Golden Week Travelogues

May 1, 2014 

Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク) is an week-long series of Japanese national holidays, starting with Showa Day (29 April), and including Labour Thanksgiving Day (1 May, unofficial), Constitution Memorial Day (3 May), Greenery Day (4 May), Children’s Day (5 May). During 2014, Greenery Day will be observed on a Sunday, and celebrated two days later, on Tuesday, 6 May.
Golden Week is the busiest travel period in Japan, with many schools and companies giving vacations or long weekends during this week. In fact, the name “Golden Week” comes from the the increased audiences and customers Japanese businesses report during this week.
In honor of Golden Week, and in order to give our hardworking Bridging Scholars some inspiration during their vacation, we’ve made a list of five travelogues by foreigners in Japan. These books range from the pseudo-fictionalized to the academic, and most include some kind of memoir of the author’s time in Japan. Some of these books have been historically significant at one point, even if their message has ultimately faded with time, but many of these books are worth reading, especially for students interested in Japanese studies. If you have a favorite travelogue set in Japan, please post it below! We’re always looking for interesting books about cultural exchange and Japan!


5. Peter Carey, Wrong About Japan: A Father’s Journey with His Son. Carey is one of two authors ever to win multiple Man-Booker Prizes, and is one of Australia’s most famous living authors. After starting a family in New York, he decided to take his teenaged son to Japan in an attempt to reconcile his interest in Tanizaki and laquerware with his son’s interest in Akira and collectible figurines. While Carey explores his (fictionalized) relationship with his son, he also explores what it means to try to understand another culture as an outsider.

4. Pico Iyer, The Lady and The Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto. Iyer, a famous travel writer and author, has lived in Japan since 1992, and currently lives with his family in Nara. The Lady and the Monk discusses the first year of his life in Japan, and the relationships he formed there. While the story may sound familiar, Iyer’s erudite style is what really makes this book. Since this book’s publication, Iyer has also conducted a TED talk where he discusses living as a foreigner in another country, which can be found here.

3. Isabella Bird Bishop, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: Travels on Horseback in 1878. Bishop traveled to Japan in 1878 in the hopes of recovering from an illness. She did this by traveling 600 miles on horseback through the next two years over much of the Japanese archipelago. She was one of the first Westerners, and the first Western women, in many of the regions in which she traveled, and for her work as an explorer throughout the world, she became the first woman awarded a Fellow’s position in the Royal Geographical Society in England.

2. Liza Dalby, Geisha. Dalby, an American anthropologist specializing in Japan, wrote Geisha as the summation of her experience as one of two Western women ever allowed to enter a career as a geisha. Part field guide, part anthropological text, Geisha is a modern attempt to understand a part of Japan that has fascinated and eluded foreign understanding. For more on Geisha and her other works, her site can be found here.

1. Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. Hearn was the original expat in Japan, and spent the last fourteen years of his life there during the Meiji period. Hearn ultimately married a Japanese woman and raised a family in Tokyo, taking on the name Koizumi Yakumo (小泉 八雲). He wrote extensively on Japanese spirituality and religion, but he is most famous for collecting the folklore that appears in Kwaidan and other works. Hearn’s works, including Kwaidan, present one of the first Western views of Japan, and while often considered romantic, they have remained in the Japanese cultural imagination and retained their historical value.



All works are the property of their respective owners, authors, and or publishers, and not of the United States-Japan Bridging Foundation. This is not a paid promotion in conjunction with any of the aforementioned groups or individuals.