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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational..., 27 Jan. 2012
This review is from: The Roads to Sata: A 2000-mile Walk Through Japan (Origami Classroom) (Paperback)
Alan Booth walked the entire way, alone, from Cape Soya, on the far northern tip of the island of Hokkaido, to Cape Sata, as the title states, at the far southern end of the island of Kyushu. The subtitle states that it was a 2000-mile walk but he kept track of it in the local (and global) measure of kilometers, and felt it was a bit more, at 3,300 km. He therefore walked across three of the main Japanese islands (which included the main one of Honshu); he did not cross the fourth main island, Shikoku. It took him 128 days; he timed it right in terms of weather, starting in June in Hokkaido, with some snow still on the peaks, and ending in the October, as the leaves were turning, and it was becoming colder, in Kyushu. He never states the year; one reviewer suggest 1977, another, the early `80's. Clearly it was before 1986, when the book was first published.

It is a marvelous guide for non-Japanese on what to expect in the rural areas of Japan. Most certainly, he is "off the beaten track," never traveling through Tokyo or Kyoto. It is also about Japan, not Alan Booth "finding himself." Knowledge about the author comes in bits and pieces, almost incidentally. He was in theater, and moved to Japan in 1970. He married a Japanese woman, and does speak the language (despite what some natives think!). Like a good Englishman, he drinks beer, and the references to this vital "foot gasoline," as he says, are frequent. He never once mentions drinking water! Almost always, he stays in one of the local inns, called "ryokans"; generally, it is possible to walk from one village to another, all of which seem to have them. He is offered numerous rides, in automobiles, which he always declines, usually to the amazement (and sometimes the anger) of the driver.

He commences his book by saying that it is absurd to try to make sweeping generalizations about 120 million people. His meetings are the chance encounters of the road, generally quite brief. They are a wide spectrum, the good and the bad, but in general he does experience "the kindness of strangers," particularly towards foreigners, though he makes the exception for young boys, who tend to jeer at him, and wishes for more encounters with young girls, who are invariably polite. He has a wry sense of humor, most often conveyed when he tells anecdotes involving speaking Japanese with someone for 5-10 minutes, and yet they are still reluctant to let him stay in their ryokan, because he does not speak Japanese, and, of course, could not eat with chopsticks! "What was I speaking, Swahili"?

Booth does "nuance." There are many "Japans." For example: "Crossing from Niigata to Toyama had reminded me a little of crossing from Yugoslavia to Austria: from a land of calloused laborers to one where slightly obese people consume cream pastries and have safe-deposit boxes in air-conditioned banks." Ever observant, he highlights some of the cultural differences; consider: "....I couldn't help noticing how different was the determinedly sanctimonious atmosphere that pervades most Christian churches from the breezy nonchalance with which visitors treat the religious monuments of Japan." Generalizations, there are a few: "And then the litany began: tiny country, no natural resources, misunderstood by everyone..." Booth even has observations about one of the classic divides between men and women: Why men don't ask directions! And the answer is: more often than not, the person questioned doesn't know, or gives the wrong directions!

Booth left us far too soon, dying of colon cancer, in his 40's. In his legacy he has also left us Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan (Kodansha globe series) which I intend to read. I envy his journey, and loved the way that he told the story. With his inspiration, perhaps I can emulate 7-day segments, with a few being in the national parks. 5-stars, plus.
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Location: Albuquerque, NM, USA

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