Alan Booth

Alan Booth moved to Japan in his twenties and lived here for more than half his life, until his untimely demise from cancer at the age of 46. On the face of it he would appear to have written just two books, and one of them was published posthumously, so there must be scope for a further collection of his journalism and travel writing, of which there was sufficient for him to earn a living (he doesn’t appear to have worked in any other capacity in Japan, apart from a brief stint as an English teacher when he first arrived here).

The Roads To Sata is Booth’s most well known book, but while the task he undertook in order to write it – namely, walking the entire length of Japan from its northernmost to southernmost points – is impressive, in my humble opinion, Looking For The Lost is a finer literary achievement. Most importantly, when he went on his first, epic trek, Booth had only been in the country for seven years, and while his Japanese was already very good and his grasp of the country’s culture wide-ranging, by the time he went on the three shorter walks on which Looking For The Lost is based, he had at least another fifteen years of linguistic expertise and cultural knowledge to draw upon. So while The Roads To Sata is an account of his travels from A to B, and largely concerns itself with the people he meets and the places he visits along the way, in Looking For The Lost he follows in the footsteps of three historical figures.

The first is Osamu Dazai, who was born into a rich family, became a famous writer and ended up committing suicide. The second is Saigo Takamori, who was a military and political luminary in Meiji times, but made a few enemies along the way and ended up dying in heroic and / or tragic (depending on how you look at it) samurai-style circumstances. And the third are the Heike, not so much a figure as a group of figures: a military clan who wielded power the best part of a thousand years ago, and who having been defeated were hounded from their homes, never to be seen again.

Dazai is a particularly interesting figure in relation to Booth, as both were prodigious drinkers. Booth is very much aware of this, and refers to a review of The Roads To Sata in which his journey was described as ‘a 2000-mile pub crawl’. Indeed, he appears to spend almost the entire time drunk, to the extent that you wonder a) how he managed to remember what happened while he was on his travels and b) how he managed to stay sober for long enough to write an entire book about them. The summer of his north-to-south walk appears to have been particularly hot – even in Hokkaido and by Japanese standards – so one has to assume that quite apart from being sunburned, bug-bitten and with blisters on his blisters, he must have been completely dehydrated from dawn until dusk, and for the entire six months the walk took him to complete. For Booth, drinking is as matter-a-fact a part of everyday life as breathing and eating, and in Looking For The Lost is referred to entirely casually: a few bottles of beer for lunch here, several flasks of saké for dinner there. Goodness knows, if he had managed to survive the cancer, liver failure would surely have picked him off before too long.

But anyway, while Dazai’s pub crawl took him round the northern tip of Honshu, through a bleak and remote region called Tsugaru that Booth makes no attempt at all to glamourise, Takamori’s journey was around Kyushu, which is a particularly attractive part of Japan. Perhaps the most interesting point raised by Booth’s account is that while Kyushu is by no means bleak, due to the inexorable shift in the Japanese population from the rural to the urban, it too is becoming remote – on one day of walking in particular, he sees an average of approximately one other human being per hour, most of whom are old enough to be retired. This was something I came across when I travelled around Hokkaido, where the population demographic is getting older and older, and whatever children there are disappear to live in Sapporo or Tokyo as soon as they get the chance.

While Takamori was no alcoholic, he makes an excellent starting point for Booth’s reflections on the Japanese psyche. Takamori was one of the last of the old-style samurai, and his character encapsulates many ironies and contradictions, the most amusing of which is the fact that he almost certainly suffered from a medical condition that made his testicles swell to an enormous size, to the extent that he had to be carried around by his minions on a sedan chair. Again, Booth’s writing here is greatly enhanced by the insight he has into the subtleties of Japanese history and culture.

I was reading an internet forum the other day in which Booth was criticised for a Theroux-esque tendency to complain about things and make bitchy comments about Japan and its people, and while it’s true that he does succumb at times to what one assumes was the fashionable travel writing style of the time, he of all people – rather than an ignorant first-timer with nothing but a Rough Guide and a beginner’s phrasebook in their backpack – has earned the right to be critical. Before following in Takamori’s footsteps, for example, he has read – in the original Japanese – pretty much every piece of biographical writing there is on his subject, to the extent that he is confident enough to suggest his own theories about exactly where Takamori went, how he went there and why. (Again, this is something that cannot be said of The Roads To Sata, and Booth backs up numerous theories that contradict the accepted Japanese view with hard evidence: for example, his etymological take on the word ‘kokeshi’ – the wooden dolls of Japanese children with pudding-bowl haircuts – is particularly fascinating, not to mention rather spooky, and by the by, draws on an excellent Japanese book that has been translated into English, Memories Of Silk And Straw by Junichi Saga.)

