By Alan Booth. Viking, 1986, 281 pp.
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 in the eighties, at the age of 30, to walk from the northernmost cape of the northernmost island of Japan, Cape Soya, to the southernmost cape of the southernmost island, Cape Sata—the entire length of Japan.
In The Roads to Sata, he gives us a kind of journal of this journey, which took 128 days and covered some 3,300 kilometers. He walked on back roads and, if necessary, on highways, he stayed in country inns, he consumed quantities of beer (“foot gasoline,” as he calls it), and he had encounters with, he estimates, some 1200 people: from businessmen to housewives, from priests to cyclists, and from farmers to sumo wrestlers—with whom he actually wrestled. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t win!)
Along the way, he meets an elderly man, who tells him: “A country is like a sheet of paper; it’s got two sides. (more…)