Read The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan by Alan Booth Online


ALAN BOOTH'S CLASSIC OF MODERN TRAVEL WRITINGTraveling only along small back roads, Alan Booth traversed Japan's entire length on foot, from Soya at the country's northernmost tip, to Cape Sata in the extreme south, across three islands and some 2,000 miles of rural Japan. The Roads to Sata is his wry, witty, inimitable account of that prodigious trek.Although he was a citALAN BOOTH'S CLASSIC OF MODERN TRAVEL WRITINGTraveling only along small back roads, Alan Booth traversed Japan's entire length on foot, from Soya at the country's northernmost tip, to Cape Sata in the extreme south, across three islands and some 2,000 miles of rural Japan. The Roads to Sata is his wry, witty, inimitable account of that prodigious trek.Although he was a city person-he was brought up in London and spent most of his adult life in Tokyo - Booth had an extraordinary ability to capture the feel of rural Japan in his writing. Throughout his long and arduous trek, he encountered a variety of people who inhabit the Japanese countryside-from fishermen and soldiers, to bar hostesses and school teachers, to hermits, drunks, and tramps. His wonderful and often hilarious descriptions of these encounters are the highlights of these pages, painting a multifaceted picture of Japan from the perspective of an outsider, but with the knowledge of an insider.The Roads to Sata is travel writing at its best, illuminating and disarming, poignant yet hilarious, critical but respectful. Traveling across Japan with Alan Booth, readers will enjoy the wit and insight of a uniquely perceptive guide, and more importantly, they will discover a new face of an often misunderstood nation....

Title : The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan
Author :
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ISBN : 9781568361871
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan Reviews

  • Maru Kun
    2019-03-20 15:17

    When I first visited Japan twenty five years ago children would point at me and shout “Gaijin da! Gaijin da!” – “Look, a foreigner! A foreigner!”. If I walked round a Kyoto temple whole classes of middle school students would crowd around to have their picture taken and practice their English. I was just like a film star. Of course, I didn’t let it go to my head. Not in the slightest.Well, 2015 is the first year Japan has seen a tourist surplus since the fifties; more people spent money visiting Japan than the Japanese spent travelling abroad. It’s been well over a decade since anyone pointed their finger at me and shouted “Gaijin da! Gaijin da”. I haven’t been refused entry to tiny backstreet bars nor praised for being able to use chopsticks so well for just as long. I’m just not special any more.But when I feel nostalgic and want to return to the times when, as a foreigner in Japan, I was just that little bit out of the ordinary I can pick up Alan Booth’s outstanding travelogue recounting his trip walking the length of Japan back in the 1980s.Free of references to cosplay, piccachu, AKB48 or kawaii things in general I can return to a more simple time, a time when, as Alan Booth relates, a fluent Japanese speaking foreigner used to be able to have long debates with hotel owners about whether or not they could speak Japanese; a time when a foreign guest would have to explain that they had lived in Japan for a decade, understood Japanese customs and manners and were able to digest fish, which was also widely available as a foodstuff outside Japan, before they could even think of getting a room.These days Japanese hotel owners will let foreigners stay at their hotels regardless of how well they understand Japanese language, etiquette, culture or history simply in return for paying the bill. How things have changed and how I miss the old days.

  • Daren
    2019-04-02 12:14

    Alan booth is British, and prior to his walk (in 1977), he had spent 7 years living in Tokyo, with his Japanese wife. Having what appeared to be a very fluent use of Japanese, he decided to walk from the northern most point to the southern most point of Japan, to interact with the local people, and try to get a more thorough understanding of Japan.For 128 days, over 3300 kilometres, the author walked (the backroads where possible) and interacted with the village people. He stayed mostly in ryokan - a Japanese inn, for locals more than tourists. Booth has found a writing style which accounts for the constant repetition (eat breakfast - find coffee - walk - find lunch and beer - walk - find ryokan and beer - eat dinner and beer - sleep. Repeat 127 times) without punishing the reader. In hindsight, it is not clear how he managed this -because with descriptions of his daily surrounding, some light history, some relevant traditions and culture, some interactions with the people of his day, it should not be as good a read as this was!Setting out from Cape Soya, heading south, this book was an often amusing read, Booths writing highlighting some of the more strange conversations with the people, and many of these emphasised how he really got into the rural backroads of Japan. Through poor weather, we share his fatigue, as soaking wet, he heads onwards from lunch for another 4 hour slog to the village he plans to stay. Through the foot-wary pain, the tedium of school children yelling "gaijin, gaijin, gaijin", and people speaking about him, unaware he can understand them perfectly well. And yet, Booths appreciation and respect for the Japanese is obvious throughout, even at his lowest ebb.Two things were impressive in this book - the authors self motivation and determination (how many lifts was he offered in the rain); and his prodigious consumption of beer.4 stars for me.A couple of the more amusing parts quoted below:P102: Conversation in a bar (takes place in Japanese):"Ah, so you have been hitch-hiking.""No, I've been walking.""Yes, yes, yes. And what a beautiful country Japan is to walk in. But have you found it easy to obtain rides?""I haven't had any rides.""Oh, come, come, come.""I've walked.""Yes, yes. But what about the longer distances?""Perhaps you haven't understood me...""Yes, yes, yes. How marvellous to be British. I love the British."..."But how far have you hitch-hiked?"P108: Arriving at a ryokan (inn):"Are there any rooms free?" I asked with an encouraging smile."Well, yes there are, but we haven't got any beds. We sleep on mattresses on the floor.""Yes, I know," I said. "I have lived in Japan for seven years.""And you won't be able to eat the food.""Why, what's the matter with it?""It's fish.""But I like fish.""But it's raw fish.""Look, I have lived in Japan for seven years. My wife is Japanese. I like raw fish.""But I don't think we've got any knives and forks."Look...""And you can't use chopsticks.""Of course I can. I've lived...""But it's a tatami-mat room, and we don't have any armchairs.""Look...""And there's no shower in the bathroom. It's an o-furo.""I use chopsticks at home. I sit on tatami. I eat raw fish. I use an o-furo. I have lived in Japan for seven years. That's nearly a quarter of my life. My wife...""yes," moaned the woman, "but we can't speak English.""I don't suppose that will bother us", I sighed. "We have been speaking Japanese for the last five minutes".

