Nineteenth-century English traveler, writer, and natural historian Isabella Bird contributes this stunning narrative to the genre of early travelogues about Japan. The volume Unbeaten Tracks in Japan includes a series of essays recounting Bird's months-long sojourn in the Far East. Already a treat for fans of 19th century travel literature, the book is rendered all the more unique by virtue of Bird's perspective as a Western female traveling alone in Japan.
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!)