Changed the Location But Not the Goal

The Nakasendo Way in spring (photo credit: Walk Japan)

Just a few short weeks ago (August 3, to be exact) I announced that Brett and I had committed ourselves to walking the entire length of the Cotswold Way in the fall 2022. That goal has been a strong motivator for getting us out every day to walk, and to come up with a plan for gradually increasing our walking endurance to where we could manage the daily distances required of us to finish the walk.

Last week though we came across a company called Walk Japan, which provides “off the beaten track walking tours in Japan.” We began pouring over their website, and this past weekend we decided that while we still intend to do a long-distance walking tour in 2022, we will do it in Japan instead of England. In particular, we want to do Walk Japan’s 10-day Nakasendō Way tour from Kyoto to Tokyo. 

Scenes like this one of persimmons drying will be more common when we walk in the fall.

The history of the Nakasendō (Central Mountain Road) is what drew us to this walking tour. It was one of five main thoroughfares from Kyoto to Tokyo (and back) during the Edo Period of Japan (1603-1868), when the Tokugawa shogun lived and ruled in Tokyo (called Edo then; the Emperor remained in Kyoto and was virtually powerless at this time). In order to maintain the loyalty of those under him, the shogun required the highest lords (daimyos) throughout Japan to travel to and live in Tokyo every other year and their families to remain in Tokyo during their absence, under the “protection” of the shogun. The Nakasendō, along with the Tokaidō, which ran along the coast, was heavily used by the daimyo from the west and their families during these times. The road had 69 post towns along the way where papers and permission to travel were checked, and where travelers stopped to eat, drink, and rest. The road also served as an important route for communication for the shogunate. The Nakasendō was well developed, and was often preferred for travel because no major rivers needed to be forded along the way.

One of the historic post towns along the ancient Nakasendo route connecting Kyoto and Edo (old Tokyo).

Our decision to change the destination for our walk was not a casual one. We spent days carefully weighing and discussing several factors and the pros and cons of using Walk Japan before deciding to change our plans.

These were the two arguments for sticking with the Cotswold Way tour:

  1. The Nakasendō walking tour costs quite a bit more than a Cotswold walking tour. This was probably the biggest factor that we debated. However, the Nakasendo tour comes with a full-time guide, and not only covers each night’s lodging, almost all meals, and all interim transportation necessary to get from Kyoto to the road. We had to think long and hard about whether we were willing to pay more for these amenities but in the end figured out it wouldn’t be that much over what we would have spent going to the Cotswolds again. Walk Japan offers an unguided Nakasendo Way tour which costs less but we both think we’d rather have a guide along because of our ages and because our Japanese is limited.
  2. We would not get to go back to the Cotswolds. This was a major factor for not switching. We loved the Cotswolds and would love to experience more of the area.
The “lobby” of a traditional Japanese inn, complete with irori (sunken hearth).

There were a few more positives however which helped to sway us to a Japan walk:

  1. We would already be in Japan and not have to worry about paying for and taking long flights to England and then back to Tokyo. All we would have to purchase is a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen.
  2. We would get to walk one of the most historic routes in all of Japan along with a knowledgeable guide, learning about the history of the road as well as the villages and old post towns we would pass through along the way. The architecture alone is a huge draw.
  3. We would get to stay every night in traditional Japanese inns and hotels, and enjoy fine Japanese cuisine in those places and along the way.
  4. The tour offers transportation alternatives for the three longest walking days. For example, if we didn’t feel up to walking 15 miles on the longest day, we could walk for around 6-7 miles and then take a train or bus to that evening’s destination.
  5. The Nakasendō walk finishes in Tokyo, where we would only need a couple of days’ rest at our son’s before heading back home to Hawaii. If we went to England we would need at least two to three days’ rest at the end of the walk before flying to Tokyo, and then would have to rest up again in Tokyo from that journey before heading back to Hawaii. It was overwhelming just thinking about the jet lag.

Our task now is to figure out how to save a few thousand more dollars than we had initially planned, but we’re sure it can be done. We remain as motivated than ever to find ways to save as travel always comes out of our discretionary funds, which aren’t much right now with YaYu’s college expenses. Time is on our side though as we have two years to make this goal a reality.

Besides saving enough, we also are more motivated than ever to stay healthy and get ourselves in the best possible physical shape. I will also continue to study Japanese, not because I expect to be able to speak it, but so I can understand more during our stays in Japan and while we travel there. The big unknown at this point though is whether Japan will be reopened for American visitors by Fall 2022, and whether the virus will be under control by then as well. We certainly hope so, and not just because we want to go to Japan.

Game on!

