Interview with Daisuke Takahashi

Daisuke Takahashi explains how a childhood book inspired a life of adventure.

We all know that childhood reading is important, that it feeds the imagination. No one knows this better than Daisuke Takahashi, whose love of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe inspired him to travel the world as an adult. In his twenties, Daisuke backpacked throughout the world, drawn to the wilderness of Himalayas, the Antarctica, the Amazon and the Sahara. His fascination with the Earth’s most remote regions stemmed from his love of Defoe’s classic novel. “For me Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was a kind of bible. It tells how one can manage to survive in a remote part of the world.”

He had always regarded Robinson Crusoe “as a fiction of the 18th century, just the imagination of author.” When he learned that the novel is thought to be based on the experience of Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk (1676-1721), Daisuke determined to find out everything he could about Selkirk’s story and how it related to Robinson Crusoe’s. “What was the difference between fiction and non-fiction? Everything started from this question and provided me with my inspiration.” Daisuke documents his pursuit of the answer in his book, In Search of Robinson Crusoe.

A large part of the book is concerned with Daisuke’s stay on Robinson Crusoe Island (formerly Más a Tierra), off the coast of Chile, where Selkirk was marooned for four years and four months. Daisuke, a seasoned traveller and explorer, used his survival skills to live off the island’s resources as Selkirk had done almost 300 years previously, with no modern tools or equipment. Daisuke believes that this experience was crucial to enable him to understand how Selkirk must have felt during the years he spent alone on the island. “I spoke to the island’s rocks and trees to relieve loneliness. Without this experience, I could not write about [Selkirk’s] castaway life.” Daisuke hoped that by living like Selkirk for a short time on the island, he would uncover evidence of the castaway’s existence. “Trying to find water and edible fruit or catching fish on the island like Robinson Crusoe was not for fun but to find Selkirk’s campsite.”

Daisuke draws on historical documents in In Search of Robinson Crusoe to give an account of Selkirk’s life. “We know about his castaway life from A Cruising Voyage Round the World by Captain Woodes Rogers. Rogers was a buccaneer and rescued Selkirk from [the island]”. In the small town of Lower Largo in Scotland, where Selkirk was raised, Daisuke gained access to documents from the local church which shed light on Selkirk’s personality. The church’s records of disciplinary action taken against Selkirk led Daisuke to draw the conclusion in his book that Selkirk was “hot-headed” and “prone to think with his fists.” This perhaps explains why, after one too many quarrels with the captain of the Cinque Ports galley, Selkirk was set ashore on a deserted island. To understand Selkirk’s role as sailing master on board pirating ships, Daisuke researched navigational history and explains that this information on the lives of pirates in the 18th century lends authenticity to his writing. “Many parts of my book rely on this indirect but historical background, however, I write the whole story as my personal journey and experience.”

Daisuke’s advice for aspiring travel writers is to gather as much information as possible on location. “Notes and photographs are essential; hand drawn rough maps and sketches too.” To recreate a landscape for a reader, Daisuke says that it is important to pay attention to all your senses. “How does the air smell? Is it dry or humid, hot or chilly?” Sometimes he takes sound recordings while he is travelling and tries to get a feel for the local language. “I write my emotional feeling too. I want to tell the readers how I feel about it, so the reader may feel what it is like to be there.”

For his next adventure, Daisuke hopes to delve into the background of another work of fiction and travel to the Guiana Highlands of South America. “They say that it is a prototype of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. How did Conan Doyle write the novel?”

Daisuke aims to find out.

In Search of Robinson Crusoe is available to buy on Amazon.

November 2009

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