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The Roads to Sata: A 2000-mile Walk Through Japan (Origami Classroom) Paperback – 1 Jun 1997

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha America; Reprint edition (1 Jun. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568361874
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568361871
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 2.5 x 14.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 144,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


Fluent in the language, well-informed and disabused, [Booth] is in the fine tradition of hard-to-please travellers like Norman Douglas, Evelyn Waugh, and V.S. Naipaul. A sharp eye and a good memory for detail...give an astonishing immediacy to his account. --Times Literary Supplement<br /><br />An illuminating book. --The Economist

An illuminating book. --The Economist

About the Author

ALAN BOOTH was born in London in 1946 and travelled to Japan in 1970 to study Noh theatre. He stayed, working as a writer and film critic, until his untimely death in 1993. His highly praised Looking for the Lost is also available from Kodansha Globe.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The late Alan Booth was one of a relatively small number of foreigners to adopt Japan as his home. He was a fluent speaker of the language and well versed in many aspects of Japanese culture and history. As such he was well qualified to write a book about Japan and he avoids the cliches of oriental inscrutability so common to critiques of Japanese culture. The structure is suggested by the title - with the exception of a few trips by boat Booth walks from the northernmost point of Japan on Hokkaido to the southernmost point of the island of Kyushu. The route he takes is mainly a rural one - Booth consciously avoids the urban sprawl of Tokyo. Booth is clearly fascinated by the minutiae of life in small-town Japan, and his ability to speak fluent dialect, sing traditional enka karaoke music and imbibe copious amounts of beer and sake is the passport to many entertaining encounters along the way. Booth is easily the literary equal of Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux. In common with Bryson he manages to turn the telling of minor details and anecdotes into a fascinating narrative whole. The reader really gets an insight into Booth's experiences as a foreigner in Japan. His affection for Japan and the Japanese is mixed with frustration that he is so often treated as an outsider despite having lived in Japan for most of his adult life. This can take the benevolent form of people who fuss and take pains to treat him as an honoured guest. Sometimes it is manifested in less pleasant forms as he is refused lodgings or otherwise discriminated against. For anyone who has visited Japan, and especially for those who have lived there for any length of time, Booth's book will probably articulate so many of the things that make Japan so special (and sometimes infuriating). For those that have not, The Roads to Sata is a great piece of travel writing in its own right and will have you itching to go and see Japan for yourself.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read `The Roads to Sata' shortly after reading Will Ferguson's `Hokkaido Highway Blues'. The comparisons are obvious - Ferguson hitching south-north and Booth walking north-south - giving their insightful and humorous commentary along the way. Booth's physical achievement was clearly the greater. As for literary achievement, I enjoyed them both in their own ways.

In contrast to Ferguson's more up-front opinionated style and laugh-out-loud humour, Booth's style is more subtle, the insights more nuanced, the humour drier (some might say slyer). You'll find no sweeping generalisations in Booth's account, little overt criticism or praise of Japan, and little analysis or moralising. Rather, he prefers to let the narrative do the talking - the sights and sounds, the small daily incidents, the people he meets along the way. A good example is the perceived xenophobia of Japanese society. Booth's epic walk is peppered with incidents which show that Japan can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience for a foreigner (e.g. the name calling by kids in the street, the ryokans which become mysteriously `full' when he tries to get a room), yet it also has many examples where the locals showed him great kindness and concern for his well-being (e.g. lifts offered, which he had to decline) Is Japan xenophobic then? Well, yes and no. You decide. Like any other national stereotype, it's not black-and-white. (I suspect though that if he had made the same journey today, 30 years on, his references to the despoilation of the landscape would have been far more critical.)

Booth ends his walk little clearer on what he really thinks of Japan and the Japanese than when he set out. After three visits there, I'm in a similar position, though I can't wait for my fourth.
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Format: Hardcover
Alan Booth's talent - greatly missed with his all too early passing - was not just to write in a clear and entertaining style, but also to avoid generalising or romanticising his Japanese experience. He spent enough time living in the country and spoke Japanese well enough to have a very good level of insight, but also to appreciate that there were some aspects of life that he might never understand. The Roads to Sata is an absolute 'must read' for anyone with an interest in Japan and is one of the best pieces of travel writing that I have ever read. It will leave you wishing that his career was much longer and more productive.
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Format: Paperback
Writing about Japan seems to be like walking a thin tight rope. Read Amazon reviews of other Japan books and you'll find that many authors get criticised - either for being too negative towards Japan - or the complete opposite; viewing the country in a blissful state of wonder.

Booth's account of his journey walking from the north of Hokkaido to the south of Kyushu is a little different. He passes through the country, closely observing its smallest details and quirks, largely of rural life, reporting what he sees, smells, hears and feels on his journey, but rarely does Booth judge the Japanese.

His account is very well written; funny in some parts, graceful and poetic in others. Anyone who has spent extended time in Japan will knowingly nod and chuckle, recognising many of the traits, situations and irritations that he alludes to.

My one small criticism of the book is also what seems to have endeared it to so many reviewers; Booth's aptitude to objectively report, rather than asses, the things he experiences means that those with less knowledge of the country may be left a little in the dark at times.

There are certainly parts when a little more explanation would have been helpful. Especially as Booth (RIP) was so well qualified to do so - being fluent in the language and having lived in Japan for 7 years at the time of writing.

However, it seems that his unwillingness to judge his hosts too heavily is why this book has been so well received, and continues to be, even though it was first published back in 1985.

I wonder how much of the rural charm that Booth captured so well, has now faded into history, twenty five years on since he made his journey?
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