My friend Yukiko Kamiya, who is a leading light in the Japan Footpath Association (JFA), invited me to Machida, 50 kilometres south of Tokyo in Japan, to celebrate the organisation’s tenth anniversary.
Unfortunately I could not go, but with the help of Matthew Farrand at the Ramblers, I made a video for the occasion. Yukiko translated my words and added subtitles. The video is now publicised on the Japan Footpath Association website, and you can watch it here with Japanese subtitles.
Here is what I said.
Konnichiwa. Hello everybody. I am Kate Ashbrook and I am the patron of the Walkers Are Welcome Towns network in England, Scotland and Wales. I am also chair of Ramblers Great Britain, and my day job is general secretary [chief executive] of the Open Spaces Society, which is Britain’s oldest national conservation body.
It is because of all these things I must do that I am unable to be with you today to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Japan Footpath Association here in Machida. I am so sorry I cannot be with you.
But we share so much. We love walking and so do you. We love our paths. We love to get out into the countryside and breathe the fresh air, and enjoy nature. We love the chitchat between friends, the social connections. Walking is truly wonderful and that is what we are here to celebrate.
The Walkers Are Welcome Towns network, which you have in Japan, shows the importance of walking to the local economy and local businesses. In the towns where we encourage walkers, those businesses have benefited from walkers coming and spending money and staying overnight. And those towns are feeling better as a result, they are looking better, more lively. Some of you have seen that when you visited us at Hebden Bridge and Otley in Yorkshire, or Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire for instance. You’ve seen our towns and how they have benefited, and I know that your towns, such as Machida, are also feeling better as a result of welcoming walkers.
But we cannot take our walking opportunities for granted. You like we have paths which are under threat. In our case the bodies responsible for maintaining paths, the local authorities, are very short of money. More now than ever, paths are threatened with closure and development, and we have to fight for them.
We must press our authorities to put paths top of the list for care and maintenance. Our towns, like your towns, and our ramblers get out there to do work on the ground. We have volunteer working parties who are reopening paths, slashing away the vegetation, and building gates and steps to make the paths more accessible for everybody.
We need to object when paths are closed. We sometimes have to take landowners to court for blocking paths—and we are prepared to do that to defend our precious public-path network.
We have great links with you in Japan. Five years ago we signed an agreement in Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, a Walkers Are Welcome Town agreement, friendship between the UK and Japan. And we want to go on celebrating those connections. We want to work with you, jointly to promote walking in our two nations, and I know that you truly want to make Japan a walking nation, and we will support and help you.
So I hope you have a wonderful event to celebrate your tenth anniversary. We congratulate you most warmly on your ten years, and we look forward to working and walking with you in the future.