News Ticker

[VIDEO] Off the Beaten Track with Explorer Isabella Bird


writes: Isabella Bird was a tenacious traverser of continents, prolific Victorian era writer and the first woman awarded membership to the U.K.’s Royal Geographical Society.

Wait, who?


Isabella Bird in a photo taken in July 1896 at A. Farari in Yokohama | COLLECTION OF THE NIKKO KANAYA HOTEL

As famous explorers and all-around great names go, Bird’s is one that probably never showed up in history class. A shame, because the further you delve into Kiyonori Kanasaka’s “Isabella Bird and Japan: A Reassessment,” the more you wonder just why Bird is not a household name.

[Read more about Kiyonori Kanasaka here]

One reason among many that makes Bird so impressive is that the majority of her 1878 trip to Japan took place beyond Tokyo and Yokohama. Thanks to a host of government connections, she was able to visit locations non-Japanese individuals were barred from during a period when international travel was gradually gaining popularity in the West.

“At the time when the ‘ordinary’ foreigner was not permitted to go outside a 25-mile (40-km) range of five treaty ports and two open cities, Bird went even further out into what was then termed the ‘Interior’ and accessed Ezo (Hokkaido) and Ainu territory,” Kanasaka writes.

[Read the full story here, at The Japan Times]

Bird trekked all the way from Yokohama to Hokkaido in the midst of summer, recording her experiences in a series of letters to her sister and friends that would eventually become “Unbeaten Tracks in Japan.


Isabella Bird in a photo taken in July 1896 at A. Farari in Yokohama | COLLECTION OF THE NIKKO KANAYA HOTEL

If slogging through the heat and humidity wasn’t Herculean enough, she was also plagued by poor physical and mental health ailments, present since her childhood. Insomnia, depression and nervous breakdowns were a large part of why doctors suggested she pursue an active, outdoor lifestyle — something Bird clearly took to heart.


(credit: Denver Public Library)

Her writings certainly left an impression on Kanasaka. A professor emeritus of geography at Kyoto University, Kanasaka first read a Japanese translation of “Unbeaten Tracks” as a doctoral student in 1973. Since then, he’s published his own full Japanese translation of Bird’s book and “In the Footsteps of Isabella Bird: Adventures in Twin Time Travel,” comprising photos chronicling his globe-trotting quest to retrace her journeys.

In “Reassessment,” Kanasaka declares that his goal isn’t just to inform readers about Bird, but to challenge previously accepted truths about the explorer and her expedition. The whole thing was less of a wanderlust-inspired romp of happenstance and more of an orchestration of cultural encounters that allowed Bird to experience as many different aspects of Japan as possible.


Attending a wedding was one of the more obvious arrangements, but one occurrence that could easily be breezed past without considering it as anything more than …  (read more)

via The Japan Times

Isabella Bird and Japan: A Reassessment, by Kiyonori Kanasaka, Translated by Nicholas Pertwee.
256 pages
GLOBAL BOOKS, Nonfiction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: