I have learnt the joy of walking the footpaths. Through walking you realise the beauty and abundance of nature. I would like to spread the culture of walking in Japan.
So said Ms Ruriko Izawa, member of the planning committee of the Japan Footpath Association (JFA) at the signing ceremony on 6 February of the friendship agreement between the Walkers Are Welcome Towns Network UK and the JFA.
The Walkers Are Welcome Town of Winchcombe in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was host to the occasion. This is the first association for Walkers Are Welcome with a country outside the UK.
It is lovely to think that the Japanese want to develop path networks and that they recognise how walking can benefit people’s health and wellbeing as well as the economy.
The JFA was established in 2009 to support groups that promote footpath initiatives throughout Japan, such as those in Misato, Kumamoto.
JFA’s press release for the signing event says: We leaned that in the United Kingdom it was when tired workers looked for more humane living after the Industrial Revolution that the footpath activities blossomed. In Japan people realised after the Economic Bubble Burst of 1991 that happiness cannot be brought by economical success.
The Japanese are concerned about rural depopulation and the association wants to support groups that are active in the communities of declining rural areas to promote their path networks. They also want to help groups in regions affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in the east, where the government has established a national park as part of the green reconstruction with a trail, over 700 km long, along the affected coast (see my blog on Ramblers’ website). It would be excellent to develop paths connecting the trail with the inland towns.
In the friendship agreement JFA and Walkers Are Welcome (WAW) pledge to co-operate to create a culture of walking and establish a global network that welcomes walkers. JFA may use the WAW logo and may accredit Japanese towns as WAW towns. The agreement was signed in Japan by the JFA’s president, Joichi Ishizaka, who unfortunately could not be with us, and in Winchcombe by Sheila Talbot of the WAW committee and our international ambassador.
Also present were researchers from the university of Kitakyushu and Ryukoko University, and a helpful interpeter, Mikako Ichimura from Kyoto University. Rob Morris from Natural England joined the group to talk about access issues in England.
Sheila, who with her husband Rob, is a leading light of Winchcombe WAW, wished the JFA every success and said that she hoped the agreement and the project would bring prosperity to the Japanese towns and would lead to exchange visits with the UK.
Jim Mason, borough councillor, chairman of Winchcombe Town Council and member of the town’s WAW committee said: It’s a great honour for the town of Winchcombe to host this historic moment. I wish you all success. Walkers Are Welcome has revolutionised our town’s businesses.
Mike Dawson, chief executive of Tewkesbury Borough Council added: ‘The Walkers Are Welcome project is about people and communities. In Winchcombe we have a fantastic community which welcomes people for the benefit of all. It’s a pleasure for the borough council to be able to support communities like this. I hope in Japan your councils can support your movement as well.’
We cut a cake which Sheila had made to celebrate the event. Later our guests set off for a walk round the town and then, despite the cold weather, marched to the top of Cleeve Hill.
We wish our Japanese colleagues every success in promoting Walkers Are Welcome and look forward to many more visits.