, at first nobody believes you. Or they go, ‘Oh, you’re Japanese isn’t good enough. You meant you took the train from Tokyo.’ And you go, ‘No, I walked, I walked! It’s been 23 days, it’s been 800 kilometers or whatever.’ And then they kind of fall over and then you know, that’s also like such a great…

Oscar Boyd  20:04

Part of the fun. 

Craig Mod  20:05

It’s part of the fun, but it’s also like, they treat you differently. Not just because you’re a foreigner, but because you’re doing this crazy thing. And, ‘Oh, that’s the high signal of an interesting human being. So let me engage with you a little bit more.’ So it’s a good opener.

Oscar Boyd  20:30

As well as walking some of Japan’s better known walking routes, you’ve also made a project out of going to some of the country’s lesser known areas. I’m thinking specifically of the 10 “boring cities” walk you did at the end of 2021. How have these walks helped shape your understanding of Japan?

Craig Mod  20:50

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s just given me a fuller view of things. It’s definitely made me hopeful in terms of seeing the social contract play out outside of a metropolis context. So on the walk I did in November and December, I went to 10 deliberately flyover, midsize, kind of neither here nor there cities. And the point was to spend three nights, four days in each of these — places you would never normally choose to go to, for the most part. So going to these places — where some of them were fairly poor, and certainly depopulating, shops are closing, they’re very shutter-gai style, all the shutters are closed on the main streets. Going to these towns and talking with some of the folks there takes this idea of depopulation out of the realm of theory. And it puts it into practice and puts it into like, what materially is happening in terms of policy on the ground in these places? And how is that changing? And then I realized, there’s some cities I was going to that I was like, ‘Wow, this doesn’t feel like a 100,000 person city.’ And I realized what had happened, I started looking stuff up a little more closely, and over the last decade, a lot of townships have all consolidated. So what was normally four towns of 30,000 people, is now one town of 90,000 people

Oscar Boyd  22:19

With four times the area so that everyone is much further spread apart.

Craig Mod  22:24

Exactly. So you cam read that, but then to actually go to these places and experience that and see how that’s manifesting in terms of whether or not it’s thriving. And so like, Onomichi is an interesting example of a town that is massively depopulating, if you look at the population of the last 20 years. But in the last 10 years, because of this combination of depopulation and akiya (open shops and homes and stuff like that), there’s this hippie contingency that has moved into Onomichi. And there are all these little roasteries and vegan, kind of organic teishoku places, and even super fancy, boutique hotels that are popping up because the cost of doing that is essentially zero. And I found that for the most part, people in the countryside in these depopulating areas are welcoming of folks coming in and starting new ventures and building things there. It’s not like they’re all curmudgeonly and like, ‘Get out of here.’ For the most part people are very, from what I’ve seen, supportive and excited about it.

Oscar Boyd  23:30

Yeah, I went to Onomichi in Golden week as part of cycling the Shimanami Kaido, which is this amazing cycle route across the Seto Inland Sea from Honshu to Shikoku. And it did seem like parts of Onomichi were thriving, there’s lots of chichi cafes and cycle rental shops. After spending time in these kinds of areas, what do you think is the difference between a place like Onomichi, that has seemed to be able to reinvent itself and capture some more youthful energy, and the cities of a similar size you come across that feel like they’re on the downward slope?