  • Jamie
    2019-04-04 12:26

    Man, it is hard to say just how much I like this book. Alan Booth, seven years into his life in Japan decides to walk the length of the archipelago. In the process he seems to empty himself out completely, opening himself up to the sights and smells (and beer) of rural Japan. There is not a shred of interpretation or theorizing about "What is Japan?" in the whole book, which just leaves you with a long series of vignettes and many, many bottles of beer. The book is funny without jokes, sad without tragedy, and beautiful without being romantic. It is one of the most lovely and most self contained pieces of writing I've ever come across.

  • Brian
    2019-04-05 18:24

    One of my least favorite parts of popular writing about Japan is how the same tired tropes keep coming up over and over again. It's either how Japan is a paradise of harmony with nature and ancient traditions in the modern age, with plenty of references to wabi sabi and mono no aware and geisha and kami and sakura, or how Japan is crazy and weird, with references to dakimakura and soushoku danshi and Kanamara Matsuri and hostess bars and low birthrates. It is to The Roads to Sata's eternal credit that Booth avoids both of these extremes. The best summary of his attitude is found in a conversation with a reporter at the very end of the road:"Do you like the Japanese?""Which Japanese?""The Japanese?""Which Japanese?"That's the attitude to have when writing about a country. People are people, after all, no matter where they are.Most of the book is in the stories of the people that he meets. Booth devotes some space to the geography, but even there it's primarily in relation to the people who live there and the incidents that happen, like wandering in the hills of southwestern Honshu for hours because he repeatedly gets bad directions. The Roads to Sata is the story of children chasing after Booth and calling him names, or people buying him drinks in bars, or old fishermen singing songs about herring on the shores of Hokkaido, or an old man who tries to draw him a map but forgets the characters for ryokan (旅館), or another who tells him that a country is like a paper with a formal print-out on one side and some doodles on the other side, and that he must not forget to write about both sides.It's about the small-town police officer who's deathly afraid that he'll be bewitched by kitsune on the mountain roads, or the workman in Hiroshima who blames him for the bombing, or the person who complains about all the English on television that's creeping into the Japanese language, or the driver who refuses to believe that Booth is speaking Japanese even when his girlfriend points it out, or being turned away at a ryokan that was full only to call them less than an hour later and be immediately offered a room. It's about the festivals in small towns, and the sky lit up by Obon fires, and the tiny towns in the mountains that are slowly dying as their children move away to Tokyo and Osaka and Kyoto. Like life, it's about a lot of small things, that all must be taken individually even as they add up to form a whole.The attitudes displayed toward Booth seemed a bit extreme to me in many places, but when I looked up the dates, it turns out that the titular trip took place in 1977, before the JET Programme officially began and therefore before widespread exposure to native English speakers. It's entirely reasonable in many of those rural villages that the children who chased after him yelling, "Gaijin! Gaijin! Gaijin!" had never seen a non-Japanese person before. Add that in to the apparently-natural tendency of children to be horrifically cruel to anyone they perceive as different, and it all makes sense. It also explains why people would occasionally give him distances in ri rather than kilometers.The writing is fantastic, suffused with a kind of dry wit yet never devolving into either mockery or cynicism. You can feel the frustration seeping through at times, but I'm pretty sure that I'd be annoyed if I had just been turned down at multiple ryokans that I was sure were only doing it because I wasn't Japanese. I never had it that bad, though I did recognize some similarities to my own experiences in Booth's accounts, both the good and the bad. That's definitely part of why I liked it so much, but I think the quality stands out even for people who know very little about Japan.If you like travel writing at all, this is an excellent read.

  • Ms. Smartarse
    2019-03-27 14:35

    In the 1970s, Alan Booth has decided to go on an adventure. Though it may not have seemed as magical as Bilbo's, people's reaction to it was just as exasperating. It's not every day, that you encounter someone traversing your country on foot; from Japan's northernmost (Cape Soya) to its southernmost point (Cape Sata).I wasn't sure what to expect, which is why I have shelved it under "travel guide". The Roads to Sata is much closer to a memoir, however... which is good and not so good. The upside are the partial area maps shown at the beginning of each chapter. The downside is that I often found it necessary to google pictures of the places being mentioned. Yes... I like pretty pictures, shoot me (just please wait till AFTER I visited Japan).I don't normally do (auto)biographies. Try as I might, they generally end up boring me to tears. With this book, that wasn't a problem... for the most part. Those haikus annoyed me to no end. Admittedly, they were funny in places; but I don't do poetry, and I DEFINITELY don't do maudlin. In the end, skipping the poems saved the book from losing that 1/2 star.It was really interesting seeing various people's reaction when they found out about the trip. Having people constantly offer the author rides along the way, was also really sweet. It made me wonder how many people would do that here? I also found the rude children funny... and I did make a note not to get mad when it'll happen to me. Two distinct episodes are my absolute 'favorite':1)The author's rather unpleasant experience at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, (view spoiler)[being accused of having contributed to the atomb bomb's massacre (hide spoiler)]. It made me contemplate my possible reaction to a similar incident. I still haven't reached a satisfactory conclusion.2)A young man's disbelief that a foreigner could speak Japanese:"Niigata... toi(it's a long way). Go with car.""It's really very kind of you, " I said, again in Japanese, "but I can't accept, and anyway, you seem to be going in the other direction. What I want is..."He went on miming. "Niigata... toi... toi... toi..."His girlfriend wound down the rear window and said, "Ne...""What?""He seems to be speaking Japanese.""Baka na! (Don't be silly!)"And the pantomime continued.Score: 4.7/5Let me tell you, if a trip to Japan was just a possibility BEFORE, now it's a definite thing. These final quotes however, make for a much better conclusion:"Do you like the Japanese?""Which Japanese?""Do you feel at home in Japan?""No, I think it would be a peculiarly thick-skinned foreigner who was able to do that.""Do you think you've learned much during the last four months?""Yes, I think I've learned a bit about Japan and a lot about myself."["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Domhnall
    2019-03-27 15:15

