on May 30, 2000
I received this book from a friend shortly before returning to Japan to begin my life there again. Having read it in various stages of travel and arrival (I happened to be reading his funny, spot-on description of modern Nagoya when my plane touched down there) I was struck with how Booth can hollow out an empathetic place in the reader's soul for Japan and then fill it with keen, often wistful observations that invariably bypass the throwaway, surface image and instead imbue everything with 'mono no oware', or "the sadness of things." In a literary as well as literal sense, this author always takes the unexpected path, and the result is a deeply felt chronicle of wonder and longing.
I would especially recommend this book to those who have lived in Japan, as many of the observations and descriptions Booth records will most likely complete a half-formed thought or two that has been eluding your ability to state it precisely.
In short, this is a marvelous book, made all the more poignant by the idea that the wistful voices of the past and the echoing footfalls of the various journeys he recalls here are now all that remains of the author.
on August 24, 2000
I have never lived in Japan, but have visited, and found a certain "something" wonderful about that country and its people that I could never find adequate words to describe. Alan Booth communicates both the mystique and the down-to-earth attitude Westerner finds in Japan--I think it's that "something" that I've searched my own intellect, but failed, to describe. Reading Alan Booth's "Looking for the Lost" has helped me to connect with those subtle attractions that I found in Japan, and that kept me returning.
Since most reader-reviewers recommend this book to those who have lived in Japan, I'll add my voice and recommend it to those who have spent limited time there, or who are planning to travel in the outer-reaches of this gorgeous country.
on November 24, 2002
Will some publisher PLEASE print a collection of Alan Booth's outstanding newspaper articles? These would be a wonderful complement to Looking for the Lost and Roads to Sata.
Looking for the Lost is an oddity. A book that I remember few details of, yet I remember with great vividness that I was moved by a intangible sadness that was always just over the next horizon of his journeys. Alan Booth was a writer of invincible good humor. Too much so to speak of his own impending death (though his newspaper writings about his trials with the Japanese medical system are classic). But the alert reader is constantly aware of an impending passing of life, seemingly inseparable from the passing of beauty in this country.
I was in Japan during the final years of Alan Booth's life here, pretty much in the same circles. It is my deep regret that I never took the trouble to make his acquaintance.
on January 31, 2001
I have read Alan Booth's other great travelogue 'The Roads to Sata', which is as compelling as the present book. I have lived in Japan for a little over two years now and have studied it's culture for more than eight, but I can't remember ever reading a book (besides the one mentioned above) that was so revealing for the experience of life in Japan through the eyes of a foreigner, that I even felt as though I was walking alongside Alan Booth as he describes his visits to almost completely forgotten places and his encounters with and thoughts on the people he meets during his long walks. It actually would have been a great opportunity for me, if I had been given the chance to walk (or I should rather say 'limp', because of the blistering, and so on, feet) with him, since the thorough preparations he undoubtedly has made before every 'excursion' through the remote areas in this book would have rendered such an occasion a magnificent learning experience, listening every now and then to his stories about the areas' history as well as local traditions. In the process meeting with any number of interesting and not so interesting people, making up the colorful background to the stories. This is a highly recommended book for anyone truly interested in Japan as it is not advertised in tourist brochures.
on June 19, 1998
I recently picked up "Looking for the Lost" in a Kyoto bookshop at the beginning of a short journey of my own through central Japan - I was hooked within the first five pages by the powerful combination of Booth's smooth prose style - so smooth you can almost imagine the writer reading his work to you - and his refreshingly sharp insight into so many of the quirks of Japanese culture that leave most westerners bemused/confused, even those of us who have been here a while. Booth has a great way of telling you about some aspect of Japanese culture without making you feel like a complete beginner. Again, you can almost imagine being there with the author, sharing a joke about some of those country grannies or the women at public events dressed almost entirely in latex who somehow seem so polite and squeaky that you can't believe they're real! Add to this Booth's sense of the history of all the places he trudges through, and you really come to appreciate just how vivid he manages to make these narrative journeys.
on August 22, 2005
Booth is a master at bringing words to life. You can't help but feeling like you are right there with him as he travels through Japan. Seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, feeling what he experiences. In "Looking for the Lost," Booth reveals the subtleties of the Japanese people, their culture, and their land that at once demystifies Western stereotypes of Japan and envelopes the country in a totally different kind of mystery. I found nuggets reminiscent of my own visit to Japan. A delight to read!
on July 20, 2005
Looking for the Lost chronicles three independent walking trips the author made through the Japanese countryside, each inspired by a famous historical journey. The first trip retraces novelist Osamu Dazai's journey through his childhood homeland in his autobiographical work, "Tsugaru." The second trip recounts Alan Booth's efforts to follow the trail of the celebrated rebel general Saigo Takamori as he struggled to escape the Emperor's armies at the end of the failed Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. The third trip is of Booth's own devising, a walk from Nagoya to Taira through Gifu province, along one of many paths that legend claims the remnants of the imperial Heike clan followed after their defeat by the Genji clan in the 12th century.