Craig Mod  24:05

Yeah, I think accessibility is a big part of it. So if you look at Onomichi, it’s super accessible. It’s right between Kyoto and Hiroshima, it’s very close to Hiroshima. Also, like you said, it has a good hook: the Shimanami Kaido, that’s a big draw. I biked that as well when I was there in December and it’s interesting, just all the infrastructure that they’ve built up around that. Clearly that’s a huge positive for the economy there. So really trains and stations and accessibility make or break a lot of these places. A counterexample to Onomichi would be Sakata. Sakata is in Yamagata, and Yamagata in general is just a tough place to get to. Sakata felt to me like there’s no hook, or no strong hook, no obvious hook. It does have Dewa Sanzan, but for the most part people that are doing Dewa Sanzan related stuff are going to Tsuruoka. And the folks I did see in Sakata, like I said, were mainly connected with Dewa Sanzan stuff, which has its own kind of touristic draw around yamabushi and mountain asceticism and stuff like that, which is interesting. And I should say the positive of Yamagata being hard to get to is that there’s an authenticity of untouchedness to Dewa Sanzan. And certainly during the Meiji Restoration, those were the areas, you know Kumano Kodo is special, because it was hard to get to. Dewa Sanzan is special because it was out of the reach of the capital. So when they said, ‘Hey, no more Yamabushi stuff, no more, you’ve got to split the Shinto and Buddhism stuff.’ These are places that didn’t really do that. So you are left with these authentic, syncretic, religious and spiritual practices. And that’s what makes them exciting. I should also say the other thing is that a lot of these towns have really been hit hard because of industrial, essentially offshoring industrial stuff. So logging, switching to China logging from Japan logging. Fishing industries moving out of Japan, importing cheaper fish from other places. So you get a lot of these coastal towns and coastal places that got smashed by that.

Oscar Boyd  26:11

As you walk, you write and you photograph, and you put out a daily stream of content to your subscribers to try and capture these kinds of stories. You’ve written and you’ve self-published books about your experiences, you capture audio snippets from your time on the road, you’ve basically created your own media ecosphere around you as you’ve gone, and that now sustains these projects. Was this always the intention for these walks?

Craig Mod  26:53

No, this is all improv jazz. No plan, no planning at all. And a lot of it is because I failed at engaging with the publishing industry in a way that I wanted to. I spent years banging my head against the New York publishing industry and getting rejected to the point where I reached this boiling point of frustration. The peak of that was a little over three years ago. And that was when I said, ‘All right, whenever I feel like this, I know the best thing to do is to brainstorm with a bunch of smart people.’ So I just got on a bunch of Zoom calls with folks from all over the world: editors and writers and designers and technologists — folks I love and that I’ve been close with for years.’ You know, we kind of realized, you don’t need these gatekeepers exclusively, if you’ve built up a little bit of an audience. And by that point I had built up a small audience. And I had just written an article for Wired about the state of digital books and kind of membership programs and how they were kind of coming to their own. And I thought, ‘All right, well, let me try this. I know what I want to write about. Let me try doing this membership program, it’ll formalize it.’ I just need someone to say, ‘Craig publish something every month.’ I need that, otherwise my willpower wanes, like pretty, pretty fast. And so three years ago, when I launched the membership program, I didn’t know what I was getting into and I did not have any plans for it. It was just like an NPR-style thing around the free stuff I was publishing, the newsletters I was publishing. And I realized that that formalization, around okay, here are a few hundred people, in the beginning, that support my work and are paying me a non-trivial amount of money — it was pretty good — they want to see more of what I’ve been doing, they want to see me do it at a higher level. And I just leaned into that. 

In launching the membership program, it gave me the permission to then plan out that Nakasendo walk. Because up until that point, I think I’d been timid and I felt like, ‘Oh God, if I do a month of walking, it’d be so navel gazing, and it’s not a real job, and I need the Atlantic to send me on that walk or it’s not real and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ All this stupid crap that bounces around in your head. And by launching the membership program, it flipped something for me and I was like, ‘Okay, this is my job now. Let me freakin do this with a professional rigor,’ in a way that I hadn’t been doing before. And I set out on that Nakasendo walk like a maniac, just like, ‘I’m gonna walk 30 kilometers a day and I’m gonna write a big article for Wired. I’m gonna write a big article for Eater and I’m gonna, you know, like…’ I was just like, ‘Rarrrr, I’m gonna do it no matter what.’ And I’m going to publish something every day, and I’m going to record some audio stuff, and I’m going to do this experiment. And it was just bonkers, and I remember getting like five or six days into it, I was in Karuizawa. And I was just looking at my feet and they were destroyed. And my shoulders were bleeding. And my feet were all blisters. Every day I would spend an hour just tending to my wounds and I was like, ‘how am I going to do this for another four weeks?’ But I pushed through and it was because of that sense of permission and formality that the membership program brought to me. Man, all of that, thinking back on it now it sounds like ‘Oh, this is all really well planned out or whatever.’ But like, it was not, it was such a mess and I was just freaking out the whole time. Is any of this gonna work out? Is there value in anything I’m doing? And I finished that Nakasendo walk and I was just like, ‘Yeah, that was good.’

