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April 2003
Japan on Foot
Mary King in Hokkaido, Japan
Mary King in Hokkaido where a sign warns of bears
Japan on Foot is the account of former Quarry Bank woman Mary King and her friend Etsuko Shimabukuro who spent sixteen months trekking across Japan for charity.
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Japan on Foot
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Profile of HELP

HELP (House in Emergency of Love and Peace) was founded in 1986 by the Kyofukai, the Japan Christian Women's Organisation.

HELP provides a refuge for women and children-both Japanese and foreign-who are victims of domestic violence or abuse.

HELP also runs a hotline counselling service in Japanese, Thai, Tagalog and English.

Based in Tokyo, the HELP shelter is one of only about 50 private shelters nationwide and it can accommodate approximately 15 women and children.

Philippine, Thai, Colombian and Japanese women make up the majority staying at the shelter, but HELP assists women of many nationalities.

It costs about 3.6 million yen a month to run the shelter that is funded mainly by donations, grants and the work of volunteers.


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Mary King now lives and works in Japan but the former Black Country girl, who was raised in Quarry Bank, left England to travel the world, working as a travel writer and photographer.

From the Black Country to Japan

Although Mary settled in Japan in 1988, she still has family in Stourbridge and many friends in the area. "Kawasaki, and some industrial areas, remind me of West Bromwich or Walsall on a bad day. There's not much in Japan to remind you of the Black Country except the Tosa dog fights that I saw in Kochi city, Kochi Prefecture. It reminded me of the Black Country tradition of Pit Bull Terriers."

The decision to do 'Japan on Foot'

Mary and friend Etsuko Shimabukuro had travelled many of the world's continents together and this time decided to embark on a journey walking the length of Japan.

Etsuko Shimabukuro and Mary King at the
Etsuko Shimabukuro and Mary King at the monument a Cape Soya in Hokkaido that marks Japan's northernmost point.

Their epic journey from Cape Soya in Hokkaido (Japan's northernmost point) to Yonaguni Island, Okinawa (Japan's most southwestern island) saw them covering more than 7,500km.

" We have both travelled extensively around Japan and the world, generally by plane, train, bus and the occasional camel and donkey. I've been working as a travel writer and photographer for several years now, both in Japan and overseas. Walking seemed like a fantastic challenge, a way to really absorb Japan and her people."

Japan on Foot was a project designed to raise funds and awareness of HELP, a refuge centre for women and children who are the victims of domestic violence and abuse.

The shamaness and a mermaid

Mary holds the mummy of a reputed mermaid
"Every day, almost every moment had its highlights. The countryside was absolutely stunning but most memorable moments were coming face to face with Hokkaido's grizzly bear, meeting with a shamaness on Mount Osorezan, staying in a haunted guest house, seeing the so-called tombs of Moses and Christ, seeing and meeting with the yamabushi (mountain ascetics) on Mount Haguro, seeing the mummy of a Living Buddha, holding the mummy of a reputed mermaid, chatting with yakuza gangsters, visiting breast shrines and penis shrines.

Oh, I could go on all day. As regards changes to me. Well, I feel mentally, physically and emotionally stronger. I feel I can tackle anything, if I truly want to."

Mammoths and lost civilisations

Mary walks on fire
Walking on fire at a festival at on the island of Shikoku

Mary and Etsuko met a whole range of fascinating people and new experiences on their journey. A new found mental strength allowed Mary to take part in a firewalking ceremony at a temple on the island of Shikoku.

There were a number of key places and people that the women wanted to see on their journey. Mary said;

"I particularly wanted to meet Kazufumi Goto, a scientist who hopes to resurrect the woolly mammoth, as well as the marine geologist who claims that an underwater structure lying off the shores of Yonaguni Island, Okinawa, are the ruins of a lost civilization, and one that predates Egypt.

Key places were Dewa Sanzan (three sacred mountains in Yamagata Prefecture), Izumo Taisha shrine in Shimane Prefecture, the "ruins" off Yonaguni Island, Okinawa, and generally the true countryside of Japan."

Favourite moments

"Impossible to pick. Simply walking was a buzz. You can get really high off it. The people were marvellous, the scenery beautiful, the food fantastic. The whole experience was spectacular."

Future treks

"I'd love to do it again. In fact, I hope to do it again in the not too distant future, but take a different route. I would very much like to do a
similar zigzag walk through Britain.
Actually, I wouldn't mind walking from Tokyo to London."

The book of Mary and Etsuko's experiences, "Japan on Foot: Tales of the Unexpected" by Mary King and Etsuko Shimabukuro will be published later this year by Alexandra Press. Part of the profits of the book will be donated to HELP shelter in Tokyo.

All images copyrighted to Japan on Foot

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