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Finding the charms of Tohoku on a 700 km long trail

Shunsuke Goto

As part of efforts to support disaster recovery, the Ministry of the Environment is currently working on preparations to open the Michinoku Shiokaze Trail, a natural footpath where visitors will be able to thoroughly experience the superb natural scenery and culture of Tohoku. Its course follows the disaster-stricken coasts of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures. In order to verify the safety and validity of this trail, one Waseda student, Shunsuke Goto, has travelled between Tokyo and Tohoku to spend a total of 50 days walking approximately 700 km. Says Goto, “I heard about the survey staff job in the fall of my third year. This was a time when I was just beginning to think about my career and future, but my head was filled with the idea of walking through Tohoku all in one go.”

Over one year had passed since Goto had visited Kesennuma, Miyagi as a disaster volunteer with the Waseda University Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center (WAVOC). As information on the disaster area decreased with each day, Goto felt a need to see it once again with his own eyes.

The duty of the Michinoku Shiokaze Trail survey staff is to post information on the internet about the charms of Tohoku with the goal of providing contact with local culture and human exchange through walking the trail. Goto left on his journey on December 1, 2012. Goto had been provided with a map, numbered jersey, and other items by the office in charge before starting out, but one worry crossed his mind.

At his goal of Matsukawaura Environment Park in Soma, Fukushima, Goto was met with a performance by the Soma Taiko Drum Club from Soma Senior High School and received a warm welcome from local citizens.

“I wondered whether visiting Tohoku as a tourist while the sorrow of the disaster remained might not irritate the local people.”

Goto could not easily imagine what the area now looked like after seeing it when he had volunteered. However, Goto need not have worried. As Goto walked, local people came and talked to him. Goto was also constantly initiating conversation with local townspeople. And it was at these times that small human dramas would occur.

Goto hit it off immediately with a fisherman he met in Kuji, Iwate. After staying at the man’s house, he was told that he ever lost his way in life, he should come back to the fisherman’s home. When Goto slept outdoors at a roadside station in Miyako, a passing man gave him a bento boxed lunch. “The people of Tohoku are truly warm and friendly,” says Goto. This was one of the Tohoku’s charms that Goto found.

Of course, not all of the conversations Goto had were happy. In Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Goto heard a man who had lost his fiancé in the tsunami say, “I would not be sad to die at any moment.” Meanwhile, Goto also met a positive-thinking farmer in Yamamoto-cho who rebuilt his strawberry greenhouse, which had been washed away in the Tsunami, and who told Goto, “Tell them there are people here who are working hard and who haven’t been beaten by the tsunami.” Goto continued to report each day on the Tohoku he saw. Then, on March 16, 2013, Goto’s 50 day survey ended at the goal in Soma, Fukushima.

Looking back at that time, Goto says, “I want to keep all of the connections I made for the rest of my life.” The worry Goto had experienced prior to his trip has turned to optimism. “I truly felt that at long last many people were resuming their jobs and the area had entered a stage where tourism would help in the revitalization of Tohoku. That’s why I believe the cities of Tohoku will be even more enlivened through lots of exchange between bright Waseda students and the people of Tohoku.”

Goto’s only means of transportation were his feet. Through walking he encountered people and beautiful scenery. Goto, who taught us about this through his own efforts, continued, “I hope that this trail will serve as an opportunity to create connections which exceed the physical distance between Tokyo and Tohoku.”

1. At the Watanabe Strawberry Farm in Yamamoto-cho. Masatoshi Watanabe, the proprietor, is still full of vitality even though he is over 70 years old.

2. Visiting temporary housing in Shinchi-machi, Soma-gun, Fukushima.

3. Goto met Koichi Fukkiri, a famous abalone fisherman, at Shukunohe Bay in Hirono-cho, Iwate.


Shunsuke Goto
Fourth Year, School of Advanced Science and Engineering

Originally from Chiba Prefecture, Shunsuke Goto graduated from the Toho University affiliated Toho Senior High School. His hobby is soccer. His dream is to become like the character Tora-san from the Japanese film series, Otoko wa tsurai yo. In spring 2013, he travelled approximately 700 km on foot between Hachinohe and Soma. You can view his trail walk journal at http://www.tohoku-trail.go.jp/report/.