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

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,114 ratings  ·  137 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 city person--he was brought up in London and spe
Paperback, 302 pages
Published August 14th 1997 by Kodansha Globe (first published 1985)
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Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
'The Roads to Sata' is a minor travel classic and is the tale of Alan Booth's walk from Cape Sota, in Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan, to Cape Sata in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four major islands--a distance stretching over 3200 kilometers. Booth made this four-month trek in 1977.

Roads to Sata is revered by many Asian travel writers, and for good reason. It is held in high-esteem because Booth was a superb writer and astute observer, as well as an erudite man who wore his va
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
Alan booth is British, and prior to his walk (in 1977), he had spent 7 years living in Tokyo, with his Japanese wife. Having what appeared to be a very fluent use of Japanese, he decided to walk from the northern most point to the southern most point of Japan, to interact with the local people, and try to get a more thorough understanding of Japan.

For 128 days, over 3300 kilometres, the author walked (the backroads where possible) and interacted with the village people. He stayed mostly in ryoka
Ms. Smartarse
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Ms. Smartarse by: Katy
Back in the 1970s, Alan Booth decided to go on an adventure. Though it may not have seemed as magical as Bilbo Baggins' quest, people's reaction to it was just as exasperating. After all, it's not every day, that you encounter someone traversing your country on foot: from its northernmost point (Cape Soya) all the way to its southern counterpart (Cape Sata).

Japan map

I wasn't sure what to expect, which is why I have shelved this book under "travel guide". The Roads to Sata is much closer to a memoir howev
Debbie Zapata
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020printbooks
First of all, thanks to GR friend Kiekiat for his review of this book, which inspired me to find and read it myself.

I love books about walking since I enjoy long-distance walking myself. Walking is the original human rate of speed: we can't see our surroundings anywhere near as well when we are zipping along in a car or a train. The only way to truly discover any place is on foot. Although I must admit, walking from one end of a country to the other is not something the average person would want
Patrick Sherriff
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
Alan Booth's Roads to Sata has been an ever present through my life in Japan. Published in 1985, 12 years before I first set foot in Japan, the book was always there, waiting for me to be ready to read it. I ignored recommendations by ex-colleagues at the Daily Yomiuri and more recently couldn't find the time to read it even after a friend working at the Japan Times thrust a copy into my hands with the command: "you gotta read this".

But I didn't. The prospect of reading another gaijin-does-Japan
May 27, 2007 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 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
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Japan
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: Patrick Sherriff's review
Author Alan Booth had been living in Japan for seven years and spoke fluent Japanese by the time he embarked on the unique project of walking from Cape Soya, the northernmost point of Hokkaido, to Cape Sata, the southernmost point of Kyushu. The time is the late '70's. He started out in June. By the end of his journey it was November. He chose a route along the western coast crossed by dusty paths, the occasional highway, and hilly terrain dotted with rural villages so secluded that residents of ...more
Jun 28, 2015 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
Oct 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life
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
Aug 03, 2007 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
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
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
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
I have finalllllly finished this book. I think I started it in early 2016, and I finished in summer 2017; that is not to say it's a bad book. I usually put those down. But it is slightly repetitive ("I walked into this small town, a Japanese person made a xenophobic comment, then something lovely happened.")

Overall, I highly recommend this book to a very *specific* audience, or, rather, two specific audiences: people who like tales about people walking far distances, and people who are interest
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, walking, japan
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
Aug 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: folks interested in Japan
Insightful, but his bitterness overshadows the story.
Gail Pool
Mar 13, 2016 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
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
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: asia, nonfiction, 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
Oct 01, 2014 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 10, 2008 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 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
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic. This has to be my favorite read of the year.

I loved Alan's observations and insights. In a way it feels like a book for someone who loves to people-watch. If you're a solitary tourist that loves to wander and soak up the culture and spirit of a new place, this book will resonate with you. Alan is completely honest and frank about his observations, he doesn't idealize the Japanese but he appreciates the finer aspects of their culture. He meets warm and cold people, and h
Feb 10, 2021 rated it liked it
This book is marred by an abundance of dull day to day commentary. You could write a TLDR like this: "I walked down an filthy road. Some children laughed at my back, until I growled at them to go away. I stopped at a shop for beer. I asked about a ryokan and the wife informed me it was full, whilst muttering about 'gaijin' under her breath." This, and the occasional gross commentary about young women, or what brought the book to three stars for me.

The book shines when the author is actually enga
Tom Nicholls
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Having lived in Japan in my early 20s for a few years and being a frequent visitor in the 10 years since, I'm always on the look out for good travel books about Japan, this is definitely one of them.
This was written in the 1970s.
Alan Booth had been living in Japan for a few years and decided to walk the entire length of Japan.
He is a great writer and you feel like you're taking the walk with him.
After the Isabel Bird book, this is probably my favourite travel in Japan book.
Tim Hulsizer
Aug 20, 2009 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
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
In 1977 the author, a native of England, walked from the northernmost part of Japan all the way to the southernmost tip. His reason? He had lived in Tokyo for nearly a quarter of his life and he wanted to see the rest of the country. It took him 128 days to walk the 2,000-mile journey. I am always intrigued by stories of people who decide to take on a lengthy walk.

I felt bad for this guy. First of all, he was constantly being mistaken as American and secondly, despite the fact that he spoke flu
Dec 24, 2012 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
Jason Fetters
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent look at Japan and the Japanese that is off the beaten path and could only be written by a witty Englishman. Alan Booth wrote for several newspapers and decided to hike through Japan. He chose to stay at ryokan and never once accepted a ride. Booth began at the Northernmost tip in Hokkaido and ended his journey at the Southernmost tip in Kyushu. Along the way he met some generous and kind people and also suspicious and mean people. Combined, these various individuals showed Booth a J ...more
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Japan on Foot 1 12 Mar 23, 2012 03:08PM  

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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.

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“The sky too is deep,
the water immeasurably deep.
Of heaven and earth we know nothing
[unnamed poet]”
“The entire area - some 300 square kilometers - is sacred. There are shrines and temples dotted about the slopes, but they merely confirm the sanctity of the land. It is not in the shrines and temples that the gods live, but in the mountains themselves.
[about the Three Holy Mountains of Dewa - Haguro, Gassam, and Yodono]”
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