EPS Review #33 - Looking for the Lost

By Alan Booth 1996

Sorry for yet another book about wandering around Japan! This is by the same author as The Roads to Sata : A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan, which I read a long time ago and liked. "Looking for the Lost" is about three other walks the author made. The first walk is in Tsugaru, the north of Honshu, and is based on a book by Osamu Dazai, called Return to Tsugaru: Travels of a Purple Tramp, which I thought was pretty overwrought. Don't worry, though, Booth has critical opinions to spare, as do the locals (one inn owner asks him "Are you a Dazai fan?", "No, not really.", "Thank god for that, anyway!" ). There is a funny bit with a solicitous friend who turns out to be a big gangster.

The next walk is at the opposite end of Honshu, and concerns another loser-hero, Saigo Takamori, who took part in the Meiji restoration, but then led another unsuccessful rebellion. Booth tries to walk the path of Saigo's retreat, but parts of it are completely overgrown (had Booth been a naturalist as well, this part would have been even more interesting). It is fun when he encounters obsessive Saigo scholars, and the remote town of Hinokage seems worth a visit. The last section is about the Heike, losers of the wars of the Gempei (see review #11), who might have fled up the Nagara river near Nagano. Gujo Hachiman sounds like a good town to visit. We also learn that, very rare for Japan with its relentless subsidisation of concrete, the locals managed to oppose a damn on the Nagara river.

The whole book is overcast with melancholy and loneliness, notwithstanding his wife and child at home. At the end you find out that Booth was dying of stomach cancer. This book was published posthumously.