On the road for Japan

When Steve Johnson first left his home in St. Albert, Alberta, to teach English abroad a year after completing university, he didn't expect to find himself working in Japan — and for eight years, at that.

  • Jul. 12, 2011 1:00 p.m.

Steve Johnson takes a break just off of Westside Road during his trek for Japan relief.

When Steve Johnson first left his home in St. Albert, Alberta, to teach English abroad a year after completing university, he didn’t expect to find himself working in Japan — and for eight years, at that.

“I wanted to go for a year of adventure, to shake things up,” Johnson explains.

“It was supposed to be for one year, but in the end it was a fantastic experience where I could go and teach, and maintain a good job.”

Johnson met his wife, Yoshimi Tanaka, a fellow teacher, while living and working in Japan. After they married, Johnson brought her to St. Albert to see Canada for herself.

“I had seen Japan, but she hadn’t seen Canada, so I thought after we had both seen both home countries, we could make an informed decision about where we wanted to spend our future,” Johnson explained.

They arrived in Canada just as the winter season kicked in, and just a few months before the earthquakes and tsunamis devastated Japan.

While Johnson and Tanaka did not reside in the area affected by the natural disasters, Johnson says they still felt affected “indirectly.”

While recovering from a back injury, Johnson did much walking to help recover, as was advised by his doctor.

While trekking, the idea to perform a fundraising and awareness walk for Japan relief dawned on him, and he and Tanaka worked to organize and get the event on track.

After starting off June 19 from the Edmonton Japanese Community Association, Johnson is walking to Vancouver.

He averages roughly 40 kilometers a day, seven hours a day, and will walk 31 days for this trek, taking seven additional days to rest.

“It could be described as a pilgrimage, which are commonly done in Japan, a walk for a cause, or more simply a message in motion — a dedication walk and travelling talk,” said Johnson.

Though Invermere had not been on his walking route, Johnson and Tanaka both stopped to visit the area anyway when an opportunity arose for Johnson to give a presentation and walk-and-talk in the town.

Though neither ended up coming to fruition, Johnson decided to make the best of the detour and continued his walk around Lake Windermere along Westside Road, heading towards Fairmont.

The official walk name is “Gambaro Japan!” (meaning “stay strong, Japan!”) Johnson says it’s less a saying that Japan needs to endure more, but rather that they receive a message of hope.

While living in Japan, Johnson learned a saying called “gaman suru“.

“It means ‘endure hardship with an air of grace’,” Johnson explained.

“That’s part of the message, their ability to endure hardship. We also want to kind of get it ‘back’ into the media.

“Looks can be deceiving — they’ll show upsetting images, but that’s only half the story, there are still things going on behind the scenes that haven’t been resolved yet that Japan won’t let others see because of the importance in their culture to be graceful in hardship.”

Johnson says Tanaka has been very impressed with the passion Canada has shown for Japan relief and other international issue support.

“The idea of this event is that this is a big part of what it means to be Canadian,” explained Johnson. “Compassion towards global events like this makes us proud, and she is really impressed with that passion.”

While walking, Johnson is not looking for direct donations to the cause.

Instead, he refers those interested to the walk’s blog website, which has external links for other relief groups and funds that are still accepting donations.

If someone would like to donate on-the-spot, though, Johnson will give them a relief wristband, which a friend in Edmonton had made for Japan relief funds to be donated to Red Cross. All one-spot wristband donations, therefore, go back to the Japan relief Red Cross initiative.

“We encourage others to look at our blog. We’re hoping to make presentations along the way at our stops,” said Johnson.

“People who can look and see the general course can forward it along to friends, or volunteer and community groups who would be interested in holding a presentation.”


Gambaro, Japan’s website blog is walkforjapan.blogspot.com. The website has external links to other relief efforts and also has a day-by-day monitor of Johnson’s journey and other entries along his trip.



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