Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (Virago/Beacon Travelers)

by Isabella L. Bird

Paperback, 1987




Beacon Pr (1987), 332 pages


Travel. Nonfiction. HTML: 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..


½ (23 ratings; 3.7)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Kasthu
Unbeaten Tracks in Japan is composed of a series of letters that Isabella Bird wrote home to her sister and friends during the summer of 1878. She set out from Tokyo, eager to explore the “unbeaten tracks” of the northern part of Honshu (the largest island of Japan) and Hokkaido. The letters
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are a combination of travelogue, anthropological study, and cultural study. I was especially eager to grab this book off my TBR shelf after what’s recently happened in Japan, and I enjoyed reading about Isabella Bird’s adventures there 130 years ago—a very different experience from when my family lived in Tokyo in the 1980s and ‘90s!

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!
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LibraryThing member Crewman_Number_6
I love this book. It is very interesting to see through the eyes of someone who was so new to the country. It is also interesting to see the common prejudices and viewpoints that were held at that time.
LibraryThing member Teramis
Isabella Bird was the first Western white woman to visit the more remote regions of Japan. She did so - as usual, in her travels - with merely a local guide and appropriate travel/camping gear. Her writings offer a fascinating glimpse into local life in Japan in the mid-late 1800s. She was an
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intrepid traveler, an astute observer of the human and the cultural, and very much a woman of her era - although open-minded for her times, many of her cultural assumptions and societal standards come through between the lines. But it is an altogether delightful read. This and her other books are compilations of letters she wrote home to her sister, who was also her very good friend: reading this, you can "be there" with her on her travels, just as she must have intended her sister to be. Highly recommended for anyone interested in a close look at a foreign culture, in Japan, and/or in great travel writing.
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LibraryThing member LyzzyBee
09 Sep 2010 - from Paola on LibraryThing Virago Group

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
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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!)
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LibraryThing member Pferdina
I enjoyed reading the letters Isabella Bird wrote to her sister during her travels in Japan in the second half of the nineteenth century. They were illuminating about Japan, of course, but also a little about Britain in those days.
LibraryThing member dylkit
Isabella Bird is an amazing character, a very intrepid lady.

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.

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copy of the book is to be posted off to my Mum to read next.
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Original publication date



0807070157 / 9780807070154
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