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What is a long trail ?
I hear people ask, “Is there a real long trail in Japan?”, But the standard for long trails is not clear.
So, I talked to Mr. Tsuchiya of Hiker’s Depot, one of the supporters of Japan’s long trail culture.
When did you come up with the word “long trail”?
Vermont, USA has the oldest long-distance hiking trail in North America. Its name is “Long Trail”. The long trail is essentially a proper noun.
The “long trail” that became the model for creating the Appalachian Trail (AT) trail system can be said to be the origin of long-distance trails in the United States. It is not unrelated to this historical background that the act of walking on such long trails has come to be called the long trail.
To avoid confusion with this Vermont long trail, the term “place” for long-distance trails is now referred to as “long distance trail,” and the “act” of walking on long trails is referred to as “long hike” and “long distance hike.”
In Japan, Noriyoshi Kato has used the term long trail as a general term for the act and culture of walking long-distance trails in North America.
Mr. Kato, who actually walked the John Muir Trail (JMT) and AT and is familiar with national parks, probably knew the difference and background of the term long trail in North America, but he traveled a long distance. I think I dared to use the word “long trail” to introduce the act of doing and its culture to Japan.
Noriyoshi Kato was born in 1949. He studied John Muir’s activities and introduced the long trail culture to Japan. He passed away in 2013.
In addition, there are cultures around the world that travel long distances. The pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela, the trekking route of the Himalayas, the footpath of England and the Grand Randne of France.
Japanese pilgrimage would be included in such a category.
This walking culture is called by various names in various places, and there are many things in common.
Keeping that in common is meaningful for understanding long trails. And if you use the terms long trail or long hike on top of that, I think it should first be based on North American culture.
Furthermore, by chewing and digesting it, it may be replaced with Japanese for the first time. In this article, I hope you can get a feel for the reason.
What is different from vertical mountain climbing?
We often hear the dichotomy that mountain climbing goal is reaching to the summit but long trails are not aimed at, but many of the long trails on the east coast of North America go through the summit such as Vermont’s Long Trail.
In the early days of Japanese mountaineering culture, which originated in European alpinism, the main purpose was to reach the summit.
In the values of hiking originating from the outdoors in the United States, the summit is just one of many purposes. It can be said that the freedom of choice to set a purpose other than peak hunt is different from mountain climbing in Japan.
The difference between the former value, which emphasizes the achievements of human history, and the latter value, which emphasizes personal travel, introspection, and freedom, can be said to be the difference from Japan’s vertical mountain climbing. I think it is.
On the Himalayan trekking route, you can see the highest peak mountains such as Everest Highway and Annapurna Circuit.
Also, although it is a long trail, not all are mountain trails and nature trails. Overseas trails connect not only mountain trails and nature trails, but also unpaved forest roads as well as paved roads.
Naturally, hikers will want to walk on mountain trails and nature trails.
However, I also know that it will not be possible to connect for a long time.
It’s the same as setting a trail running race course to create an attractive course by skilfully entwining not only mountain trails but also forest roads and paved roads, or connecting them as long-distance courses over 100 miles.
In a sense, while increasing the ratio of mountain trails and natural trails, how well they are combined with forest roads and paved roads as an accent is one of the elements that makes it an attractive long trail.
A pilgrimage route in Shikoku over temples related to Kobo Daishi (Kukai) is designated as a Japan Heritage by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
It’s about 40 days, visited by many tourists.I think these two are the major differences from mountain climbing in terms of route setting and road conditions.
In other words, if you move away from the constraints of mountain peaks and trails, you will have more freedom and longer walking journeys.
How long is the long trail?
When it comes to long trails and long hikes, we hear the question, “How long is long?”There is currently no clear definition of whether it is a distance or a period.
What should be noted here is the commonality in the walking travel cultures around the world mentioned above.
In a word, “the length that needs replenishment” is one guideline. I proposed it in “LONGDISTANCE HIKING” by Susumu Hasegawa, who threw through the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2010, but it is a long journey because of replenishment, and people for replenishment Because you go down to the living area of the city, you will have the opportunity to experience the local culture.
If you walk long enough to require replenishment, you’ve walked a long trail.
Basically, in the United States, hiking refers to all mountain walking.
Applicable to those that can be climbed without using hands. There are various destinations such as lakes and grasslands.
