Sunday, September 6, 2009

イザベラ・バードの日本紀行 - Unbeaten Tracks of Japan



I am reading “Unbeaten Tracks in Japan” by Isabella Bird whom the recent Brutus magazine referred to in the subject of rediscovery of Japan. The book is very interesting and amusing. She visited Japan in 1878 when the entire country was in the midst of rapid adaptation of the west, and she adventured to travel alone with a translator from Tokyo to Hakodate via Nikko through the uncivilized inland routes that no foreigners had attempted. We can visualize the reaction of people in the villages in mountains to see a white human being for the first time, their life and living, and this 130 year old book teaches me the origin of a few words that we commonly use today.

Her observation is accurate, and the detail of her description about Toshogu Shrine in Nikko is utterly astounding that indicates her ability of collecting information. As for merits of Japan, she often cites in this book the fascinating views of mountains here and there, and also the diligence and the honesty of people against the poverty. But the eyes of western explorer incessantly and intolerably criticize the climate that continues to be uncomfortable in the journey started in June, unbearable housing conditions with no such concept as privacy in any room but mosquitoes and flees everywhere, humble living without sanity, almost naked, and least enjoyable meals. A very interesting view being ethically a devout Christian was that she sees most Japanese distrust religions and lack a sublime goal of life but simply aim for materialistic prosperity.

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