Open doors, open mind and open country.

A hiking community connecting friends with friends, and friends with nature.

  • Photograph:Nathalie Cantacuzino
  • Text:James Koji Hunt

Tokyo can feel a lonely place at times.

It’s a city abuzz with activity: the restaurants and bars are seemingly always full and the transport system is meticulously designed to physically connect high volumes of people. And yet, genuine human interactions and experiences can sometimes feel hard to come by.

In the shadow of COVID and 'work from home' and amid cultural and societal pressures, current-day Tokyo can feel isolating for both Japanese and foreign people alike.

It’s from this backdrop that ‘open country’ was born.

Founded in 2022 by friends Lucy Dayman and Shun Wakui, open country is a hiking club that isn’t really a hiking club at all. It’s a community born from a very simple universal truth: that doing stuff with friends is fun.

HERENESS joined current organizers Dean Aizawa, Eileen Kao and Adrian Wong on the latest open country adventure: a hike through Fujino, Kanagawa.

All are welcome

Accessibility is a keyword that often comes up in my discussions with Dean and Eileen. “It’s not about the gear, or how good you are, it’s just about getting out there,” says Dean on the train outbound from Tokyo. The fact we don’t even need a car is also a testament to that. We’ve both packed light, myself with my pen, notepad, and water bottle, Dean with his small backpack full of thin paintbrushes and watercolors in tiny tin cases (Dean’s a professional artist and runs a small workshop during the hikes).

It’s 9:00 am when we arrive at the scheduled meeting point of Sagamiko station, as a small group of mostly foreign people are molded into a wobbly circle by Eileen. People slowly strike up conversations with their neighboring circle-makers, and it’s amazing to see how quickly strangers turn into friends.

We go around clockwise introducing ourselves to one another, as I quickly jot down all the different nationalities of the participants into a tidy list: America, Spain, the U.K., Canada, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Korea, and Taiwan. The open country community is certainly diverse with its citizens. 


“Hiking is just the medium”

As we set off, people naturally form into smaller groups, each with their own unique rhythm. I chat with  Maya and her Mum, Canadian natives, about the difficulties of moving to a new country and acclimatizing to the hot and sticky Japanese summers. Dami, a recent transplant from New York, tells me about the struggles of getting the trash out on time (Japan’s trash rules tend to be a little more complicated than other countries). Meanwhile, Ben describes his love for art curation and the challenges of studying for his Masters in Japanese.

“It's not just about going hiking… after all hiking is a time for conversation, isn't it?” Dean explains to me.

Somehow the act of walking through nature instantly opens people up, and before I know it I quickly feel a part of this little community that is evolving before our very eyes.

“We just let it flow naturally”

Today’s hike has been centered around a flower-picking activity run by ‘four peas flowers’, a wild, organic, “slow flowers” farm owned and operated by Satoko Arai. The relationship between open country and ‘four peas flowers’ is a testament to how the community effortlessly evolves; Satoko is a friend of one of the participants of a previous hike, with the idea and execution naturally growing from there.

We sit in the middle of the flower field under the shade of a large tree, everyone keen to dig into their bentos as we gulp down well-earned, cold iced tea.

Openness and open country

After lunch we disband again, everyone picking from the wildflower bushes and forming bouquets of unique palettes that read as some sort of real-life Meyers-Briggs-Type-Indicator personality test. And it’s exactly this feeling that makes the community so special; there’s a true sense of openness, one that does not exist in the confines of the city - a place where rules and conformity are abundant.

As we randomly pass each other in the flower field, I pick up compliments on my bouquet at roughly the same rate that I pick up each flower.

“I love those colors!” as I select a light purple stem with petals curling inward. “awwww cute” as I pluck the single bright orange flower I use as an accent for my bouquet.

I jump on the train back to bustling Tokyo, a bunch of flowers in one hand, and a notepad in the other. Two little souvenirs that almost perfectly sum up my first open country hike: one a little reminder of the importance of nature and the other brim full of stories and connections I made along the way.

open country hosts hikes irregularly throughout the year and is open to people from all walks. It doesn’t matter your age, your nationality, or your hiking ability, the community is made for and by its participants, so feel free to get involved!

Be sure to check their Instagram page for event updates.