Four of the Best Japan Travel Guides in 2017

It’s always a good idea to buy a new travel guide if you’re itching to visit the Land of the Rising Sun or if you live in Japan and you want to explore more of the country. Take a look at these four Japan guidebooks below. Each guide will appeal to a certain type of traveller. Simply choose the one that’s right for you.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Japan published by DK Eyewitness Travel, flexibound £15.18, paperback £34.95, 408 pages

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Japan front coverEssential information is delivered in short paragraphs so this is perfect for travellers who don’t want to spend a lot of time reading but it’s the 875 stunning photos that make this guidebook so appealing. There’s also an emphasis on the cultural and historical aspects of Japan presented with 85 maps and 55 detailed illustrations. An added bonus is the durable flexibound cover which keeps the book clean and the pages protected from dog-earing.

Flipping through this guidebook, you’ll discover one page or two dedicated to aspects of the Japanese culture that require further explanation such as the differences between geisha, geiko and maiko in Kyoto, the inner-workings and the towers at Himeji Castle and the significance of the floating world of ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

Realizing tourists are interested in exploring areas outside of central Tokyo there’s a great introduction to Kamakura as well as Mount Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes. For those who want to travel even further afield, there’s in-depth information about surrounding areas like Takayama with corresponding illustrations. The depiction of a gassho-zukuri house, famous in the Shokawa Valley for its steep thatched roof built to represent praying hands, is well-worth examining.

Fashion lovers will appreciate the sections dedicated to shopping with information on how to pay, the sales tax, rights and refunds, tax-free shopping, and the differences between Western and Japanese sizes. If you’re interested in buying tea, ceramics or traditional washi paper you’ll love the summary of specialty souvenirs in Kyoto.

Foodies will zero in on A Gourmet Tour of Central Japan recommending the chestnut confectionery in Obuse or the sasamushi (eel steamed in rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) in Matsumoto, as well as other local delicacies. There’s also a focus on the differences between Edo and Kansai cuisine and the types of tea, sake, soft drinks and beer sold primarily in Japan.

A brief but excellent nine-page guide to the history of Japan at the beginning is enough for first-time travellers and you can expect a short but informative description for each area when a new part of Japan is introduced. Sections are also dedicated to Northern Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa. These are colour-coded which makes it easy to turn to the area of your choice.

This guidebook also has lots of helpful hints and information on onsen (hot springs), the science-based, historical and foreign culture theme parks, as well as the popular amusement parks in Japan. There’s also a survival guide for travelling with children or if you’re visiting with a disability and a short section on how to be an environmentally responsible tourist.

Lonely Planet Guide Japan (Travel Guide) published by Lonely Planet, paperback £12.91, Kindle £12.91, 928 pages.
Lonely Planet Guide Japan front coverThis 2017 version with its pretty plum blossom cover is very comprehensive. It would make a fantastic reference book for hard-core visitors who plan to travel the length and breadth of the country. It would also appeal to niche travellers planning a skiing trip or travelling with children, hikers, adventure lovers who want to climb Mount Fuji and anyone who wants to know what’s new and interesting in Japan right now.

Fans of Lonely Planet Guides love their detailed maps and their insiders’ opinions on why a particular hotel or other form of accommodation is so appealing and you can expect the same from this Japan guide. There’s also a good-sized pull-out city and subway map at the back and lots of detailed maps inside to help you get around the different prefectures and towns.

Snippets of invaluable information are highlighted in yellow and red throughout the book with the titles Don’t miss, Worth a trip and Local knowledge. These are must-read sections to ensure you get the most out of every area you visit.

This Lonely Planet Guide certainly covers a lot of areas but it does go into more depth with several points of interest that deserve attention. The section on the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people, is particularly enlightening and the poignant descriptions of the atomic bomb explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki are essential reading.

The pages dedicated to the Northern Honshu, Tohoku region are also good. Train geeks will enjoy reading about the novelty trains in the area, you’ll want to make a note to visit the medieval town Yonezawa best known for its Yonezawa-gyū (local beef) and there’s a section dedicated to the famous music, arts and environmental Earth Celebration in Ogi.

A pocket-sized Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook and Dictionary is also available. It includes essential but very basic tips on speaking, pronouncing, reading and writing Japanese as well as a 350-word two-way dictionary.

