Books on Japan: Japan Travel Guides II
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Super Cheap Japan: Budget Travel in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Surrounding Areas, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-9998100-0-9 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-9998100-1-6 (ebook)
[Review of the Kindle e-book version]
While some will be put off by the inelegant title, this guidebook delivers what it promises, its very form embodying its super-cheap, super-easy approach. The electronic format makes it affordable, easy to carry on your smartphone, tablet or e-reader, and effortlessly navigable with its extensive use of hyperlinks. These allow you to check out recommended websites, decode unfamiliar terms or examine side attractions in an instant before returning to your main journey. Further, the book's social-media presence will provide frequent updates and information about new deals.
While Super Cheap Japan's main target is overseas travellers - and indeed, it rightly promotes the sales-tax rebate, unbeatable JR Rail passes and new Tokyo Subway Ticket, deals only available to tourists - it may also prove useful for frugal foreign residents because of its up-to-date overview of discounts, venues and services. (It might be helpful to add an icon to clearly distinguish those items only available to tourists.)
A particular strength of this guide is that it doesn't try to do too much. Its subtitle clearly limits its geographical focus to the part of Honshu that the author considers most accessible on a budget. The guide often connects a brief history of a region or site to its current socio-geographic points of interest, which helps to contextualise your journey and better inform your travel choices. Maps are basic, but the implication is that they can be supplemented by the linked Google Maps. Another efficient shortcut is that the guide doesn't attempt to teach you Japanese beyond the absolute minimum (and rather idiosyncratically romanised) set phrases; instead, it inserts Japanese text at strategic points (including all place and commercial names) so that you can simply show the relevant part to the locals to ensure you are heading in the right direction or requesting the room type you want.
Inevitably, perhaps, the content is a little hit-and-miss in places - let's take my stamping ground Kyoto as an example. Given the city's landlocked location, does its controversial aquarium really have "somewhat of a focus on sea life around Kyoto"? (Kyoto Prefecture, perhaps….) The restaurant listed repeatedly as "Yayoi Iken" is actually "Yayoiken" (as the accompanying Japanese correctly states). And I would have liked to see a little more about discount travel passes in Kyoto. Only the one-day bus pass is mentioned, even though the, admittedly pricier, Kyoto Sightseeing One/Two Day Pass gives access to the subway too. While limited in scope, the subway system is fast, air conditioned and rarely packed, making it a welcome change from the slow, crowded buses.
Overall, however, in Super Cheap Japan the author fulfils his mission to keep Japan both affordable and authentically enjoyable for tourists. Emphasising the relatively cheap insights available at museums and lesser-known cultural sites is an important aspect of this. There is a good balance between an overview of the usual tourist spots and quirkier recommendations that allows travellers to maximise their enjoyment of a singular country while minimising their budget.
ISBN: 1-7865-7655-4 (paperback)
Lonely Planet has released the first edition (August, 2017) of its Pocket Kyoto and Osaka guide book, and for those headed to those cities (Kyoto and Osaka are 43 kilometers/27 miles apart and two of Japan's top destinations for tourists), a useful pickup.
The first thing a reader will notice is that the guide is very colorful. There are bright colors on every page, and even the numerous, high-quality photos have vibrant hues.
The guide is called Pocket Kyoto and Osaka because, well, it easily fits in your pocket. The size is 10.5 cm (4.1 inches) by 15.3 cm (6.0 inches). Of course, the map inside the back cover folds out to a much larger size. The guide is only 184 pages, assuring it can fit in your pocket, as long as you are over five years old and have a pocket to spare. Despite the guide's small size, the pictures are, again, colorful and well done.
Of course, the book has everything other LP guidebooks have, including information on eating, drinking, exploring and shopping. It also has other useful information on customs and manners, the best things to see and two pages each on subjects such as best temples and shrines, best for kids, best architecture and gardens, best performing arts and others.
The section on where to stay is a bit on the sparse side, as is the index. You will probably have to use other resources to get what you want in terms of accommodation.
The biggest possible grumble some might have with the guide is that it switches back and forth between the cities, and its not always easy to follow which city the author is talking about. For those who have already done their research on the internet and know the famous sites, this is not a big problem. For those depending on only this book, it might take a little while to figure things out.
