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The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  745 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
Traveling only along small back roads, Alan Booth traversed Japan's entire length on foot, from Soya at the country's northernmost tip, to Cape Sata in the extreme south, across three islands and some 2,000 miles of rural Japan. The Roads to Sata is his wry, witty, inimitable account of that prodigious trek.
Although he was a c
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 14th 1997 by Kodansha (first published 1985)
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Maru Kun
When I first visited Japan twenty five years ago children would point at me and shout “Gaijin da! Gaijin da!” – “Look, a foreigner! A foreigner!”. If I walked round a Kyoto temple whole classes of middle school students would crowd around to have their picture taken and practice their English. I was just like a film star. Of course, I didn’t let it go to my head. Not in the slightest.

Well, 2015 is the first year Japan has seen a tourist surplus since the fifties; more people spent money visiting
May 27, 2007 Jamie rated it it was amazing
Man, it is hard to say just how much I like this book. Alan Booth, seven years into his life in Japan decides to walk the length of the archipelago. In the process he seems to empty himself out completely, opening himself up to the sights and smells (and beer) of rural Japan. There is not a shred of interpretation or theorizing about "What is Japan?" in the whole book, which just leaves you with a long series of vignettes and many, many bottles of beer. The book is funny without jokes, sad witho ...more
Nov 19, 2013 Brian rated it it was amazing
One of my least favorite parts of popular writing about Japan is how the same tired tropes keep coming up over and over again. It's either how Japan is a paradise of harmony with nature and ancient traditions in the modern age, with plenty of references to wabi sabi and mono no aware and geisha and kami and sakura, or how Japan is crazy and weird, with references to dakimakura and soushoku danshi and Kanamara Matsuri and hostess bars and low birthrates. It is to The Roads to Sata's eternal credi ...more
Ms. Smartarse
Jan 04, 2015 Ms. Smartarse rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Ms. Smartarse by: Katy
In the 1970s, Alan Booth has decided to go on an adventure. Though it may not have seemed as magical as Bilbo's, people's reaction to it was just as exasperating. It's not every day, that you encounter someone traversing your country on foot; from Japan's northernmost (Cape Soya) to its southernmost point (Cape Sata).

Japan map

I wasn't sure what to expect, which is why I have shelved it under "travel guide". The Roads to Sata is much closer to a memoir, however... which is good and not so good. The upside
Jun 28, 2015 Myridian rated it it was ok
Booth quickly became a tiresome traveling companion. He seemed annoyed through much of the trip and I started to feel like the main point of this book was to complain. About how he was a spectacle to children, businessmen, and Japanese people in general. (Let's ignore the fact that he was the one who chose to take a walking tour from one end of Japan to the other, thereby making himself stand out even more.) About the weather. About the traffic. About the trash on the side of the road. I also co ...more
Dec 29, 2014 jen rated it really liked it
Shelves: walking, japan, 2015
I was just thinking about this book again recently, and looking back I see I never wrote a review. There was so much that I loved about this account of a walk from one tip of Japan to the other. The author set out walking and reported what he saw, the good and the bad. Mostly he was walking through rural areas that you never hear about in other accounts of Japan or in travel guides. There was no spiritual journey or journey of self-discovery where the reader has to slog through painful accounts ...more
Gail Pool
Mar 13, 2016 Gail Pool rated it really liked it
To travel on foot is a lure for many people, whether they are pilgrims following in the footsteps of those who preceded them, or adventurers setting out on their own paths. As Patrick Leigh Fermor observed in his classic, A Time of Gifts, “on foot, unlike other forms of travel, it is impossible to be out of touch.”

Alan Booth clearly felt the attraction of this kind of journey. An Englishman who had lived in Japan for 7 years, was married to a Japanese woman, and spoke fluent Japanese, he set out
Robin Massey
Jun 23, 2013 Robin Massey rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel

Style: evocative, dryly witty, immersed in Japanese life 'on the road
Countries/Cities under the Spotlight: Japan

