Review: Walking to Japan

Reviewed by Anelise Vaz

Contrary to what the title suggests, Japan is only a small part of this inspiring book. It tells the life story of Derek Youngs, who was already a peace walker when he first read the story of Sadako, a little girl from Hiroshima. Sadako was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped. At 11 years old, she was diagnosed with leukaemia, known at the time as the bomb disease. In hospital, she heard of an ancient legend that said that if a person made one thousand origami cranes she would be granted a wish, so she started folding paper cranes all day. Unfortunately, she died before finishing the thousand cranes, but her friends and family finished them for her. Her determination to keep making origami cranes in spite of her declining health was an inspiration to all who heard about her. A peace monument was built in Hiroshima in honour of child victims of the atomic bombing, featuring a statue of Sadako holding a paper crane. That is how the origami paper crane became a symbol of peace. Inspired by this story, Derek decided he would walk all the way from Canada to Japan and place an origami peace crane on the monument.

The collection of stories written by Derek and his wife Carolyn guides us gently and engagingly through his life. His turbulent birth in England during an air raid in the Second World War might have had been a sign of his future as a peace activist. He went from selling magazines to a stable conventional job at a steel mill, leaving everything behind to open a small shop in the countryside of Canada. Following his heart, Derek then became a massage therapist and, for the latter half of his life, a walker for peace. His life’s passion for walking began in 1986, when he joined the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The March was full of adversities but it planted the calling on his soul. Over the next twenty years, he kept walking, spreading his message of peace and hope for a better future in 25 countries, trekking more than 25,000 kilometres, sometimes alone, sometimes not, but always with an enduring trust that the universe would provide him with everything he needed on his journey. And it always did, mostly in the form of people appearing in the right place at the right time. Although he walked for peace, he came to understand that peace is a process rather than a destination, and it is only possible through a real connection with one another and with the planet. He felt that peace in his walking and with the many connections of friendship and love he found on his way.

Each step led to a different adventure, like chance encounters with Buddhist monks, protests against nuclear weapons, walking through Europe in the company of a pony named Mary – and even with a whole walking-peace-farm. He gave speeches and interviews along the way, made many friends, encountered long lost relatives and even temporarily joined a circus. Derek seemed to have a natural willingness to say “yes” to all opportunities that life brought his way – although always saying “If it’s not fun, count me out!”. And I think this is what made him live his life to the fullest, and what makes this captivating book so full of examples of how there is beauty and magic everywhere, if we only learn how to trust and flow with life’s many tides.

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