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Posts tagged alan booth

The Roads to Sata by Alan Booth

roads-to-sata In case you couldn’t tell from the quotes I’ve provided from this book, I loved The Roads to Sata. Alan Booth’s books are like really, really well done blogs long before the blog was invented. Of his two books, this one is the better. The other is certainly well worth reading though. I’m disappointed that we only have these two to read from.

If you have never been to Japan you will at the very least like this book. If you have been to, or lived in, Japan then getting a hold of this book should be next on your list of things to do today. You will laugh, smile, nod your head, and cry. The Roads to Sata is a work of art from beginning to end.

How to get free sake


“There is an ancient dispute among the men of Tohoku as to which of the six prefectures produces the best sake. The keenest rivalry is between Akita in the west and its larger Pacific-coast neighbor, Iwate. The men of Iwate state flatly that their sake is better because their rice is better. The men of Akita counter that their sake is better because their water is better. I have studiously avoided taking sides in this dispute because I have found that, by maintaining a noncommittal silence, I have cup after cup of free sake urged upon me in an effort to elicit the judgment I shall never give. Solomon in all his glory lacked this simple wisdom, or perhaps wasn’t thirsty.”

(Alan Booth in The Roads to Sata p. 90-91)

Toilet slippers

toilet slippers

“In the night I made the beginner’s lavatory mistake. Whatever the style of Japanese lavatory–whether Western or the traditional hole in the floor–you never go into it wearing the same pair of slippers that you wear along the corridors. Another pair of slippers–often helpfully marked ‘lavatory’–is laid out for you there, and you change into them as you enter. The beginner’s lavatory mistake is this: stumbling half-pissed into a hole-in-the-floor-type lavatory at night, he kicks one of the lavatory slippers down the hole. This, I suppose, happens fairly regularly, but for a veteran of seven years to commit this blunder was an immediately sobering embarrassment. In fact, it was so embarrassing to be left hopping about in a single lavatory slipper that I kicked that down the hole to follow the first. My plan was to disclaim all knowledge of the slippers so that the maid would be accused of having forgotten to lay them out. This, I congratulated myself, was a cast-iron defense, but in the searing light of morning it struck me that I might well be resorting unawares to an instantly recognizable ‘beginner’s lavatory feeble ploy,’ so I avoided not only the downstairs guests but the entire domestic staff as well.”

(Alan Booth in The Roads to Sata p. 88)

How to turn off a Japanese girl

japanese children carp koi

“The ryokan I stayed in that night was an unusual one… Before I took a bath, the very attractive twenty-three-year-old daughter of the ryokan went with me for a stroll in the elegant garden, where we watched the black carp swimming about in their pond and netted the one I was to dine on. Later on, in the bathroom, I noticed a black carp staring glumly at me from out of a glass tank set into the wall. It struck me as a perverse idea to have the dinner survey the diner like this, and although I couldn’t absolutely swear it was the same fish, I spent less time wallowing in the tub than I might have if the tank had contained a couple of tiddlers.

But there was another reason for skipping smartly back to my room: the daughter had promised to serve me dinner. We sat with the screens ajar, she in a sleek dark dress, me in the ryokan’s extra-large yukata, and talked for a long time… We drank a good few cups of sake as I nibbled my carp, and by the time the girl had cleared away the dishes, had seated herself again on the soft cushion opposite me, and resumed the story of her life in a voice that grew more melodious the more sake I sipped, I had begun to sense the possibility of a tasty sequel to the meal.

Woe to that carp (since I am convinced now it was the occupant of the bathroom tank that I had been blithely dipping in mustard sauce)! Because that half-digested creature chose this extremely critical moment–this delicate irretrievable moment of deciding how to maneuver a mattress out of a wall cupboard without appearing overly forward–to have his own back with a vengeance.

‘Isn’t it quiet,’ I murmured to the girl and farted louder than I have ever farted in my life. The girl dissolved in helpless giggles and disappeared rapidly in the direction of her sitting room. I hurled my own mattress down onto the tatami. Her brother served me breakfast.”

(Alan Booth in The Roads to Sata p. 168-169)

Taiko and sake (太鼓と酒)

taiko drumming

“The taiko is an instrument that demands more than technique. It is an obstinate instrument. It will resist and resist the drift of the music until the sheer energy of the man who plays it at last excites the god in the drum, and the rhythms then flow naturally from him till his arms grow weak with exhaustion. The wise player circumvents the drum’s resistance by taking so much sake into his body that the god in the drum has no alternative but to assume command at the outset.

I have to suppose that the god in the drum can also read minds, for as I moved in and out of the crowd, past the lanterns and the benches and the crates of bottles, a young man wearing a white plastic raincoat came up and thrust a paper cup of sake into my hand and asked me if I would like to play. I said that I would, but that I would require more sake. More sake came. The crowd around us began to bubble. Three drummers offered me the use of their sticks, and after I had drained a third paper cup I took my place by the side of a drum and waited for the right-hand drummer to tire. Then, when my turn came, I stepped up to the drum, saluted it with the sticks, and whacked it.

The crowd went silly. “Look at this! Look at this! A gaijin! A gaijin playing the taiko!” Flash guns went off, crates were upended, parents pushed their children forward and craned their necks and stamped and clapped, and I felt the sake curl in my stomach and grinned at the drummer on the left of the drum, a middle-aged man who said “Yah!” and grinned back, and the god in the drum was kind to us both.

I have no idea how long I played. Twice the left-hand drummer changed and twice the drumsticks slipped out of my hands. When I came away I was drenched in sweat, and I sat on a bench with a towel round my head, guzzling sake and laughing like an idiot.”

(Alan Booth in The Roads to Sata p. 78-79)

Saigo Takamori 西郷隆盛

Sometimes you take a picture of something not knowing why or even what it is you are looking at. Then, later, you are glad you did. Such is the case with this photograph of Saigo Takamori’s statue that I took in Ueno Park.

It wasn’t until I read Looking for the Lost that I was able to learn who Saigo was and what he did. (I had seen The Last Samurai but didn’t make the connection.) As I read Alan Booth‘s words I remembered taking this picture of his statue.

In Looking for the Lost, Booth retraces Saigo’s steps (as best he could given that some of the paths have been completely overgrown with vegetation and snakes).

Next time I’m in Ueno Park I’ll be able to tell my kids a story or two about Saigo and the Satsuma Rebellion instead of just staring blankly at his statue. This bronze statue, by the way, has been standing in Ueno Park for over 110 years now.