Before I read Walking Your Way to a Better Life (released by Vertical in August) I’d never heard of a walking class, let alone “face yoga,” but apparently these kinds of classes are common in Japan. Kimiko (the book’s single-name author) was once an average housewife who enrolled in two local classes in an attempt to get more exercise into her busy routine. Eleven bestselling books later, Kimiko is now training an international army of walking teachers to coach her “Posture Walking” (patent pending) classes. (Do a google image search for “face yoga,” it’s very amusing.)
I met Kimiko in September, after the Brooklyn Book Fair. She had given demonstration lessons at the fair, and all the copies of the book Vertical brought quickly sold out. Kimiko looked exactly as I pictured her. This 40-something Japanese walking guru really doesn’t look her age. She’s healthy and energetic. She smiles a lot and looks taller than she really is. When she calls the waiter over to take a picture of our group, she insists we all say “I’m a beauty!” instead of “Cheese!”
Kimiko quickly points out her new shoes, a pair of Mary Jane-like walking shoes with pink stitches. This best-selling New Balance shoe, designed by Kimiko, is only available in Japan. “See? There’s pink,” Kimiko says. The power of the color pink is detailed in her book; “…pink activates a few important hormones [for women],” Kimiko says. I’m not so sure about the power of pink, but after reading the book I did give the Posture Walking method a try. I have to admit, there’s something to it; my backpack and the groceries I was carrying instantly felt lighter, and I was able to walk much faster.
Walking Your Way to a Better Life is part biography, part self-help book, and part walking manual. In it, Kimiko claims that her self-styled Posture Walking method helped her not only lose weight after the birth of her second son, but gave her a positive attitude and a surgery-free “body make-over.” “Now,” Kimiko says in her book, “my positive switch is always in the ‘on’ position.” Walking was titled “The Positive Switch” in the Japanese edition.
The Posture Walking method is different from race walking, cat walking, and mall walking – it’s “an elegant stride that’s cool without being too flashy,” Ioannis Mentzas, Editorial Director and Executive Vice President of Vertical, translated for Kimiko during our interview. Kimiko claims her walking students are often hit on in Japan – but not cat-called – they’re asked out for dinner!
Walking is Kimiko’s first book to be translated into English, but some of her other books have been published in China, Korea, and Taiwan. Vertical felt that Walking would be a good choice for translation because it’s part memoir, whereas most of her other ten titles are more technical.
A lot of the book is devoted to positive thinking, positive self-talk, and treating oneself to small luxuries. “My motto is ‘Be happy every day.’ ” Kimiko says in the book. She advises skipping if you’re feeling down. “I’m not joking,” she says. “You can’t skip with a scowl on your face, can you?”
Kimiko also runs ‘Cinderella Tour’ in Europe, which sell out immediately every year. Participants dress up, stay in first class hotels, and watch operas from the box seats.
Although Kimiko began walking without a scientific background, she has since studied with sports doctor James Garrick, who advises the San Fransisco Ballet, the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team, and the National Football League. Garrick’s influence adds a little more legitimacy to Kimiko’s otherwise dubious claims that stretching one’s toes can help smooth wrinkles on one’s forehead.
Only one percent of Kimiko’s students are men, usually husbands or boyfriends of her students who are taken to class before an interview or a wedding. Kimiko says her methods will work just as well for men, although her high heeled walking strategies are only for women.
My interview with Kimiko didn’t yield very many direct quotes because so much of it had to be translated (Kimiko’s English is much better than my Japanese, but even so). Many of my questions were technical. “Can you Posture Walk while hiking up a mountain?” I asked. Kimiko explained that going uphill it is possible, but downhill might strain one’s knees too much. Posture Walking is more for city walking, like while you run errands. I pointed out that most Americans drive everywhere. Kimiko’s advice for drivers is to park far away and walk.
“I believe our backs… can become our fronts,” Kimiko says. She explained that your first impression of someone is heavily based on their posture. If you want to make a good first impression, it’s important to have good posture.
Walking Your Way to a Better Life is the third installment in Vertical’s new line of self-help books, which includes Slow Sex Secrets, and Sayonara, Mr. Fatty!. Each book was a best seller in Japan. Walking Your Way to a Better Life is the female equivalent of Sayonara, Mr. Fatty!, Mentzas said, referring to the diet book by Toshio Okada, the self proclaimed Otaku King founder of Gainax studios, famous for Neon Genesis Evangelion reviewed here by Joseph Luster.
“This method will made every human on Earth happy,” Kimiko told me. “I feel this from my heart.”