Friday, 18 December 2009

Still Looking for the Lost

The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan arrived safely on Monday, just seven days after I ordered it from The Book Depository, so that was pretty impressive (international shipping is free, remember, although it should be noted that this doesn't apply to certain out-of-the way countries likes Bhutan).

I haven't started reading it yet as I'm still finishing off Looking for the Lost, which I'm thoroughly enjoying now after initially finding it difficult to get into. Looking for the Lost contains accounts of three different walks the author undertook in three different areas of Japan. In the second of these, Booth heads to the island of Kyushu and follows the route taken by Saigo Takamori (the real "last samurai") in 1877 when, in the dying days of the Satsuma Rebellion, he managed to evade capture by the numerically far superior government forces in Nobeoka and lead a band of several hundred followers cross country to his hometown of Kagoshima some 500km to the south, where he made his last stand on Mount Shiroyama. This part was the only part of this particular walk with which I was familiar, having hiked up Mount Shiroyama during a visit to Kagoshima in 2004.

Although my walking achievements pale into insignificance compared to those of Booth, I do feel a certain affinity with his basic approach. For a start he preferred sticking to roads, eating in restaurants, and sleeping with a roof over his head as opposed to staying away from roads and camping (he never carried a tent). He also maintained a strict rule of not using land transport of any kind during his walks, even on his rest days, a rule he called the "Protestant Walk Ethic."

In other respects our approaches to traveling on foot are very different. For example, while I enjoy having people around me I tend to keep to myself a lot while walking. Booth, on the other hand, was extremely gregarious, reveling in his encounters with all kinds of people, descriptions of which are among the most fascinating aspects of Looking for the Lost. As well, while I try to stay away from alcohol during long walks, Booth needed very little excuse to stop for a beer, often downing several bottles over the course of a day.

Booth has a Wikipedia page, but it's so perfunctory that I went searching for more information and came across this 1993 obituary from The Independent. One fact not included in the obituary but mentioned in the brief biography at the end of The Roads to Sata is that Booth had read most of Shakespeare's works by the age of ten.

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