The contributions of our Japanese guests to the Walkers Are Welcome tenth-anniversary get-together were outstanding.
Takashi Oda, interpreter and tour guide, spoke about Hebden Bridge in Calderdale seen with a foreigner’s eyes. Hebden Bridge was the first Walkers Are Welcome Town and hosted the tenth-anniversary event.
He began by summarising his talk.
The first gift of Hebden Bridge to the world: a town full of small businesses. It is a humane landscape because the economy is, more or less, in your own hands.
The second gift of Hebden Bridge to the world: the heritage and continuation of co-operative spirit. I believe it also contributes to the humane landscape.
Understanding of the history of a place and the meaning of monuments is necessary to appreciate the landscape of the area.
Takashi said that on his first couple of visits to Hebden Bridge he was ‘a shallow passer-by’; he did not notice much about it.
But on later visits he took an interest in the history of the place. For instance, he noticed that the bridges had balcony-like projections and he learnt that this was for the refuge of walkers when the packhorses, bringing goods between Lancaster and Hull, were passing through, their loads filling the width of the bridge.
He appreciated the many independent shops, and wished that his home town of Sapporo had the same.
He explained that in Japan each town has the same three stores: gas station, convenience store and pachinko (game) parlour.
It is a homogenous landscape and it is widespread, with franchise chains and international brands squashing local shops. Takashi had studied the co-operative movement which started in Rochdale in 1844 and was prolific around Hebden Bridge. This, he said, is a humane, welcoming landscape.
Walkers Are Welcome Japan
Yukiko Kamiya, director of the Japan Footpath Association (JFA), told us how Walkers Are Welcome in Japan is a solution to economic decline.
The JFA has promoted Machida, on the western side of Tokyo, as ‘the capital of footpath walking in Japan’ with an excellent map of the paths, and descriptions of what to see along the way. Machida belongs to Walkers Are Welcome Japan. Yukiko said that in the last two years more than 100,000 people have visited Machida, which came fourth in the 2014 ‘nice-to-live-in’ towns poll—no doubt because of the walking opportunities.
Footpaths and recreational walking were developed about 20 years ago, at a time of economic recession when people were looking for a better life. The government supports this because it recognises that walking makes an important contribution to revitalising the economy.
The towns which came to the Hebden Bridge get-together were impressed by the achievements of the JFA and were keen to discuss how our initiative can be extended internationally. The problems of economic decline and impoverished communities are worldwide. Walking is a solution. The potential is limitless.