You’d be forgiven for not knowing about this beautiful corner of the earth – it is one of Japan’s best kept secrets!
The Michinoku Coastal Trail is a 700km stretch of pristine coastline and rugged nature, beginning in Hachinohe in Aomori (the northernmost prefecture of Japan’s main island) and winding south along the Pacific coast to Soma in Fukushima Prefecture.
Robin Lewis: Explore Tohoku
Robin Lewis is a young British-Japanese humanitarian aid worker, holding both genetic roots and historical connections with the Tohoku region.
Robin (whose Mother was born in Sendai) has been involved in the post-disaster recovery of Tohoku since 2011, when he traveled to Japan from England to volunteer with Peace Boat; an international NGO working to assist disaster-affected people and strengthen community resilience through disaster prevention training and education. Since then, he has worked with communities all over the world as international coordinator for Peace Boat, including Nepal, Haiti and Vanuatu.
Robin has spent the past 30 days on a mission to walk the entire length of the Michinoku Coastal Trail with two major objectives in mind: to be a window for the world into the ongoing recovery of Tohoku’s coast (much of the trail area was devastated by the tsunami in 2011) and to encourage the growth of the region as a tourist destination. Along the way, he has been showing his support at various local festivals and events, even getting involved in the promotion of Miyagi’s local specialty ‘Hoya’ (Sea Pinapple) by dressing as one…(now that’s dedication)!
Despite lugging his life around in a 26kg backpack (growing heavier which each kind-hearted gift of local produce or souvenir), Robin is managing a pace of around 24km day, set to complete his journey by August 8, 2017.
In order to document his amazing experiences and encounters along the journey, Robin has founded ‘Explore Tohoku‘ through which he hopes more people will be inspired to visit Tohoku and ultimately contribute to local economic growth and sustained recovery. The Explore Tohoku project is made possible by the generous support of the Japan Foundation Asia Center HANDs! Project and The Next Challenge.
Walking the Michinoku Coastal Trail (みちのく潮風トレール)
The Michinoku Coastal Trail (みちのく潮風トレール) is Japan’s newest (and longest!) walking trail, still technically under construction by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment, but set to be completed by next year! The word ‘Michinoku’ is an old nickname for the Tohoku region. The walk is separated into about 20 different sections (see the homepage for more details) and features some of Tohoku’s most dynamic coastal scenery, including some famous viewpoints along the rias coastline of the Sanriku Recovery National Park.
Here are just some of the amazing views that Robin has discovered along his journey so far:
Robin has been spending most evenings in his tent but waking up to 5-star views of the sunrise over the Pacific.
The stunning Kabushima Shrine (蕪嶋神社) on the coast of Aomori Prefecture. Between 30,000 and 40,000 Black-tailed Gulls fly around Kabushima Island between February and August every year…! Apparently, it is good luck if one poops on you! You might even be ‘lucky’ enough to receive a certificate from the shrine if this happens.
The Michinoku Coastal Trail winds its way along the Tanesashi Kaigan (種差海岸) in Aomori Prefecture.
The stunning Osuka beach (大須賀ビーチ) also in Aomori Prefecture. One of the longestest beaches in Tohoku, its sand is so pure and untouched that it makes a distinct squeaking sound under foot!
This is the view of Otsuchi Bay from Benten Shrine (弁天神社) in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県大槌町). The shrine is located on a tiny island in the middle of the bay, and can be reached via a walkway from the shore. The original lighthouse and torii gate were destroyed in the 2011 tsunami, and have since been replaced. The statue of the goddess inside the shrine miraculously survived the deluge, despite tsunami waves reaching up to 30 meters in height in this area.
Another miracle – this was the only pine tree in a forest of around 70,000 trees which survived the tsunami of 2011. It (and the ruins behind it) have been preserved as a sign of hope for the recovering community and a reminder of the importance of disaster prevention.
Some of the rugged natural scenery along the Rikuchu coastline. This particular view is from the Kitayamazaki Cliffs in Iwate Prefecture.
With stunning views at every turn it is hard to believe that this trail is barely known outside of the Tohoku region! Robin told us that during his walk he has only run into one other traveler on the same path.
His journey, however, has been far from lonely! Along the way he has been overwhelmed by the kindness and resilience of the local people. He could quite literally write a book of fantastic encounters and random acts of kindness; everything from offering a can of juice in the sweltering heat to a night’s accommodation and life stories exchanged over a home-cooked meal. I don’t think he was being too biased when admitting that, out of the thousands of people he has met from all around the world, Tohoku’s people are by far the friendliest!
For Robin, one of the most invaluable lessons he has learnt from these encounters is that it is often only through listening to the stories of local people that the rest of the world can start to put together a picture of the disaster in 2011, and the kinds of lessons that we should take from their experiences. Many of the stories heard in these areas are unnecessary tragedies that may have been prevented if residents had not returned to their homes to collect belongings or to check on loved ones in spite of tsunami warnings. The importance of looking after your own personal safety and evacuating to higher ground as soon as possible is a vital lesson, and one that will hopefully save more lives in the future, the more these stories are shared around the world. Robin has been inspired by the incredible strength, resilience and positive outlook of all the people he has met on his journey; people who have endured so much and yet do not hesitate to not only do something kind for someone they have never met but to welcome them into their home with open arms.
A walk along the Michinoku Coastal Trail is a first-hand experience of Tohoku’s recovery. Far from what you will find in the crowded tourist metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka, this is a raw, authentic Japan experience; untouched nature, unspoiled culture, welcoming locals and a treasure trove of off-the-beaten track destinations still waiting to be discovered. This is Tohoku!
Be sure to check out the Explore Tohoku page to follow Robin’s journey, or better yet – come and experience it for yourself!
Follow the journey
Get in touch with Robin:
Read more about Robin’s amazing journey: http://thenextchallenge.org/walking-japans-tsunami-coastline/
Robin’s journey would not be possible without the support of the Japan Foundation Asia Center HANDs! Project (http://handsproject.asia/en.html) and The Next Challenge (http://thenextchallenge.org/).
Walk the trail yourself!
The Michinoku Coastal Trail is still under construction in some parts, but is scheduled to be fully completed by next year. In the meantime, there are plenty of shorter sections which can be discovered in just a day or as part of a longer course. For further information, check out the information provided by the Ministry for Environment on the trail homepage, or contact the Tohoku Regional Environmental Office at REO-TOHOKU@env.go.jp.