    This is the account of an Englishman’s somewhat unromantic walk from the most northerly tip of Japan to its southernmost extremity, a 2000 mile journey along the Western coastline, punctuated by a myriad of incidents, encounters and anecdotes. Seven years of life in Tokyo had equipped Alan Booth with fluent Japanese, an ability to eat raw fish and a confident mastery of the sandals worn in Japanese toilets, but at no point in his journey was he ever other than a “gaijin” - a foreigner - to the people he met. The book is a hypnotic read, despite the utter absence of any plot or story, a patient passage through one location after another, for which most merit only a few pithy lines and none more than a few pages. There are descriptive passages, there are brief historical interludes, there are occasional serious conversations that shed light on aspects of Japanese life. Often, though, a single sentence or brief snatch of conversation is sufficient to convey the essence of each experience and these moments of insight (epiphanies) can be a joy to read. He does not romanticise the Japanese - their lives often seem very restricted and narrow - but he describes them in affectionate terms. When they annoy him, though, he retaliates by immortalising their silliness in this lovely book and that is a tradition which many other writers have observed and of which I greatly approve. Some quotesNaoetsu is described in the official guidebook as “one of the flourishing industrial centers on the Japanese Sea Coast.” It is so flourishing that from a distance of four kilometers you can’t see it. As you get closer, the mechanics of its disguise become apparent. The chimneys of the Nippon Stainless factory and the Mitsubishi petrochemical complexes pump a solid stream of choking brown smoke into the Sunday afternoon sky. The dock is full of cranes and filthy little tramp steamers and a continuous trickle of dust filters down from the snow roofs that ward off nature from the pavements. Naoetsu has the distinction of being the only city in Japan whose beer shops I raced by without a second glance. I had a vision of petrochemical yeast dissolving most of my vital organs which were then replaced by a stainless steel liver and an injection-molded Mitsubishi stomach...I fled Naoetsu in top gear and didn’t look back at it till forty minutes later by which time it had disappeared. [p134]...while the temple gardens are meant strictly for contemplation, you can stroll along the pathways of Kenrokuen as you would through an English park. A European might not consider Kenrokuen old. It was laid out in 1822 and in Europe there are parks and gardens that predate it by centuries. But here in Japan, where fires and earthquakes so frequently ravish the cities, and where, consequently, many of the most famous landmarks have had to be rebuilt in modern times, anything that has stood for a hundred years can claim to be venerably “old”.You can experience a little of Kenrokuen’s peace by looking at the photographs in the guidebook…. I went to see Kenrokuen on a fine Monday afternoon. Children screamed, young men shouted, businessman drank and staggered about, cameras clicked, babies cried, thousands of people followed dozens of guides along the paths between the unruffled ponds and the long-suffering trees. Each guide carried a flag in one hand, so that her charges would not lose themselves in the crush, and a portable loudspeaker in the other hand, through which she furnished the explanations so essential to the appreciation of natural beauty. The older tourists listened to the guides and stayed so close to their heels that they seemed to be on leashes. The younger tourists listened to the transistor radios they carried slung across their shoulders: I want you babyI want you ba-a-by[pp148,9]Near the top of one hill I came to a cleft that several generations had used as a rubbish dump. There was a little wooden shrine above the stinking heap of cans and cartons and again I couldn’t help pitying the deities for the slums they are lodged in. “There are thirty thousand gods in Japan,” a friend once boasted to me. “Yes” I had retorted, in a bloody mood, “and about three of them paid any respect.” [202]

  • Myridian
    2019-04-01 16:34

    Booth quickly became a tiresome traveling companion. He seemed annoyed through much of the trip and I started to feel like the main point of this book was to complain. About how he was a spectacle to children, businessmen, and Japanese people in general. (Let's ignore the fact that he was the one who chose to take a walking tour from one end of Japan to the other, thereby making himself stand out even more.) About the weather. About the traffic. About the trash on the side of the road. I also counted at least five instances in which he mentions road kill. I'm sure this lends a sense of realism and authenticity to the narrative, but was there really nothing more important to have as a trope running through the story?More importantly, I never felt like I understood the journey or the reasons for it. What kind of midlife or personal crisis had sent Booth walking for 2000 miles? He consumed huge amounts of beer, didn't see his wife for months and only once or twice tried to pick up other women. It seemed inexplicable. Additionally, although he spent more time interacting with people than he could have from a car, there was no sense of getting to the heart of any of the individuals he met. Rather it always felt like there was an air of superficiality about even the most authentic of his interactions. Booth was at his best describing the historical context of some of the locations and rhapsodizing about the scenery and I wish he had stuck to this. I do feel I have a slightly larger understanding of Japan, but not by much.

  • Kay
    2019-04-01 18:27

    An introspective travelogue, focused more on the inner than outer journey -- my favorite kind of travelogue, in fact. Booth walked from the northernmost to the southernmost points in Japan, a trek of some 2,000 miles. Although he spoke fluent Japanese, he found that the perceptions (especially in rural areas) of his "foreignness" created almost an invisible barrier. Still, there were times when he transcended cultural perceptions and had amazing encounters. Rather episodic by nature, Booth's observations and insights never pall. There's humor, here, too, particularly as many of the Japanese assumed he spoke no Japanese, and so were rather unbuttoned in their remarks made in his presence. One especially ripe scene takes place in a ryokan. The owner insists that he can't accommodate Booth because he (Booth) doesn't speak Japanese.... but, of course, the conversation is taking place in Japanese. Priceless!One aspect of the book that really resonated for me was the inclusion of numerous fragments of haiku. Masters of the form such as Issa and Basho, of course, were great travelers. Booth's keen appreciation for that tradition brought depth to his account.