The Heike, though, are more elusive than either Dazai or Takamori, as there is little documentation about them, and in any case, their story is so old that it has long since begun to blur at the edges and to move into the realms of myth and legend (after less than a century, Booth notes that Takamori is already well on his way to being perceived as a myth – even a deity – rather than a real historical figure). What Booth teases out of this is a meditation on the relative transience of Japanese culture and its artifacts. While it is true to say there are very few old buildings in the country as a whole, Booth manages to track some down that date back hundreds of years, and whose thatched roofs and snake-ridden rooms serve as vital proof of Japan’s history, and as a bridge to its mythical past, which may or may not have been peopled by clans such as the Heike. (His questioning of the modern Japanese assertion that as a race they are somehow purer than those of most other nations is also worthy of examination, particularly for an outsider. I for one was unaware that besides the Ainu of Hokkaido, several other indigenous tribes pre-existed the Japanese race as we know it today.)

Oddly, one of the only jarring moments in Looking For The Lost is its reference on the final page to Booth’s fatal illness. I would be intrigued to read an account of his battle with cancer (although perhaps the confessional style didn’t suit his writing – Donald Richie’s The Inland Sea, for example, is much more personal than either of Booth’s books), but the way in which he suddenly shoe-horns it into his conclusion rather detracts from what has come before.

It is of course ironic that Booth should have lived in a country with the longest life expectancy in the world, and whose excellent medical system is renowned for picking up serious illness early enough to enable successful treatment, when his own illness went undetected until it was too late. What a shame that he did not live to produce more great travel writing about the country that became his home.

77 thoughts on “Alan Booth”

  1. This is an excellent overview of one of my favorite writers on Japan. In addition to “Roads to Sata”, I also enjoyed reading Booth’s occasional articles for Tokyo Journal, back when I was living in Tokyo in the early 1990’s. I remember feeling sad when I learned of his death in 1993.

    1. While the three sections of Looking For The Lost do have some common themes, I’m not entirely sure they were intended to be published together. The book itself was released posthumously, so it may simply have been a case of his agent / publishing company / relatives wanting to share the best of the work that Booth left behind when he died.

      1. The three sections of ‘Looking for the Lost’ were intended to be published together. ‘Looking for the Lost’ was Alan’s own title. I edited the book after his death. I am now hoping to bring out an anthology of uncollected writings, now that I have at last found a publisher.

        1. Tim,
          I’ve been avid follower of Alan and have enjoyed his wonderful books and travelled many of his same paths. Lived, worked and retired in Japan after 53 years. I’m planning to retrace Alan’s walk along Saigo’s path of retreat from Nobeoka to Kagoshima. Got one question – when did Alan actually do this walk. Based on the details in the book, I’m guessing August 1991? Thanks in advance. Don.

          1. Hello there Don and many thanks for dropping by.

            I have to admit that I don’t know exactly when Alan did his Saigo walk, but I am in touch with Tim (who may no longer be subscribed to this thread – among other things, I’ve moved to a different blog hosting service since writing the original post about ten years ago), so will drop him a line and get back to you here with another comment.

            If I don’t manage to do so before you depart on your journey, take care and good luck!

          2. Hello again Don

            I wrote to Tim, who did some investigating for us:

            Here’s a reply from John Ebert, who retraced Alan’s steps in the first walk through the length of Japan.

            ‘Quick one tonight – the ‘Saigo walk’ was in 1986. Alan never once to my knowledge dated a walk he did explicitly but he always left clues. In the first few pages he mentions a Stallone movie playing in a theater that was released in 1986 and later he mentions 109 summers having elapsed since Saigon’s last retreat. 1877 + 109 = 1986 😎’

            Don’s suggestion of 1991 is certainly far too late. – Alan died in 1993, after at least two years of struggling with cancer.

            I’ve also sent you an email, which will probably turn up in your spam folder, so keep an eye out for it!

