Topography lovers taking walking tours to new level

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Participants walk down stairs on the Uemachi Plateau in Chuo Ward, Osaka, in April. Shinnosuke, bottom left, of the Osaka Vertical Interval Society, describes land features and the history of the site.

The Yomiuri ShimbunOSAKA — About 60 people stood at the top of a steep hill in Tennoji Ward, Osaka, listening to a man explain the history behind the location.

“The massive Osaka Castle moat used to be here, taking advantage of the natural contours of the valley,” the Osaka Vertical Interval Society representative, who goes by the name of Shinnosuke, told participants in his walking tour on April 29, the first day of the Golden Week holiday period.

“The moat’s been filled in, but we can still get an idea of its depth from this gap,” said Shinnosuke, 51.

Walking tours that focus on different land elevations are gaining popularity. Seminars and tours on this theme are selling out quickly around the nation, and books related to the topic are enjoying brisk sales.

Standing atop steep hills and cliffs that cut across residential areas, participants can envision the history of the land and the lifestyles of people from different eras.

The April 29 walking tour led by Shinnosuke, which was primarily set up by his organization, was held on the Uemachi Plateau, running north and south along the Osaka Plain. On the opposite side of the valley is said to have stood the Sanada Maru, an outlying castle built by warlord Sanada Yukimura on the south side of Osaka Castle during the winter siege of Osaka in 1614.

“The Sanadamaru was constructed in a dangerous spot outside the moat,” Shinnosuke said. “That conveys Sanada’s strong determination to defend Osaka Castle.”

The Uemachi Plateau is believed to have existed since ancient times, when much of the Osaka city was below sea level. Old temples and shrines can be seen on top of the hill, while traces of the moat and other remains dot the landscape.

Shinsuke Fujita, 45, a company employee from Yodogawa Ward, Osaka, participated in the three-hour tour.

“Walking while looking at the topography of where we are going kept me entertained through the entire event,” he said.

The appeal of these topographic tours seems to be the different flavor they offer from ordinary walking tours.

Applications double

Shinnosuke established the Osaka Vertical Interval Society with friends and others in 2013. Membership has gradually increased from the initial group of 50 to about 200, most aged from their 40s to 60s.

Spots in the group’s walking tours and occasional topographic lectures are quickly snapped up. Applications for an introductory course held in April filled the 80 available slots in just 1½ days. There were 200 places available for the May course, and about twice as many applications came in.

Shinnosuke’s book, “Osaka ‘Koteisa’ Chikei Sanpo” (Osaka ‘vertical interval’ topographic walking), was released in May last year, and the publisher put out a reprint just a month later. It sold 10,500 copies to become a big hit.

Topography-related books featuring Tokyo and Kyoto authored by different writers enjoy brisk sales as well.

Nationwide trend

The Tokyo Urban Basin Society, established in 2003, is known as the pioneer of “topography walking.”

Company employee Norihisa Minagawa, 53, became interested in the land features of Tokyo, which is full of cone-shaped valleys, and began taking walks with his colleagues to study topography along with the area’s history. Recently, his group has been holding walking events nationwide.

People who have participated in his events in Sendai, Nagoya, Kobe and other cities have expanded their own activities and established similar societies on topography across the country.

“The history of the land lies in its ripples,” Minagawa said. “It’s a new method to rediscover the charms of any city.”

Behind the boom is the NHK program “Buratamori,” in which TV personality Tamori walks through towns based on their topography and architecture using ancient maps and other information, and sheds light on the history and culture of the area he visits.

Filming locations initially were limited to within Tokyo when the program began in 2009. In 2015, it began to feature towns nationwide and has maintained high audience ratings of about 15 percent.

Hideyuki Umebayashi, a guide with the Kyoto walking tour organization Mai Mai Kyoto, was part of a group that established Kyoto Koteisa Gakkai in 2014. Umebayashi, 43, has appeared on “Buratamori.”

His group holds walking tours five to 10 times a month at locations including Odoi, an earthwork fortification that was built by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi to surround the city of Kyoto. The tours have gained popularity, and are sometimes fully booked about an hour after opening for sign-ups.

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