Saturday, 2 January 2010

'I've learned a bit about Japan and a lot about myself'

One of my first achievements of the New Year has been to finish reading Alan Booth's The Roads to Sata. While I enjoyed it immensely, I think Looking for the Lost is a better book. The historic episodes that inspired the three walks recounted in the latter (in the first Booth follows the route around the northern tip of Honshu described by novelist Dazai Osamu in his book Tsugaru, in the second he heads to Kyushu to trace the path of the retreat of Saigo Takamori at the end of the Satsuma Rebellion, and in the third he follows the Nagara River inland to one of the supposed hiding places of the remnants of the Heike clan following their defeat at the Battle of Dannoura in 1185) gave Looking for the Lost another dimension. Still, reading The Roads to Sata has made me think about my walking plans for the future. I still think I will tackle the Koshu Kaido next, but after that I fancy a less structured ramble, maybe around northern Kyushu, taking in the historic ceramic-producing areas in Saga prefecture, the city of Nagasaki, and the Shimabara peninsula.

Last night I started reading American Rust, a novel by Philipp Meyer which my sister gave me for Christmas. I only managed to read a chapter-and-a-half, but the book has already had quite an effect on me in the form of a disturbing dream in which I was confronted on a long-distance bus by an African-American who felt that I was invading his space. (There are no African-American characters in the first chapter-and-a-half of American Rust, but if you've read the book you'll be familiar with the events and tone that inspired this dream.) I woke suddenly just as this encounter was about to escalate into physical violence, and was unable to get back to sleep. The fact that there was an incredible, gusting Nor'wester blowing outside that sounded like it was going to lift the roof off didn't help. I got up and went through to the lounge, where I sat in semi-darkness on the sofa next to the youngest of our two cats, Gollum, until the wind died down.

I intend to follow-up American Rust with The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, which looks at the relationship between the United States and Japan in the early years of the 20th century against the background of the ongoing westward expansion of the U.S. into the Pacific and Asia, an expansion that started with the events described in Manituana.

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