Walkers are Welcome in Japan
England and Wales have a fantastic network of footpaths revered by walkers from home and abroad.
While we are seeing cuts in PROW budgets and National Trail budgets, you only have to step into Japan to see a very different story. For a number of years academic visitors from Japan have visited Winchcombe in the Cotswolds, described by Country Walking magazine as “a stick of rock with Walkers are Welcome through it”, to see how walking has benefited local people and the local economy.
The Japanese have always hiked in mountainous areas, Mount Fuji attracts some 200,000 visitors every year. However, people living in cities are now realising the benefits of walking and are starting to create footpath routes using old paths and lanes to link with shrines, woods, rivers and old stone bridges. Money is being spent on creating these footpaths and on marketing material and signage to publicise routes, as they do not appear on national mapping.
A chance meeting with someone from the Japanese Footpath Society walking the Cotswold Way culminated with an invitation for Sheila and Robert Talbot from Winchcombe Walkers are Welcome group to speak at two international conferences in Japan in November 2015.
The presentations at the International Industrial Heritage seminar included examples of how redundant industrial heritage sites are being used today for recreational purposes, e.g. canal towpaths, walks linking mills and using redundant railway lines.
At the Annual Japanese Footpath Association seminar the presentations were about the culture of walking in Britain, the history that has led to where we are today and how the Walkers are Welcome scheme is benefiting communities.
From a WAW perspective, the next big challenge is how we can work with Japan to develop our relationship. The UK can also learn from them e.g. their Planning and Civil Engineering graduates are currently learning how to develop walking routes within urban areas, something I am not aware we currently offer. The Japanese also tend to make a group walk a very sociable experience with refreshments an important and integral part of their walk.
We saw on the new footpath signs in the Misato area, the WaW logo. Their signs have an arrow at each end with the waymarker strategically covering one arrow. Other signs appear on the road surface and walls as yellow painted arrows.