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August 24, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, August 24, 2005

People: Woodside native treks across Japan People: Woodside native treks across Japan (August 24, 2005)

By Katie Bearman

Special to the Almanac

After his short stint with the spotlight in 1998 while publicly campaigning to get into Stanford University, Tyler MacNiven, whose family owns Buck's restaurant in Woodside, disappeared from the public eye.

But since being denied admission to the Farm and graduating from UC Santa Cruz in 2003, Tyler became a bit of a celebrity last year in Japan when he walked the length of the country, from Cape Sata, the southern-most tip, to Cape Soya, the northern-most point. He completed the 145-day trip in July 2004, and says he covered about 2,000 miles.

At first, Tyler traveled along the country's east coast, but when he reached Tokyo, he decided to traverse the nearby mountain range and finish the trek on the west coast. While he walked most of the way, he had to take three ferries to cross between some islands.

Tyler took video footage during his adventure, and recently released a documentary that recounts his experiences and shows how people throughout Japan became enamored with a random blond guy from California. The documentary was recently shown at the Woodside Town Library.

"Making the movie was actually harder than going on the walk," Tyler says, referring to long, restless nights of editing.
The quest

Tyler embarked upon the journey to search for the birthplace of his father, Jamis MacNiven, who is often in the news as host of venture-capital dealmakers at Buck's restaurant.

The MacNivens have always known that Jamis was born somewhere in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan, because Jamis' parents worked there for a short time as missionaries, Tyler says. Following their return to the United States and the death of Jamis' father, however, the family lost track of exactly where they had lived.

Tyler had only one clue -- his grandmother's sketch of a coastline near their former home -- which he brought with him on the walk. He asked most people he encountered if they could identify the location, and although he received varying answers, he finally matched the sketch to an inlet on Hokkaido.

Ayumi Meegan, Tyler's girlfriend, grew up in Japan, so he thought the trip would also be a great way to get to know the country and to impress her, he says. He drew additional motivation from Ayumi's father, George Meegan, who walked from the southern-most tip of Argentina to northern Alaska in the late 1970s.
Golden boy

Tyler, who stands at 6 feet 4 inches and dons locks of curly blond hair, says he first visited Japan in 2002 during a Semester at Sea program and fondly remembers befriending a young clown while on a train.

The clown nicknamed Tyler "Kintaro," which means "golden boy" in Japanese, and this name would later inspire the title of Tyler's documentary -- "Kintaro Walks Japan."

Tyler says his height, coloring, and large backpack made him stand out as he walked. Local newspapers and television stations in Japan got wind of him very early on, and due to the press attention, many people recognized him as he hiked along the roads.

On many nights, Tyler received offers from people to stay in their homes and was given food and drink. When he wasn't sleeping in a home, he pitched his tent "pretty much wherever I found myself at the end of the day," he says.

Throughout his documentary, Tyler emphasizes the generosity of the people he met and says he gave many of them "Kintaro Kards" as a token of appreciation -- postcards he created before the trip that sported a picture of him and a map of Japan.

Tyler says he formed relationships with many people despite language barriers.

"When I started the trip, I could basically speak 10 words, and all 10 were numbers," he remarks. But Tyler often read a dictionary as he walked, and picked up a decent amount of Japanese, he says. The documentary noted that "good times" was one of his most frequently used Japanese phrases during the trip.
Tracking Tyler

So how did Tyler navigate his way through Japan?

"After two or three weeks, I got into the groove of walking," Tyler says. "Each prefecture had its own detailed map, and after walking outside for so long, traveling in a certain direction became instinct. The sun, wind, and stars all became maps."

Tyler's family was also keeping tabs on his progress from Woodside. His dad put up a map of Japan in Buck's, using pins to mark towns from which Tyler made calls home. And after Tyler successfully completed his journey, Jamis traveled to Japan to see his birthplace.

Tyler currently lives in San Francisco with Ayumi and is working at Buck's. He is selling copies of his documentary at the restaurant as well as distributing it to film festivals, he says, adding that plans to run across Cuba are in the making.

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