          3. Again thanks for contacting Tim.
            I read Alan’s “Road to Sata” back in 1989 and it was the inspiration to over a 100 or more journeys from Wakkanai to Okinawa over the past 30 years (resulting in the consumption of liters of Alan’s favorite brews). I enjoyed Alans’s other books, especially “Looking for the Lost.” From September to October, I’m planning to retrace Alan’s hike as told in “Saigo’s Last March.” Surprising many of the locations and places mentioned in Alan’s book still do exist.
            I’m taken enough of your time, so to my question. Prior to departing for Kyushu and my journey to retrace Alan’s Saigo hike, I would like to pay my respects to Alan at his grave side and perhaps deposit one of his favorite brews. Could you or Tim please let me know where Alan’s final resting place is in Tokyo?
            Thank you very much,

        2. I have just finished The Roads to Sata for the second time having read it a few years ago and in between I went to Basho’s Back Roads to Far Towns and both are wonderful. Now reading Looking for the Lost. Has the anthology come out yet? I am not real good at searching being 86 years old now so would appreciate knowing more. How did he ever drink so much beer!

          1. It is me, Virginia, again—I just found that the anthology is in fact available and have purchased it. Thanks to anyone who was helping me out.

          2. Many thanks for leaving a comment, Virginia, and my apologies for taking such a long time to reply. While this post about Alan Booth is still generating hits and comments, I have to admit that in recent years, I have been rather neglecting the blog as a whole.

            Glad to hear you enjoyed TRTS, are reading LFTL and have purchased TGSOF. I’m not entirely sure that Tim Harris is still subscribed to this comment thread, so the next time I contact him, I will let him know that Booth’s books have yet another fan.

            Take care and happy reading!
            Tom G. (aka Muzuhashi)

  2. Hello Kaminoge – many thanks for reading and commenting! I found out about Booth because he is mentioned by Will Ferguson in ‘Hokkaido Highway Blues’ (Ferguson is obviously a big fan). I’d love to read some of the stuff he wrote for the Tokyo Journal, but as far as I know it hasn’t been collected anywhere, which is a shame.

  3. I haven’t been able to find any of his old TJ articles online, but I do remember he wrote a funny piece where he went “undercover” on a Hato Tour Bus, seeing the sights of Tokyo with a group of other foreigners. I also recall a rather poignant article he did on the circumstances surrounding his cancer diagnosis. If I remember correctly, he had been feeling a tingling in his fingers which someone suggested was a symptom of leprosy. As he had just returned from a trip to India, he was worried and went to a hospital to have it checked. As it turned out, of course, it wasn’t leprosy that he had. His death was a great loss – I haven’t come across any expat writers who could combine a dry wit with excellent insights into Japan and its culture, while always treating the Japanese as flesh-and-blood human beings (i.e. not reducing them to simple stereotypes, and not as subjects for sociological studies).

  4. That reminds me of probably the most amazing section of Richie’s ‘Inland Sea’, where he visits an island leper colony – I can’t imagine it’s there any more, but you never know…

    1. The colony is still there, sort of. It occasionally accepts visitors, through prior arrangements through a local NPO.

  5. Tim, good luck with your efforts to publish that anthology. I would certainly buy it. ‘The Roads To Sata’ is one of my favourite books, and inspired me to live in Japan in my early twenties. I would love to read further pieces by Alan.

  6. I wanted to check a few things on Alan Booth and have just come across with your page. My late husband knew Alan, and in fact provided some cartoon/drawings to Alan’s earlier books – one is a small essay (titled something like “Being British”) and another one on some colloquial Brit English phrases. Happy to look out for them (they both should be at home in GLOS) if you are interested.

  7. Timothy,
    I’ve lived in Japan since 2003 and have read numerous books about the country. But Alan Booth’s are by far my favourites. I would definitely buy that anthology if you ever manage to get it published.

    1. We are hoping it will come out this year. It’s been a bit of a job copying things from yellowing newsprint. Thank you all for your interest!

  8. Dear Mayumi, thank you for your note. I think we are all right with Alan’s publications. I am now in the final throes of preparing a decent text from yellowed newspaper…

    1. Hello Tim, do you have any update on the new collection of Alan Booth’s work? I’m a great fan of his writing and have promised that one day I’ll ride from Soya to Sata – I don’t think my knees would let me walk it! Thanks.

  9. Tim, please let me know when the book is published. I have enjoyed both Alan booth’s books and would very much like to read your anthology of his hitherto unpublished writings.

  10. We are hoping it will be fairly soon. I shall get in touch when we know the publication date. Thank you all very much for your interest! It is grand to sense the warmth you feel for Alan’s writings.

