In the early 1990s I started to read a column by a man named Alan Booth in an English language newspaper. He'd clearly arrived in Japan decades before I set foot here and had done something quite extraordinary. He'd walked the length of Japan from Cape Soya in the very north of Hokkaido to Cape Sata in the south of Kyushuu. Although he never reveals the timing, from hints in the book you realise it was sometime in the early 1970's, the days before foreigners were seen much outside the main cities.
From the, start when the local cafe owner explains that his wife is a donkey, to the closing pages where he looks forward to returning to his family, he took me through a side of Japan that to some extent no longer exists today. Foreigners were so rare that he actually caused a road accident at one point when a car drove past shouting "gaijin, gaijin, gaijin" and then promptly hits the crash barrier. Probably should have been watching.
The support he receives on the way brings a humanity to the countryside and the walk through the Peace Park in Hiroshima a moment of deep reflection though also one of over the shoulder tension. Alan Booth passed away in the mid-1990s but his book "The Roads to Sata" is a wonderful insight into rural Japan. His last article was entitled "That's All Folks!" and he left to explain to his young daughter why she wasn't going to have a father any more. But his story of the revenge of the fish will make you cry with laughter.
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