In Praise of Disappearing Japan, served on pizza toast

Pizza toast and Neapolitan spaghetti made with ketchup are Kissaten staples, don’t forget the Tabasco

Alan Booth’s The Roads to Sata created a modern English language book genre, Disappearing Japan. It’s an endangered species that has been disappearing for decades, aka “the real Japan.” Whatever that is.

I read Roads to Sata long ago and liked it, but that was before I had experiences to compare, i.e. a frame of reference. Later on after many adventures working summer mountain lodges in the Southern Alps I read Booth’s companion book Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan and liked it, much less. Travel books and writing are like travel companions, most of them drive you crazy, only a rare few make truly good life long companions. After 30 years in Japan I don’t care to travel with Alan Booth anymore or emulate his gimmicky patchwork style that mixed evocative narrative hooks with black comedy, embarrassingly wrong cultural “insights” and a decidedly narcissistic take of Japanese history that cleverly camouflages good old western style cultural snobbery as ‘outsider viewpoint’.

The Alan Booth Japan travel writing style is alive and well in Craig Mod’s I Walked 600 Miles Across Japan for Pizza Toast, it shares the same kitschy patchwork walkabout formula explaining Showa era Kissaten culture. It’s not my cup of coffee but it’s a fun informative read for people who don’t know Japan or haven’t lived here long. Brushing past a few embarrassingly bad ‘hooks’ like the Pachinco mamas leaving infants in the car parking lot reference, old timers probably see a different narrative lurking in discarded details like the abandoned but unexplained karaoke parlor coin laundry picture, a quirky Gifu sight familiar to anybody who knows that area and history.

Kissaten culture will not disappear. I like pizza toast, blend coffee, neapolitan ketchup spaghetti, green cream soda with a glow in the dark maraschino cherry, oshibori and nice clean glass ashtrays. Lots of people do and the growing number of older people in Japan with lots of time to kill need places to go. I remain hopeful that visitors to Japan will venture out of overpriced Starbucks and discover the joys of classic Japanese Kissaten.