I was really impressed with Alan Booth's Roads to Sata and was relishing the chance to read his follow up, Looking For The Lost (1995). And again I was impressed, the first section, "Tsugaru" is Booth's retracing the path of Aomori author Osamu Dazai, who was famous for his writing and booze fueled life and many suicides attempts-one of which, was successful. The name of Dazai's book that Booth uses as his guide of the region was Return to Tsugaru: Travels of a Purple Tramp, which gave Both points of reference even though that trip was undertaken 50 years earlier. In the book Booth tells a waitress at the inn that was once Dazai's home that he wasn't particularly a fan-and I can believe it. (I'm not such a huge fan of a selfish miserable man either) I think it was merely a good excuse for him to explore this remote northern-most region of Honshu-an area that he professed his love for earlier and mentioning that when he first arrived in Japan he lived just south of Amori in Akita prefecture. I know very little of the region save its regional products, the Namahage devil festival / costumes, and the famous colorful float festival known as the Nebuta festival. But his observations of the people and region are intriguing. He was particularly impressed with Hirosaki, which he called one of his favorite places in Japan.
In the second section, "Saigo's Last March," Booth follows in the footsteps of Saigo Takamori's famous retreat from Mount Enodake in the northern part of Miyazaki prefecture through mountains down to his home town of Kagoshima. I suppose I would liked to read more about Takamori and his impact on modern Japan sometime. However, in this sparsely populated area Booth has many false starts and he is not able to keep up with Takamori's timetable for the march. Along the way locals tell him the history of Takamori's doings in their villages during his long march home. As usual, beer is drank, chats are had, and this trip seems more miserable than others because of the constant rain he encounters on his walk. Again wry observations about the people and Booth's impressions are made as well. Of those two prefectures I have only been to the main cities of Miyazaki and Kagoshima, so the descriptions of the rugged land is somewhat of a revelation-however, the impression was made on trips from the airports into the main cities on those trips.
In the final section, "Looking for the Lost," Booth attempts to follow and explore the retreat of the Heike (also known as the Taira) clan that was said to have been chased out of Kyoto into the north most likely along the Nagara River. Like the previous two entries there are witty exchanges with locals, more wry observations, and more historical recounting. However, this section also tells the reader more about the author and his obsessions that brought him to Japan in the first place, and why he abandoned them. This is triggered by the staid historical museums and preserved houses for tourism that are scattered about the region:
"I was reminded,strolling around the breezy paths, of why I had come to Japan in the first place-not in search of the coyly picturesque but of something I had thought might be living and was dead."
"So culturally edifying is the Noh that great pains have been made to pickle it. like much else in Japan that is deemed worthy of awe, the Noh has been stripped of any connection with life as it is actually lived and frozen into a fossil."
But rather than retreat, he finds other interests that keep him in Japan writing about the land, the people, the culture, and the customs as he experienced them firsthand on his travels. The books ends with a powerful prophecy of the author's future. It is a fitting companion to his earlier masterpiece The Roads to Sata. Booth has earned a rightful place among the ranks of the best visitors who wrote so insightfully about Japan like Donald Richie and Ian Buruma.