Header image for Pop-Up Walk


I’m Craig Mod and you (in theory) signed up for this weekly letter on walking — yes, walking (you know: the literature of walking, walking experiments, publishing and walking, talking-and-walking; the permutations of walking abound, and we are here to drill down into them all).

I’m writing to you all midway through a private walking tour of Kyushu. I was invited to join this group as a kind of writer-in-residence. The trip has been wonderful. I’ll break down the walks we’re doing in a week or two. But for now I come bearing … EXPERIMENTS:

[UPDATE] — I changed the day from Dec 3 to Dec 4.

Next week, on December 1, I begin my solo north-south walk along the 170km Ise-ji route in Mie Prefecture. And on December 4 I’m going to run a SPECIAL PROJECTS members-only online “pop-up” walk via Instagram. Let’s call it: Pop-Up Walk 001.

The pop-up account will offer a behind-the-scenes look at a day of walking in Japan. I’ll extensively narrate and answer questions. The account will only exist for 48 hours (24 for the walk and a few extra for good measure). Then I’ll nuke it.

Explorers Club members will get an email on December 2 linking to the one-time-use account. Members can then choose to follow or not. I’ll use Instagram Stories as the main delivery mechanism because it seems to be the simplest pre-existing tool built for this purpose. That said: I’ve never done anything like this before so it will be very “beta”-esque. And I may lose connectivity in the mountains for parts of the day (but will continue recording and upload later in the evening). My pack will be replete with extra batteries.

What will I discuss? I suspect I’ll talk about gear and photography, walking itself, the villages and mountains I’m traversing. Maybe we’ll meet some farmers? It’ll be sort of “vloggy?” But private vloggy? Small-club vloggy? Basically, a members-only private YouTube channel for a day?

If you’d like to participate / view, simply become a member of SPECIAL PROJECTS (and sure: you can join just for a month). The streams / Stories on the special to-be-announced Instagram account should begin around ~0600 JST on Wed Dec 4 (1400 EST Dec 3) and I’ll sign off when I go to bed that night.

If all goes according plan, that day I’ll be walking from Kawazoe to Ise-Kashiwazaki. From one little family-run guest house to another. The Ise-ji is a historic path, equal parts functional and spiritual, and a sub-route of the ever increasingly-famous Kumano Kodo UNESCO World Heritage path. Unlike the main bits of the Kumano Kodo (the Nakahechi and Kohechi routes), the Ise-ji skirts the coast. I walked part of this at the end of May and loved the heck out of it:

This entire last week itself was an unexpected parting gift from the road. I found a path that seems to have been overlooked by the world. I walked for seven days and saw zero tourists. None. It was surreal. The path was well maintained, mysterious in parts, easy in others, never a serious burden. It wound through old villages that still had a bit of pep left in them. I saw a small fountain in the woods made by Kukai’s foot. I stayed in a couple of truly exceptional inns, one of which was perhaps the first and only time — I now recognize — where I witnessed total omotenashi, the archetypal goal of Japanese service selflessness. It was there, last night, that I ate the best meal of the trip by orders of magnitude. Both in quality of food and joy of delivery. Shared with a dear friend. It was as close to a perfect meal as I’ve ever had. I am still processing its flawlessness.

I’m heading back to re-walk this “unexpected parting gift.”

Initially, the purpose of the walk was one of reconnaissance. I want to better understand the path to be able to recommend to you, readers, the best parts. This path should delivery a solid set of 3-10 day walks. I want to be able to point at it with some authority, with a longer term goal of infusing it with the vitality of respectful, curious visitors (that’s you all). I’m staying in a few inns / minshuku / guesthouses I didn’t stay in last time to further widen my breadth of knowledge.

So, initially, reconnaissance, but then: last week, through various conversations, the idea for this pop-up walk was born.

SPECIAL PROJECTS has funded much of my work this year (THANK YOU) — the memberships have supported this newsletter and more. The Club is composed of world class group of menschen. I thought this experiment might both be a) a nice thank you + value add, and b) a way to hang out, distributedly.

Which is all to say: I’m intrigued by Pop-Up 001 — excited to effectively “walk” with a huge group, but hopefully not so big as to be utterly distracting. I aspire for 001 to be in conversation with April’s SMS experiment. Pop-Up 001 will be a little bit weird, a lot-a-bit rough, but also goofy, protean, loose, informative. It is certain to change the tenor of my otherwise solo journey. Together we’re testing out tools in the kit of story × walk. And don’t worry, if you aren’t a SPECIAL PROJECTS member, I’ll be writing up the experiment in due time. But if you want to take part, to guide the conversation, grab a membership, and we’ll see you on December 4.

Until next week,

Your weekly reminder: This newsletter is made possible by members of SPECIAL PROJECTS. If you’re enjoying it, consider joining. Thanks.

Fellow Walkers

“I grew up in the Chiltern Hills in England in the mid-20th Century – picture the landscape of Tolkien’s Shire and you won’t be far wrong. I played in the filtered green light of the beech woods, in the hollows of ancient chalk pits and in mushroom marked fields, and I read and read and read. Fifty-odd years on, I’m still walking, still searching, still, sometimes, speechless with THIS.”

“How to own a place in the big city? Walk more. Walk over it, through it, even underneath it if you can. It can’t swallow you if you’re dictating where you’re heading, if you see it from every angle, and experience the light on people’s faces and on the streetscape from a moving vehicle that’s you, just you.”

(“Fellow Walkers” are short bios of the other folks subscribed to this newsletter. In Ridgeline 001 I asked: “What shell were you torn from?” and got hundreds of responses. We’re working our way through them over the year. You’re an amazing, diverse crew. Grateful to be walking with you all. Feel free to send one in if you haven’t already.)


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(A weekly letter on walking in Japan)