The daughter of a country parson, Isabella Bird was advised to travel for her health. Bird's compliance with her doctor's orders took her to the wildest regions of the American West, Malaysia, Kurdistan, Persia, the Moroccan desert, and China, among other places. One of nine popular accounts of her adventures around the world, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan traces the intrepid Victorian explorer's 1878 excursion into the back country of the Far East. Japan had just opened its doors to the West within the past decade, and Bird traversed regions unknown to many of the island nation's inhabitants. Traveling more than 1,400 miles by pack horse, rickshaw, and foot, she followed winding mountain trails and crossed countless rivers to meet villagers in their remote communities and peasant farmers in their fields. In poignant, vivid letters to her sister and friends, Bird describes the vicissitudes of her journey--the discomforts and difficulties as well as the pleasures and excitement of discovery. 40 of the author's own sketches and photographs illustrate her captivating stories.
Isabella Bird inserts very little of her own thoughts and feelings into the narrative of her letters, but at times her very subtle sense of humor comes through, especially with regards to her interpreter, Ito, towards whom she has a kind of maternal disapproval at times. Bird was the first Western woman to travel in some of the remoter parts of Japan; in fact, she was the first Western person to travel in those areas, period, so caused quite a stir there when she arrived! Through her letters, Bird comes across as a very courageous woman, despite the fact that she suffered from back pain during her travels.
Some of the details she recounts are a bit boring (she even lists temperatures at certain points), but her views on the natives of Japan are fascinating, albeit from a modern prospective sometimes a bit disturbing. But I think Bird went to Japan with preconceived ideas of the Japanese. It’s interesting, therefore, to see how her opinions changed and improved over the course of her journey. Bird’s writing style itself is almost poetic at times, especially when she’s describing the scenery she passes through. I loved, for example her description of Mount Fuji when first arriving!
I was inspired to read this after seeing an exhibition of modern photographs of many of the places she visited and the geography she covered is awe -inspiring, especially as she was a lady of a certain age suffering from back problems.
My copy of the book is to be posted off to my Mum to read next.
I was excited to ask for this spare copy and receive it, as I loved Bird's book about travelling in the US South-West and hoped for more of the same. I got to p. 100. The descriptions were interesting, but I was beaten down by the unyielding patronising and colonialist descriptions of the Japanese people. Basically, they are all yellow, ugly "mannikins" who are out to cheat her, or living in disgusting poverty from which they refuse to raise themselves... and she just seems to find them loathsome. And this spoils the book for me (especially as I was working for a lovely, highly competent and well organised Japanese client for Libro at the time of reading - that made me feel very uncomfortable!). So I gave up after p. 100 and will be sending it off to another LibraryThinger (I have warned them all!)