One aspect that may amuse readers is that among the brief vocabulary of helpful words and phrases that Lonely Planet thinks are most critical for any traveller (for example "hello," "goodbye," "help me," "please" and "thank you") is the phrase "I don't eat red meat." LP always has an eye toward the PC stuff.
If you are headed to Kyoto or Osaka with accommodations preplanned, and you don't want a bulky book weighing you down, this guide is what you need.
by Atsushi Ueda
Another member of the Kodansha bilingual-map series (see also Japan: A Bilingual Atlas, and Tokyo City Atlas: A Bilingual Guide). At 264 by 138mm, folding up into a fraction of the size, this mid-sized map is equally good for the apartment wall or the casual trip around Japan, though the detail is not sufficient for the serious explorer (Japan: A Bilingual Atlas is more likely to help there). On the back are 11 maps of the main urban centres, including Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. Its handy folder comes complete with a reasonably extensive index of grid-referenced place names. Some may not appreciate the rather dark green that colours flat areas of Japan, as it tends to obscure place names; and purists may object to the fact that the publishers have decided to cut off Hokkaido and stick it on the left side of Honshu to save space. But the map is reasonably priced and covers enough bases to make it useful for the average person living in or travelling through Japan.
The Kiso Road is a roughly 60-mile (100 kilometer) stretch of ancient highway which runs through central Nagano Prefecture and is part of the famous 340-mile Tokyo-to-Kyoto route called the Nakasendo. The Kiso Road is first mentioned in literature in the year 701, but the road may actually pre-date the birth of Christ.
William Scott Wilson has written about his hike along the still mostly-intact road from the beginning to the end of the trail, giving the readers all they need to know, and more, about what is there, what used to be there, and perhaps why it is no longer there.
The reader learns from the writings of various travelers who trod the road long ago. The reader is never more than a few pages away from one of these writings or perhaps a whimsical haiku by Basho or a passage from Confucius.
Some have criticized the book for not being a real guide book and for its complete lack of maps. It is not intended to be a guide book to the route; it is more esoteric than that, but will be an invaluable companion if you are walking this way. However, it is not a Lonely Planet kind of book.
Walking The Kiso Road is a book best read while sipping green tea (or perhaps sake) under a kotatsu - or at least while sitting on tatami. It is not something to be skimmed through on your iPhone or Kindle as you scurry up Broadway for your two o'clock meeting.
Some will be turned off by the occasionally overt pretentiousness of the author, with his 70-word sentences and use of words like père and corvée, but overall the reader will get a homey feeling about the Kiso Road and wish they could have the author as a tour guide on the same trip.
It is evident that the author really knows his Japanese history, and the book is filled with his little-known insights into Japanese culture.
The author is a well-known translator of traditional Japanese texts on samurai culture. In addition to translating works such as Hagakure: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai, Taiko and The Book of Five Rings, he has also authored books on the history of tea and Zen, and on the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi.
One of the best facets of the book is that the readers, especially those who are already familiar with Japanese culture, can empathize with and understand the people who now live along the Kiso Road. The author captures the essence of the kindness and the respect for traditional Japanese values that still exist in these people, many of them, like the author in their latter years.
Each chapter is a story about Wilson's experiences in and between succeeding post towns that make up the Kiso Road. He often talks about the inns in which he stays, some of which have been run by the same family for hundreds of years.
At the end of each chapter is a two-line blurb of the distance (in both miles and kilometers) and time required to walk between the given two post towns. The conversion of miles to kilometers is a little bit off a time or two, but the estimated travel time is probably more important anyway.
With a book like this, perhaps the most important thing is whether or not reading it makes you want to try to follow in the author's footsteps along the same road. In the case of Walking the Kiso Road, it does.
The latest version of Lonely Planet Kyoto is updated and as comprehensive as previous guides. Author Chris Rowthorn has a keen eye for both the large picture and the small details that make up the great and terrible of Kyoto.
The guide features sections on culture, how locals eat, history, excursions in and around the city. There are sections on flower arranging and tea ceremony, and, for foodies, a food glossary.
