Obituary: Alan Booth

Alan Booth, journalist and writer, born London 5 December 1946, married Su-chzeng (one daughter), died Tokyo 24 January 1993.

ONE OF the favourite watering- holes of the writer Alan Booth was a very small, country-style bar in the suburbs of Tokyo named after the Japanese 'wandering poet' Ishikawa Takuboku, who died of tuberculosis in 1912 at the age of 26. Booth liked the place for several reasons: it was close to where he lived, he was on friendly terms with the masta of the shop and the beer was not served from small glasses, as usual in Japan, but from half-pint pewter tankards stamped 'Made in England'.

It was to Takuboku-tei that Alan Booth might turn after a hard day's writing - a bristling film review for the Asahi Evening News, or an account of his epic walk from the tip to toe of Japan, a journey which cost him several toenails, and which eventually became a classic travel book on Japan, The Roads to Sata (1986).

At that time, Booth was only in his mid-thirties, but he was almost an old Japan hand. He moved there in 1970, following a brief spell working in theatre in England. Before that he had studied theatre and English literature at Birmingham University and produced a prize-winning Hamlet.

In his early years in Japan, Booth studied Japanese theatre, particularly the classic Noh drama which was developed in the 15th century. While learning the art of Noh-style drumming, he was also gradually finding his true vocation as a writer. He wrote for local English-language publications, taught English at Waseda University and worked for the Japanese broadcasting company NHK, scripting English-language television documentaries. He also learnt how to speak fluent Japanese and sing old Japanese folk songs, a skill which gained him great respect from the Japanese.

After the success of The Roads to Sata, Booth made more epic walks in Japan, one of which retraced the last journey of Saigo Takamori, the Meiji leader who came to a tragic end making a last stand at Kagoshima in the southern island of Kyushu. Saigo characterised the spirit of the Kyushu man: bold, brave, decisive and honourable; qualities which also applied to Alan Booth. Both were physically powerful men with strong voices and both died in their forties.

Booth's last book, Tsugaru, inspired by a gloomy book written nearly 50 years ago by Dazai Osamu, deals with his travels in the far north of Honshu. Booth's manuscript was translated into Japanese, serialised in a leading weekly magazine and published as a book in 1992. The original English version is yet to be published. Other books of Booth's journeys have been published in both English and Japanese, as well as articles, many of which were commissioned by Winds, the inflight magazine of Japan Airlines.

Although Alan Booth was a city person - having been born and brought up in London and spending most of his working life in Tokyo - one of his main strengths as a writer was his ability to capture the anecdotes and atmosphere of present-day rural Japan, a world of farmers and fishermen, shopkeepers and school children, festivals and funerals. Booth's skill was to be able to walk into a small inn or restaurant in a remote corner of Japan where at first he would be greeted with considerable suspicion, but would end up entertaining the assembled company with folk-songs that even the Japanese did not know and listening to the life-story of the innkeeper's wife. This was a world far removed from the slick city life and corporate comforts of urban Japan. With sharp wit he criticised Japan's manic modernity and his sympathies always lay with people whose houses were pulled down to make way for new motorways.

Not surprisingly Booth felt comfortable in the rural atmosphere of Takuboku-tei. 'In England, pubs are called 'Robin Hood' or 'King George' or 'The Duke of Wellington' or 'The Green Man',' he once wrote. 'But they are rarely named after consumptive poets who specialise in describing the human condition in terms of unrelieved melancholy.'

Into the blue sky smoke fading . . .

sadly, emptily, smoke fading . . .

nothing but my life.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform