Experiencing Japan can be and should be very much a subjective experience. It doesn’t need to entail hanging around in Akihabara, shopping in Shibuya or traipsing around the temples and shrines of Kyoto. For entrepreneur Max Mackee, the essence of Japan can be found in outdoor and backcountry experiences which take you into the wilderness, where you can enjoy a multitude of activities that have a diverse range of functions, including mindfulness, family friendly excursions, local food, plants and wildlife and outdoor sports. As the founder of new startup Kammui, Mackee is keen to point out that Japan and its intricacies and its metaphysical core can also be found outside and literally off the beaten track. 

I first met Mackee for a coffee, in Roppongi, late last year and one thing became quickly apparent: the British Japanese visionary has more than one string to his collective bow. A successful businessperson, a globetrotting DJ, a consultant and lawyer, he is the very definition of a Renaissance man. Having spent his childhood in the UK, Paris and other major cities, he then returned home to Japan, the place of his birth. He worked as a lawyer and then as one of the founding team members of the startup Origami, a mobile platform for cashless payments which paved the way for several other companies which came later to the scene.

When I ask Mackee what was the inspiration behind Kammui, his new venture which places the onus on outdoor wellness and experiences, he says, “When I returned to Tokyo, I fell in love with the mountains of Japan through backcountry snowboarding. Through that, I started to understand how important nature was to us, not just from a physical perspective, but also from a mental perspective. This concept has been part of Japanese culture for a long time. And I believe many of the challenges we face now result from people losing touch with nature.”

Kammui, an Ainu word meaning “spirit,” has an impressive list of advisors and investors including the legendary Japanese tastemaker and designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, Japanese soccer star Keisuke Honda and Ian Spalter, head of Instagram Japan. With such a stellar group around him, I ask Mackee what he thinks they will bring to the Kammui table?

“All of these people became involved in Kammui organically or ‘naturally’ for lack of a better word,” he says. “Hiroshi Fujiwara, I became friends through backcountry snowboarding in Aomori. I was having lunch with him in 2021 and told him about the idea for Kammui and he supported me straight away. Hiroshi is a designer and global taste maker who, amongst other things, designs a backcountry snowboard line for Burton. Ian Spalter, I was introduced through a mutual friend and happened to be climbing Mount Kurodake with him when we were looking for someone with his expertise. Ian is one of the world’s leading product designers, and loves Japanese nature, culture and meditation. Keisuke Honda was introduced to me through another venture capital deal. He’s a very humble soccer star who is always interested in learning about new technology.”

One of the main draws of Kammui, according to the charming British Japanese entrepreneur, is the expertise and experience of the guides and instructors who have teamed up with the new firm. The guides and members who instruct on the various list of experiences have been hand chosen by Mackee and his team. They have a wealth of experience and skills to pass on to clients.

“There is an increasing amount of research that backs up the importance of nature for health and happiness,” says Mackee. “These experiences are often life-affirming, and things you remember for the rest of your life. The quality of a guide will directly affect how valuable the experience is for you: the nature you can access, how risks are managed, what you can gain from your experience. Beyond that, many of the guides are world champions or Olympic medalists. You can learn so much more that is applicable to your daily life.”

The list of available Kammui experiences (everything from winter sports and yoga and meditation to fishing, kayaking and hiking) is enviable and awe-inspiring, especially for those who cherish the outdoors and the gifts and life lessons that can be learned there. Mackee, an avid backcountry skier and snowboarder himself, hopes that Kammui clients are able to “create optimal channels to nature leading to health, spirituality and sustainability. He also wants to help people “understand the value of nature and experience it in a way that helps them integrate it into their lives.”