Recommend? Yes, for the dedicated trekking fan and for Japan aficionados

Map: Yes Photos: No

I marvelled at Alan’s ability to record so much ‘colour’ and detail day after day in the pre-digital, pre-Gortex age and under often trying conditions. His wry humour and insights into Japanese life also lured me to rea
Patrick McCoy
There have been many books written about Japan by foreigners and I think I managed to come across most of the best writers early on during my stay in Japan, Donald Richie and Ian Buruma immediately come to mind. For some reason I put off reading Alan Booth's seminal The Roads To Sata (1985). I think I heard some negative comments about it, but a good friend whose taste I respect said it was his favorite book on Japan, which makes sense because he is a long distance walker and lover of traditiona ...more
Dec 16, 2010 Jim rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, asia, travel
Can we find a little joy in Japan? Ferguson did. Granted, Booth was writing in the 1980s, not far removed in the grand scheme of things, from defeat at the hand of evil empire (oh, wait, that's the Middle Eastern view) and cultural upheaval, and granted also that a journalist must call them like they see them, but really, you almost get the feeling that the hiking trip from top to bottom of the islands was foisted on him by his publishers and he wasn't having it. It is basically a litany of bewi ...more
Aug 03, 2007 Kay rated it really liked it
An introspective travelogue, focused more on the inner than outer journey -- my favorite kind of travelogue, in fact.

Booth walked from the northernmost to the southernmost points in Japan, a trek of some 2,000 miles. Although he spoke fluent Japanese, he found that the perceptions (especially in rural areas) of his "foreignness" created almost an invisible barrier. Still, there were times when he transcended cultural perceptions and had amazing encounters.

Rather episodic by nature, Booth's obs
Oct 01, 2014 Ashley rated it really liked it
Alan Booth is a gifted writer. I was drawn ever onward through his adventures, despite a total lack of the thrill or complicated plot that drives so many stories these days. I loved the dialogue that he portrayed, and I loved that he let us draw our own conclusions about why the conversations were included and what they meant. My heart ached for him and his struggle with being "foreign". I could relate to almost every stereotype and bias that he was saddled with on his walk. I was actually astou ...more
May 15, 2010 John rated it it was amazing
Alan Booth’s sadly premature death from cancer in his 40s remains a tragedy, for one of the best travel writers of the English language will neither write nor travel again.

A must-read for anyone interested in Japan, and a must-read for one devoted to superlative writing, for Booth transcends the mundane and ordinary while simultaneously revelling in both, and embodies with ease the Japanese aesthetic of “mono-no-aware”: delight in the beauty and pathos of ephemeral things.

It is no exaggeration
May 10, 2008 Susan rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I was puzzled by several things. He always walked on the road; he never seemed to have snacks or food with him; and he talked often about drinking beer and sake, but never water. I think things have changed a lot with the walking/hiking crowd since the 80's, but still....

It was surprising the difficulty he had as a non-Asian walking in parts of Japan. Some of the most fascinating observations concerned the difficulty many Japanese had in accepting that a white man wh
Apr 23, 2015 Josie rated it it was ok
I read this book in the hopes of becoming enthusiastic about an unwilling move to Japan. I was hoping to learn about the culture and some out of the way sights. Unfortunately, this book was about a man walking along roads, with no particular interest in sights. Entirely readable and thoroughly depressing. I learned: that the Japanese litter, there are an awful lot of snakes in Japan. Also an awful lot of racism. If you don't like fish, you'll probably be eating random and weird things. This auth ...more
Feb 04, 2008 Ginny marked it as non-starters
Halfway through, it really just became to repetitive.
128 days, 3,300 kilometers (2,050 miles), most likely in 1985. This account of walking the length of the Japanese nation is a very normalized account of what sounds as demanding as a 2,000-mile walk might be - along coastlines, across mountains, alongside active volcanoes, through towns, cities and rural areas, staying mostly in inns, and meeting a wide variety of people. I was nagged by wanting to have articulated what prompted the trek, and thankfully, Booth concludes the book by stating that. ...more
Feb 18, 2017 Katy rated it it was amazing
I can'ttttt anymore, I'm gonna die of boredom. I was so looking forward to reading this book, but it is SO BLAH! I was expecting more of a travelogue style of writing, not a completely stand-offish overview. The author didn't really get into experiencing these cultures, it seemed. He gave a sentence here and there exchanged with a local at a restaurant or bar, but that was about the extent of it. I just couldn't trudge through the rest. I thought about maybe adding this back to my to-read for l ...more
Gary Bourke
Jan 29, 2017 Gary Bourke rated it it was ok
Alan's notes on his epic challenge to walk the length of Japan, from Cape Soya in Hokkaido tho Cape Sata in Kyushu. Tales of drinking beer, being chased by dogs and shouted at by school children.