  • jen
    2019-04-16 15:40

    I was just thinking about this book again recently, and looking back I see I never wrote a review. There was so much that I loved about this account of a walk from one tip of Japan to the other. The author set out walking and reported what he saw, the good and the bad. Mostly he was walking through rural areas that you never hear about in other accounts of Japan or in travel guides. There was no spiritual journey or journey of self-discovery where the reader has to slog through painful accounts of divorce, drug addiction, any of the usual torture that is the popular travel memoir. There was no attempt to leave out the less interesting parts of the trip. Fans of the long and mundane in literature and film will enjoy the style of this writer. Best of all the author is just really funny. It was particularly funny that he noted every time (which was a lot of times) he had beer at the inns he stayed at along the way.

  • Josie
    2019-03-23 14:16

    I read this book in the hopes of becoming enthusiastic about an unwilling move to Japan. I was hoping to learn about the culture and some out of the way sights. Unfortunately, this book was about a man walking along roads, with no particular interest in sights. Entirely readable and thoroughly depressing. I learned: that the Japanese litter, there are an awful lot of snakes in Japan. Also an awful lot of racism. If you don't like fish, you'll probably be eating random and weird things. This author did fine with all of that because he drank like a fish the whole time. Needless to say, I will not be picking up the author's second book on Japan, because I'd like to have a small amount of enthusiasm left.

  • Gail Pool
    2019-04-10 19:24

    To travel on foot is a lure for many people, whether they are pilgrims following in the footsteps of those who preceded them, or adventurers setting out on their own paths. As Patrick Leigh Fermor observed in his classic, A Time of Gifts, “on foot, unlike other forms of travel, it is impossible to be out of touch.”Alan Booth clearly felt the attraction of this kind of journey. An Englishman who had lived in Japan for 7 years, was married to a Japanese woman, and spoke fluent Japanese, he set out in the eighties, at the age of 30, to walk from the northernmost cape of the northernmost island of Japan, Cape Soya, to the southernmost cape of the southernmost island, Cape Sata—the entire length of Japan.In The Roads to Sata, he gives us a kind of journal of this journey, which took 128 days and covered some 3,300 kilometers. He walked on back roads and, if necessary, on highways, he stayed in country inns, he consumed quantities of beer (“foot gasoline,” as he calls it), and he had encounters with, he estimates, some 1200 people: from businessmen to housewives, from priests to cyclists, and from farmers to sumo wrestlers—with whom he actually wrestled. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t win!)Along the way, he meets an elderly man, who tells him: “A country is like a sheet of paper; it’s got two sides. On one side there’s a lot of fancy lettering—that’s the side that gets flaunted about in public. But there’s always a reverse side to a piece of paper—a side that might have ugly doodlings on it, or bits of graffiti, or goodness knows what. If you’re going to write about a country, make good and sure you write about both sides.”Booth clearly takes this to heart. He describes the landscape, myths, and history of the regions he passes through, especially in the north. He writes interestingly about some of the fascinating rituals, such as O-Bon, the Festival of the Dead, which is for many people, he says, “the most important time of the year.” He praises the hot springs so wonderfully resuscitating to his sore legs, and the kindness and nicely quirky aspects of many of the people he meets.But he also describes the heaps of refuse lying on the beaches, the violent pornographic comics, the cruelty to animals, and, above all, the unfriendliness and even hostility toward foreigners that he encounters. People mock him, assuming he doesn’t understand what they’re saying; little boys (but not girls) taunt him; everyone stares, making him feel like a “freak.” Many inns turn him away, claiming at times that he can’t stay because he doesn’t understand Japanese (even while he’s speaking to them in Japanese) or because he can’t eat the raw fish they serve (even though he explains that he’s lived in Japan for 7 years and assures them that he eats raw fish).Booth recreates these encounters vividly, and they’re believable. I felt I could understand his frustration. But I began to find his depictions frustrating as well. Westerners have often had trouble with the very different culture of Japan, and I wished that while the author was getting in touch with the country, he would have been more openly in touch with himself. Why, after all, was he on this journey? He says very little about this at the start. It is only at the end of his trip, when a reporter asks him this question, that he replies: “Because I’d lived in Japan for a quarter of my life and still didn’t know whether I was wasting my time. I thought that by taking four months off to do nothing but scrutinize the country I might come to grips with the business of living here, and get a clearer picture, for better or worse.”This statement seems to me both odd and oddly placed. Why would he be “wasting his time” living in Japan? What does he mean by this? In view of the book, I could only think he had been wondering for a long time whether he would always be viewed as an outsider in Japanese society, and that he’d been possibly “wasting his time” thinking he might be accepted. It isn’t clear. But whatever he means, the statement suggests that Booth started out with an attitude that shaped his experience, and it would have altered the reader’s experience to have known from the start what that attitude was.The Roads to Sata is an engaging account, but it would have been a far stronger book if the author had explored his own cultural viewpoint and made it more explicit at the start. Without this reflection, and introspection, an important layer is missing, a layer of insight necessary to interpret the story he’s telling. A cross-cultural memoir—like a sheet of paper—always has two sides.

