Meditations on Koya Bound

Dissecting a Book <> Dissecting a Trip

Craig Mod is one of the most interesting people on the Internet. His meditations on the physicality of memories and the meaning of artifacts (both digital and native) are infinitely fascinating. As are his random Tweetstorm rants about everything from the intricacies of moss, to Japanese urbanism, to the way digital products shape our human consciousness. His explorations often take micro, focused forms (as in the aforementioned Twittering), or more verbose forms (via his essays, his Roden email missives, or the always-salient On Margins podcast).

Last year when I was doing some writing for Dwell I reached out to Craig and Dan Rubin about reviewing a copy of the prime artifact from their eight-day journey on the Kumano Kodo: Koya Bound. As part of that process, I posed some Craig some questions via email. He responded.

Without further adieu—here are the questions I posed Craig (marked in bold), along with some beautiful visuals from the book, to guide your journey.


I’ve noticed from digging into details on your personal site and the Walk Kumano site that walking is important to you? Can you talk a bit about what inspired this project and what it is about going on walks that is magical and life-giving for you?

I’ve been mountain walking with some seriousness for about ten years, but it’s really been in the last five that I’ve rearranged my life around it. I spend about two months a year walking the old highways and pilgrimage paths of Japan. There are a few obvious and not so obvious reasons behind the walks:

Disconnection from screen and the network is an obvious reason. The historical angle is less obvious but essential — many of the paths are hundreds of years old and are bound up in spirituality and even the very spirit of travel itself. As it turns out, in the 1600s, many Japanese used “pilgrimages” as excuses to move through the country. And there are guide books from the early 1800s on travel in Japan that sound uncannily contemporary (well, and sometimes very much improvised — one recommends drinking the urine of a child to overcome (replace?) seasickness).

These walks have also become an excuse to invite writers and artists from around the world to spend a few slow-paced days in the mountains, talking about creativity, technology, and enjoying good food.

And because I speak Japanese, the walks open up the Japanese countryside to us — by the end of a good walk we’ve connected with farmers, shop owners, city folk who’ve gone rural, and other locals.

For the last few years I’ve wondered what an “artifact” from one of these walks could look like. Koya Bound is a kind of “beta” test that turned out a lot less beta than expected. The goal is to continue looking for other forms, other artifacts, within which to capture the experience and conversations and goofs along the paths.

As you encounter spaces and places behind the lens of a camera… what drives you to capture the details and pieces that you do?

Light above all, then, unexpected details, scale, texture… But also just shooting a lot, and looking for the unexpected while editing.

As a creative, where do you draw the most inspiration from and how does that inform the work your produce?

Literature — the writing of the now late Denis Johnson, poetry of Jack Gilbert, Lynne Tillman’s books, Teju Cole’s essays, the travel writing of Martha Gellhorn.

And beyond that disconnection — pulling my head out of the hellscape of social media, remembering to breathe, perfectly salted pizza dough.

Since you moved away from Silicon Valley and now move between Japan and New York, how has your perception of the world changed?

It’s all a little less breathless, operating at a slightly more human scale. Silicon Valley’s gift and curse is to operate at inhuman scales — nothing is a success unless it has a billion users. The corollary of which is costs of living are absurd (thanks to ridiculous salaries). In a way, everything has to be a home run. Because SV is so maniacally focused and culturally programmed to build and scale and reinvest in building and scaling, it’s the best place in the world to think about anything tech-related. If you’re in tech, and haven’t spent time in Silicon Valley, then you’re potentially missing out on some insights — probably insights in how not to do things. It’s a miraculous machine, warts and all.

Not everything has to be a startup, not everything has to be digital. It’s important to remember that.

Reading Craig’s answer to the last question about Silicon Valley, has left me haunted with a keen sense of the insane bubble that we live in today. Not just SV, but social media and our connectedness to technology is barreling forward at a very insane pace. Everything is moving so fast.

It takes considerable effort to push against the grain of all that we’ve opted in to with the computers in our pockets and on our wrists. Doing so involves facing the fears of irrelevance and missing out.

But only when we attempt to do that, can we find who we really are. Craig and Dan’s work is punctuated with this sense that what happens away from our screens is more valuable in shaping our lives and health than whatever we fear we are missing. They prove through their stubborn fascination with creating meaningful artifacts that life is more than the sum of its parts. Life is more than the ❤️ and 👍 tallies that permeate our digital experiences. Life is meant to be experienced. Felt.

Koya Bound is a very native and tangible reminder of these salient truths.


Colophon

I would like to close with a huge thank-you to Craig Mod and Dan Rubin both for taking the time to answer my questions and for providing a beautiful backdrop with which to explore the disconnected life. Hopefully their work will encourage more of us to take journeys of our own.

If you want to experience Craig and Dan’s walk in a more first-hand form, the Koya Bound website features intricate map overlays of the walk, along with many photographs that were not able to fit into the book. It is a prime digital artifact in its own right: