Kotaro Sawaki is one of the most popular nonfiction writers in Japan. He made his name with "Shinya Tokkyu (Midnight Express)," a reportage of a yearlong overland trip through Asia and Europe he took when he was in his mid-20s. Those stories — whose title refers to a euphemism for "prison break" used by foreign inmates of an Istanbul prison — depict in astonishing detail Sawaki's friendly interactions with locals, his sometimes acrimonious bartering over bus fares, meals and accommodation — and his heart-rending and movingly humorous descriptions of the poor and downtrodden he encountered on his travels.

Sawaki's three-volume series, the first two of which came out in 1986 — at the height of Japan's stupendous "bubble economy" — inspired many of his young compatriots to go on the road in search of new horizons, with some taking the very same route as he had, from Hong Kong to London.

Now aged 59, Sawaki has received numerous awards for his nonfiction writings that span subjects as diverse as the biography of a professional baseball player who could not accept that his career was over, to a posthumous account of a marathon runner who, faced with enormous pressures to win at the Olympics, opted to kill himself.