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Unbeaten Tracks in Japan

Isabella L. Bird

Book Overview: 

Unbeaten Tracks in Japan is compiled of the letters she sent to her sister during her 7 months sojourn in Japan in 1878. Her travels there took her from Edo (now called Tokyo) through the interior - where she was often the first foreigner the locals had met - to Niigata, and from there to Aomori. There she crossed over to Yezo (Hokkaido), and her account on the life of the Ainu, an indigenous people of Japan, provides an interesting glimpse of days long past.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .sed into the colossal avenue of cryptomeria which overshadows the way to the sacred shrines of Nikko, and tremulous sunbeams and shadows flecked the grass, I felt that Japan was beautiful, and that the mud flats of Yedo were only an ugly dream!

Two roads lead to Nikko. I avoided the one usually taken by Utsunomiya, and by doing so lost the most magnificent of the two avenues, which extends for nearly fifty miles along the great highway called the Oshiu-kaido. Along the Reiheishi-kaido, the road by which I came, it extends for thirty miles, and the two, broken frequently by villages, converge upon the village of Imaichi, eight miles from Nikko, where they unite, and only terminate at the entrance of the town. They are said to have been planted as an offering to the buried Shoguns by a man who was too poor to place a bronze lantern at their shrines. A grander monument could not have been devised, and they are probably the grandest things of their kind in the worl. . . Read More

Community Reviews

The back cover blurb rightly lauds Bird as a feminist pioneer and astute observer of rural Japanese life in the late 19th century; however, the blurb doesn't mention Bird's embarrasing attitude towards the majority of those people (with the exception of the Ainu). She describes people in dehumani...more

Isabella Brid gives us a view that the history books leave out of Japan in early Meiji. It's fascinating to see what aspects of Japanese culture have stayed constant, and which have changed radically. At the same time, what a piece of imperialist writing this is! What kind of "explorer" needs to...more

Isabella L. Bird rocks my world. I am continually in awe at her strength, persistence, and ability to rough it anywhere in the world. To top it off, she's a fabulous writer!

This book (like her others) is a collection of the letters she wrote home to her sister in England while she traveled the wo...more

4.50 star

It's my delight to see this book on display on the shelf at the DASA BookCafe once again, I first browsed its hardcover with various fine black-and-white illustrations on the front cover and inside on Floor 6 in the Books Kinokuniya, Takashimaya Times Square Annexe Branch, in Tokyo durin...more

The author seemed extremely curious, exploring, for example, "savage people" and cremation service. Her descriptions are very detailed, if at places quite repetitive and lack of distillation. The book is a good source of imagery not only of Japan in 1878, but also of how prejudice a British such...more

One of my favorite travel books by this intrepid Englishwoman, traveling through the "backwoods" of Japan in 1878. Though she was an invalid when at home, she rode horseback through wild country, was out in the elements during downpours that led to landslides and washed-out roads, slept on the fl...more

While the content was interesting, I found the narrator so annoying that it really took away from the experience from me. Isabella Bird was one of those "invalids" who enjoy poor health--they can't be expected to lead a normal productive life at home because they are "delicate"--and yet she could...more

People seem to either love or hate this book and just to be contrary I am giving it three stars. All the negative criticisms that I have read about this book are right on the money, but so are the positive ones. There was a point in my reading that I wished she were alive so I could slap her. One...more

I gave this 5 stars not because it's a work of great literary merit but because the tale it tells is truly amazing. Imagine traveling as a foreigner from Yokohama all the way to the far reaches of Hokkaido ... in 1878. And this is not a hardy, experienced and intrepid traveler but a Victorian lad...more

Like all of Bird's books, this was a really fantastic glimpse into a country at a certain time from the perspective of a 19th century person, a woman, and a Brit at the height of empire. I very much enjoyed seeing what life was life for average folks across Japan back then, I love her for traveli...more

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