  • Robin Massey
    2019-03-30 14:30

    Style: evocative, dryly witty, immersed in Japanese life 'on the road under the Spotlight: JapanRecommend? Yes, for the dedicated trekking fan and for Japan aficionadosMap: Yes Photos: NoI marvelled at Alan’s ability to record so much ‘colour’ and detail day after day in the pre-digital, pre-Gortex age and under often trying conditions. His wry humour and insights into Japanese life also lured me to read on.Roads to Sata was originally published in 1985 but Alan actually completed the trek almost 10 years before – his references to the 70’s pop group the Bay City Rollers are a give away! The trek’s timing was important to me as I kept wondering how current his descriptions were. Does pollution still mar Japan’s beauty spots and historical sites?* Do rural Japanese still react so strongly to wandering gaijin (foreigners)? Are there now any marked long distance walking trails in Japan?**There is plenty to enjoy here for travel tale fans looking for quiet humour and thoughtfully presented cultural features to leaven the trek details. One evening he comments, “By a rare chance, my stroll took me into a bar” (p. 63) Even by page 63 the reader knows that visiting a bar is part of Alan’s daily routine! Describing a group of salarymen on a river outing, he observes, “some had covered their legs with green blankets because … the knees of salarymen on such outings are easily intimidated” (p.269). Much of the humour comes from his daily interactions with people he meets on the road such as the Japanese hiking couple dressed in full Alpine gear – knickerbockers … Tyrolean hats with feathers (p. 41) or the three little boys who stare at him saying “What’s it eating? What’s it speaking (p.41)?” I felt that his humour became edgier as time passed: he was certainly increasingly tired both from walking and from being frequently treated as a freak. Negative interactions which tended to be related whimsically in earlier pages took on a more critical tone. Alan speaks fluent Japanese, his wife is Japanese and he has clearly immersed himself in aspects of Japanese culture such as the food and living conditions. He loves eating sea urchins for example and upon arrival at ryokans (inns) he slips on slippers and a yukata (summer kimono). Despite his efforts to assimilate, blue-eyed Alan is met with a broad range of reactions including the dangerously negative (rocks are thrown at him in one incident), shock, nervousness, amazement and in many instances, serene hospitality. He frequently has trouble finding accommodation, apparently because of his foreignness. People do not expect him to speak Japanese and so they air concerns or speak rudely about him in his presence. Alan also experiences innumerable charming contacts; the young truck driver who silently hands him a cold juice on a hot day; the many chatty conversations with older ladies running the little snack shops; strangers who offer him lifts and hospitality.There were issues that Alan doesn’t address or barely addresses. We don’t hear too much of the walk preparation – how he planned and financed it, the contents of his pack (ok, probably not interesting to everyone) and only on the second last page does he comment on why he is trekking. I was also rudely curious about the meager contact with his wife.An enjoyable, detailed read as Alan presents us with a remarkable insight into Japanese life as he experiences it ‘on the road’.One of Alan's weather descriptions that I particularly liked -“All day the sky mounted a frantic pantomime in which patches of blue and thunderclouds chased each other about at the speed of a Chaplin film” (p.275).*According to Wiki, Japan has indeed gone to considerable lengths to reduce pollution since the 1970’s.By Googling I found some commercial guided or self-guided walks in Japan that sounded extremely attractive.

  • Patrick McCoy
    2019-03-19 17:25

    There have been many books written about Japan by foreigners and I think I managed to come across most of the best writers early on during my stay in Japan, Donald Richie and Ian Buruma immediately come to mind. For some reason I put off reading Alan Booth's seminal The Roads To Sata (1985). I think I heard some negative comments about it, but a good friend whose taste I respect said it was his favorite book on Japan, which makes sense because he is a long distance walker and lover of traditional Japaneses culture not unlike Booth himself. Booth decides to walk from Cape Soya in the distant northern peninsula to Cape Sata in the southern isle of Kyushu in 1977. It is an extraordinary feat and gives a portrait of what rural Japan was like in the pre-Bubble era. I think the strengths of his book lie in stray observations of all the distinct individuals that cross his path, descriptions of rural areas that few people-let alone foreigners-pass through, and the sly humor that often lies in between the lines, perhaps in typical English style. Many of these encounters take place in bars and over beers and result in raucous nights and comically remembered conversations and interactions. Here is an example: ...a guest says to a ryokan person (guest house worker)..."I am just going out for a short stroll" is always understood as expect me back incapable of speech at about midnight," an dis automatically told what time the door locked and shown the back way in.I plan to eventually visit every prefecture in Japan, so I was particularly interested in those areas I have yet to visit. So the Hokkaido section and Tohoku sections were interesting for me since I have only been to the capital city of Sapporo and Akita city in Akita. He has great admiration for the northern region as it is where he first lived when he arrived in Japan (in the northern most prefecture Aomori) and finds the sparsely populated countryside peaceful. I was also interested in his journey through the Chubu region-in particular Sado Island, the isle of exile, in Niigata and Kanazawa, one of the few cities spared from bombing in WWII, in Ishikawa-two places with long histories that are on my short list for traveling Japan this year. In the south I know little of Fukui and Yamaguchi as well. And once he crosses into Kyushu, a place I have visited several times, but not through the swath through the middle that he went, which crossed through Kumamoto and Oita-the next two places I plan to visit. I think Booth's book is less personal and less judgmental than Donald Richie's great travel book, The Inland Sea, a book I can't help but compare this to. I find it lacking in that sense, but I think these books would be a great starting point and companion pieces in learning about Japan. I think both books provide a glimpse into a forgotten Japan that no longer exists. To Booth's credit, I think he is reluctant to make any general observations about "the Japanese" and it is clear that he tires quickly of the attention and attitudes people had of foreigners in the 70s, he merely wants to be accepted as an individual person rather than an exotic gaijin (foreigner), and as a result he connects with those who look past his foreignness and accept him as a person. He has little faith that he will ever truly understand Japan, even though it is probably what he thought he would accomplish in his herculean task. he admits as much in the final pages. But then again, no foreigner can. And I think this is the appeal of living in such a place as Japan and something that both Richie and I would probably concur with.