      1. Thanks very much for the comment, Bruce.
        I haven’t heard anything from Timothy yet, but I assume this is because he’s busy putting the finishing touches to the book for it’s imminent publication.
        Will post news here as soon as I get it – hopefully in the comments, as an addendum to the post itself, and in the form of a new post, so that the news reaches as many people as possible (as I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere, this has been by far my most commented-upon post, which is a testament to Booth’s enduring popularity).

    1. Hello, Mr. Tim Harris:
      I am yet one more person very much interested in the anthology. I just started reading the two books by Mr. Alan Booth, when I came upon this page. (Thank you, Muzuhashi-san, great article.)
      Your name instantly rang a bell, and it took me a while to make the connection. Besides your connection with Mr. Booth, you teach/taught at Ueno Gekuen University, where pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii (Nobu) was a student. I am a big fan of the young pianist and voluntarily run a blog for his international fans. In the wake of Nobu’s gold medal at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Competition, there was an article written by one Michael Johnson in which he maligned Nobu as mentally unsound, and it was you who took the time to speak up for Nobu. I don’t know if you remember your own words in a comment posted to the original article: “Nonsense … I am one of Tsujji’s teachers at Ueno Gakuen in Japan, and I was appalled by your irresponsible description of him. He is a highly intelligent young man. I think you need to make a public retraction and apology.”
      I certainly remember and cherish those words, and they are collected on this page of mine—2
      Thank you, Professor Harris, I am so glad that I can finally say these words to you and hope they will reach you.
      I will be among the first to buy a copy of the anthology when it comes out.

      1. Dear M.L. Liu,
        I am sorry for not having replied to your comment — but I hadn’t seen it until a couple of days ago. Yes, I did indeed teach Tsujii-kun (well, Tsujii-san now!) at Ueno Gakuen. He was a delightful young man, highly intelligent and very sensitive. I was naturally furious when I came across Michael Johnson’s words, and so wrote in Nobuyuki’s defence.
        Thank you for putting two-and-two together!

  11. I read both books after arriving in Japan in 1990. I agree the second book is deeper, but its also darker, the enchantment was still tangible in his first. Heard Alan’s ‘local’ (pub) was Takubokutei in Koenji – would love to stop by sometime, if its still around Alan’s wife lives in Singapore (as I do now), I met her once and we toasted Alan over Japanese beer! His daughter is an actress.

    1. Many thanks for the comment, Kerry, and for taking the time to read this post.
      How nice to hear that Alan’s family are well (and no great surprise to hear that his daughter has followed in his footsteps by taking to the stage!).
      Thanks too for the tip-off about the bar. I used to live just down the road in Nakano and still have friends there, so will try and investigate the next time I’m in Tokyo…

  12. I’m so pleased that there are so many out there who appreciate A.B.’s inimitable style and insight into Japan. I will be very pleased to purchase the collection of A.B.’s earlier writing when it emerges. I agree with your assessment of A.B.’s work above. There is in between the lines in A.B.’s work a haunting feeling that what is lost is lost to each of us personally–not just the culture or countryside of Japan, but the whole spectrum of time, landscape and ordinary experience that we allow to slip past us without stopping to take it in. A.B. drank deeply indeed.

  13. I’ve just recently read “The Roads to Sata” and “Looking for the Lost.” I thoroughly enjoyed both books. I became interested after a visit to Japan a couple of years ago. I love Booth’s writing style and personality (as portrayed in his work) and I would very much like to read his anthology.

  14. Thank you, everyone, for your interest. The manuscript is all prepared now, and with the publishers. I’m afraid I don’t yet when the book will come out. When I do, I shall let you know.

    1. Hello again Tim
      It would seem that plenty of people out there are fans of Alan’s and keen to see more of his work in print – I originally wrote the post about him over four years ago, and it’s received more comments than anything else on the blog during that entire time, which is a testament to his enduring popularity.
      Along with everyone else who has commented here, I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the new book, so do let me know the details when it’s published – I’ll write a post about it when the time comes and hopefully drum up some more interest.
      All the best

      1. Dear Muzuhashi,
        I did send a reply to this but hadn’t realised that the only way I can reply is here, so my reply didn’t get through.
        Thank you, and everybody, for your interest, and also for your offer of help. I shall let you know when the book will come out when I know when it will come out!

  15. When I first heard that Alan Booth wrote articles that were published in Japan, I went looking for them to read. I enjoyed his writing so very much. I couldn’t find them, but hoped one day they would be published. Now that I hear that were put together by a good friend of his, I feel very happy this is being done. In a way, we alll made that trip to Sata with him.