Oscar Boyd  30:34

It’s really only in the last 100 years or so that walking has lost its place as the main mode of transport here in Japan and around most of the rest of the world. And I know there are some pilgrimage routes like the Kumano Kodo and also the 88 Temple Pilgrimage on Shikoku that still exist and are well maintained, but most travel is now by train or by car. So I’m curious what your thoughts are on the state of walking in Japan.

Craig Mod  31:46

Yeah, I mean, I think walking in walking areas is really good. I think walking elsewhere can be really frustrating. Because you get this problem in a lot of towns outside of cities — and even in cities too — the street maps were not designed for cars, and then cars have been kind of overlaid on top of them. And so there really isn’t space to walk, so you’re constantly fighting with cars. And when you do these big walks across the country, you feel the crappiness of cars. Cars suck, cars suck. They suck. That’s the big caveat: There’s a lot of bad walking because of cars and because of the historical size of roads and streets. The good walking stuff is really good. The Kumano Kodo is obviously a good example of that. The Iseji is amazing. The Nakahechi, Kohechi, Omin Okugake Kaido. I was saying Dewa Sanzan, there’s the Rokujurigoe Kaido up there, which is amazing. There’s the Michinoku Coastal Trail that’s like 1,000s of kilometers along the coast of Tohoku. I haven’t walked it, it looks pretty good. There’s a bunch of Shio Kaido stuff. There’s the Hagi Okan over in Yamaguchi, where you can walk from coast to coast across Yamaguchi. And for the most part, it’s pretty good. I think a lot of these routes are fairly well maintained, and I think in the last two decades there’s been a growing consciousness of the value of these places.

Oscar Boyd  32:38

And to someone who’s listening to this episode, and perhaps they’ve now got itchy feet, maybe they’re thinking they’d like to get out on a big walk or some similar form of exploration. Do you have any advice on how to get the most out of the experience?

Craig Mod  32:50

Yeah, I mean, if you’ve never done a big walk before, I think definitely supported walks are the way to go. So if you’re in Nepal, you know. In hindsight, the first real big walk I did was in 2007. And I did the Annapurna Base Camp hike. That’s a tea house trek, your equipment is minimal. I would say focus on something like that. Do something in the Swiss Alps, do something in Nepal, or do something in Northern Thailand. There’s a lot of great supported hiking in Northern Thailand. And then obviously, in Japan, a lot of listeners out there, they’re probably Japan based. The Kumano Kodo is really good. And actually right now, with the limitations on tourists coming in, it’s one of the best times you can walk it because normally some of these inns you have to book a year in advance. That’s how quickly they book up. Do three or four days, do it with a friend. Go offline, be bored, don’t do any Instagram, really disconnect and set that intention. If you can do that, then yeah, start to think about what happens if you do it on your own and do six days, seven days, eight days, I think it’s all about building up these different thresholds for that experience. And then you can start to venture into carrying all your gear and doing Appalachian Trail style stuff. But supported walks are great, supported walks are great, the easiest way to get into it.

Oscar Boyd  34:10

Craig Mod, thanks for taking the time, it’s been good fun talking to you.

Craig Mod  34:14

Thanks for having me.

Oscar Boyd  34:22

That was Craig Mod, to read more from Craig or to subscribe to his newsletters, check out the links I’ve put in the show notes. A full transcript of this episode is available now on The Japan Times website. That’s it for this week, if you’ve enjoyed listening to this one, please spread the word, share this episode with a friend you think might like it. And if you’ve suddenly got the bug to go walking, let us know where you’re off to! Send us a voice note from the road, I’d love to hear it. We’ll be back with a new episode next week, until then, podtsukaresama.