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Interview: Ryosuke ‘SKETCH' Kawato

Interview: Ryosuke ‘SKETCH' Kawato
19 March 2020

When the latest stock arrived from RoToTo here at Outsiders HQ, we were struck by the packaging on their latest hiking socks…

Leading with the collection’s “Hiker Trash” title, and having a great geometric mountain illustration, as well as talking about merino wool and a variety of technical features, we had to google the name of the guy that ‘directed’ their design…And so we discovered Ryosuke ‘SKETCH’ Kawato – a Japanese artist, writer and (very) long distance walker. We fired off an email to get in touch…

Josh, one of the Outsiders team, put a few questions to Ryosuke, and he was generous enough to send us the following replies just before he left Japan for the USA, again…

JR
Hi Ryosuke! Hope all is well with you. First up, please could you just tell us a little about yourself?

RK
I’m a freelance illustrator living in Japan. My house is near the ocean and mountains. I like to do hiking, rock climbing and fishing there. Recently I am very interested in long distance hiking in USA. 

JR
We knew hiking and illustration would come on that answer… have both drawing and hiking always been part of your life? Did you grow up doing them or did one sort of come after the other?

RK
I had very limited experience of hiking even though I grew up mountain side. When I started hiking Pacific Crest Trail, which is 2,300miles, I was almost beginner. I was office worker until 7 years ago. I started to draw for my new hobby.

JR
It looks like the walking and drawing are now part of the same thing for you. Like almost you can’t do one without the other? Do you think there is a natural similarity, or a relationship, between the acts of walking and of drawing? Are they like a form of meditation to you?

RK
If I do normal hiking, sketching and walking are very nice combination I think. But in Long Distance Hiking case, it's very difficult to do at the same time. Because I have to hike over 20 miles every day. Sometimes it is hard to figure out enough time, stamina and good environment for drawing. However I become very happy and relax feeling when I can feel calm and draw in front of beautiful nature.

JR
Do you think of the walking as an art form like the drawing?

RK
No. I don't think so. Hiking is very active. On the other hand Drawing is not... I think they are opposite activity.

JR
What is your preferred sketching set-up? Is there a particular pencil / pen / sketchbook you like to use?

RK
I like to use ink pens and water colours. I use small water colour set and post size sketch books.

JR
What was your first truly long distance hike? And what made you do it?

RK
When I was 24 years old. I hiked mountains in Nepal for a month. I was doing very cheap backpacking in Asia countries. I suddenly got hiking when I got to Kathmandu, the capital city in Nepal. So I rented all hiking gears there and hiked Langtang valley and Gosainkunda area.

JR
I’ve never walked a 2,500 mile trail, but I did spend some months travelling by bike a few years ago. One of the other biggest things I took away from my trip was the kindness and generosity of strangers. Whenever I’ve read about peoples’ adventures on the great American trails, there always seems to be mention of ‘trail magic’ or ‘trail angels’. What is this exactly, and did you experience it?

RK
Trail Magic is one of great hiking culture in USA. People who loves long distance hiker support something on the trail. Mostly they give us food and drink. I met a women who did trail magic on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015. She is around 70 years old. She gave us sandwiches and salads and sodas. We kept in touch after we met. When I hiked in New Mexico, she came to the trail head and gave me sandwiches and salads and sodas again!! That kind relationship is reason why I am still hiking in USA.

JR
So there’s the Trail Angels who are great, but I’m guessing there are also some pretty interesting characters out there walking the trails too – it’s not everyone’s idea of fun walking 1000s of miles… can you tell us really briefly about one or two of the most interesting thru hikers you’ve met?

RK
I think all long distance hikers are pretty unique. My hiking friends MERMAN and EL MATADOR are very impressive. We finished Pacific Crest Trail at the same time in 2015. EL MATADOR is very strong hiker and trail runner. He hikes very quick and his hiking gears are pretty light. MERMAN is super hiker trash (I respect him). He usually keeps spare shoes from hiker box which is where hikers can put unnecessary items. When I hiked in Yosemite National Park my shoe was completely broken almost trash. Then I saw MERMAN on the trail and told him about my shoe. He said “I can give you my spare shoe. It's not a new one but you can use it". His shoe was a bit bigger than my shoe but it was better than a broken shoe. So I used his shoe and hiked to next town. Few days later I saw EL MATADOR. He asked me "Where did you get that shoe? It was mine!" MERMAN got EL MATADOR's shoe from hiker box and gave it to me.
We will meet again and go to Utah and Arizona for hiking this year. I am very excited to see unique hikers again!

JR
So, I wouldn’t be here getting to ask you these questions without the new hiking socks we just received from RoToTo. How did you come to work with them and what has it been like developing the socks? They’re so good!

RK
We are friends before they made ROTOTO socks company. When I quit office work and started hiking in USA, already they were running the company. 
At the beginning we just tried to make strong socks for me. We made sample wool sock in 2017 and I used it on the CONTINENTAL DIVIDE TRAIL. However I destroyed sample socks because the CDT was very hard. We discussed about weak points of sample socks and improved it. New socks became more strong but still comfy. I love "HIKER TRASH" hiking socks.

JR
OK, let’s fire through a last few quick questions... I’ve never been to Japan, but would love to get over there one day. If I had one day to take a hike somewhere in Japan, where should I go?

RK
KUMANO TRAIL is great I think. That is the world heritage. It's not challenging trail but has historical and spiritual meaning of JAPAN. You can see beautiful trees and go to many temples, touch Japanese culture!

JR
What is your favourite trail anywhere in the world?

RK
CONTINENTAL DIVIDE TRAIL is my favourite. Only 70% has trail on the CDT. I had to walk just rough field many times. But wild field was so beautiful and made me strong hiker. I could understand about long distance hiking deeply.

JR
We quite like a snack in the Outsiders Store office… What’s your favourite trail food?

RK
I basically have snacks on the trail. I love chocolate candy bars and gummies. I make simple Bagel sandwiches at lunchtime and dinner. Of course hot coffee too.

JR
What hiking product / accessory do you never leave for a trip without?

RK
My hiking gears are very simple except drawing stuffs. Of course tent, sleeping bag and backpack are very important. I love to bring small titanium cup for making coffee and cocoa.

JR
Could you name an adventurer and an artist that inspire you? We always like to learn about people doing cool things.

RK
I don't have a specific hiker who inspired me. All long distance hikers inspired me, because there is no hikers like a hiker trash in Japan.
Japanese comic artist inspired me very much. I have read many comics since I was child.

JR
We heard you were about to head off on a new adventure. Tell us about that, and how we can follow along?

RK
I will hike the HAYDUKE Trail in Arizona and Utah with 3 American friends. That trail is 800 miles but trail is very hard so it will take us about 2 months. HAYDUKE trail is definitely next level for me. I have to decide where am I going by maps and compass… I have INSTAGRAM (@RYOSUKE_IWASHI). You can check my upcoming information there!

JR
Ok, I think that’s all I’ve got to ask…Ryosuke, thank you so much for your time. Wishing you an amazing time on the Hayduke Trail!

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