Mapping Isabella Bird: Geolocation & Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880)

Traveling to Japan


Bird traveled to Japan in 1878. This short trip was part of a larger journey through Asia. Throughout her life, she spent time in China, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia, and would continue traveling until the death of her sister Henrietta in 1880. It was at this point -- after her journey to Japan -- that Isabella Bird returned home and accepted a marriage proposal from a long-time pursuer John Bishop. However, by Bishop’s own death in 1886, Bird recommitted herself as a missionary to India. After this, she would return to Asia to visit Tibet, Persia, Kurdistan, Turkey, Iran, China, and Korea. She died in 1904 and was planning yet another trip to China at the time of her death.

Bird described her trip to Japan in Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: An Account of Travels in the Interior Including Visits to the Aborigines of Yezo and the Shrines of NIkko and Ise (1880). Although the work appears in two volumes, her overall trip can be broken into the following four stages:

1. Yokohama to Niigata (May - July 1878) [vol. 1]
2. Niigata to Aomori (July - August 1878) [vol. 1]
3. Hokkaido (August - September 1878) [vol. 2]
    [Brief stop in Yokohama/Tokyo]
4. Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Ise) (October - November 1878) [vol. 2]

Unbeaten Tracks in Japan included fold-out map showing the extent of Bird's travels in the region. Like most travelers of the period, she first arrived in the port city of Yokohama. After exploring Yokohama and Tokyo (Edo), Bird took a trip to the shrines of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, where she saw the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu. From there, she traveled northwest to Niigata. When she learned that a boat to Hokkaido (Yezo) was not coming for months, she got back on her packhorse and traveled east towards Yamagata before heading north once more until she reached Aomori in August of 1878. From there, she was able to ferry to the island of Hokkaido, landing in the port of Hakodate. After meeting the indigenous Ainu and touring the island, she would take another boat back to Tokyo Bay, where she spent time exploring customs in the capitol once more. The final leg of her trip occurred in October to November 1878, when she took a boat to the port of Kobe. There she had a chance to explore the Kansai region, spending most of her time between Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and Ise. This would conclude her Japanese tour.

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This page references:

  1. Book Cover: Isabella L. Bird, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (London: John Murray, 1880). 3rd Edition.
  2. Fold-Out Map of Japan (1880)
  3. LibriVox: Unbeaten Tracks in Japan