The (Hi)story of the Encounter: The Historical and the Personal in Nicolas Bouvier’s The Japanese Chronicles


Author: Halia Koo
Email: [email protected]
Published: December 1, 2018

Citation: Koo, H. (2018). The (Hi)story of the Encounter: The Historical and the Personal in Nicolas Bouvier’s The Japanese Chronicles. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 7(1).


The Japanese Chronicles is a travel narrative by Swiss writer Nicolas Bouvier (1929–1998), who uses a narrative strategy blending the historical and the personal. Bouvier’s style favours the exploration of the ‘Other’ through the anecdote of the encounter. The (hi)story of the encounter constitutes the framework of The Japanese Chronicles, a book organized in significant historical episodes. It is characterized by the juxtaposition of past and present-day travels: indeed, the stories of Japan’s encounters with the Western world are interspersed with personal anecdotes describing the author’s experience of today’s Japan, and this constant interaction between the two levels of encounter helps initiate a reflection on the intercultural contacts between East and West. In his narrative, Bouvier refers to several “chronicles” relating to Japan, e.g. the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan), historical records of the first Westerners in Japan, a courtier’s diary, memoirs of missionaries, annals of the Meiji era, and contemporary imperial edicts. Bouvier’s personal chronicle incorporates all these diverse historical accounts and intertwines them with his recollections, in order to tell the story of his own personal encounter with Japan, therefore marking the transition from history to the personal story. This unusual perspective also restores the individual voices of ordinary Japanese people—including a Hiroshima survivor whose spoken account is “chronicled” by Bouvier—effectively converting historical facts and dusty archives into living anecdotes that highlight the status of the personal story or narrative within the larger frame of events.


Nicolas Bouvier, travel literature, Japan, history, personal narrative