Booth was a British expatriate writer who moved to Japan to study Noh drama, became disillusioned with it, and ended up a permanent resident of Japan despite that. Looking for the Lost's central theme is the dissonance Booth experiences in his journeys when he attempts to reconcile the Japan of his dreams with the nation he travels through. His portrayals of the people he encounters are sometimes cynical, often humorous, and always insightful. When Japan fails to live up to his expectations, he does not hesitate to poke fun, and the reader is often left with the sense that he feels personally let down by the nation. But allegations that Booth did not like the Japanese ignore that he is as quick to turn his pen on himself as on a passerby. Several particularly memorable segments of the book focus on Booth embarrassing himself! Moreover, Booth balances his cynicism with sympathy: when the author meets a person or place that contains the pieces of Japan he seeks, or a human being he can relate to, his heartfelt joy shines through in his writing. It is in these moments that Alan Booth reveals the most about Japan, and about himself.
The book begins with the "Tsugaru" section. Despite Booth's affection for the region he is traveling through, he never really warms up to the subject matter. He represents the novelist Dazai as an unlikeable fellow, and characterizes the region's connections to Dazai as touristy and lacking authenticity. While the descriptions and people are interesting, the reader is left wondering why Booth felt it necessary to reenact the journey of someone he spends so much time sneering at. The second and third sections of the book are much stronger. "Saigo's Last March" interweaves Booth's thorough knowledge of the general's history with a journey that sometimes daunts even the veteran walker. Here, and in the final section, "Looking for the Lost," Booth finds more signs of the Japan of his dreams.
This was Alan Booth's last book, published posthumously in 1994, the year after his death.
on January 23, 1999
Through gangsters, school children, scholars and maids Booth let us taste, smell and feel a country so sure of itself and yet struggling to define the changes that have been shaking it for the last century. Allmost as a poet boot write about the everyday people and among them the ones still belong to a world soon to be gone. This is the swan song of a man who let us,through his words, to see the beauty of a culture, feel the pain of its departure and taste the bitter cold beer. May he rest in peace.
on June 18, 2006
I have read many books on Japan, and I hope to share some thoughts on of all of them in time. But this is one of the few that moved me. Having lived in Japan for two years, I read this book during my last six months on the JET Program and even managed to complete one of the journeys that Booth himself travelled - as I was reading this book. I often found myself laughing out loud or shedding a tear in secret. For those that have not spent some serious time in Japan, much will be lost. It is better for those living there or who have lived there. Alan's insights cannot be perceived easily or quickly from the typical ten day vacation. In following his foot steps, I felt as if I was walking with his ghost. This book, as others have stated, is very bitter-sweet. I too, wish that Alan were still alive today, for I would very much would have enjoyed drinking with him.
on May 10, 2005
Alan Booth followed in the steps (pun intended) of numerous previous travel writers, and was better than most. He had a ready wit and an excellent sense of humor, and bore the hardships of his chosen method of travel well. He also liked to drink, an asset when traveling on foot in Japan.
He describes three different walks, each with a distinctive theme. The first follows the trail of Japanese novelist Osamu Dazai's 1944 tour of his home region, Tsugaru, in Northern Honshu. The second follows the path of General Takamori Saigo's retreat from the Battle of Enodake, in Kyushu, which ended the Satsuma rebellion in 1877. The third follows the possible track over central Honshu of the remnents of the Heike clan after their defeat at the Battle of Dannoura in 1186.
Along the way, between descriptions of his blisters and complaints about the weather, he weaves bits of history in with reflections on literature and drama, Japanese society, his own life, and the merits of various alcoholic beverages. He enjoys the Japanese, but doesn't necessarily like them, pokes fun at them constantly. Not that the Japanese, like any other nationality, don't deserve having fun poked at them. But one sometimes wonders why Booth spent so many years living in a country and learning the language of a people for whom he seems to have had so little respect. He acknowledges this indirectly even in the title of the book, "Looking for the Lost", which implies that he is looking for a Japan that may never have existed.
His comments on the Noh are interesting, but perplexing. He was a trained actor, went to Japan to learn about the Noh, and became disillusioned with it very quickly. From the little I have read and seen of Noh drama, it is based on quite different assumptions from European, especially Shakespearean, drama. It was "pickled" from the very beginning, an esoteric art form invented for the nobility, nothing "popular" or "alive" about it. Booth seems to have taken that difference personally, as if the Japanese had played a trick on him, rather than seeing the Noh for the quite unusual dramatic form that it is.
His announcement at the end of the book that he has colon cancer is terse and matter of fact, in some ways like Dazai's attitude toward suicide. One thinks of him writing this book with death looking over his shoulder, which perhaps explains the bittersweet feeling one gets while reading it.
Basho - "The Narrow Road to the Deep North"
Isabella Bird - "Unbeatan Tracks in Japan"
Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenellosa - "The Classic Noh Theatre of
Mishima Yukio - "Five Modern Noh Plays"
These are not nearly as much fun to read as Alan Booth.