Book Comments

Following are some books I’ve been looking at that relate (somehow) to the site:

Hiroshige’s Tokaido in Prints and Poetry This book was given to me as a Christmas gift, and it started me thinking…. The book is a lovely hand-stitched volume in an illustrated slipcase; the book has poems and  tipped-in miniature prints of the 53 post stations and the start/stop points of the Tokaido.  Hiroshige took the trip with a group delivering prized horses to the palace in Kyoto, and he created amazingly stylish images that blend humanity, humor, artistic perspective, and a sense of the energy of each station along the journey.

Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan by Alan booth. This book features a few different walking tours Booth took in Japan after his 2000-mile tip-to-toe Japan trek. In the first section, Booth follows (roughly) the path of Japanese novelist Dazai. The book has Booth’s usual spirit of travel adventure, historicity, cultural exploration, uncovering the everyday earthy Japan beneath the controlled, placid, exotic surface familiar to foreigners. There is, in some ways, more acceptance of this gaijin (who lived and worked in Japan about half his life) than there was in The Roads to Sata. Even the inclusions, though, are oddly exclusions. He was invited to participate in a local festival in a role few foreigners ever see, let alone perform. But this festival of devil-clad young men terrorizing children and new wives at New Years is actually about outcasts being let in and tolerated and even venerated for one night. Later he is ignored by a restaurant owner, but a kindly patron takes up a long and engaging conversation with him treating him as though he were a genuine friend and treating him to a great deal of sake, thoughtfully securing Booth a room at the Dake hot spring ryokan, etc. But even this is tinged with irony; we learn that the friendly patron is actually much feared; he’s highly connected in the gangs–an outsider. One of the most touching lines I’ve read anywhere is made more poignant when we know that Booth died soon after this (he was only forty-seven) is spoken on a deserted bridge in Fukaura, a town that is fast asleep: “There was no sign anywhere of life or drink or entertainment. I stood on a bridge looking up at the bright half moon and said to it, ‘I’ll miss you when I’m dead’.”

The Longest Walk: The Record of our World’s First Crossing of the Entire Americas by George Meegan. Although you’d think the title says it all, this journal of the 19,000-mile walk from the bottom of Tierra del Fuego to the Prudhoe Bay, Alaska is much more than just a recounting of the several years Meegan crossed the entire length of the Americas. It’s a love story. It shows his love (often with maddening incidents punctuating border crossings) of the countries and people he experiences, but, moreso, it’s the story of his love for his wife Yoshiko (they marry on the trip) and his children. When Yoshiko becomes pregnant, she leaves the walk to raise the kids in England and then Japan, but the family reunites in several countries, and all of them make the last trek across Alaska together (though Yoshiko, Ayumi–whose name means “walk”–and Geoffrey Sasumu–whose middle name means “keep going”–ride most of this last bit in a beat-up Mazda sedan). The book is peppered with thoughtful, reflective moments and bits of humor. The scope of the accomplishment is amazing.

Rediscovering the Old Tokaido: in the Footsteps of Hiroshige Trying to see if much was left of this historical road, Patrick Carey took the same trip half a dozen years ago. There are several helpful tips for the easily-lost traveler here.  An English teacher in Yokohama, Carey did his best to uncover the remnants of the historical road.  He did his best to recreate Hiroshige’s images where possible, but he discovered that much of the geography has changed, and the landmarks have often been replaced.  And although much of the original has been paved over, built upon, redirected, eradicated, there are still places of charm and grace and beauty for the traveler who tries to rediscover this ancient path.

The Roads to Satha: a 2000-Mile Walk through Japan by Alan Booth. I find it incredibly sad that Alan Booth died so young. His journeys through Japan are inspiring, instructive, amusing, unexpected. This book journals his trek from the northern part of Hokkaido to the southern tip if Kyushu. He is not traveling along the more-populous eastern seaboard; much of his walk explores “the back of Japan” (the side fronting the Sea of Japan).  Kintaro can follow suit, but I really don’t have the oomph for so long a walk.  I love how Booth affirms that much of the pristine, orderly, lovely Japan is as many foreigners imagine it; I also love the very earthy, non-stereotypical anecdotes pepper his comment.  Yes, there are frustrating moments for the gaijin here, but the narrative chronicles an amazing accomplishment while it explores the human side(s) of Japan.

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