 

Must-See Japan: The Complete Insider’s Guide to Seeing the Best of Japan in One Trip by Tom Fay, published by CreateSpace, paperback £5.79, Kindle £3.49, 174 pages.

Must-see Japan front coverPublished in 2016 but updated in 2017, Must-See Japan is a brief travel guide that focuses on the three main areas tourists want to visit: Tokyo, the Mount Fuji region and Kyoto. This guidebook is perfect for visitors planning a short stay, backpackers who don’t want to lug around a bulky guide and travellers who want a concise guide that will fit neatly into their handbag or carry-on.

This travel guide claims it’s an insider’s guide to Japan and it certainly delivers on this promise with lots of great recommendations throughout the book. Even regular visitors to Japan will discover lots of new and different experiences, great restaurants, and out-of-the-way places they’ve never heard of before.

Find out where you can eat tendon (tempura over rice) at the first restaurant in Japan to serve this dish, which travel pass you should buy if you’re in Osaka for only a couple of days, and the best time of the year to climb Mount Fuji. These tips and so many other helpful suggestions are all packed inside this short but very informative guidebook.

Although this travel guide concentrates on the three main areas in Japan, it does cover quite a few other major and well-known areas including Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa. The information on these areas is limited but it’s still well-worth reading the insider tips if you want a more memorable stay in Japan.

If you skip to the back of the book you’ll find even more expert recommendations on must-eat foods, must-do activities, onsen, karaoke, shopping, hiking, sumo, ryokans (Japanese inns) and capsule hotels.

 

The Rough Guide to Japan published by Rough Guides, paperback £11.35, Kindle £13.67, 880 pages.

The Rough Guide to Japan front coverThis 2017 edition with 880 pages is nearly as thick as the Lonely Planet Guide and just as informative if you want to know a little bit about anything and everywhere in Japan. The sections on Kyoto and Nara, Buddhist and Shinto beliefs and pilgrimages would really appeal to travellers interested in history, culture and the spiritual elements that are very much a part of Japanese life.

There’s a list of 29 things not to miss at the beginning with corresponding page numbers so you can easily find that point of interest in the guidebook and you can expect entertaining and practical advice throughout. You’re urged to turn on the TV in your hotel room and enjoy the fairly easy to understand food programs just for a laugh and there’s excellent advice on earthquake safety procedures and how to call home if you want to contact your family.

You can also find out where to get the best coffee in Kyoto or for something different readers are advised to take the sake brewery tour in Kobe, join the Obubu Tea Farm tours in Uji or help the local community construct a giant snow sculpture in Odori Park at the Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) in Sapporo.

This guidebook also touches on current affairs in Japan such as the problem with Yasukuni and why this shrine is so controversial and the setbacks associated with relocating the Tsukiji fish market. There’s also a quick guide on who’s who in Sumo wrestling and information on renting a kimono in Asakusa, Harajuku or Shibuya.

The comment “I might as well be going to the ends of the earth” by the famous poet Matsuo Basho introduces the section on Northern Honshu where visitors can enjoy rural traditions and festivals. There’s also a very informative section on the three sacred mountains of Dewa and its shrines in Yamagata Prefecture where you can see the yamabushi (mountain priests) practising ancient rites as they summon the gods.

Travelers who want to take part in other ascetic experiences should read the sections on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage on Shikoku and the Kumano Kodo trail in the southern Kansai region, as well as information on shukubō (temple lodgings) and the monasteries and temples where you can stop to worship.

The section on Okinawa towards the end of the guidebook gives a lovely description of these islands and its beautiful beaches where you can dive, snorkel and appreciate the underwater wildlife. There’s also an interesting segment on the Ryukyu culture urging travelers to try the delicious Okinawan cuisine.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2018!

It’s the season to wish one another joy, love, peace and gratitude so I’d like to say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has read my books and visited my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog in 2017. I hope you’ll continue to support me in 2018. Here’s a short Christmas video I put together for you to enjoy. Happy holidays, stay safe during the festive season and fill your hearts with warmth and love as we say goodbye to 2017 and welcome the new year.