15 thoughts on “Changed the Location But Not the Goal

  1. It’s kind of shocking and upsetting to realize that going everywhere we want, doing everything, reading all the books, meeting people, trying recipes, etc. becomes limited at this stage of life! Both because our time and resources on Earth are limited and our physical and mental abilities may decrease, we need to plan, strive, and maintain what we can, as you are. And remember “now” is all we really have, plus memories. But also we In case this seems depressing, just think of all the adventures ahead in the afterlife! (I believe and hope) You are inspiring!

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    1. My metaphor for life is a giant roller coaster – lots of twists and turns, unknowns, excitement, thrills and frightening twists along the way. But eventually it comes to an end and slowly cruises to a stop. I think Brett and I have a few more twists in our ride, but you’re right . . . we’re in the final third or quarter of what’s been a ride like no other and we plan to make the most of it.

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  2. I think this is a wonderful idea! And another plus I thought of is the rich history you can pass on to your grandkids!

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    1. One of the things we are excited about is that the walk ends in Tokyo (at the Nihonbashi bridge), not far from where our son lives, and they will be able to meet us as we walk into town. We will have a lot to share with the grandkids!

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  3. I think this is fabulous because you get to see your grandchildren, perhaps for a longer length of time, and eat Japanese food!

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    1. We’re planning to do a month’s stay in Tokyo before we walk, and then hoping to stay for an additional 4-5 days after we get back.

      And the food! Japanese cuisine is my favorite, and I’m looking forward to getting to eat fabulously while we on the walk, for all three meals (although I will skip the fish for breakfast if we get a traditional meal!).

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  4. What an amazing adventure! Well both walks are amazing but the siren call of the Japanese walk…

    “Game On!” Love your optimism and how you always rise to a challenge.

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    1. We have a lot to do to get ready for this walk, both saving and getting physically in shape to walk the distances required. We’re up for the challenge though, and time is on our side (for a change).

      We hopefully will be able to do more than one walk with Walk Japan – we’re very interested in several other ones they offer.

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  5. I am so glad that you posted about this tour. My daughter was supposed to go to Japan on a school trip this past March, but because of Covid that got cancelled, and then the quick trip to Lanai we planned instead was cancelled and then so on and on. Her first year at Wellesley is going well, but is so not what the college experience should be like. So, you guys inspired us and Liana and I will be doing this trip too! I wish we could “pull the trigger” and plan it for this coming June, but things are still so up in the air I feel like we have to wait until 2022. Hopefully she will still want to spend 2.5 weeks touring Japan with her mother by then!

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    1. I was so excited to read that you will be doing this tour! I’m pretty sure you will be going ahead of us, and I hope you’ll give me a report. I think you’re smart to plan for 2022 as I keep reading over and over that things won’t even start approaching “normal” until toward the end of 2021. BTW, we have invited our daughters to walk with us, if possible – two out of the three have said they’re up for it (if they can afford it).

      I feel sorry for your daughter and other first-year students like her not getting to have a normal college experience, especially at a place like Wellesley that is so filled with tradition. However, I’m glad she can at least be on campus and that the school is watching out for her. We just heard from our youngest that another person tested positive at Bryn Mawr (all students are currently going through the second round of tests), but apparently whoever this young woman is she is not in YaYu’s dorm as neither she nor anyone else living there has been informed to take extra precautions. YaYu says it’s been a very weird experience so far, but she’s glad to be there.

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      1. Assuming we get there before you, we will be sure to fill you in on everything! Based on following you for years, I’d say you’re way ahead of us on the researching and planning for this trip, so any words of wisdom would be great. I saw that they want us to carry special insurance for the trip, but don’t offer it and don’t have any recommendations either; I’m assuming USAA might have something? I think it’s going to be a pretty special trip whenever it happens. Thanks for finding it!

        I am thankful Liana can be at Wellesley, even with it being such an isolating existence based on all the rules. She was so happy to return to the east coast; she enjoys Hawaii, but is much more a New England girl. I hope YaYu has a good year at Bryn Mawr!

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      2. Re. the insurance – there are sites where you can compare travel insurance and pick the policy that works best for you at the best price. I believe that’s all you need to do. Not sure if USAA sells travel insurance, but it’s worth a try.

        Our girls are all east-coaster girls now; they love Hawaii and Kaua’i but will continue to live back east going forward.

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  6. Wow! What an exciting change! It sounds like an amazing trip with the architecture and food. Definitely an exciting goal to work towards.

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  7. This sounds like an amazing experience! I have added Walk Japan to my list of tours to look into for the future. I think you’re smart to not even think about doing this until 2022. I read an article that said they’re now saying there won’t be a vaccine until mid-to-late 2021, so I’ve put all travel plans on hold until 2022 as well.

    Glad to hear YaYu is still doing well at college and that they have so few cases. That’s pretty remarkable.

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