Kyoto is chock-a-block full of temples and shrines, museums and shops, fine hotels and ryokan. It is also a city built on a human scale and meant to be seen on foot. Lonely Planet Kyoto has a section of Walking Tours suitable for any traveler. Clear, well-done maps accompany these.
This text is both portable and comprehensive. An invaluable guide to a priceless city.
Juliet Carpenter has managed to go over well-trod ground without seeming trite; quite to the contrary, the photos and text in Seeing Kyoto make even a long-time resident realize anew how much beauty is compressed into one city. Flipping through the book, one can imagine the days of old when aristocrats and samurai lived in Kyoto. Juliet Carpenter goes into the cultural history of Kyoto, as well as its artistic, culinary, and historical treasures. In addition, Carpenter introduces nearby Nara, the capital prior to Kyoto. There is a wonderful foreword by tea master Sen Soshitsu. Seeing Kyoto is an introduction and overview of one of the world's finest cities. From ancient palaces to sacred temple grounds, classic Japanese gardens to treasured artworks - a great work.
128 pp, 31 maps
Tokyo is an intense city. It is LA in scale, NY in population density. It is a sprawling messy city that also happens to be a total blast. If you know where to go, what to do, how to get around. Tokyo is the hippest city in Asia, a techno-consumer paradise of music and fashion and food. It is also a city blessed with massive parks, great museums, a zillion dining options, very little crime, and some of the best shopping in the world. Without language skills or local knowledge, what to do? Lonely Planet's latest edition of Best of Tokyo is a pocket sized guide that will get you around the city and into the best restaurants, clubs, and cultural venues. A great buy.
For Margaret Price, author of Classic Japanese Inns & Country Getaways, traditional Japanese inns (ryokan), are not just a place to stay while traveling the country, but a destination in their own right. The Japanese have a proud inn keeping tradition that dates back to the Edo period. Staying at a traditional Japanese inn is like immersing oneself into a facet of traditional Japanese culture that foreign travelers seldom see. Entering a classic Japanese inn is like stepping into a an oasis of tranquility, soothed by the soft light seeping through paper shoji screens and the elegant minimalism of tatami-floored rooms. The ryokan experience is worlds away from the staying in sterile, concrete block hotels with flickering fluorescent lighting that mar the landscape of modern Japan.
Almost all ryokan include dinner and breakfast along with the price of lodging, and many of the inns featured in the book are notable for the quality of their cuisine as well as their charming atmosphere and refined service. They are the perfect getaway destination for intrepid travelers searching for something off the beaten path, residents in Japan looking for a retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life, and for adventurous epicureans in quest of local delicacies in lush surroundings.
Classic Japanese Inns & Country Getaways contains a brief history of Japanese inns, a short introduction to inn architecture and gardens, and a good guide to inn etiquette and protocol. The book profiles inns across Japan in both urban and rural settings, and indicates whether or not English is spoken at a given inn. A handy list of Japanese phrases is included, but it might be easier to solicit the help of a Japanese-speaking friend when making reservations. All in all, Classic Japanese Inns & Country Getaways is a solid primer to the enchanting world of traditional Japanese inns.
With the Rough Guide series having already broken new ground in what a guide book is and can be (Rough Guide to Bollywood anyone?) it was perhaps only a matter of time before Lonely Planet took one step further and post-modernised itself. Here we have the first guide for travellers who want to write guides for travellers - Lonely Planet: Travel Writing.
Now, for many of us the idea of sailing off to the tropics pen in hand, musing over ancient cultures while sipping the local nectar - and, critically, being paid for it - is something close to the best we might expect from the afterlife. One spoiler I can give you now (which might just save you the price of this book) is that it' s not easy to be a travel writer.