Forget Awkward Selfies! Capture Beautiful Memories of Your Time in Tokyo with Nathalie April

It took me two years to plan our 2017 trip to Japan in September. I wanted it to be perfect and in the end, we did have a fantastic time but it was over all too soon. I realised before we left for Japan that it was really important for me to take lots of photos and capture my time in Tokyo because we probably wouldn’t be returning to my favourite city for five or six years. The problem is I’m not a confident photographer and my husband Roy would rather not take any photos at all. He likes to completely immerse himself in the experience when we travel so that left us with a conundrum – how could we capture those great memories in Japan and return home with photos we’d be proud to use for work, on social media, or to frame and hang on the wall in our living room?

The answer was quite simple, really! I’ve been a big fan of Nathalie April Photography for a long time and I love the way she uses electric light so I contacted Nathalie in September 2016, a year before our trip, and I was so pleased when Nathalie (pictured below) replied almost straight away and agreed to meet us for a photo shoot in Tokyo.

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I have to admit I’m really pleased with all the photos and I was so impressed with Nathalie’s professionalism and easy-going nature which made the whole experience really enjoyable.

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I explained to Nathalie my husband Roy only wanted to be in a few photos taken with me as a couple and the rest of the photos would be of me for our home and for my social media pages. I also needed photos for publications that require a high-res photo of me when they publish my Japan-related articles. Nathalie was more than happy to do this and she kept her word when she met us in Shibuya at dusk on 22 September in front of Starbucks with a warm smile and several cameras ready to start shooting.

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It was a balmy evening so we all enjoyed a quick iced coffee at Starbucks before Nathalie led us to five different locations in Shibuya where she took reams of photos for the next hour and a half; giving me advice at the same time on how to stand, smile and look comfortable in front of the camera in a way that made me feel totally at ease.

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If you’re visiting as a tourist or celebrating a special occasion like an engagement or wedding or if you live in Tokyo and you want some wonderful photos to capture your time in this amazing city you have to get in touch with Nathalie. You can choose one or two locations for the photo shoot and I promise you it’s well worth the time and the investment because you’ll have some incredible photographs to take home with you.

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You can see in the photos above how relaxed I felt during the photo shoot in Shibuya. Below are some more stunning photos from Nathalie April’s portfolio for you to enjoy. I think you’ll agree with me, Nathalie is an extremely talented photographer and I can assure you she’s one of the nicest people you’ll meet in Japan.

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Gold Salon Tokyo Opens in Omotesando with a 50% off Discount Promotion!

If you live in Tokyo it’s more than likely you’ve heard of the English-speaking hair salon Gold Salon Tokyo in Azabu Juban. It’s considered to be one of the best hair salons for Westerners in Japan. All the staff are highly trained, their hairdressing skills are exceptional and the service you’ll receive is fantastic so, if you’ll excuse the pun, Gold Salon Tokyo really is a cut above the rest.

You’ll be pleased to know Gold Salon Tokyo has just opened another salon in Omotesando and if you make a booking at this new salon before 30 December 2017 for more than one single service, your second service will be discounted by 50% (discount applies to the most expensive service).

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When I was in Tokyo in September I dropped into Gold Salon Tokyo in Azabu Juban and I had my hair styled by Lana. This sweet young lady was not only really nice, she was also an absolutely fantastic stylist and I was so pleased with the result as you can see in the photo below. Lana speaks both English and Japanese fluently and her blow drying skills are out of this world so I highly recommend this lovely lady.

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Appointments for December are filling up quickly and the above promo will only make things busier so if you need to come in before year’s end please call Gold Salon Tokyo in Omotesando as soon as possible on 03-6438-9722 or their Azabu Juban hair salon on 03-6436-0228.

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Gold Salon Tokyo in Omotesando has been a pet project for the owner Howard and his team for a long time. It has been the culmination of an 18-month search for the right premises that would meet their criteria for somewhere the clients would find:
: private and relaxing
: conveniently accessed (1 min from exit A2 Omotesando station)
: A part of town that people enjoy visiting.

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So, if you’re in the neighbourhood and you’d like to check out the new salon in Omotesando, drop by, say hi and have a coffee or a little hot wine and Christmas fruit cake with the Gold Salon Tokyo team. I can assure you, they’ll welcome you with big, friendly smiles and the warmest hearts.