  • Dale
    2019-04-07 18:42

    It turns out that when you walk 2000 miles through heat, rain, cold, wind (and some nice days); and when you speak fluent Japanese but are constantly confronted by people who talk to you as if you had no understanding; and when you are choked by truck fumes and forced off into the ditch by aggressive truck drivers: when all this happens you might occasionally get a little grumpy. Fortunately you have ample opportunities to down a beer or two, or 30 shots of sake, or the occasional painful blast of shochu, and then you are right again and ready for the next day of walking.Booth walked the length of Japan from northeast to southwest, from cape Soya in Hokkaido to cape Sata in Kyushu, from June to November of 1977, never accepting a ride, and using the back roads as much as possible. Age 30, he had resided in Tokyo for seven years and wanted to learn more about his adoptive country. He was fluent in Japanese, even to the point of being able to speak in Aomori dialect as well as standard Japanese. So he experienced a side of Japan that most of us never could: actual conversation and interaction with people of all classes. As it happened, he met people of all types from the genuinely gracious and friendly to the unbelievably crass, stupid, and rude. And that became the point of the book: to show that it is impossible to generalize any more about Japanese people than about any others.Of course, the Japan of 1977 is long gone, swallowed up by globalization, TV, and the bland homogeneous popular culture that has conquered the world. Sad, I suppose. So it is pleasant to read this excellent account of a way of life that barely exists anymore.

  • Jim
    2019-04-05 18:39

    Can we find a little joy in Japan? Ferguson did. Granted, Booth was writing in the 1980s, not far removed in the grand scheme of things, from defeat at the hand of evil empire (oh, wait, that's the Middle Eastern view) and cultural upheaval, and granted also that a journalist must call them like they see them, but really, you almost get the feeling that the hiking trip from top to bottom of the islands was foisted on him by his publishers and he wasn't having it. It is basically a litany of bewildered locals, rude children, scared (or anti-gaijin) businesspeople, polluted cities, rubbish-strewn locales, narrow minded, racist. . .well, you get the idea. Who, after reading this short travelogue would even entertain the notion of visiting this country? Which is sad. Was he venting his spleen after seven years living there? You would think he was accustomed by then to some of the attitudes he would be meeting. And for all those people who lauded this book. . .Booth doesn't even write that well. I don't get it. Ok, it isn't a terrible book, and there are interesting insights, but for a selection so often referred to as witty? No, I think readers would be better served with HITCHING RIDES WITH BUDDHA.

  • Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
    2019-04-17 15:31

    This book is going straight to the top of my list of favorite travel narratives. What a story! What amazing people he met! And what a writer Booth is!In the early eighties, Booth decides to travel from the tip of Japan in the north to the tip of Japan in the south. On foot. Along the way, he meets perplexing Japanese person after perplexing Japanese person. Here’s a sample:‘I recognized the turnoff to the lodging a brightly lit electric sign glowing an effusive welcome...The doors of the lodging house were curtained and locked and it took five minutes of rattling them to rouse the white-shirted custodian, who bustled out finally to tell me that they were closed.“But you’ve got a sign all lit up down on the highway.”“Yes. We always keep it lit.”“What for, for goodness’ sake?”“To make people feel welcome.”“But you’re closed.”“That’s right.”If you like travel narratives, you will love this one. Side note: I wish you luck trying to find a copy. I’ve had this on my wish list for at least five years and I only found a copy this summer.

  • Ashley
    2019-04-09 12:41

    Alan Booth is a gifted writer. I was drawn ever onward through his adventures, despite a total lack of the thrill or complicated plot that drives so many stories these days. I loved the dialogue that he portrayed, and I loved that he let us draw our own conclusions about why the conversations were included and what they meant. My heart ached for him and his struggle with being "foreign". I could relate to almost every stereotype and bias that he was saddled with on his walk. I was actually astounded that his experience was so similar to mine, despite being in a totally different country and during a different time! Do I feel like I've learned about Japan from this book? That's a more difficult question to answer. I learned some things, but the perspective was limited, if pointed. There is still so much I want to know, but I am very appreciative of this story.

  • John
    2019-04-16 20:38

    Alan Booth’s sadly premature death from cancer in his 40s remains a tragedy, for one of the best travel writers of the English language will neither write nor travel again. A must-read for anyone interested in Japan, and a must-read for one devoted to superlative writing, for Booth transcends the mundane and ordinary while simultaneously revelling in both, and embodies with ease the Japanese aesthetic of “mono-no-aware”: delight in the beauty and pathos of ephemeral things.It is no exaggeration that on the basis of this book alone Alan Booth was pronounced as “not only the best travel writer on Japan, but one of the best travel writers in the English language" (Ian Burma)—with his humour, insight, empathy and keen intellect, Booth is a writer who whets the appetite for a greatness that can seldom be found elsewhere.

  • Susan
    2019-03-29 15:22

    I really enjoyed this book. I was puzzled by several things. He always walked on the road; he never seemed to have snacks or food with him; and he talked often about drinking beer and sake, but never water. I think things have changed a lot with the walking/hiking crowd since the 80's, but still.... It was surprising the difficulty he had as a non-Asian walking in parts of Japan. Some of the most fascinating observations concerned the difficulty many Japanese had in accepting that a white man who could speak Japanese fluently and enjoy or at least observe foodways, traditions, and culture. A great addition to my traveling/walking literature!

  • Ginny
    2019-04-13 17:16

    Halfway through, it really just became to repetitive.

  • Lynne
    2019-04-02 20:29

    "I walked in the rain. I found a hostel. I drank beer" Rinse and repeat.

  • John
    2019-04-09 19:14

    Insightful, but his bitterness overshadows the story.