  16. Timothy Harris: Did you publish the Alan Booth articles, as you mentioned in 2014? I was at Birmingham Uni with Alan, where he directed me in a performance of Marlowe’s “Faustus”. I have the Sata and Lost books but would love to read more.

    1. Mike Turner: I too was at B’ham Uni with Alan. I was a GTG member and worked with him on both Hamlet (Q1) and Phèdre (probably have photos somewhere). I was at Uni 1967-71 and hung around a little afterwards (but was away in México on a year abroad 1969-70). Guess we may have met.

      1. Hi Martin. I was only at Birmingham for one year – 1966-7 before switching to a different degree. I do know about Phèdre though as I am in touch on Facebook with David Gay, We were both in Faustus, as was Maggie Ainley whom I knew before Brum. I was in touch with Maggie via email until she went “quiet” after exchanging Xmas messages in 2011. I can see a Martin Eayres on fb – is that you? I am on as Michael Turner. David did send me a couple of photos from Phèdre but I would love more if you can lay your hands on them. If we can meet on fb I can let you have my email address by pm.

  17. A message for everyone who has commented on this post, and / or those who are still subscribed to the comment thread:
    Timothy Harris has been kind enough to send me an email regarding his long-awaited collection of Alan Booth’s work. It’s called ‘The Great Stage of Fools: an Alan Booth Anthology’, and will be published next month (September 2017) by Bright Wave Media (Ry Beville of Bright Wave Media is one of the many who have left a comment here).
    In the meantime, you may want to take a look at this: It’s a post from a new blog called Fexluz, whose author has not only met Timothy in person, but also taken the time to track down and review some of the more obscure books that Booth wrote.
    As it happens, the man behind Fexluz is currently retracing Booth’s journey through Japan from north to south, on foot and in ‘real time’. He is posting regular updates on Twitter ( and at the time of writing is somewhere in Niigata Prefecture.
    You may also be interested in checking out the ‘Alan Booth Appreciation’ Facebook page, the link to which I found on Fexluz:
    Once ‘The Great Stage of Fools’ appears on Amazon and the like, I’ll try and remember to post another comment here. In the meantime, I hope you’re all well and looking forward to its publication as much as I am.

  18. Wonderful news, thanks for the update. Any idea whether it will be published in the UK? I would pre-order if so!

    1. Hello there Paddy and thank you very much for taking the time to drop by. I was hoping that someone might ‘overhear’ your comment and provide an answer to your question, but sadly that hasn’t been the case. As such, your guess is as good as mine, and while the book has yet – as far as I can tell – to appear on Amazon, when it does then I assume all will be revealed…

      1. Many (belated) thanks for this reply, which I just saw! – I see the new collection is now available to order direct from the publisher (, and have just done so. Very excited to read some new (to me) work by an author whose books have meant so much to me. Thanks so much for sharing this information – I would never have found it otherwise!

  19. Dear Muzuhashi,
    I’d just like to add my thanks for keeping this thread open. I’ve been a fan of AB’s for along time and am excited to hear of it’s possible publication. I own a bookshop so I will have the added pleasure of opening his work to a new audience.
    For those of you who are interested, I would recommend Peter Hessler’s River Town to Alan Booth fans. Although Hessler is writing about China, there are many similarities in terms of themes and style.
    Looking forward to news!

    1. Hello there Matthew
      Many thanks for dropping by – it’s great to hear from yet another reader who’s enough of a fan of Alan Booth’s to subscribe to a five-year-old comments thread on an obscure J-blog!
      Thanks too for the recommendation – while I do of course tend to read more travel books about Japan than about other countries, I take an interest in the genre as a whole, so will try and track down a copy of River Town. (Speaking of which, in case you haven’t already read it, my own recommendation would be Coasting by Jonathan Raban, which was in a box of old books I brought with me from the UK, and finally got round to reading earlier this year.)
      Incidentally, feel free to reply to this comment with some info about your bookshop – so long as it’s in a good cause, I’m happy to break my no-advertising rule once in a while!
      All the best

  20. Muzuhashi and Bruce, my name is Ry and I am the publisher working with Tim on this manuscript. The lay-out is more or less complete and we are trying to obtain a few more images for it. We’re currently looking at a mid-to-late May publication depending on how quickly we can scour the final manuscript for any potential corrections. I apologize for the delay.
    Incidentally, we also publish the beer magazine of Japan, called Japan Beer Times. Given Alan’s penchant for beer, it seems like fate that we are publishing this (and Looking for the Lost was one of the first books I read on my arrival in Japan in 1997 for work). We are very excited for this.
    Thank you for your continued interest and patience.