In no uncertain terms, Lonely Planet: Travel Writing tells us that the market is flooded with wannabes, the secure jobs are rarer than toucans' teeth and that even the best paid writers can find it hard to make ends meet. What hope it gives you is that by reading it and learning its lessons you are less likely to make the basic mistakes that result in 90% of budding writers hitting the bin before the paperclip is off the proposal. Interviews with writers and editors tell the same story over and over again. Tired clich, no knowledge of the publication, factual errors - even spelling errors - all of these mean instant doom and quite apart from avoiding the simple mistakes, good travel writing (of which a number of examples are included in the book) has to be original, engaging, structured, informed and above all , evoke a sense of place. The number of times this book repeats these fundamental points cannot fail to make an impression - in fact, editing out the repetition could well have meant 50% less pages for your money.
And even if an article from your trip does get published this might only be the first of the four you need just to cover the costs of your trip. Travel writing is about a lifestyle as much as a writing style and making it as a travel writer (not easy - did I mention that already?) certainly means a different kind of travelling and may even mean serious life decisions for those who want it to be a career. What comes across very strongly from this guide is that travel writing is not just a by-product of taking extended holidays.
But at what point do we catch a whiff of irony? When we suspect that we are hearing the voice of the industry exercising a bit of pre-emptive quality control? Maybe it' s when we read for the third time in an interview with a writer that they broke into the field at a time when it wasn't nearly as saturated as it is now. What are the ethics of selling a guide to joining a club where it has become harder than ever for a larger than ever number of competitors to score a smaller than ever number of prime jobs? Especially when the authors, interviewees and, indeed, publishers are themselves those who are already on the inside toasting their success? Lonely Planet: Travel Writing might well appeal not only to travel writers in the making but to anyone who sees the humour in post-modernity.
The "Honorable Visitors" in question are a dozen or so famous personalities from the West that have visited Japan since its "opening" in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Visitors to Japan usually either love it or hate it, and what they love or hate is that which is different in Japan, the exotic, the "other", and Richie's Honorable Visitors are no different. Some, like Aldous Huxley really disliked the place, and others, like Angela Carter, loved it, but they all left a record of their impressions, which Richie takes and weaves into a narrative of the West's encounter with Japan, and Japan's reactions to the West, a narrative not by historians or anthropologists, but by people. The Honorable Visitors are Isabella Bird, Ulysses S. Grant, Pierre Loti, Henry Adams, Rudyard Kipling, Aldous Huxley, William Plomer, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Cocteau, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Angela Carter, and Marguerite Yourcenar. Overall a nice little book packed with gems and insights about Japan.
103 pp, 20 pp for notes
The Wallpaper City Guide Tokyo at a Glance may offer a glance, but what a tantalizing one! The easy-access thumbtabbing of this almost pocket-sized 103-page guide makes for instant delving into the finer, and finer aspects, of Tokyo's landmarks, hotels, 24-hour facilities, urban life, architecture, shopping, sports, and escapes (i.e. within an hour or so of Tokyo, including Naoshima Island). It maintains a balance of concise text and tasteful, professional photography, letting the pictures speak at least as loudly and eloquently as the words.
Describing Tokyo as one of "the world's most intoxicating cities," the Wallpaper guide to Tokyo proffers just enough of Tokyo's 'intoxicants' to get the urban connoisseur more than just started. As a kaleidoscope of Tokyo's attractions from the perfect massage to the most avant-garde building design, to the chic-est bars, and much more, this slightly left-of-center booklet is as essential a guide to Tokyo for the resident of this vast metropolis as for the visitor. The perfect antidote to staying at home or in the hotel room.
Includes a summary of general tourist information at the front, color coding on the pages of "the city's hot "hoods," a list at the end of addresses and websites of all the institutions listed, about 20 blank and lined pages of "Notes" at the end for "sketches and memos," and a fold-out back cover outline map of Tokyo.
The prolific author of various handbooks for East Asia, Boye Lafayette De Menthe, has produced another, the Subway Guide to Tokyo. The subtitle modestly states: 'Take the right line, get off at the right station, and find the best exit!'. However, there is a lot more to this attractively designed, 160-page resource than that.
All the basic information is covered in very easy to follow and meticulously researched full-color graphic-interface detail, complete with a few passages of introductory information and advice for the Tokyo subway user. Particularly useful is information such as which cars are the closest to platform exits at connecting stations.
