One of the principal charms of Lesley Downer’s On the Narrow Road to the Deep North is that it deals with aspects of Japan which are quite outside any of our stereotypical assumptions about the country. (The first of these being that Japan = Tokyo = an overcrowded concrete and neon forest in which it costs hundreds of pounds even to blow your nose). Instead, travelling largely through the remote northern provinces of Japan, Downer discovers a simpler, rural world which most Japanese believe vanished centuries ago.
It is a world which is almost doubly strange. A land possessed of a surrealism and a simplicity which in the west has only ever been dreamed of by poets and the 48 writers of children’s stories – a sort of oriental equivalent of the lands where the Jumblies live.