    1. Hi, is there any update on the Alan Booth book? I hope it’s still in the works, will be great to get hold of a copy!

    2. No need to apologise, Ry, and along with everyone else who has commented on and read this post, I am very much looking forward to reading the book
      Thumbs up for the beer connection, too. As it happens, the Kiuchi ‘Nest Beer’ brewery is just around the corner from where I’m writing this – probably my favourite Japanese beer, and one that I’m sure you’re aware of.
      Good luck with the rest of the editing and many thanks for taking the time to drop by.

  21. Wow – so publication is just around the corner!
    Muzuhashi-san, I’ve been subscribed to this comment chain for almost a year – you’ve been a star keeping this page open, and I still think your appraisal of Alan Booth above is one of the most succinct and satisfying out there. I read Roads to Sata shortly after getting to Japan in 1994, then Looking for the Lost some years later. I’ve since re-read both and found them thoroughly enjoyable a second time, and I can’t wait for the new book. I still dream of riding the length of Japan, though as the years go by, I wonder if it’s going to have to be in a car after all!

    1. Hello there Hugh
      Many thanks for your comment, and for reading.
      It would seem there are a lot of us Alan Booth fans out there, and that the time is right for more of his work to reach a larger audience.
      This is just a suggestion, but if you do ever manage to travel from one end of Japan to the other, maybe you could compromise on hitching, in the style of ‘Hokkaido Highway Blues’ (another one of my favourite travel books)?
      Thanks again and all the best,

  22. Mike: Yes, on FB as Martin Eayrs (note spelling). Friend me, and we’ll continue there.

  23. Tim, I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying the book, and to thank you for what must genuinely have been a labour of love on your part. It feels almost miraculous to read these new (to me) pieces by an author whose few published works really spoke to me at important moments in my life. I am savouring each article, and am sure I will revisit them many times in the future, as I have with Alan’s other work. Thank you for bringing this splendid collection to life.

    1. Hello Todd and thank you very much for taking the time to drop by and read this (now seven-year-old!) post.
      As it happens both the editor (Timothy Harris) and publisher (Ry Beville) of the new Booth collection have been in touch via this comments thread, and like many others I am looking forward to getting hold of a copy.
      Sadly I won’t be able to make it to the launch party this coming Friday – if you’re going, please raise a glass on behalf of myself and the many Booth fans who have commented here!

  24. As it does not seem to have been mentioned here, you might care to note that Alan Booth worked for Macmillan the Publisher in Japan in his early days there, very possibly as an ELT/Sales rep. You might be able to get some details of this from Macmillan. Also, before his marriage, in fact while at Birmingham University, he had a Hungarian Girlfriend [whose name I will not share].

    1. Hello there Martin and thank you very much for reading.
      Some interesting inside info there. I assume Timothy Harris – who has also commented here and who edited the new collection of Booth’s work that is about to published – is aware of the Macmillan connection, but quite possibly not of the Hungarian girlfriend.
      As it happens I went to Hungary on a school exchange visit when I was in my teens, and among other things learned that Hungarian is reputed to be one of the most unique and difficult languages in the world. Had Booth emigrated there rather than Japan, however, I assume he would have ended up similarly fluent!

      1. Yes, there was the Macmillan connexion, but I doubt very much that you will find anyone who knew Alan there now. They published a few textbooks he wrote, I think. Back in the seventies and eighties, it was a very small affair run by a Japanese man whose name I forget; he who had rather right-wing sympathies and was a believer in nihonjin-ron.

  25. Ah! I thought this splendid blog had disappeared! As Todd Foutts has kindly let you know, the book is now out. We have had two very favourable reviews in The Japan Times and in Metropolis (Tokyo), and are hoping for some more reviews from abroad — but these things take time.
    My apologies to Mike Turner & Martin Eayrs for not responding — but I hadn’t seen your e-mails. Dr Faustus & Phedre — two of my favourite plays. Alan and I did two-man performances of Shakespeare, but we didn’t get round, alas, to Marlowe.

