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Posts tagged alan booth

Looking for the Lost

Mangajin frequently does a book review or two in each of their issues. Usually the reviewers are very critical, even of works they generally like. These are the kinds of reviews I like the best. However, the critical reviewer could find nothing not to like about this book. I knew then, based on Mangajin‘s reputation, that I had to read it.

Alan Booth’s Looking for the Lost is one of the more enjoyable books I have read in a long time. I look forward to reading his other book in the near future.

Booth walks around Japan. He refuses all other forms of transportation, sometimes at the annoyance of those trying to help him. I’m guessing he only does this when he is writing a book, but who knows? In any event, it makes for some very entertaining reading. Thanks, in part, to the mode of transportation Booth has numerous curious adventures. The pictures he paints of his interactions with the Japanese people he encounters brought back so many memories and had me laughing out load at times.

One thing that any reader is sure to notice is that Booth drank a lot of beer. Most walkers drink a lot of water. I don’t believe Booth drank any water during the countless miles he covers in this book. Every time he takes a break he drinks beer–and not just one. He preferred to drink two or four at a time. Perhaps this is why he died so young of cancer. I’ll share one of these examples before wrapping up this review.

“Late that afternoon I walked into Shirotori behind four small boys who raced ahead of me screaming and looking back and daring each other to wait until I had caught up, which none of them had the courage to do… I trudged up and down in search of a place to stay and at length slumped into a ryokan where a plump, friendly woman with bold red lipstick, an unsuitably bright emerald green blouse, three strings of cultured pearls, and a head of hair so solid with lacquer that you could have stood a clock on it, asked me if I would prefer coffee to tea as an offering of welcome.

‘I would prefer beer,’ I told her.

‘All right,’ she beamed, and brought me a can of Asahi Super Dry. ‘And since this is beer instead of tea, we won’t charge you anything for it.’

I liked the ryokan at once.” p. 337

If you’ve been to Japan, or lived there, this book is a must read. Even if you haven’t experienced Japan you should enjoy this book.

For some additional quotes from this book, click on the Alan Booth link below.

Carp (鯉)

“When I came downstairs she was feeding the carp in the pond in her old-fashioned courtyard. There were twenty or thirty carp, black and gold and mottled, and all as plump as their feeder.”

(Alan Booth in Looking for the Lost p. 337)

The Japanese squat toilet

“For most of the night the rain splashed out of holes in the drainpipe and clattered on the window panes. And when I went downstairs to the lavatory, I found it crawling with inquisitive, bright orange maggots.

The rain stopped at five o’clock but the maggots were still there when I finally got up. So twice in the space of a couple of hours I was glad that rural Japanese-style lavatories… did not require my bum to come in contact with the porcelain. Hygienic-minded people have praised the arrangement on this account, though I can think of several drawbacks; …the pains and cramps that an unsupported squat must inflict on the elderly, the ill, the crippled, or the heavily pregnant. And here were a few dozen more little drawbacks, doing orange congas round the inside of the bowl.”

(Alan Booth in Looking for the Lost p. 173)


“When a Japanese person tells you that Kyoto, the former capital, is a “beautiful” city, he does not mean that, if you climbed Mount Hiei and looked down at its roofs, you would be struck–as you would be by Florence from Fiesole or Oxford from the tower of the University Church–by a sense that the whole was magically greater than the sum of its parts. When you view Kyoto from any point of vantage, such as the elevated platform where the bullet train deposits you, its ugliness can make you weep. Its tangled, utility-cabled skyline is indistinguishable from that of any other Japanese city of comparable size, and every bit as jolting. The attractions of Japanese cities–if they have attractions–lie in what they contain, not in the prospect they present. Kyoto is “beautiful” because within it there are beautiful things; subtle, sometimes tiny details that resist the cacophony around them and may require a lifetime to unearth.” (Alan Booth in Looking for the Lost p. 53)