The ""best travel books,"" Bouvier believes, ""...are often written by people involved in commerce....Merchants' strict observations avoid the silly infatuations that will quickly take over the literature once poets start to travel."" Happily, in this sensitive, acutely observed record of his stays in Japan, the author, a journalist who lives in Switzerland, disproves that statement with some of the most resonant and perceptive travel writing in recent years. Bouvier has spent varying lengths of time in Japan on three occasions: 1955-56, 1964-66, and 1970. With each stay, his appreciation of Japanese character and culture grew. He does not, however, allow his affection to blind him to some of the less appealing aspects of the Japanese temperament-the widespread drunkenness, the traditional xenophobia. The author has lived among the prostitutes and pachinko parlors of Tokyo's Shinjuku district, and on the pine-scented grounds of a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. He has traveled about the country, visiting such areas as scenic Matsushima, overrun with fume-belching tour buses and their fidgeting passengers, and icy Hokkaido, where the native Ainu slip into their traditional costumes from nine to five to be photographed by camera-happy tourists, then head home to don Western clothes. Bouvier's writing is imagistic, frequently as evocative as a haiku, as when he describes turnips shining like mother-of-pearl. He also displays a winning sense of understated humor. In discussing the aesthetic complexities of Noh drama, for example, he writes ""...some 'connoisseurs' and esoteric bores had spoiled my pleasure in advance by assuring me that, ignorant as I was, I would not get anything from the spectacle."" Then he adds, ""Have you ever drunk a good bottle of wine with a connoisseur? It is a form of torture."" A superb guide, smoothly translated from the French, to the Japanese landscape and mind, and a delight for lovers of travel and fine writing.