  26. Alan was a very much respected theatre director in the late 1960s. As I said in a post above he directed plays for the Guild Theatre Group at the University of Birmingham. The GTG was a good theatre group – I was in it – playing a few bit parts but also doing stage management, backstage stuff. I worked with people like Barry Kyle (who became an RSC Director), Chrissie Iddon and Judy Loe (two names who became famous for Film and TV work) and the hugely talented Tim Curry who went on to become an international star. We were of course all still students then.
    Alan’s greatest theatre production for the GTG was the ‘Bad Quarto’ of Hamlet, the one with Corambis instead of Polonius, which Alan chose to produce in a somewhat sui generis style with a very bare stage populated by occasional playing card flats. His Hamlet (brilliantly acted by John aka Sebastian Bergman) was as much drunk as emotionally disturbed and was dressed at times entirely in white or black as the interpretation dictated. The play was much praised in the local and national press, with theatre critic Harold Hobson giving it a very favourable review.

  27. Just to say that publisher is a small one, and so we are not distributing the book abroad yet since we wish to make ends meet before making it generally available (the largest internet bookseller, whose name shall not be spoken, makes sure that publishers get, really, bugger all). The book is available from the publisher at this link (given above also by Todd Fouts):
    The Metropolis review + a brief interview with me can be found at:
    The Japan Times review by Damian Flanagan can be readily found by Googling the Japan Times.
    Thank you, Martin, for your response. Alan’s ‘Hamlet’ and its aftermath gets a mention in my introduction. I should have loved to have seen it, but in those days I was rather out of things, shepherding in the Welsh hills…

  28. How nice to see a fresh flurry of comments on this post – now over 50 in total!
    Thank you, Tim, for yours, and my apologies for not responding to an email you sent me about the book’s release – I have no excuses other than the usual laziness and busy-ness.
    Thanks, too, for the link – I’ve just ordered my copy so will very much look forward to reading it. While this blog isn’t exactly alive and well – the Booth post is the only one to have seen any ‘action’ for the past couple of years – I’ll try and post a review in due course.
    One more thing I should add: I was very sad not to have been able to make it to the book’s launch party, as it would have been wonderful to meet a few of the people who’ve commented here. Sadly, though – and perhaps inevitably, given the fact that I’m a gaijin in Japan – I had an English class to teach (yes, my Friday nights really are that exciting).

    1. Thank you, Muzuhashi-san, for all your help. Well, if ever you feel like a drink some time, you know where to get in touch. And if anyone else who comments on this blog and lives in or near Tokyo & would like to come, that would be grand.
      I have just seen M.L. Liu’s comment quite some way above. Yes, I did teach Tsujii-kun at Ueno Gakuen, but it would probably be better for me to reply directly to his comment.

      1. Tim, you are a gentleman and a scholar – not sure when it’ll happen but I would love to take you up on the offer of a drink one day. Do take care in the meantime, and I wish you and Bright Wave Media all the very best with the book – here’s hoping you can shift as many copies as possible without having to sell your souls to the Internet Bookseller Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken!

  29. This comments section clearly took on a life of its own! Perhaps I could move it on into a new year by adding an edited version of something I’ve just posted on Fexluz’s website.
    It is always a pleasure to find someone who has discovered Alan’s wonderful travel writing (it’s still much too select a group) – and many times more so, to come across the kind of labour of love Fexluz undertook in his annotated bibliography.
    I was lucky enough to get to know Alan in the 1970s, and much of what little I understand of Japan, emotionally as well as intellectually, I owe to him. Vivid memories, over forty years later, include drinking and singing folk songs (both Japanese and British) on blankets in a suburban Tokyo park on a warm spring day, with regulars from his favourite sake bar, while cherry blossom opened almost perceptibly in the trees above us; being introduced at that same bar to room temperature sake drunk from a cedar wood box (Alan, I think, was drinking beer…); and huddling in midwinter round a kotatsu stove at a house owned by his first wife’s family, on the lower slopes of a volcano.
    At that time I was working for the English as a Foreign Language section of Macmillan, travelling regularly to Japan from my base first in Singapore and later in Hong Kong; I once calculated that I have spent over a year in Japan, though I have never lived there! I think it was Yoshi Tadokoro, then running the Macmillan Japan office, who introduced me to Alan.
    We had a series of simplified readers for learners of English called Rangers, and I was looking to add titles with an Asian background. I managed to persuade Alan to write about his epic walk for the series, and he produced one of the very few books of that kind which truly transcend the limitations of a restricted vocabulary. Indeed, some passages found their way almost unchanged into The Roads to Sata. I’m sure he did see the reader as a way of working out material to include in the subsequent book.
    The Roads to Sata was in the Penguin Travel Library for a while. That put him where he belongs: in the company of writers like Wilfred Thesiger and Eric Newby. No longer though, it appears (I wonder who made that decision). Interestingly, Penguin Random House do seem to publicise the Kodansha edition, which thankfully is still in print; but that still puts it in a kind of ‘books about Japan’ ghetto; Alan deserves better than that as, to quote Ian Buruma, ‘not only the best travel writer on Japan, but one of the best travel writers in the English language’.
    I am delighted to hear about This Great Stage of Fools (another labour of love, clearly!), and will try to order a copy from the publisher. I wish I’d heard in time about the launch; I’d have tried very hard to be there. (I enjoyed the video, though!)

