I wonder if someone at Europa Editions had an inkling that the world would be locked down and the only travel that most people would be doing would be the armchair variety when they conceived The Passenger. Probably not. Nevertheless the timing is fortuitous. There are now 4 titles in this series: Japan, Brazil, Greece and Turkey. After sampling the Japanese offering, I will be reading the others!

I know nothing about Japan, apart from what I’ve gleaned from the mere handful of novels read mainly due to fellow blogger prompting, and that infamous TV show Endurance (Za Gaman) which featured on Clive James on Television here in the UK. Hardly informed am I? I know more now thanks to essays and features in this volume. Most are reportage written by non-Japanese journalists, though there are a couple of original Japanese pieces by Yoshimito Banana and Murakami Ryū which means I can count this for the Japanese Literary Challenge. Topics are quite diverse. The list featured on the front cover gives a good idea of the range.

Highlights for me were pieces that delivered something completely unexpected: Richard Lloyd Parry’s report on the aftermath of the tsunami and Léna Mauger’s report on The Evaporated, people who simply leave their identities behind as they flee their debtors.

Not everything was commissioned especially for the publication; some pieces were previously published elsewhere. Longer essays are complimented with small features on various aspects of contemporary Japanese culture that I found quite fascinating. Why is the average age of a Japanese house only 27 years, what are the distinctive features of J-pop, and what is the iconic object that made Tony – who has lived in Japan – roll his eyes but made me wish we had such things in the UK?

Liberal use is made of photography, illustration, infographics and cartographics making the volume visually appealing. Many people contributed to this snapshot of Japan, including translators from 3 languages (French, Italian, Japanese). The list of credits takes up a full page. Europa Editions are marketing The Passenger as a quarterly magazine, though I must say production values are pretty high for a magazine. I mean it comes with those highly desirable french flaps!

With my concentration shot – something to do with the third national lockdown – I found these short pieces ideal. It took me 2-3 weeks to work my way through it – the pace dictated by me, not by lack of enjoyment. On the contrary, pacing myself like that was the best thing to do. It gave me something good to look forward to at the end of just another locked-down day.