These Walking Dreams

Peter Orosz, in a straw hat and holding his walking stick, stands by the side of the road. 📷 On the 92nd day of my walk. Photo by Tadashi Honma.

These Walking Dreams is a visual field diary I kept on a 4,300-kilometer walk from one end of Japan to the other, in the spring and summer of 2017.

It was originally published on Instagram under #roadsfromsata, where I continually posted pictures while I was on the road, accompanied by entries on what I had seen, experienced, and felt.

The diary is republished here in expanded and revised form, with more photos, improved maps, and slightly retouched entries.

Map of Japan with the route of “These Walking Dreams” highlighted. 🗺 My route across Japan, from south-west to north-east

Except for four ferry crossings, two toll roads, and one nuclear exclusion zone1 — marked in grey on the map above — I walked every step of the way.

I began walking in Kagoshima City, in the south of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, on the morning of April 13, 2017. In April and May I crossed Kyushu, then Shikoku, the smallest of the main islands, and arrived on Honshu, the largest, on May 24. In the next two months I crossed three of Honshu’s five regions: Kansai (South-Central Honshu), Chūbu (Central Honshu), and Tōhoku (Northeast Honshu).

Gabor and Peter Orosz smile into the camera, looking happy and scruffy 📷 With my brother Gabor Orosz (left), on the last day of our walk across Hokkaido

On July 24 I arrived in Hakodate, in the south of Hokkaido, the northernmost main island, where my brother, Gabor, joined me. Together, we walked across Hokkaido and reached Cape Nosappu, the easternmost point of the Japanese mainland, on August 212.

Update 1: Five years and one day later, on August 22, 2022, we continued our journey from the same spot. It became the subject of Human Again, a series of three longer dispatches I wrote on that walk.

Update 2: One year and one day later, on September 15, 2023, I continued from Wakkanai, where the journey described in Human Again ends. My goal is to reach Cape Irizaki on Yonaguni, Okinawa, the westernmost point of Japan. Come and join me for the third and last stage of what will be my walk around all of Japan!

Map of Kyushu with the route of “These Walking Dreams” highlighted.

Kyushu: April 13 — May 5, 2017

Map of Shikoku with the route of “These Walking Dreams” highlighted.

Shikoku: May 6–21, 2017

Map of Awaji Island and Kansai with the route of “These Walking Dreams” highlighted.

Awaji Island and Kansai (South-Central Honshu): May 22 — June 1, 2017

Map of Chūbu (Central Honshu) with the route of “These Walking Dreams” highlighted.

Chūbu (Central Honshu): June 8 — July 3, 2017

Map of Tōhoku (Northeast Honshu) with the route of “These Walking Dreams” highlighted.

Tōhoku (Northeast Honshu): July 4–24, 2017

Map of Hokkaido with the route of “These Walking Dreams” highlighted.

Hokkaido: July 25 — August 21, 2017

Further reading

Alan Booth’s The Roads to Sata, the exquisite account of a similar walk undertaken four decades previously, in the summer and autumn of 1977, served as the main inspiration for my journey — even if our paths barely crossed. He largely followed the coast, stayed in country inns, and walked from north to south, while I preferred the mountains, slept in sheds, shrines, and parks, and walked from south to east.

A more explicit connection between Booth’s work and mine is The Wilds of Shikoku, my first book, in which I wrote about following in the exact footsteps of another of his journeys, a five hundred kilometer walk across Shikoku — Booth’s in May and June 1983, mine in January and February 2019. Booth’s account of his own journey, Roads Out of Time”, was published in the anthology This Great Stage of Fools, and both his account and mine were edited by Timothy Harris.

I also drew on Fukada Kyūya’s One Hundred Mountains of Japan, this odd mixture of baedeker and literary nonfiction from 1964, which is as much about the etymology of Japanese geographical names as about the practical aspects of climbing Japan’s mountains. Along the way from one end of Japan to the other I climbed or traversed 12 of Fukada’s one hundred mountains, and made an aborted attempt on a 13th, the volcano Ontake.

In 2022, I returned to Hokkaido with Gabor to continue our walk. We arrived in Nemuro on August 21, the same day we had finished our walk in 2017, and left the next morning from the same spot where we had concluded our journey. We walked together for a week, then I walked on alone to Wakkanai, the northernmost city on the Japanese mainland, from where I traveled to two outlying islands, Rebun and Rishiri. Human Again, a series of three dispatches I wrote, is about this 640-kilometer journey.

My plan was to walk all the way back to Kagoshima, but a foot injury prevented me from doing so. I finished my walk upon returning to Wakkanai from Rishiri, on September 14.

I will continue from there at the next opportunity. If you wish to follow along, please sign up for the I 💜 Wasting Ink Mailing List and you will know when I leave for Japan again:

Notes and acknowledgments

I do not know the names of most of the people who helped me on this journey of four months. They are those who maintain the marvelous infrastructure of this mountainous and seismically unstable archipelago, the roads, tunnels, and footpaths without which I could barely have walked a kilometer, let alone 4,300. Dozens of individuals I met went out of their way to help me, a stranger from a country most of them had never heard of, without any thought of reward.

John Ebert, Gyökös Lajos, Ikematsu-Papp Gabriella, Kuroiwa Naoki, Nagate Satomi 長手里美, Nishimoto Kyōko 西本京子, Ōhashi Aki 大橋亜紀, Orosz Gábor, Michael Sileny, Stephen Wheeler, Yoshihara Hitoshi 吉原均, Yoshihara Mihály Aoi 吉原ミハイ青衣, and Yoshihara-Horváth Hanga provided invaluable assistance while I was in Japan.

Japanese words, geographical locations, and personal names are transcribed into English using the Modified Hepburn romanization. Japanese names are written in the Japanese order, the family name first and the given name second. With the exception of the names of Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido, Honshu, and Kyushu, spelled in the international style, long vowels are marked with macrons (ō, ū).

Geographical names are based on data from Google Maps, OpenStreetMap, the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan, and other sources. Google Translate and Renzo Japanese were used to clarify transliterations.

Maps are plotted in Gaia GPS, using data from OpenStreetMap. Overview maps on this index page are displayed on Gaia GPSs Gaia Topo, overlayed with slopes data from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan, while day-by-day maps are displayed on Thunderforest Landscape.

Special thanks to Natalie Kallay, my wife, who has always encouraged and supported my wanderings.

  1. The ferries were across Kagoshima Bay (Day 7), the Hōyo Strait (Day 23), the Akashi Strait (Day 42), and the Tsugaru Strait (Day 103). The tolls roads were a section of the Kōbe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway across the Great Naruto Bridge (Day 39), and most of the Hakusan Shirakawa-gō White Road (Day 61). The nuclear exclusion zone was the one around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (Day 84). They are marked with the emojis ⛴, 🚗, and 🚓 in the index, and explained in footnotes on the day-to-day pages.↩︎

  2. It took me 131 days to reach Cape Nosappu from Kagoshima, and I spent 119 of these days walking. The remaining 12 were split between scattered rest days and a six-day trip to Korea in early June (to renew my Japanese entry permit). I carried an iPhone, which logs walking distance automatically, and I also plotted my path separately on OpenStreetMap. From these two sources I estimate that I walked around 4,300 kilometers and gained about 120,000 meters of elevation.↩︎