In 1977, the expat British writer Alan Booth (1946 - 1993) walked the length of Japan from North to South, from Cape Soya to Cape Sata. Booth wrote a wonderful memoir of his long (128 days and 3,000 kilometres) and insightful journey called The Roads to Sata. At the end of the book, Booth recounts an encounter he had with an old man in Hokkaido during the early part of his walk.
The old man tells Booth that, not only could he not understand Japan by living in Tokyo, ‘You can’t understand Japan just by looking at it’. Booth goes on to explain that he is not looking like a tourist would, but also walking, and talking to people, whilst he was walking. The old man explains that Booth can’t understand Japan by walking or talking. In the end, Booth asks the old man;
‘How do you suggest I try to understand Japan, then?’
He seemed surprised by the question, and a little hurt, and a little angry. ‘You can’t understand Japan’, he said.