Thursday, December 17, 2009

Walking With Alan Booth

Back in 2003, when I first decided to up and move to Japan, I hit the libraries to read up on the country that I hoped would soon be my home. Those hopes didn't quite come true but those first trips to the library yielded some pretty good results. One of those, The Roads To Sata, by Alan Booth, has become a favorite.

Alan Booth, a Brit, went to Japan in 1970 to teach English and never left. In the late '70s he embarked on a trip to walk the length of Japan, a 2000-mile excursion from the northern point of Hokkaido down to Cape Sata, at the southern end of Kyushu. Along the way he refused a lot of offers for rides, stayed in a lot of ryokans, and drank a lot of beer. I loved it.

I recently picked up the book again, eager to once again travel along with Booth. I was surprised at how much I remembered, and at how much my thoughts on Japan were colored by his book. Historical anecdotes, observations about the people, cultural differences—I saw so much of myself and my own interests in Booth's writing it was surprising. Did reading his words shape the way I think about Japan, or did they stay with me because they so mirror my own experiences?

A decade later Booth took three more walking trips, shorter this time, and again wrote about them. He walked around Aomori, at the northern point of Honshu; he followed Saigo Takamori's retreat through Miyazaki and Kagoshima; and he walked north from Nagoya into the backwoods. I also read this book in 2003, and again I was surprised at how much seemed familiar, even down to coincidentally having visited some of the same places. I certainly didn't get the idea from the reading the book. Or did I? Well, no matter. Let's just put it down to kindred spirits.

Unfortunately, Alan Booth died in 1993 of cancer. His two excellent books are still in print and are highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Japan, travel writing, or of course drinking beer.

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