Rob Thomson, founder of The Hokkaido Wilds, an online English-language database of cycle, ski and hiking routes in Hokkaido.
And, after 12 years calling the country home, eight of those in Hokkaido, Rob Thomson’s latest venture is helping to open up his place in the world to other intrepid travellers.
He’s launched The Hokkaido Wilds, an online English-language database of cycle, ski and hiking routes in the region.
The website is Japan’s first fully filterable and searchable database of outdoor activities in English, he says.
Born and bred in Invercargill, Rob is mad keen on the outdoors, and plenty of the information on the site is “intel” on huts, routes, maps, and safety he’s collected on his own missions.
Plus, he’s fluent in Japanese, so he’s able to top up his own knowledge with details from local, freely-available Japanese sources.
Hokkaido’s “extraordinary” outdoor playgrounds are increasingly a magnet for overseas tourists, he says.
“Despite this, there's a real lack of good quality information about the Hokkaido outdoors in English. If you can speak Japanese, there's a mountain of information for people to make informed, safe decisions about conditions and routes when tramping, backcountry skiing and cycle touring.”
Rob Thomson keeps returning to Japan unplanned, but now finds himself calling Hokkaido home
He’s found foreigners floundering around the hills with “a hand-written map”, he says.
Rob’s got plenty of backpacker street-cred of his own to share – he spent nine months cycling through central Asia from Japan to Switzerland and holds the Guinness World Record for the longest journey by skateboard (12,159km, thanks for asking).
His own trip planning – beforehand and on the road – was done using freely available information on the Internet, provided by locals keen to share their knowledge, he says.
“In a way, I'm paying back my dues for that generosity.”
It was at school in New Zealand’s southernmost city, that Rob first connected with Japan.
“One day a Japanese student appeared at my school, around when I was 13 years old.”
The pair became friends, and Rob ended up accompanying the family on one of their annual trips back home.
It was the first of many stints in Japan for Rob.
At 16, he spent a year there on an AFS exchange, before returning as a university graduate on the JET programme, working to help “internationalize” a small town in rural Oita Prefecture in southern Japan.
“After three years in the heat of southern Japan, I left Japan thinking I'd never return - too hot and too many people.”
Never say never. After a few years traveling the world, Rob ended up back in Japan on a government scholarship to do his Masters and PhD - this time in Hokkaido.
“I was hooked. Massive landscapes, mild summers, gloriously cold winters, snow on the ground for at least three months of the year, endless opportunities for outdoor exploring.
“Hokkaido has everything a New Zealand southern boy could want, plus the added bonus of amazing food and continuous cultural stimulation.
“I'm glad to now call Hokkaido my home.”
Rob’s an assistant professor of media and communications at Hokusei Gakuen University in Sapporo City, and he has a PhD in behavioural science from Hokkaido University, specialising in cross-cultural psychology.
Being a member of the Leadership Network has helped him stay connected to New Zealand, he says.
“You certainly don't need to wear a suit to bring Asia and New Zealand philosophies together - a pair of muddy tramping boots and some snow can go a long way,” says Leadership Network member Rob Thomson
“Hokkaido is a long way away from New Zealand, and certainly a long way away from what most people think of when they think of Japan.
“So being able to join in on offshore forums has been great.
“Also, it feels good to be one more 'outpost' in Asia for the network - being a point of contact if ever the need arises.”
The Leadership Network is much more than “high-level meetings and big business”, he says.
“You certainly don't need to wear a suit to bring Asia and New Zealand philosophies together - a pair of muddy tramping boots and some snow can go a long way.”
Rob’s top tip for finding a place in the world: Foster your passions.
“So, if someone finds themselves in Asia, while it is important to be experiencing and trying new things, don't be afraid to gravitate back to what you're passionate about, and seek it out where you're at.
“I've certainly done that here in Hokkaido, and I currently find myself really enjoying this niche - experiencing and sharing the outdoors.”