TOYO Reference Series

Traveling Japan's Deep Interior

By Isabella Lucy Bird

 

Isabella Lucy Bird (1831–1904), the English author, photographer, and explorer, is one of the most intrepid foreigner to have traveled Japan’s interior during the late nineteen seventies, not long after Japan’s forced opening to the Western powers.

Overcoming her initial fears Bird sets out on a journey that lasts the better part of a year. The result is more than impressive. Enduring considerable hardships, she puts behind her a stunning twelve hundred miles in her pursuit of “the unbeaten track,” much of it through Japan’s unexplored northern regions. On the final leg of her journey Bird crosses over to the northern island of Hokkaido, where she stays with the native Ainu, recording their ancient customs.

On her long journey Bird witnesses landslides, a bridge being swept away by swollen rivers, a boatmen being drowned in a rapid’s swirling waters. Though not all is drama. She observes a matsuri in Kurokawa, joins a school class in Nikkō, attends a wedding in Kubota, and ends up in a mixed-sex bathhouse in Nakano.

While Western in her attitude, Bird is always curious, always learning, always willing to take the Asian perspective. Among Japan’s early Western visitors, Bird’s account now stands out as perhaps the most insightful, the most understanding, and the most comprehensive record of a Japan that has all but vanished.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things

that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor.

Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.”

 — Mark Twain

 TOYO PRess

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