  • Zac Liptak
    2019-03-22 15:13

    I suppose I'm a lot like Alan Booth in some ways. I've lived in Japan, learned the language, and traveled a good deal of the country (albeit not on foot and not from cape to cape, although I have made it to all four home islands and to many out-of-the-way places). Many of his experiences were effectively identical to mine, in fact - which was why this book was recommended and loaned to me in the first place. Hence, I expected to enjoy it a lot more than I actually did. First, the things I enjoyed. The look at Japan in the late '70s, before moe became ubiquitous and when foreigners were probably a good deal less common than they are now, especially out in the countryside; the lack of reliance on common Japan tropes ( Bullet trains! Geisha! Samurai and ninja! Weird food!) and categorical descriptions ( All Japanese aresopolite and good-natured! ); the vignettes and bits of conversations that sometimes made me chuckle; occasional bits of historical background or relevant poetry. So why the poor rating? Mainly because one gets the feeling that Booth made his whole trek with the enthusiasm and disposition of a wet cat. The experiences he chooses to relate to the reader form a kind of loop, wherein he goes into town, has schoolchildren point out his foreignness and people disbelieve that he can speak Japanese, get offered a ride, get turned away fromryokan , drink beer and/or sake, lather, rinse, repeat. Occasionally he chooses to mention roadkill - dead frogs, in particular, seem a favorite subject - or violent media he encounters.And to be fair, these things all happen in Japan regularly. In fact, I doubt you'll find any westerner who's spent any time in Japan that hasn't been annoyed by them. What bothers me is that from the experiences of four months and several thousand miles on foot, these seem to be theonlythings Booth is interested in relaying to the reader. Sometimes we get a pleasant hot spring, orBon Odoridance or friendlyryokanowner, but the impression I'm left with is that these are the minority, rare bright spots in an otherwise unpleasant journey.I found myself wonderingWhy?Why do this to yourself? What enjoyment, enrichment, or happiness is the author getting from his trip? Reading between the lines, I felt like Booth was looking for something he had to have known didn't exist. It's not stated explicitly, but I think what he was after wasn't Japan as it is, but Japan where itinerant poets composed haiku in the moonlight on their journeys, where modernity and the west - in particular, America - hadn't intruded yet, where people spoke Japanese free of English loan words. (Booth obviously had a love of haiku and folk songs, and according to Wikipedia wrote and produced his ownNohplay in the UK.) Unsurprisingly, this wasn't what he found, any more than he would have had he walked through rural England quoting Mallory and Shakespeare and expecting to find a semi-mythical past Anglo-Saxon countryside. Likewise, the author likely wanted to find a belonging that he also had to have known he wouldn't. He goes out of his way to point out instances of being pointed out as foreign, as well as discussingzainichiKoreans (Koreans, often 2nd- or 3rd-generation now, who have lived in Japan all their lives but are not granted Japanese citizenship and are sort of permanent outsiders), whereas Taiwanese-born baseball player Oh Sadaharu is mentioned time and again as a contrast, a foreign-born person referred to as "A great Japanese."So, overall, I think my conclusion is that while I appreciated the look at Japan as it was 40 years ago, before the anime and pokemon image took over, when you could still meet people who saw the first atom bomb fall on Hiroshima, and without the usual tropes, I wouldn't want Booth as a travelling companion. (And maybe he wouldn't have wanted me as one either, cheery American that I am.)

  • Blythe
    2019-03-22 18:25

    I have finalllllly finished this book. I think I started it in early 2016, and I finished in summer 2017; that is not to say it's a bad book. I usually put those down. But it is slightly repetitive ("I walked into this small town, a Japanese person made a xenophobic comment, then something lovely happened.") Overall, I highly recommend this book to a very *specific* audience, or, rather, two specific audiences: people who like tales about people walking far distances, and people who are interested in a very intimate glimpse of Japanese life outside of Tokyo. I have always been fascinated with stories about people walking. One of the original books that got me interested was a book about someone's journey along the Appalachian trail (there wasn't Goodreads back when I read it, so I don't remember the title or author, sorry!) A more recent memoir that I loved was Without a Map. And The Roads to Sata is an excellent addition to this genre. Only, sometimes it plods along as slowly as such a trip might. But that adds to the realism!I picked this up somewhat randomly from the free book bin at the library and it was worth every penny. Kidding, of course - I spent way more in time investment than money on this book, and wholly without regret. Alan Booth was a British journalist whose mother (I think) was Japanese, and though he looked like a Westerner, he spoke Japanese fluently. This makes for some amazing moments where the Japanese people he meets, who constantly assume he doesn't know the language (sometimes despite him speaking to them), react in humorous ways to his knowledge of their language and culture. He is an excellent describer of people and places he travels through, and as I have wanted to travel to Japan for many years, this was a lovely introduction to the country.The bittersweetness of this story is that Booth passed away not long after its publication, so there's not really any other books by him. He left behind a Japanese wife and young daughter. His writing marks him as a man of intelligence, good humor, and integrity, and when I googled him about halfway through reading the book, the news of his death some 40 years ago was unexpectedly saddening. "Unexpectedly" is probably the wrong word - what I'm saying is, I started to feel like I knew the man or was in conversation with him, at least. His book gives an intimate picture of him as he is mostly alone. And so the news of his death was unlooked for, and the sadness completed some connection I had made to a long-gone soul.

