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The Roads to Sata by Alan Booth

The Roads to Sata (1985)

by Alan Booth

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313853,741 (4.17)30
  1. 00
    Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan by Will Ferguson (Jannes)
    Jannes: Walking or Hitchhiking? Westerners traversing Japan through somewhat unconventional means. Both are great reads for anyone interested in Japan or travelogues in general.

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The Roads to Sata describes a journey Booth made in the summer and autumn of 1977, walking from Cape Soya in the north of Hokkaido to Cape Sata at the southern extreme of the Japanese archipelago, a distance of some 3000 km, which he covered in the space of about four months. Which probably makes this one of the longest pub-crawls in history - the quantity of alcohol consumed in the course of the journey is quite impressive, even by 1970s standards. You often have to wonder how he managed to get up in the morning and carry on walking...

Boozing apart, this is an interesting and very entertaining account of the bits of Japan you normally don't hear very much about.
Booth is a contemporary of people like Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux, and he shares something of their habit of commenting acerbically on the things he doesn't like. But he is far from being an ignorant gaijin who has parachuted in from elsewhere to make fun of the locals - after seven years in the country he understands Japanese history and culture and knows what he's looking at, and he's more than capable of holding an intelligent conversation with the people he meets - even if he is liable to start singing Japanese folksongs at them at the smallest provocation. His irritation at the thoughtless xenophobia he keeps encountering (the people who assume he can't understand Japanese even when they are talking to him in that language; the schoolboys who treat him as a circus freak; the inns that are mysteriously fully-booked when he appears) is always tempered by his assurances that not all Japanese are like that, and that even the ones who are like that can often be won over after a couple of beers...

This probably isn't a very useful guidebook in practical terms, but it does help you get Japanese geography straight in your mind. Obviously, it's all describing how things were forty years ago, much will have changed in the meantime, but some things (like the climate and the stark contrast between rural and city life) probably haven't. Booth's type of walking, mostly over motor roads and covering distances of around 30km a day, isn't something you would necessarily want to reproduce either. On the whole, when you find yourself trudging along over mile after mile of asphalt with cars roaring past you, you start asking yourself why you aren't at least on a bicycle... ( )
  thorold | Apr 29, 2018 |
Author Alan Booth describes his experience walking the length of Japan from the Cape Soya in Hokkaido to Cape Sata in Kyushu. Booth treks through back roads along the Sea of Japan, stopping in ryokans (country inns) to sleep; eating and drinking with the locals (Booth speaks fluent Japanese having lived in Tokyo for many years); experiencing local festivals; swimming in the sea; and bathing in the springs. Written with humor, Booth provides a picture of the landscape, a little history and a glimpse into the lesser known parts and people of Japan. The walk covered around 2,000 miles and took four months. ( )
  KatherineGregg | Aug 27, 2017 |
A wonderfully crafted tale of Booth's journey through a fascinating and culturally unique country. Whimsical and strange adventures lie behind each page. ( )
  MerkabaZA | Jun 12, 2017 |
This book is going straight to the top of my list of favorite travel narratives. What a story! What amazing people he met! And what a writer Booth is!

In the early eighties, Booth decides to travel from the tip of Japan in the north to the tip of Japan in the south. On foot. Along the way, he meets perplexing Japanese person after perplexing Japanese person. Here’s a sample:

‘I recognized the turnoff to the lodging house...by a brightly lit electric sign glowing an effusive welcome...The doors of the lodging house were curtained and locked and it took five minutes of rattling them to rouse the white-shirted custodian, who bustled out finally to tell me that they were closed.
“But you’ve got a sign all lit up down on the highway.”
“Yes. We always keep it lit.”
“What for, for goodness’ sake?”
“To make people feel welcome.”
“But you’re closed.”
“That’s right.”

If you like travel narratives, you will love this one. Side note: I wish you luck trying to find a copy. I’ve had this on my wish list for at least five years and I only found a copy this summer. ( )
  debnance | Sep 25, 2014 |

Alan Booth's two books (the other is Looking for the Lost, which I have not read yet but is on my shelf awaiting) are largely heralded as the two best travel books about Japan. I had heard this a few times, and then after Will Ferguson went on and on about him, I figured I had to find his books. One Chapters order later, they arrived.

I took my time reading this book, mainly because it was so delicious. Booth moved to Japan in 1970, and in 1977, he set out from the northern tip of Hokkaido and walked all the way across Japan, all the way south to the southernmost tip of 'mainland' Japan, Cape Sata on the south shore of Kyushu Island. It was over 2,000 miles (as the title suggests). He tells poignant and often funny stories of the people he meets, of people who follow him slowly in their cars in the rain because they can't understand why he refused their offer of a lift, of people he chats with about life, death, and WWII in little pubs in small towns. It is a touching portrait of Japan.

It was also interesting to compare Booth's Japan to Ferguson's, since Booth took his cross-Japan trek in the late 1970s while Ferguson was there, post-crash, in the mid-90s.

A wonderful, well-written book that I'd recommend to anyone with an interest either in Japan itself, or just in armchair travel in general. ( )
2 vote pixxiefish | Mar 17, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Although Alan Booth was a city person - having been born and brought up in London and spending most of his working life in Tokyo - one of his main strengths as a writer was his ability to capture the anecdotes and atmosphere of present-day rural Japan, a world of farmers and fishermen, shopkeepers and school children, festivals and funerals. Booth's skill was to be able to walk into a small inn or restaurant in a remote corner of Japan where at first he would be greeted with considerable suspicion, but would end up entertaining the assembled company with folk-songs that even the Japanese did not know and listening to the life-story of the innkeeper's wife. This was a world far removed from the slick city life and corporate comforts of urban Japan. With sharp wit he criticised Japan's manic modernity and his sympathies always lay with people whose houses were pulled down to make way for new motorways.
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