I lived in Japan for quite a few years, and while I don't need a travel guide to the country anymore I am always curious on how well new travel guides highlight all the madness and charm that can be found there. Consequently, I own a lot of travel guides to Japan. I have also hosted a lot of visitors in Japan, and have learned over the years what works and what doesn't.
I admit that I have never been a huge fan of the Lonely Planet series, as their books tend to be just lists of places with tongue-in-cheek humor but not a terrible amount of depth. I have the previous Japan (Country Guide) and this "Discover Japan" volume covers much of the same information, only updated with color photographs and some flash and pizzazz.
Right from the start, I had some problems with "Discover Japan." First off, it touts Japan as "one of the cheapest countries in the developed world" which is simply wrong. Japan is incredibly expensive to travel in, with Tokyo being one of the most expensive cities on the planet. Consider that this is a country whose smallest paper currency is equivalent to US $10 (1000 yen), and dollar coins (100 yen) are just chump change. I lived in the Kansai area, which is not as expensive as Tokyo, and even then it was hard to step out your door for less than a hundred dollars a day.
Along with this, it says that Visa and Mastercard are "widely excepted," which is completely untrue and a dangerous thing to say. Japan is an almost entirely cash-based society, and I have had to pay for more than one visitor who blindly ordered at a large restaurant just assuming they could pay with their credit card and being shocked when they are told "cash only.Read more ›
Disclosure: I have owned and used only one other travel book in my life, so I don't have much to compare this one too. I am simply giving my impressions as a novice travel planner.
First off, I actually went to Japan!! This year! I spent 6 weeks in the Kansai region for a language program, and I traveled to Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo, Shirakawa-go, Takayama, Gifu, Inuyama, Hiroshima, Himeiji, Sekigahara, Mt. Koya, and Mt. Hiei. I got this book before I left, but unfortunately forgot to take it with me. I did read the entire section on the Kansai region and some highlights of Gifu prefecture before I left. So as you might guess, my review will focus heavily on the section of the book featuring the Kansai region.
The book is nicely arranged: it starts out with some important things to know, gives some suggested itineraries, and then presents places to visit divided by region. Each region contains a regional map and a list of highlights of the region. It is then divided into cities in the region, giving some history, maps, and general information, before listing the attractions. At the back of the book is a valuable little section called "Japan in Focus". It explains some about the history of Japan, the food, and various aspects of travel that are useful to know (such as explaining ryokan and onsen). I missed this section the first time I went through the book (I thought it was just another region section). I think it would have been much better placed at the beginning of the book.
I do agree with some other reviewers; some of the attractions given prominent positions should have been smaller, while some of the attractions shoved into the background should have been brought forward, but I am sure not everyone would agree with me and you can't please everyone.Read more ›
I purchased this book in advance of a 1-week trip to Japan. I decided to take this over the thicker, more expensive, "classic" Japan guide, because I thought it might be a more focused, lighter option for a short trip.
It seems that a lot of good content was edited out in favor of glossy photos and top-ten lists. The lists are fine by themselves, but most repeat content from elsewhere in the book, resulting in a lot of duplicated information, which is not always located where you would expect. For example, try finding the best Onsen (or Sentoh) in Kyoto, and you'll need to find the "Best Onsens" list, far away from the Kyoto-specific section...
By giving so many pages over to lists and photos, the city pages suffer, and a lot of what i'd consider must-see sights are left out... Ultimately, I was disappointed, and ended up using printed pdfs from a downloaded copy of the original Japan guide over this attractive but frustrating guidebook.
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My wife and I are seasoned Japan travelers (and occasional tour guides). We lived in the Tohoku region for a year and have visited Japan once or twice a year for over a decade, so we know our way around and have visited a lot of places. We both agree that Lonely Planet's "Discover Japan" is a great guidebook for anyone traveling to Japan.
The book is divided into sections and are filled with the main highlights and attractions for each destination. The book is well organized, starting with the places most tourists will likely visit (Tokyo/Kanto area and Kyoto/Kansai area).
This latest edition is very up-to-date, featuring current photos of what you can expect when visiting Japan, as well as recent currency conversion rates and prices. All too often I look at travel guides to Japan full of photos taken 25 years ago--that is not the case here. And one of the things I like about this book is the directory at the end of the book, which gives information on food, history, and culture, as well as good, sound travel advice. I found it to be full of the exact same things I would say to people I'd be taking around and it's a good insight into what to expect when traveling to what can be, despite its modern, Western appearance, a very foreign country.
My biggest complaint about this book is the lack of directions or even a decent rail map for the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. If you're not going on a tour to Japan, most, if not all, of your travel will be done via Japan's extensive rail network, and it can be confusing, if not overwhelming, to attempt to visit the places listed here without some idea of how to get there. I'd suggest downloading the free English language map from the JR (Japan Railways) website if you'll be using this book as your guide.Read more ›
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