Many — some might say too many — travel writers build their books around a version of themselves. In spite of all the interesting places Paul Theroux visits, for example, the most memorable thing in most of his travel writing is “Paul Theroux.” William Scott Wilson, in “Walking the Kiso Road: A Modern-day Exploration of Old Japan,” takes a different approach: Though we get to know a bit about the narrator — his love for good coffee, his blisters — he never dominates the narrative or overshadows the valley in Nagano Prefecture through which he travels. He never upstages the people who populate it either.
“I hoped to remain as transparent as possible,” Wilson says, “and to offer, as much as possible, the perceptions of the poets, writers and officials who walked the road in the past. Their histories are the story of the road itself, but at the same time I thought that for the reader to get a grasp on the latter, the personalities of the people I met during my walk were essential to an understanding of the place.”