  • Mycala
    2019-04-01 20:22

    In 1977 the author, a native of England, walked from the northernmost part of Japan all the way to the southernmost tip. His reason? He had lived in Tokyo for nearly a quarter of his life and he wanted to see the rest of the country. It took him 128 days to walk the 2,000-mile journey. I am always intrigued by stories of people who decide to take on a lengthy walk. I felt bad for this guy. First of all, he was constantly being mistaken as American and secondly, despite the fact that he spoke fluent Japanese and would have conversations in Japanese, a lot of people acted as though he was tricking them and didn't really understand the language. It completely boggles the mind. Another head-scratcher was that more than one person told him, "Only Japan has four seasons." Oh. Kaaaaay... I lost count of how many times he had walked over ten miles and arrived in a town hungry and tired and was told that the ryokans (like a B&B) were full. Some people argued with him that gaijin (foreigners) couldn't eat fish, which was news to him.Of course, he met some wonderful people as well. I particularly liked one of the Japanese men at a bar who watched as two other Japanese men gave the author a hard time. "He doesn't REALLY speak Japanese. Hey, gaijin! Let me buy you a beer!" When they left, the man said, "You really are very easy-going. You should have poured the beer over their heads."Interesting book.

  • Paul
    2019-04-16 12:25

    128 days, 3,300 kilometers (2,050 miles), most likely in 1985. This account of walking the length of the Japanese nation is a very normalized account of what sounds as demanding as a 2,000-mile walk might be - along coastlines, across mountains, alongside active volcanoes, through towns, cities and rural areas, staying mostly in inns, and meeting a wide variety of people. I was nagged by wanting to have articulated what prompted the trek, and thankfully, Booth concludes the book by stating that. He conveys an obvious affection for the country and people he had lived in "for a quarter of my life." Unlike venturing out into the wilderness like Wild, Booth passed through whatever landscape or community presented itself. His approach to and visit in Hiroshima is a very memorable part of the book. His encounters with people along the way tends to get blurred together. Repeated experiences include: being taunted by children, being offered car rides, being brushed aside on highways by speeding cars and trucks, being denied access to a ryokan because he is a foreigner, finding comic-book porn in restaurants and hotels, drinking sake and beer at day's ends, and somehow, even though he is speaking Japanese with those he meets, being assumed that he cannot understand Japanese. Several quotes stand out: Few people, it seems, walk the length of the sandbar. At Chionji temple, near the southern end, a group of tourists had just broken off their prayers at the urgent beck of several bullhorns and had rushed down the old temple steps and boarded a boat for a sightseeing cruise. That is certainly a better way of appreciating the sandbar as a whole than to walk along it, where only the details are viewable; but it was the details that I like most. (p.179)That seems like an apt characterization of the whole journey.I recognized the turnoff to the lodging house, which I reached about an hour later, by a brightly lit electric sign glowing an effusive welcome. The place itself was about a kilometer and a half along a track that ran up into the hills, and when I arrived a large barking dog greeted me equally effusively. The doors of the lodging house were curtained and locked and it took five minutes of rattling them to rouse the white-shirted custodian, who bustled out finally to tell me that they were closed."But you've a got a sign all lit up down on the highway.""Yes. We always keep it lit.""What for, for goodness' sake?""To make people feel welcome.""But you're closed!""That's right."Which was, perhaps the most quintessentially Oriental conversation of the entire trip. (pp.191-192)I would have very much liked a different set of maps - each chapter begins with a map that outlines the course of Booth's journey, but only indicating the coastline and the course of his path that connected one town to the next; part of the pleasure of a book like this is to have a sense of where you are - maps that included more details and provincial boundaries would have made it a much more engaging book, especially because Booth frequently refers to other locations, landforms, cities - for those of us who have not walked Japan's length, more helpful maps would have given a visual sense of the relationships between these places. It is also curious for a book subtitled "A 2000-Mile Walk through Japan" to give all distances in kilometers - given that Booth is from the UK, why not just give the distance in kilometers?Even though Booth is the major character of this account, his approach leaves him receding into the background and letting the country, topography and people take center stage. I would have liked to get a better sense of who he was, and what made him tick. (Unlike walking the Camino del Santiago in Spain, this is a solitary rather than communal walk and there is no apparent spiritual element to this journey. (Booth does refer to bodily ailments he notices late in the trip and that he was sick on his first bus ride out of Sata - a foreshadowing of the cancer that ended his life in early 1993?"Did you ever feel like giving up?""Once, early on, when I thought I might not be up to it, and once in Hiroshima when I began to wonder what the point was.""Can you now say what the point was?""No.""Did you enjoy it?""Yes. I would do it again if I had the time and energy and money.""Why did you decide to do it in the first place?""Because I'd lived in Japan for a quarter of my life and still didn't know whether I was wasting my time. I hoped that by taking four months off to do nothing but scrutinize the country I might come to grips with the business of living here, and get a clearer picture, for better or worse.""Have you managed to do that?""No.""Do you like the Japanese?""Which Japanese?""The Japanese.""Which Japanese.""Do you feel at home in Japan?""No, I think it would be a peculiarly thick-skinned foreigner who was able to do that.""Do you think you've learned much during the last four months?""Yes, I think I've learned a bit about Japan and a lot about myself." (pp.280-281)The old man had asked me where I lived, and I told him I lived in Tokyo."Tokyo is not Japan," he said. "You can't understand Japan by living in Tokyo.""No," I agreed. "That's why I'm taking this time off to have a good look at the rest of it.""You can't understand Japan just by looking at it," the old man said."No, not just by looking at it," I said. "Not by looking at it as a tourist might out of the window of a bus, but by walking through the whole length of it."You can't understand Japan just by walking through it," the old man said."Not just by walking through it," I argued, "but by talking to all the different people I meet.""You can't understand Japan just by talking to people," the old man said."How do you suggest I try to understand Japan then?" I asked him."You can't understand Japan," he said. (p.281)

  • MIL
    2019-03-21 14:20


  • Eric
    2019-04-02 19:12

    One of the best travel writers you may wish for. Alan Booth was uniquely perceptive traveller, often quite funny and a gifted storyteller to boot. It's sad that he didn't live longer to be able to travel and write some more.

  • William
    2019-03-29 13:25

    Intelligent and tightly unadorned walking companion for a fabulous walk.

  • Nadirah
    2019-04-06 20:34

    One of the best ending lines I've read in a while.