Top positive review
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late Victorian perspective on Japan
on 27 September 2009
This book would be enjoyed by anyone interested in Japan,in travel literature, or in anthropology. Isabella Bird, an intrepid late Victorian, travelled alone, apart from her translator/guide, into parts of Japan rarely, if ever, visited by a foreigner let alone a woman, at a time when the country was beginning to 'modernise'.
The book is composed of chapters formed from her long letters home. While the descriptions of the discomforts -endless rain, soaked clothes, dirt, insect-ridden inns and uncongenial food might pall (even if understandable), her evocations of the countryside are lyrical and deeply felt and her analyses of the characteristics and habits both of the Japanese and the Aino tribal people of the far north shrewd and entertaining. If you have visited modern Japan, it is fascinating to see both how much has changed (Japan is the most comfortable and hygenic country you could hope to visit!) and how much remained the same - the courtesy, the industriousness, the discipline. Of course,Isabella Bird writes from a Victorian perspective, and, not being affected by modern political correctness, is not afraid to use terms like 'savages' or comment on the 'ugliness' of most Japanese men. But there is no sense that European society is in all respects superior - several times, she comments on how we might learn from the Japanese.
The literary style of the book is a delight - easy to read, with a lucid use of language. IT SHOULD NOT BE MODERNISED!!! Perfect bedside reading - you can skip the longeurs. I shall read her other books.