My Paradise: Hiking Japan's Michinoku Coastal Trail

Photos by Alvin Dewalt
Photos by Alvin Dewalt

My Paradise: Hiking Japan's Michinoku Coastal Trail

by Alvin Dewalt
Stripes Okinawa

The Michinoku Coastal Trail stretches just over 1,000 kilometers. It’s rather new, completed in 2019 as part of efforts to showcase Tohoku and the recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami disasters. It’s a unique trail, traversing through jagged coastlines, up mountain peaks, through fishing villages and out-of-the-way local towns.

Stunning, rugged coastal snapshots are what first drew my attention to the Michinoku Coastal Trail. During my morning coffee-time routine, I usually wake up searching Google News for stories about Japan and the world. I was in the mood for a tale of escape and the 1,000-kilometer trail seemed to be a good cure for COVID-19 claustrophobia.

So far, I’ve completed four 5-day hikes, totaling 340 kilometers.

Sōma to Sendai (103 kms) – April 2022
I am hiking in stages, starting with a five-day trek south to north, from Sōma to Sendai.

At the time, I did not realize the majority this segment would take me through tsunami-ravaged landscape. In fact, given a choice, I would not have planned a hike through a disaster area. There are so many other beautiful places in Japan I want to visit.

You see, even though we were not in the path of the 2011 tsunami and our house was not damaged by the powerful earthquake, the event left memories of trauma I wanted to forget. Its memory is woven into the fabric of the collective consciousness for everyone who was in Japan on March 11, 2011.

Hachinohe to Horinai Station (90 kms) – Nov. 2022
Since my first hike of the trail was in the south, I started my second part in the north— a wise choice. Absolutely stunning scenery. It’s just a less than four-hour hike along the coast from Same Station to Ōkuki Station. Perfect for folks in Misawa and easy enough to make it a family outing.

Further south, around the town of Noda, I saw that most of the buildings near the coast and pretty far inland were new structures. The tsunami severely devasted much of the town. Yet, I sensed a kind of vitality in the area. Amid the destruction, I saw evidence of rebirth.

Horinai to Iwaizumi (77 kms) – April 2023
The area known as the Japanese Sea Alps starts south of Fudai and extends all the way down to Miyako City. On my third hike along the trail, these sections were the most picturesque on the trail thus far, but you must earn those magnificent vistas.

I met two guys working up in Misawa on the trail. They were hiking in one day almost the distance I covered in a day and a half. I gave them a few bits of advice and wished them luck. We met again at the train station. They were exhausted, but so impressed by the trail that they were already making plans for their next hike. 

Iwaizumi to Miyako City (67 kms) – April 2023
Yikes, almost the entire section takes place in the Japan Sea Alps. Luckily, I was still in good shape from the previous hike, less than a month before. Still, when I started out each day, I wondered if I could make it. These five days were the most strenuous, but well worth it.

Thoughts on the trail
When I started the hike, I just wanted to get out and see all those stunning views I'd read about. But on my first trip, it was mostly through devasted land that was once lush forest. It was depressing, monotonous, and not too exciting to hike. Those long treks, ranging from eight to 10 hours a day, changed my perspective in so many ways.

I became more aware of the central purpose of the Michinoku Coastal Trail, which is to support Tohoku. And to support Tohoku in a personal way, getting to know the land that was devastated and the people whose lives were deeply affected by loss. In a way, through the experience, one becomes part of Tohoku.

Each step takes you closer to the land and its people. According to the trail's website, fewer than two percent of foreign travelers make their way to Tohoku. Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures are Japan's hidden gems, not yet overrun by tourists.

Those long walks and hikes change your perspective on life. The path urges you to slow down, admire your surroundings and, in turn, relax your mind. For thousands of years, humans have survived and thrived on land by foot. It’s amazing the wonders a simple, natural act like putting one foot in front of the other can do for our minds and lifespan.

Before you plan to tackle the Michinoku Trail, a few words of caution. While some sections are an easy stroll and nice for a family outing, others require quite a bit of physical strength and stamina. And you need reliable GPS since parts of the trail are not well maintained. Prepare for the conditions and hit the path to explore the beauty and resilience of Tohoku.

Author’s Bio:
Alvin DeWalt is a Navy veteran and retired DODEA teacher. He has lived in Japan since 1999. Although he is 72 years old, he still leads an active life. You may contact him for further information at:

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