Following in the Footsteps of Isabella Bird?

Alma Karlin and Her Representations of Japan


  • Klemen SENICA Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), University of Tokyo, Japan



Alma Karlin, Japan, travel writing, Isabella Bird, representations, Orientalism


Alma Karlin (1889–1950), a round-the-world traveller, intellectual, and writer from Celje, Slovenia, arrived in Japan and lived in Tokyo in the early 1920s, an era which historians consider to be an interim period between the initial expansion of the Japanese Empire to mainland Asia and its end in 1945. The writer’s fascination with the land can be inferred, among other things, from a 35-page description of Japan and the Japanese in her most famous book, Einsame Weltreise. Die Tragödie einer Frau (The Odyssey of a Lonely Woman), and passages in Reiseskizzen (Travel Sketches), an earlier work. The article aims to place these travel accounts in the historical and ideological contexts of their time while highlighting some similarities and differences between the representations of the land and its people by Karlin and those by Isabella Bird (1831–1904). Although Karlin makes no explicit reference to the famous British traveller in her writing on Japan, the article demonstrates that she must have known about Bird’s book Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. It is, above all, her decision to introduce her (German) readers to topoi that were typical of Victorian women’s travel writing which suggests that Karlin partly based her image of Japan, if not even the itinerary of her journey there, on Bird’s bestselling work. Nevertheless, Karlin does not seem to have conformed to the then dominant orientalist discourses on Japan, her representations generally showing none of the Western arrogance that was so typical of her fellow travellers of both sexes.


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10. 09. 2021



East Asian Traditions: Perception and Representation in Alma Karlin’s Writing

How to Cite

Senica, Klemen. 2021. “Following in the Footsteps of Isabella Bird? Alma Karlin and Her Representations of Japan”. Asian Studies 9 (3): 225-57.

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