Header image for Pachinko Road, One More Time

Ridgeline subscribers!

I’m going back, baby. BACK TO PACHINKO ROAD.

From May 14 to May 30, 2024, I’ll walk approximately 600 kilometers from Kyoto To Tokyo, inshallah, along the old Tōkaidō Road, which isn’t really “old” at all anymore, and in many places is, indeed, loaded down with ball-jangling pachinko parlors.

I will be running a pop-up, of course. You can subscribe here:


(If that form doesn’t work (ad blockers, etc.), here’s a direct link to signup.)

For those of you who don’t know, my pop-ups are run thusly:

  • entirely opt-in (I don’t bring emails over from any other lists)
  • time-boxed (the emails stop and stop hard)
  • and all of your addresses are deleted once the walk is done (poof)

The last time I walked the Tōkaidō we were smack dab in the throes of Covid, and a presidential election was happening.1 I did the previous walk in a leisurely twenty-eight days with several rest days. This time, I’m doing it in eighteen days with basically 1.5 rest days.

Edo period walkers walked the Tōkaidō in about sixteen days, clocking some ten ri on many days, where one ri is about four kilometers. Another way to think about it: One ri is about what the average human can walk in an hour. So I’m looking to walk it at their sixteen day pace. Is this sane? It’ll definitely be a challenge. I won’t be wearing straw waraji sandals though (they blew they a few pair a day; five-sen a piece) — I’ll be bounding ever-forward on a trusty pair of New Balance Fresh Foam X More Trail v3s, the most absolutely Of Our Time stupidly-named shoe you can find. But, the toe box is wide, and damn if those things don’t push you on. Good, luggy Vibram soles, too. Inside, I’ll be replacing whatever joke of an insole they come with, with a SuperFeet Green insert.

Do I have a spreadsheet? You bet I have a spreadsheet. Oh, I love my beautiful walk spreadsheets, all the hotels and inns booked, all the estimated milage tallied, meals ticked off. As I’ve addressed before, the last thing I ever want to think about on the road, in the middle of a big walk, is logistics. Logistics are the death of creativity. If you want to get nothing creative done, rotate your life around the axis of logistical tomfoolery. I have an assistant, and much of their value is in shielding me from creative death by logistical paper cuts.2

You might think I’m exaggerating, but the pernicious thing about logistics is they feel important (and are!) and thus are very useful fuel for your procrastination imp. When I prep for a big walk like this, I spend two or three days mapping out the route and booking hotels. It’s not “fun,” but it is oddly, unexpectedly, exciting. IT’S HAPPENING. The walk is coming together. Horripilation! And when it’s all booked and laid out there in Google Sheets — well, that is a nice feeling. The previously amorphous thing — the walk — now has shape, real shape, feels almost solid. Print out that spreadsheet and you’ll be holding in yours hands the bones of the walk.

So, yes, I have a spreadsheet! I want to be taking portraits and looking closely and thinking more and more about the physiology of the long walk and what the mind is doing on kilometer 30 (there will be many kilometer 30s, I’m a bit terrified to report). Not thinking about where to sleep tonight or tomorrow. You may think serendipity is lost on such a strict schedule, but the point of a walk like this isn’t to be blown in the breeze, to wander like Tora-san, no — it’s to focus by driving ourselves to boredom and exhaustion, and look look look and see what can be seen in that elevated state of walk mania.

Anyway, if anyone along the way invites me off on an adventure that would disrupt the schedule, I’ll happily take their name card and return for that adventure some other time.

Our average daily distance will be 32 kilometers (and invariably, much longer since my estimates are always low). Some days we’ll be going over 45 kilometers. I’m going to keep in mind and draw inspiration from the mega-walker / athlete Ben Pobjoy. Ben has walked 850 marathons in the last ten years. But, most impressively, he walked 241 marathons across 70 countries last year. (And nabbed a Guinness World Record, of course.) That’s 11,414.30 kilometers in a single year. The guy is a beast, and he came to my studio and interviewed me in December last year. (Amidst the abject chaos of December 2023.)

This won’t be the most physically intensive long walk I’ll have done (I think that record goes to my first Nakasendō walk, which I embarked on blindly, and didn’t yet know how to balance my pack on my hips or tape my feet properly or do anything, really, in service to a less-painful adventure. It also lasted about 40 days as I kept walking past Kyoto). But it will be physically non-trivial!

So I reached out to Ben for some “tips” on doing a physically intensive long walk like this. He is literally one of the most experienced walkers of this ilk in the world. His response was so thorough that I’m going to publish it next week as a post all its own.

The Return to Pachinko Road starts on the 14th; I’ll send out a little welcome email probably on the 13th? Let’s see what’s out there. I’m sure somewhere between an old pine tree, and a clanging pachinko parlor, there’ll be a sweetly worn kissa, serving some fat toast and a cup of gritty coffee to patch up our road-battered soul.



  1. I purposely did not read / look at the news during that walk and very cutely assumed some farmer would be yelling to me about who won that election. Turns out, nobody in the countryside cared or was even paying attention. It was a humbling / grounding thing to remember that the chaos that can feel so all-consuming in one part of the world doesn’t have to immediately leech into the psyche of everyone else. (Not to say there aren’t global-reaching consequences, of course, but sometimes it is too easy to feel that some social media echo chamber is the whole truth, and no other life or possibility extends beyond its virtual borders.) The election came and went and I was none the wiser for what was happening. Finally, I texted a friend (who had been instructed not to tell me anything) and said: OK, what’s going on? ↩︎

  2. Often media related, but also customer support and distribution related; the Morioka media frenzy last year is what precipitated the hunt for someone to help, I was drowning in emails and feeling the crush of Japanese formality. ↩︎


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