    1. And could I add that if antenna who likes the book would like to post a comment on ‘GOODREADS’ or on the Amazon website, that would be very useful. Things are loaded very much against small publishers, and trying to get the book out and known is rather a nightmare.
      Incidentally, a review has just come out in the Kyoto Journal — I haven’t seen it yet.

  30. Dear Richard (if I may),
    I am giving a talk about Alan and the book at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on February the 26th from 6.30. Books will be on sale there. If you, or anyone else connected with this blog. would like to come, I should be delighted to see you.
    Here is the link:

    1. Tim, I’d really have liked to be at your talk, but I’m living in the Cotswolds these days.
      Text ‘correction’ is still apt to make some very strange guesses. I keep meaning to start a list of the better (= funnier) ones.

  31. I’m hoping this is still the unofficial discussion forum (along with the ABA Facebook page) for all things Alan Booth :)) It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.

    First of all, well done Tim Harris on This Great Stage of Fools. Those hours transcribing yellowing news print were more than worth it. I’m re-reading it at the moment after it returned from, what turned out to be, a very long term short – term loan. A friend travelled up from Amakusa for the launch. I was sorry not to be there.

    Well done also to Penguin for releasing The Roads to Sata. I’ve been able to introduce a whole new readership to Alan Booth via my bookshop.

    To business… I’m planning on following in Alan’s footsteps next year, albeit by bike. As much as I’m enjoying working out his route by the landmarks and hints he left in his book, I know there are people more versed in Booth Lore than I am. If anyone can point me in the direction of the definitive route I would be most grateful.


    1. Hello there Matthew

      Many thanks for the comment and yes, after a fashion, this does still seem to be an (although perhaps not “the”) unofficial Booth forum, still receiving comments more than a decade after the original blog post. (As it happens, another one turned up not long after yours.)

      I’m glad you liked This Great Stage of Fools. I was lucky enough to meet Tim Harris last year and have been meaning to get in touch and see how he is, so will let him know that the book has yet another fan.

      Regarding your planned trip, there are indeed people well-versed in Booth lore, but a definitive route may be more difficult to track down than you think. The one person I know of who has actually re-enacted The Roads to Sata is on Twitter as fexluz/hushashi (, but I don’t know his real name, and a friend of mine who has retraced a couple of the walks in Looking for the Lost tried but sadly failed to contact him for advice.

      I’m going away for most of August, but when I get back, I’ll try and remember to post something on the Facebook group (I’m one of the admins), as there may be someone out there who can help you.

      Whether or not your two-wheeled version of TRTS is identical to the original, I’m sure it’ll be an amazing experience – do please let us know how you get on, either via a comment here or a comment on a post on the FB page.

      Good luck with your preparations and all the best,
      Tom G. (aka Muzuhashi)

      PS. If you don’t mind me asking, where is your bookshop and does it have a website or similar?

  32. Hi there! I’m currently resurrecting my Japanese, and I started watching videos from BBC’s “Learning Zone” – Japanese Language and People, one episode of which features Alan talking about his life and travels in Japan – Delighted to find this blog post and so many fans of Alan’s writing, so sad to hear of his untimely death. The BBC series aired in 1991, and he sadly died a couple of years later.

    1. Hello there to you, too, and many thanks for your comment!

      I found out about this BBC programme a while ago via the Alan Booth Appreciation page on Facebook, and according to another Booth fan I’m in touch with, the segments featuring Booth were originally shared on YouTube by a Japanese viewer who’s also a fan.

      The plethora of comments on this post is indeed a sign of how many people still enjoy Booth’s books and take an interest in him, and even though – to my shame – I haven’t had the time to post on the blog for quite a while, it’s always good to know that people still find it by Googling for Booth.

      Good luck (or perhaps I should say, 頑張ってください) with your ongoing Japanese studies and all the best!

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