Slow travel is about connecting with a place. Instead of landing, ticking off a bunch of must-see sights and then leaving just as quickly, slow travel, as the name implies, means taking more time to see less.
It’s an ecologically and environmentally conscious way to travel, which encourages sustainability and respect for the host nation and its people. Without unlimited funds, it does, however, mean that you will likely see less of a destination, but the depth of your experience will be so much richer.
The Adventure Travel Trade Association released a report for 2018 highlighting the continued growth of slow travel and renewed consumer interest in authentic, experiential tours.
This is how to experience slow travel through rural Japan.
Trains, Bicycles, And Your Own Two Feet
Depending on your home city you’ll most likely have to board an international flight to get to Japan, but once there adopt the principles of slow travel to get around. Choose trains and buses for long distances and cover shorter journeys on a bicycle or on foot.
Book a walking tour with expert guides like Walk Japan and you’ll be totally immersed in Japanese life and culture as you learn all about the history of the area you walk through. There are a huge range of different routes and destinations to choose from but if you really want to embrace the slow travel trend, step away from the urban itineraries and head to rural villages, hamlets, forest and lakeside trails.
A Cultural Journey
One of the best things about the slow travel philosophy is the opportunity to make authentic connections and to thoroughly experience a different way of living.
Walk Japan’s Kunisaki and Yufuin walk wonderfully encapsulates this movement towards more genuine experiences. Staying in small ryokans, feasting on traditional Japanese dishes, meeting farmers, and innkeepers and enjoying the cultural ritual of onsen bathing all feature in a five-day itinerary.
This route all the way through to Yufuin, an onsen town popular with Japanese holidaymakers, will see you following in the ancient footsteps of monks making the pilgrimage through the mountains of the Kunisaki Peninsula, in Kyushu. Here you’ll pass many examples of pawā spotto, or spiritual places, including the gravestones of monks, Shinto temples, and shrines and Buddha reliefs cut into the side of cliffs.
The Ancient Temple Of Fuki-Ji
Directly opposite one of the ryokans where you will rest after a day’s walk is the temple of Fuki-Ji. Built in the 8th century it still shows evidence of its neglect centuries ago, when state religion was introduced, and this beautiful ancient wooden structure was used as a children’s playroom. Look up high onto the beams where the sun cannot reach, and you’ll still be able to see the faded artwork showing scenes of musicians from a time long ago.
Slow Down To Meditate With Monks
Who would think that simply sitting still could be quite so difficult?
Yet after just twenty minutes of sitting cross-legged in a temple, the muscles in your legs may well scream out in protest. If you’re a beginner, it can be difficult to quiet your mind and stop it from jumping about from topic to topic like a nervous monkey.
You’ll need to remind yourself to focus, concentrate, be still and breathe. If you open your eyes to try and take a peek at the monk leading the meditation practice, you’ll find he hasn’t moved a muscle. His robes could be carved from alabaster and you’ll swear he’s not even breathing!
Mercilessly after what may seem like forever, he will chime a bell to let you know the practice has come to an end.
Slow Travel Challenges You
Relying on your own body to power you through your journey is an empowering practice. You’ll climb up to Choan Ji, once the most powerful temple in all of Kunisaki. At the top of the ascent, you’ll happen upon a most unexpected sight. Antony Gormley’s “Another Time” statue, an iron man standing alone looking out at the landscape of Oita Prefecture’s Sento district below.
Although this walking tour is not too strenuous and perfectly comfortable for most relatively fit people, over the course of the trip you will have covered over 12 miles on foot, some of it over mossy stones, forest, and steps that seem to go on forever.
Each night, as you relax naked in the onsen baths, don’t forget to thank your very capable body which has transported you around one of the most fascinating parts of rural Japan.
Slow travel allows you to embrace all the benefits of authentic, experiential travel and truly enjoy the destination.