From the anthropoligical persective, it documents Japanese people's narcissitic, inward-looking side. The bag of stereotypes they choose to carry around concerning themselves, non-Japanese and the outside world. And at the same time, he makes the point that there is no such thing as Japanese, or Japanes
This is the account of an Englishman’s somewhat unromantic walk from the most northerly tip of Japan to its southernmost extremity, a 2000 mile journey along the Western coastline, punctuated by a myriad of incidents, encounters and anecdotes. Seven years of life in Tokyo had equipped Alan Booth with fluent Japanese, an ability to eat raw fish and a confident mastery of the sandals worn in Japanese toilets, but at no point in his journey was he ever other than a “gaijin” - a foreigner - to the p ...more
May 14, 2012 Andrew rated it liked it
Shelves: japan, memoir, travel
An unflinchingly honest chronicle of Alan Booth's four month walk down the entire length of Japan. Booth had the advantage of being a fluent Japanese speaker, but throughout his journey he was almost always an outsider. As someone with an interest in Japanese culture, that is the aspect of the book I found most interesting. Booth made his journey in 1986, so in fairness, things may have changed some since the advent of the Internet and global media.

A reoccurring theme throughout his journey was
Mar 24, 2012 Dale rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, travel, japan
It turns out that when you walk 2000 miles through heat, rain, cold, wind (and some nice days); and when you speak fluent Japanese but are constantly confronted by people who talk to you as if you had no understanding; and when you are choked by truck fumes and forced off into the ditch by aggressive truck drivers: when all this happens you might occasionally get a little grumpy. Fortunately you have ample opportunities to down a beer or two, or 30 shots of sake, or the occasional painful blast ...more
Tim Hulsizer
Aug 20, 2009 Tim Hulsizer rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Travel fans & Japanophiles
Alan Booth died in 1993 from colon cancer, but not before writing a couple of top-notch travel books about Japan, the country where he lived for many years with his wife and daughter. In this book, Booth tells the story of his mid-1980s walk from Soya, the northernmost tip of Hokkaido to the southern tip of Japan, Cape Sata. Booth finds more than just blisters and beer on his epic journey. As he passes from town to town, he focuses on the little things about each place: individuals, town festiva ...more
May 24, 2009 Diane rated it liked it
Booth spoke Japanese fluently and had lived in Japan for 7 years when he went on his 2000 mile walk from the northern tip of Hokkaido to the southern tip of Kyushu. This is the kind of trip I always think I would like to do and it also reminded me of our wonderful cross country hitchhiking trip in 1978. Booth does his trip with little reflection but by simply recording what he sees, how he is treated, the weather, the landscape. Somehow you learn a lot from his method. He eschewed the biggest ci ...more
Dec 24, 2012 S. rated it it was amazing
Alan Booth's travel classic narrates 2000 miles walking through Japan, wherein Booth turned down repeated offers of rides and eschewed buses, trains, bicycles, or any other alternate form of transportation. A "smart, subtle" writer, and somewhat wistful to boot, Booth was a clear Japanophile, but he avoided stupid glorification of superficial details to characterize inner truth and genuine sentiment. One is bombarded, traveling around Japan, with the resident foreign expert in every bar or water ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Sep 25, 2014 Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, japan
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 a brightly lit electric sign glowing an effusive welcome...The doors of
Melanie Ting
Mar 08, 2014 Melanie Ting rated it really liked it
Shelves: humour, travel
Frankly, the Japanese government should be paying to repress this book. Booth, with his fluent Japanese and skillful observation, tears away the image of a polite, helpful race and reveals the deep prejudices underneath. The author reveals ignorance, lies, cruelty to people & animals, stupidity—all underpinned with a fear and loathing for foreigners. Anyone who has spent extended time in Japan knows the feeling of being an outsider, but hopefully not to this extent.

Occasionally, Booth does e
Feb 09, 2016 Jcb rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 02, 2011 Kirsten rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
What a rare gem: a travel book I actually enjoyed! Thanks to my friend Lucy for the recommendation.

Booth has a rare perspective for a travel writer. Before writing this book he had lived in Japan for 7 years, so he knew the language and was at least acquainted with the infamously impenetrable culture of the country, so he has both an outsider's perspective on and a pretty intimate relationship with it. This strikes a balance that most travel writers I've read don't even approach.

His prose style
Apr 01, 2008 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Reuben Quinones
I love travel memoirs, but this is one of the absolute best I have read. In it, Alan Booth spends several months walking the length of (rural) Japan in the mid-80s, and this is his account of what he saw and who he met along the way. He's not overly romantic about Japan, nor is he overly critical--he just writes what he sees and feels so that I felt as if I had walked with him (minus the blisters). The passage in which he plays the taiko drum at a local festival was my favorite bit--I could feel ...more
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Alan Booth was born in London in 1946 and traveled to Japan in 1970 to study Noh theater. He stayed, working as a writer and film critic, until his death from cancer in 1993.
More about Alan Booth...

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