THEN AND NOW – Travelling Japan

July 10, 1878. – 47 YEAR OLD English woman Isabella Bird detailed her readying to trek off to unknown parts of JAPAN with her young locally secured guide ITO – travelling in rugged remote areas well away from metropolitan Tokyo and Yokohama. In many areas she visited, Japanese locals had never seen a foreigner, let alone a lone European woman.

“The preparations were finished yesterday, and my outfit weighed 110 lbs., which, with Ito’s weight of 90 lbs., is as much as can be carried by an average Japanese horse. My two painted wicker boxes lined with paper and with waterproof covers are convenient for the two sides of a pack-horse.

I have a folding-chair—for in a Japanese house there is nothing, but the floor to sit upon, and not even a solid wall to lean against—an air-pillow for travelling, an india-rubber bath, sheets, a blanket, and last, and more important than all else, a canvas stretcher on light poles, which can be put together in two minutes; and being 2.5 feet high is supposed to be secure from fleas.

(NOTE; The stretcher bed collapsed on her on her first night)

I have my own Mexican saddle and bridle, a reasonable quantity of clothes, including a loose wrapper for wearing in the evenings, some candles, Mr. Brunton’s large map of Japan, volumes of the Transactions of the English Asiatic Society, and Mr. Satow’s Anglo-Japanese Dictionary.

My travelling dress is a short costume of dust-coloured striped tweed, with strong laced boots of unblacked leather, and a Japanese hat, shaped like a large inverted bowl, of light bamboo plait, with a white cotton cover, and a very light frame inside, which fits round the brow and leaves a space of 1.5 inches between the hat and the head for the free circulation of air. It only weighs 2.5 ounces, and is infinitely to be preferred to a heavy pith helmet. I have a bag for my passport, which hangs to my waist.“

2022: 70 YEAR OLD me as I prepare for my latest trip to Japan with hubby Mike. Is 70 the new 1870’s 47?

“My preparations are almost complete with all possibles to take with me laid out on the spare bed ready for my final choices. I plan to get my luggage under 14 kilos, with plenty of room to bring home goodies!

I’m taking one bag on wheels (can convert to a backpack if the wheels fall off), one day back pack, and most essential – two cameras, three lenses. Isabella too had a camera with her. You can view many of her 1878 photos of JAPAN at the National Library of Scotland website.

Like Isabella, I have my passport, always secure, plus a vaccination certificate which she probably didn’t have, but might have needed given that flea and mosquito spread diseases were rife in JAPAN at the time. Epidemics of Japanese encephalitis raged in the 1800’s while she was there, along with cholera, smallpox, typhus, yellow fever, and scarlet fever. I’ll be masking up for Covid. Easy stuff compared to what Isabella faced.”

I don’t have Ito, but I have MJ, my hubby as a travelling companion. I also have my phone, ipad, wifi pack, and rail pass! And, no doubt like Isabella, I have lots of notes from my research about what to see and do. My travelling outfit will be jeans, shirt, walking shoes, and light jacket. Other clothes include beanie, scarf, gloves, thermals, down winter jacket, a mini brolly and spare flat casual shoes.

For part of my journey, I will follow Isabella’s footsteps. For all of my journey, I will be guided by her zest for exploration and curiosity.”

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