The next section devotes a page each to 12 of the most important stations and their environs (very considerately treating Shinjuku East exit and Shinjuku West exit in separate entries). A brief overview is given of the character of the area, places to eat, drink, and sightsee, how to get there and, if applicable, when.
Part 4, 'Destinations Listings' is, although included in the nature of an appendix, in many ways the handbook's most valuable section. From Acupuncture Clinics, to Embassies, to Ice Skating, to Restaurants (organized by genre), to the Zoo, there are 97 pages of places to go that will make life in Tokyo that much more livable and enjoyable.
If the book has a minus, it would be its somewhat limited scope for the Tokyo commuter who often uses a combination of both subway and JR. As a subway guide it includes information on only a few 'relevant' JR stations. Also, since publication the Passnet card mentioned in it has been replaced by the Pasmo and the Suica. However, for the price, this is a handbook that neither visitor, newbie, or even old hand, should be without.
Travelers' Tales Japan is an impressive collection of true stories written by a variety of authors including Alan Booth, Susan Orlean, Dave Barry, Robert Whiting, and Leila Philip. The collection, as a whole, paints a tantalizing picture of the Japanese people and culture. The book creates the illusion of walking down a long hallway and opening doors to have a peek at a sumo tournament, bashful students in an English lesson, the dor of a love hotel room, an old man groping a woman on a crowded train, and many other topics of various types of interest. Although some of the stories can be slow reading, the pace is appropriate for the subject matter of each story.
The editors have added side notes or attached further reading recommendations to the ends of stories to clarify and aid understanding, perhaps to show a different point of view, or to add mentions that tie into the subject. The book consists of six parts: "Essence of Japan," "Some Things to Do," "Going Your Own Way," "In the Shadows," "The Last Word," and, finally, for advice on going to Japan, "The Next Step."
Travelers' Tales Japan will add an extra dimension to the Japan experience for anyone: residents, tourists, those who have been there, those who hope to go, and those who prefer to do their traveling through reading alone. Colorful, expressive, and with a truly distinctive Japanese flavor, this collection will not disappoint.
Lonely Planet has just published a Tokyo guide that isn't for the backpacker. Tokyo Encounter, gives the young tourist with time and money to spend a concise, intelligent, colorful, and easily searchable bird's eye view of the city in a glossy, pocket-sized 200 pages.
The first section of Tokyo Encounter has 16 "Highlights" - not-to-be-missed shopping and drinking spots, temples, parks and the like - followed by a very brief calendar of once-a-year things to be seen and done. The main body of the book, "Neighborhoods," features ten Tokyo neighborhoods, handily color-coded, with a short overview, a map, and "See," "Shop," "Eat," "Drink," and "Play" listings, each with a fifty-or-so word description: stylishly and thoughtfully written. Few pages are without an artful photograph, or an extra-info box.
Following "Neighborhoods" are "Snapshots": 16 little overviews of accommodation, anime and manga, architecture, food, galleries, gay and lesbian, kids, live music, markets, and more.
Next is "Background": some "textbook" stuff about Tokyo; and, finally, "Transport" and "Practicalities" (climate, discounts, emergencies, health, holidays, language, etc.) In the inside back cover is a pull-out map of Tokyo and the subway system.
Tokyo Encounter is a user-friendly, up-to-date and attractive-looking guide that, if you are visiting Tokyo, is guaranteed to steer you where you want to go with a minimal amount of homework.
By Ruth Kanagy
If you are thinking about relocating to Japan, planning on studying in Japan, are already there but struggling a bit, or even a long time resident - this is the book for you.
Author Ruth Kanagy was born and raised in Tokyo. She knows Japan from the inside out. She has worked in travel and now has written a wonderful book full of gems.
Living Abroad in Japan is full of practical information that will help in
with among other thingsgetting started. This includes getting visas, opening a bank account, finding work, getting health care, and more.
The book starts off with concise, easy to read sections on Japanese history, geography, and the people. Then there are pages and pages of detailed advice.
Kanagy then ends her book with sections on six "prime living locations": Tokyo, Hokkaido, the central mountains, Kansai, Seto Inland Sea area, and Kyushu.
A very useful work.
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