22 February 2019 by Natalie Hoare
The Ramblers’ Chair of Trustees, Kate Ashbrook, has been extending the hand of friendship and providing advice to walkers who wish to establish a similar organisation the other side of the world.
A group of nine walking advocates from across Japan arrived in the UK on a factfinding mission to learn more about promoting walking, protecting and creating paths, and establishing a Japanese Ramblers – while enjoying a walk in the Chiltern Hills.
Among those present was Kosei Hamada, head of the Misato Footpath Association in Kumamoto Prefecture, Mirei Kurata, who promotes paths and walking for Nakama City, and Uno Mikiko, the editor of a health magazine in Tokyo.
‘As we walked, we talked about how Japanese and English paths are different, ours being protected in law,’ said Kate. ‘I explained how the Ramblers had started from a number of federations coming together and we discussed how the Japanese might go about forming a Ramblers Association: a huge but fascinating task. They are already doing great work in promoting walking as being good for health, and we agreed that a common problem in both our nations is that people are not aware of where they can walk.’
Back in 2015, a historic agreement was signed between Walkers are Welcome UK and the Japan Footpath Association in which the two organisations promised to create a culture of walking and establish a global network that welcomes walkers.
Reflecting on his trip, Kosei Hamada said: ‘I visited the UK this winter to walk the footpaths. I walked past sheep grazing in the grassy fields and climbed up to the top of a small hill. From there I saw endless stretches of pastures and sky and relished the fresh air. I saw many different types of trees that I would never encounter in Japan and marvelled, 'How amazing, the people who made this footpath! Paths of freedom won through hard-fought struggles, gates which open up paths to freedom... As I went on this journey, cherishing such feelings, I wished such footpaths could proliferate in Japan as well.’
While there are several pilgrim routes in Japan – such as the Kumano Kodo, a UNESCO-World-Heritage-listed network of pilgrim trails through the mountainous Kii Peninsula, south of Osaka – footpaths have typically been created informally by local residents, in collaboration with landowners, but since Japan recognizes no rights of way, footpath projects have been conducted without the legal infrastructure that exists in England and Wales.
According to research conducted by Senshu University in 2015, Japanese footpath projects have redeveloped ‘rido,’ non-designated roads or small paths to which road law does not apply. Rido, long used in people’s daily lives within village communities or as roads and recreation trails are being redeveloped into footpaths for recreational walking.
Hamada’s efforts in establishing the Misato Footpath Association, one of the country’s first, has made the town something of a pioneer with other community and walking groups regularly coming to inspect the local footpath situation to try and set up their own elsewhere in Japan.
Parallel to other countries, Japan is seeing an increasing awareness of the benefits of walking – for health, enjoyment and for bringing economic benefits through travel and tourism to rural areas. Kate Ashbrook will continue to help and advise walkers in Japan in the hope that one day, they too can enjoy the rights that we have here.
Magazine of the Ramblers