There I was, sitting in a local coffee shop in Sapporo, face to face with this slight, long-haired, hippie-like Japanese guy speaking perfect English. I didn’t know then that in three weeks we would spend 10 great days together in Hokkaido trekking across Daiestsu-zan National Park.
It all started when I got a call from a friend down in Tokyo telling me about this guy who was walking around Japan, planting trees along the way, to promote peace. He was looking for a guide to take him into the northern mountains as part of his walk from Hokkaido to Tokyo.
A couple of weeks later I found myself sitting, talking to the “Sonic Surfer” (his real name is Koichi Nakatani) who is part of the Earth Day Friendship Walk, as he walks from Hokkaido to Tokyo in time for Earth Day 2007 in Yoyogi Park.
To be honest, I didn’t really know anything about what he was doing and, frankly, planting trees for peace sounded a bit lame to me, but after listening to him for while, I started to understand what he was really about. He believed his mission could make a difference in the world.
We were on different pages when it came to activism, but I respect someone who goes beyond the call for what they believe in. But before I agreed to guide him and his small group, I was very interested to know how this trek was going to be funded.
I consider myself one of the best English speaking guides in Hokkaido, and my days of guiding people for free are long gone, so when he told me they could only afford ¥5,000 per person for a 10-day alpine trek, I was about to walk out. However, I was starting to respect the guy, and he has a knack for stating his case.
After a few more coffees, we came up with the idea of promoting the “Earth Day Friendship Walk” and trying to round up people from various countries for an international trek to promote peace and understanding.
We ended up with nine people from Japan, the U.S., Canada and, of course, New Zealand. The trek was more than we expected, and I came away having changed my thinking on what the “Sonic Surfer” was doing.
I also found out why he was called the “Sonic Surfer.” One morning I woke up just as the sun was coming up to find “Sonic” already up and doing something strange. As I got closer, I noticed he was recording the sound of the stream running through our campsite.
I asked him what he was up to, and he explained he was digitally recording the sounds of this trek, nature and the sounds of his travels. He believes sounds have more of a soul than images. Again, I was thinking, boy what’s this guy into but, after listening to his recordings he captured in Daisetsu-zan and hearing how beautiful everything sounded, I was starting to understand. “Sonic” for sound and “Surfer” because the guy loves surfing.
I think this trek taught us both a few things. I taught him how good it is to get away from modern life and everything that goes with it, getting back to basics, and he taught me to care about things a bit more…and people say you can’t teach an old pig new tricks!