I’m reading the last little bits of Alan Booth’s Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan. The final section has him walking from Nagoya to Taira, and there are nuggets of delightful Japanese–words I’ll likely never get a chance to use, but I’m writing them down in a little notebook. Just a couple of chapters from the end, he visits a preserved five-story gasshozukuri (“built like hands folded in prayer”) style house in the steep hills near Gokoyama (“Five Mountains”). The roof is steeply pitched to shed the heavy winter snows, and the building is tall because there is little arable land; this housed several generations at once.
Sitting in the dark-beamed living area on the ground floor Booth notes an in-English pamphlet that says, “the house is so spacious and dimly lighted inside that it is not fit for our modern way of living.” It is only fit to remind us of what “the real Japan” was like once upon a time and to provide visitors with an opportunity to go “oooh” and “ahhh” and “natsukashii” (“that brings back memories”).
I”m not sure I will ever use words such as natsukashii or O-nyanko (“meow-meow girls), but shizuka na yado (“quiet inn”) seems practical.
I”m sad to be reaching the end of the book. Booth died young; his body of work (at least what is readily available) is small. But he’s packed human interest, humor, travalogue, insight, history into this small body. And just maybe his sharing words popular at the Ava Odori Festival in Takoshima could become a mantra:
“The fool who watches the fool who dances is a big fool, so he might as well dance.”