However, when discussing the length of long trails in Japan, we almost always face annoying problems. That is, “I can’t take a day off so long in Japan.”
Therefore, in the course in Japan, the reality is that trails that are not long are also called long trails.
Of course, there may be various problems in maintenance.
However, even so, I somehow feel the tendency to call it a long trail regardless of the distance.
Then it is the end of the story. If you call it a long trail, it should be long. Or you should aim to make it longer. I think that is the foundation of a long trail.
However, even in North America and Europe, not everyone who walks on long trails walks the entire line.
Many hikers are walking on the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, but only a handful of them are walking the entire line.
In the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of hikers who enjoy hiking on the PCT every year, but only about 100 through hikers go through the entire line in one season until just 10 years ago.
Since Japanese people are serious, you may think that you have to walk the whole long trail, or you may feel that it is meaningless if you do not walk, but the important thing in the long trail is to walk through everything.
The fact that there are long-distance trails makes sense. If only through-hike walks on long trails, then even the concept of section-hike is not born.
If a hiker wants to walk, he can travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres.
There is a dream there. And one day I have a dream of wanting to walk.
If you have a dream, you will cherish the trail, and hikers walking on the trail will also like it.
A sense of solidarity is created among unknown hikers walking on the same trail, which may make not only hikers from other places but also locals feel the same.
Suppose you tell a child who is always hiking with you, “This trail runs far into the city.”
You might dream that one day the child will walk to the other city. I believe that such feelings will take root in the local community, be loved, and be passed on to the next generation.
For that purpose, it is important that the distance is long to some extent.
That’s why in North America, the culture of trail angels and trail magic, where hikers who have finished walking the trail and locals support hikers, naturally occurs.
This is also the reason why the trail town where hikers stop by for replenishment and the hiker community where hikers help each other are born.Being exposed to local culture and leading to regional promotion is nothing more than a result theory.
In the need for the act of replenishment, I am interested in the land because I am exposed to the favors of various people.
First of all, there is a long way to draw a dream. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a day hike or one night and two days, so I think it’s important to walk a part of such a long trail and feel the romance.
You don’t have to walk the whole thing. But it makes a lot of sense that the road continues for a long time.
What’s next for Japan’s long trails?
Mountaineering culture in Japan is based on European alpinism.
It has been accumulated for over 100 years, and its values should continue to be cherished.
On the other hand, backpacking and hiking, which originated in the American outdoors, are a latecomer culture introduced in Japan in the 1970s.
Noriyoshi Kato introduced the long trail in the latter half of the ’90s, and in the latter half of the’ 2000s, the ultra light born from the long trail culture spread to the market.
Although topics have been imported from time to time, their history is only about 50 years.
I think it will take more time for the values of long trails and hiking to permeate as another value alongside mountaineering.
In Japan as well, in the last 10 years or so, each local government has started to develop long trails.
However, there are many trails that are developed mainly for regional promotion and tourism promotion, and they feel like trails far from the hiker’s perspective.
As mentioned earlier, regional development is not an end but a side effect. It has taken decades to grow into the current culture in North America.
As a result of the long and attractive trails, hikers gathered there and only brought the surrounding towns to life.
As a result of prioritizing regional development, which is just a result, and prioritizing economic effects over the fun of walking, I feel that there are more courses that make hikers and mountaineers who are interested in walking trips feel sick.
But the times are moving. It is true that many domestic long trails have been born in any form.
However, if it does not become attractive, it will not be walked and will be eliminated.
From now on, you should think that we have entered the next stage of how to walk and how to re-edit the trail to be attractive.
Not only the trails born in recent years, but also the long-distance nature trails that have not been utilized after being developed by the Environmental Agency and are partially devastated have reached the 50th anniversary of this year, and it is time to regenerate them.
And I think you are. Ten years ago, only a few people came into contact with North American trail culture.
That is definitely increasing now. The maturity of the user’s perspective is the stimulus above all. In some cases, hikers who have experienced overseas are involved in the management side.
Finally, the perspective of the walking side began to be introduced. It has been 10 years since the terms hiker, hiking and trail have been rediscovered and re-evaluated in Japan.
I think that the culture of long trails in Japan is not given to anyone, but will be created by each person who walks with interest.
Long trails and long hikes have fun and freedom because they are still immature.