Meeting TOHOKU: Jung Kihyun

Meet Jung Kihyun, young backpacker/activist from Korea.

Jung is not just your average backpacker. As many do, Jung fell in love with traveling after his first trip overseas and has been on the road for the past five years and four months. In this time he has visited 52 countries and achieved some amazing physical feats, including being one of only 6 travelers to complete the epic ‘Continental Divide Trail’ (5000km trail from Mexico to Canada) last year.

He has seen some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery and experienced places and things that most of us could only dream of, but when asked what is his primary motivation for travel?

The people.

Particularly after a life changing 4 months working with a poverty stricken community in Haiti, he quickly realised that whilst traveling the world was the best way to open his own mind and develop as a person, it was also an opportunity for him to change the lives of those he comes into contact with. Whether it be a 5 minute encounter or a month long companionship, you will meet diversity, develop friendships and uncover different (and sometime challenging) outlooks on life, culture and history.

With this lesson at the forefront of his mind, Jung has arrived in Japan on a mission:

to WALK 2000km from Hokkaido to Okinawa in an effort to promote better relations between Japan and his home country.

After his first visit to Japan, Jung was touched by the genuine kindness and hospitality of the Japanese people he met. He couldn’t help but be surprised, as his experience didn’t seem to match-up with many of the opinions and stories he had heard about Japan growing up. After delving into the complex history between Japan and Korea (which continues to be a source of political contention) Jung was inspired to share his positive experience in Japan with his own generation in the hope that this, along with inspiring others to visit Japan themselves, will have a positive impact beyond individual voices.

And where better to showcase the kindness of the Japanese people than Tohoku?

Jung is currently making his way through the Tohoku region, so far walking through Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, soon to arrive in Fukushima. Along the way, he has been overwhelmed by the support and openhearted welcome from locals. He travels with simply a backpack, sleeping mat and basic tent, visiting local baths and onsen for a wash.

But he has barely had reason to worry! Recognisable by a small Korean flag sticking out of his bag, each day he meets new friends – many stopping him to chat, offer assistance (even accommodation!) or cheer him on with excited calls of ‘GAMBAREEEEEEEE!!’ (Good luck!!) from car windows along with the odd cucumber, Aomori apple juice or homemade rice-ball.

Despite the barriers of language and culture, he has made lasting connections with people from all walks of life; from ramen shop owners providing him shelter from the torrential rain (rainy season was maybe not best time to walk through Japan, Jung…), a group of friendly firemen and plenty of farmers treating him to the best of Tohoku’s local produce.

Not only is Jung documenting his journey for his many followers on social networks like facebook and instagram (see below for details), once back in Korea he is hoping to compile his experience into an informative documentary.

As of yesterday he has traveled 553km so far – still 1447km to go!! He hopes to complete his journey to Okinawa (final destination: Miyakojima) by August 20, a mere 5 weeks away!

We wish him luck for the rest of his incredible journey and hope that it will inspire many more people across the globe to come and meet the lovely locals of Tohoku for themselves.

If you see him on the road be sure to stop and stay hi! Or just give him a hug…


Follow Jung’s journey through Tohoku and the rest of Japan on his facebook page and Instagram (search ‘Paramemoria’).

 

Jess Hallams

About Jess Hallams

Born and raised in Australia, Jess has been living in Japan for the past four years. Whilst the cold winters are a struggle (!) she completely fell in love with Tohoku after moving to Fukushima prefecture to teach English in 2013. Having traveled to 18 countries (with a long list yet to get through) she knows the ins-and-outs of budget travel and what makes a memorable destination. She hopes to discover more off-the-beaten-track (read: inaka) destinations in Tohoku for those seeking a 'real Japan' experience.

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