Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan
Email this review


 Three walking tours through backcountry Japan's past and present from Booth (The Roads to Sata, 1986), an English Nipponophile whose capacity for rueful, discerning observation will keep him in the front ranks of travel writers for years to come. In his valedictory work, Booth (who died in 1992) offers day- by-day logs of journeys to a trio of Dai Nihon's out-of-the-way regions. These expeditions are informed by idiosyncratic purposes that allow Booth to move gracefully backward and forward in time in his retrospective accounts. On his first jaunt (in Taugaru), for example, he follows the trail of a dissolute native son named Osami Dazai who made (and wrote about) the same trip in the spring of 1944. Next, the author retraces the route taken by Takamori Saigo, a rebel commander who led his troops on an epic retreat from imperial forces through the wilds of Kyushu in 1877. On a third walkabout, Booth trudges the length of the Nagara River in a vain search for evidence that the Heike passed this way after their defeat at the hands of Genji in the late 12th century. The journey itself is the reward for the author, who accepts that his stated objectives are elusive, if not illusory. Booth considers the ties that bind a high-tech economic superpower to the riches of its cultural heritage, and while he finds the encroachments of industry, love hotels, urban sprawl, and other of civilization's less lovely manifestations a stiff price to pay for progress, he cannot decide whether it's better for an ancient art like Noh to vanish or ``to die and be pickled in formaldehyde.'' Without condescension, the author communicates his sense of loss and that of the resilient residents of the hardscrabble areas through which he passes. Perceptive and rewarding tales of what lies off the beaten track in latter-day Japan. (maps, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-56836-065-7
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995