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Author of the classic travelogue “The Way of the World,” Nicolas Bouvier was also a photographer, whose grainy images add texture to this series of essays published in 1989. A travel writer who used the genre as a medium for political and cultural inquiry, Bouvier was both investigative journalist and intellectual.

The Japanese Chronicles, by Nicolas Bouvier, Translated by Anne Dickerson.
205 pages
Mercury House, Nonfiction.

Arriving in Japan by steamship just after World War II, Bouvier’s periodic contact with the country over a span of three decades resulted in well-considered observations. He lived in cheap lodgings and earned his crust from freelance assignments — and even put in a stint as a caretaker in a Zen monastery.

Much of the world Bouvier wrote about has vanished. During the mid-1950s he lived in the worm-eaten home of a night watchman in Arakicho, a district in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward filled with “tiny houses of gray wood leaning against the other in the bitter, iodized smoke of Japanese cooking.” At dawn, he rose to the sound of roosters in a city where the sight of goats tethered to tree stumps was commonplace.

“The Japanese Chronicles” will delight those who relish fresh perceptions of a land, where, writes Bouvier, “the most essential connections are formed beyond the rational mind.”

Only a handful of such quality travel accounts — those enriched with historical analysis and philosophical digressions — have been written about Japan, making Bouvier’s work an especially precious item.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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