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Customer Review

on 30 March 2001
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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