"It was late in June so most of Japan was dripping and grey..."
July 10, 2018 8:39 PM   Subscribe

In 1977, Alan Booth needed a break from his life as a writer and film critic in Tokyo, so he decided to walk from Cape Soya, the most northern point of Japan's four main islands, to the most southern point at Cape Sata, . Listen to his thoughts in a short interview with him from the BBC.

His approximately 2000 mile walk from Cape Soya to Cape Sata was published in 1985 under the title The Roads to Sata, and he later wrote a second book entitled Looking for the Lost in which he recounted his journeys on foot following the paths of a number of historic figures such as the novelist Osamu Dazai and Saigo Takamori, a tragic samurai hero from the Meiji era.

Sadly, Booth passed away of colon cancer in 1993 at only 46 years old.

Just a few months ago his friend and former editor Timothy Harris released a book of Booth's uncollected writings and essays entitled: The Great Stage of Fools.
posted by kmkrebs (8 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Oh apologies - I forgot to mention there is some minor (non-sexual) male nudity in the youtube link. You'll see a few guys in a public bath.
posted by kmkrebs at 8:47 PM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I read the Roads to Sata and Looking for the Lost when I first lived in Japan in the mid-nineties, and I'd say Booth has profoundly affected several generations of non-Japanese residents in Japan.

The "expat" / "long term foreign resident" / "settled in Japan for good" community is surprisingly small and, in this era of Facebook, closely-knit. While Booth arrived in Japan in the early 70s, the cohort of "foreigners" who arrived in the 80's, during the Bubble years, all knew Booth.

The 80's would have been a grand time to have been a "foreigner" in Japan. Off the beaten track, with plenty of money thanks to Bubble economics, there were tons and tons of interesting jobs that were easy to get. Booth worked for a variety of newspapers, and also produced for NHK. Others did the same thing back then, building a number of contacts in government, entertainment and top-tier industry before striking out on their own in the 90's.

I'm friendly with a whole constellation of these people, who now mostly do premium Japanese-English translation, who chose to remain in Japan, and most of them knew Booth. Or Karel van Wolferen, whom I've also met, who somewhat melodramatically described Alan Booth on his deathbed.

I myself have moved on from Booth. Although I like his writing style, I find him to be too cynical about Japan. I myself like to walk around when I have free time, and do encounter the same sorts of interactions that he did.

I was approached by a friendly policeman who wanted to know if I needed directions. And in the countryside there are still neighbourhood beer shops where you're welcome to sit down and have a drink while chatting with the owner, like this one in Obama.
posted by JamesBay at 10:20 PM on July 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Thanks for this post. Never heard of the guy but now I've ordered one of his books.

The youtube clip was really enjoyable and it's a pity not more of this documentary is available.
posted by Kosmob0t at 12:46 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

oooh. The Roads to Sata are one of my top ten books. I love his writing style. He notices small details, cares about peoples reaction to him (which were unique, considering some had never seen a "westener" before) and has a thoroughly gentle approach to the differences between Japan and the rest of the world. I don't find him cynical in the least.
Thats different for Looking for the Lost, which I found less amusing and, a little more lecturing then necessary.
posted by quantum_libet at 12:48 AM on July 11, 2018

I'm glad I bought the right book!
posted by Kosmob0t at 1:31 AM on July 11, 2018

kmkrebs: thank you for the post!

"I myself have moved on from Booth."

JamesBay: Can you share some other authors you like who write on Japan?
posted by gen at 6:25 AM on July 11, 2018

Can you share some other authors you like who write on Japan?

If we're talking about walking around Japan, Shiba Ryotaro's Kaido o Yuku series is amazing. Yoshikawa has a great series on what I guess you'd translate as "the great trunk roads of Japanese history", the 街道の日本史 series. I've read the Wakasa one, and the Kaga one as well (since they're where I live in Japan).
posted by JamesBay at 8:47 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Reading travel writing is a busman's holiday for me, but Booth's books transcend the genre. Highly recommend them. The ending of Sata ("You will never understand Japan") is amazing.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:40 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

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