Thomas in Wonderland

Start walking across Japan triggered by the 3.11 Great Earthquake

“The best part is that I can decide on which way I should go.”
It was Mr. Thomas Köhler, a Swiss that has walked through Japan from farthest north to farthest south while updating his blog every day to log his journey adding short sentences like haiku. In his home country, Switzerland, Thomas was working for a travel agency specialized in Japan. On March 11, 2011 his life has been changed when the Great East Japan Earthquake has happened. All the bookings for Japan have been canceled and new bookings were not expected. The situation has forced him to leave the agency.
“But I couldn’t think of any other job as I loved Japan. Also, I thought it was time to return the favor.”

Q. Why do you love Japan that much?

“First I was fascinated by its unique and profound culture. When I visited Japan, I came in touch with beautiful nature such as the ocean and the mountains and the kind and happy people. I lived in Japan when I was a student. Since then I have traveled in Japan very often. Every time I visit Japan, I can find a new interest. Japan is indeed the country that offers Endless Discovery.”
He wanted to return the favor to Japan. But it seemed it would take some time for Japan to accept volunteers from overseas. So he has started a project himself.

Three things I wanted to tell

“I have set up three objectives for this journey. The first one was to show the size of Japan. I thought traveling on foot without using a transportation service would be the best way to show the size. The second was to send out positive messages. After the disaster, overseas media was broadcasting only the negative part of Japan. We cannot ignore the disaster or the nuclear accident of course, but the affected area was just a part of Japan. In other areas there are good food and beautiful landscapes. That was what I wanted to tell. The third one was to communicate the real Japan. When it comes to tourist attractions in Japan, Tokyo and Kyoto are famous. On the other hand, the beautiful sceneries, the customs, the kindness and the abundance of food in the regions along the Sea of Japan are not much known. I thought about communicating those real attractions of Japan.”

There still richly remain, indeed, the Japan’s old customs and human nature around the route along the Sea of Japan he has walked, comparing to the areas along the Pacific Ocean where there are many big cities. It could be said it was a route which would fulfill all the objectives mentioned above and there was little damage from the disaster.

Looking back at the disaster at the end of the journey

Q. Please tell us about what impressed you most during the journey.

“Everything is a really good memory. Especially every encounter with people was pleasant and wonderful. At the Michi no Eki (road station) in Aomori, a man at the cashier asked me, “Where are you from?” When I told him about my journey, he has invited me to his home. I had a good time and the next morning the time has come to say goodbye. Then he said, “I walk with you.” I was surprised! He wanted to walk 24 km with me to the next point carrying my bag on his back. He told me he wanted to experience my journey. That day he wound up with taking a leave from his work and walked 24 km with me. It is really a wonderful memory.”

(Please refer to the Blog article uploaded on 5 September. →

Q. What did you feel when you have arrived at Cape Sata at the end your journey?

“Of course I felt a great sense of achievement. But at the same time I was sorry that it ended. The day before I finished the journey, I was watching a special program of the disaster on TV and I felt sorry thinking like “Well, now it’s over.” The disaster was my turning point in life and also the starting point of my journey. Five months was short. It was a great journey.”

It seems the Japan he saw was like a dreamland and as beautiful and kind as it can be. He kept blogging every single day during his journey. And he said he has received many messages from around the world on his blog that said “I want to go to Japan too!” Even Japanese people can be reminded of how wonderful this country was through his viewpoint.
His blog is available in three languages; German, English and Japanese. If you are interested, please visit his blog.

Profile of Thomas Köhler

Born in 1967; Resident in Zurich, Switzerland
Resigned from the travel agency after the Great East Japan Earthquake
Traveled across Japan from August through December, 2011 for 5 months
Planning to start a travel agency specialized in Japan in Switzerland

Start: Hokkaido Cape Soya
Finish: Kagoshima Cape Sata
Mode of travel: by foot
Travel distance: 2900 km
Time span: 5 months(August 1, 2011- December 31, 2011)
Days: 153 days (123 days of travel, 30 day of rest)
Average travel distance per day: 24 km