Unbeaten Tracks in Japan An Account of Travels Paperback – March 11, 2015
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- Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 11, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 140 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1508820481
- ISBN-13 : 978-1508820482
- Item Weight : 7 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.32 x 9 inches
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Bird is very observant, and especially for her time, very empathetic, open-minded, and gracious--in many ways, she is easy for the modern reader to relate to, despite the wide gulf in time and culture that separate us. However, I think it is precisely because she exhibits so many relatable qualities that it is all the more jarring when she does describe the Japanese or Ainu as grotesque, savage, stupid, hideous, looking like monkeys, or any other number of descriptions that will be rather shocking for the modern reader. I imagine there are some who would either blacklist Bird for this reason, or at the other extreme, excuse her for being a product of her time. I wrestled with this issue throughout my reading of this book, and I came down in the middle between these two extremes: I could *understand* Bird as the product of her environment, while at the same time finding such utterances (and the mindset that produced them) as abhorrent and, to borrow one of her own phrases, savage. Not only that, but it also represents a missed opportunity--how can one fully understand or appreciate peoples that they view in patronizing terms as children, even animals, no matter how 'well-intentioned' they might be? How the reader thinks about this issue will likely differ from individual to individual, but for many, it will likely be difficult not to let this issue affect their enjoyment of this work. Yet, it also provides an important and thought-provoking meditation on issues of race, class, and religion that Bird herself could not have anticipated when she wrote her letters. For this reason, I for one would've loved Ito's take on traveling with Bird!
Yet, for most of the book, this is not a major issue. If anything, the reader will likely get a little weary of the descriptions of the difficult roads or uncooperative horses or flea-infested lodgings, which get a bit predictable and repetitive after a time (although, they do make one appreciate Bird's hardships all the more, as well as her restraint in not romanticizing her journey). Yet, just when one starts to grow a bit weary of such descriptions, Bird will give a fascinating account of a wedding or hospital or temple that pulls one in completely. Her writings in Hokkaido are particularly poignant, poetic even. This work might not be for everyone, but for anyone interested in this time period and this location, it is an important document and an interesting read. Warts and all, I'm glad I read it, and would happily recommend it to others with similar interests.
All that she observed then has either entirely passed away or has been totally transformed, and will not return again. Thus, her up close and personal observations are extraordinarily valuable for those wishing to know just how a Japan--on the cusp of "fundamental transformation," and just starting to be changed/contaminated by western ideas and technology--appeared to the eyes of a westerner.
I see a reviewer here downgraded this travelogue because of what he decried as the "racism" that permeated this book, especially as it pertained to the Ainu.
A fundamental mistake in evaluating and trying to understand an old book/travelogue dealing with places, peoples, or past historical events is to criticize and condemn the worldviews, attitudes, and judgments of the author vis-à-vis past peoples and times, based on the standards of today.
Miss Bird was not a person of today, but the product of the English Empire of 140 plus years ago, near the height of its success, power, and reach, and master of a large portion of the Earth, moreover, she was a firm Christian believer, and also obviously of the belief that her religion and culture were superior to all others, and she judged the things she saw, heard, and experienced accordingly. But, even her most withering observations and comments came from what was obviously a very kind heart.
Absolutely lovely. I'm really looking forward to reading Izzie's other travel tomes.
Top reviews from other countries
The book is composed of chapters formed from her long letters home. While the descriptions of the discomforts -endless rain, soaked clothes, dirt, insect-ridden inns and uncongenial food might pall (even if understandable), her evocations of the countryside are lyrical and deeply felt and her analyses of the characteristics and habits both of the Japanese and the Aino tribal people of the far north shrewd and entertaining. If you have visited modern Japan, it is fascinating to see both how much has changed (Japan is the most comfortable and hygenic country you could hope to visit!) and how much remained the same - the courtesy, the industriousness, the discipline. Of course,Isabella Bird writes from a Victorian perspective, and, not being affected by modern political correctness, is not afraid to use terms like 'savages' or comment on the 'ugliness' of most Japanese men. But there is no sense that European society is in all respects superior - several times, she comments on how we might learn from the Japanese.
The literary style of the book is a delight - easy to read, with a lucid use of language. IT SHOULD NOT BE MODERNISED!!! Perfect bedside reading - you can skip the longeurs. I shall read her other books.