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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Takaoka's Travels

Shibusawa Tatsuhiko

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To purchase Takaoka's Travels

Title: Takaoka's Travels
Author: Shibusawa Tatsuhiko
Genre: Novel
Written: 1987 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 187 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Takaoka's Travels - US
Takaoka's Travels - UK
Takaoka's Travels - Canada
Le voyage sur les mers du prince Takaoka - France
Le cronache marine del principe Takaoka - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: 高丘親王航海記
  • Translated and with an Afterword by David Boyd

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a vivid, creative travel-tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 14/5/2024 Thu-Huong Ha
Libération . 13/9/2022 Frédérique Roussel
The Straits Times . 28/4/2024 Walter Sim

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t’s a romp across Asia that’s both bawdy and spiritual. (...) Anachronism itself plays an explicit role. Takaoka’s Travels breaks the fourth wall every so often (.....) Underneath the shenanigans, the novel also presents an interesting dichotomy within the wise and experienced monk." - Thu-Huong Ha, The Japan Times

  • "Son texte tient du périple hallucinatoire peuplé de figures mythiques et de paysages confondants, avec la certitude qu’il faut suivre son désir profond." - Frédérique Roussel, Libération

  • "Takaoka’s Travels is deliberately evocative and its explicitness may discomfort some readers, but it is at its heart a pilgrimage through unfamiliar experiences towards an inevitable end." - Walter Sim, The Straits Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Prince Takaoka whose travels are chronicled here is an historical figure, the son of Emperor Heizei. He was briefly Crown Prince -- "heir presumptive to the throne" -- but became a monk and eventually sought permission to travel abroad to Tang China, which was granted. Shibusawa does not concern himself with too much of the Prince's actual life -- "I have no intention of writing an exhaustive biography of the Prince's life here, so I will skip over some of the details" -- but focuses on his journey aboard, imagining that the Prince always: "had deep interest in all things foreign" and, in particular, from childhood on, in the land where Buddha was born, Hindustan -- where: "there are fantastic animals in the fields, curious plants in the gardens, and celestial beings in the sky".
       Takaoka's Travels picks up when the Prince is already in Tang, opening in Jōgan 7 -- ca. 865 AD -- with the sixty-five-year-old Prince setting out for Hindustan from Guangzhou. The actual Takaoka had also ventured onwards from Guangzhou at that time, but that was more or less the last that was ever heard of him; Shibusawa imagines what his voyage may have been like.
       Among the fictional embellishments are a last-minute stowaway, whom the Prince allows to stay on board and calls Akimaru, after a page he used to have. The boy Akimaru will turn out not to be quite what he seemed, his identity shifting significantly twice (in the later case, apparently reborn as one then called Harumaru).
       The Prince and his small entourage travel to a variety of places around South-East Asia -- Malaya, Burma, Sri Lanka, among others -- encountering unusual people, creatures, and situations as they push towards a Hindustan that remains, however, elusive.
       Much that they encounter has elements of the fantastical; there's a near-hallucinatory feel to much of their voyage -- and parallel to the actual voyage the Prince also has vivid dreams, with Shibusawa noting:

It no longer bears repeating, but dreaming was something at which the Prince was particularly adept.
       A sense of fatalism and looming death also pervades the story, with the Prince increasingly certain of his own death -- "All signs suggest my death is imminent" -- and suspecting he won't live long enough to reach Hindustan. So also, near the end, they encounter a culture in which the local queens go to their death -- mummified by a flower that: "feeds on the bodily fluids of human beings, leaving not so much as a drop behind ..." -- after giving birth. (As translator David Boyd points out in his Afterword, "the end of Takaoka's life is made to mirror that of the author. Shibusawa was dying as he wrote this book".)
       A neatly imagined quest tale, focused on the journey rather than the idealized but out of reach (physical) destination, Takaoka's Travels is an appealing mix of the historical and the fantastical.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 May 2024

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Takaoka's Travels: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author and translator Shibusawa Tatsuhiko (澁澤龍彦) lived 1928 to 1987.

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© 2024 the complete review

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