Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nonfiction RC #20

I read this book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014.

Adventures in Japan: A Literary Journey in the Footsteps of a Victorian Lady - Evelyn Kaye, 2000

The 1990s saw many travel books of the “in their footsteps” variety, in which a writer would trace the route of a famous traveler. In this case, travel writer and journalist Evelyn Kaye followed the tracks of Isabella Bird in the Tohoku (northeast) and the island of Hokkaido in Japan in 1998.

On the upside, her writing is enthusiastic, endearing in a solo female traveler who has never been to Japan before and does not speak the language. Everything is new to the writer, the pretty scenes, the easy transportation, the tasty food. Everybody is nice, willing to go out of their way to help her have a nice time. She quotes judiciously from Bird’s Unbeaten Tracksin Japan (1878), which I read in tandem with this one.

On the downside, she seems to belong to the “if you can’t say something nice” school of travel writers, so we have to rely on the Bird quotations. This, on the culture of the Ainu:

The glamour which at first disguises the inherent barrenness of savage life has had time to pass away, and I see it in all its nakedness as a life not much raised above the necessities of animal existence, timid, monotonous, barren of good, dark, dull, “without hope, and without God in the world…”

Another quibble I have is that the Japanese words are rendered in a way that we would expect somebody who doesn’t speak the language would render them. For drinking water, we get “okiya” for ohiya and for generic water, we get “misu” for mizu. Kuruma is given over and over again as “kurama.” Nor was she well-served by her translators. For the proverb about Nikko, “Never say ‘splendid (kekko)’ till you’ve seen Nikko,” we get “content” for “splendid.” 

But I still recommend this short introduction to regions of Japan that receive little press. Her description of resorts brought back nice memories of the summer of 1992, which I spent teaching in Niigata, which has many hot springs to enjoy.

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