“Japan Travel Guide: The Ultimate Itinerary Planner: All the cool places, the ass kicking festivals, and the sweetest cherry blossom spots you need to plan your trip to Japan” by Emma Chan and Christopher Crane launches today, and I’ve been asked to spread the word. It is a short (~60 pages) and very basic travel guide which could serve as a good very basic intro for a Japanophile on their first trip to Japan.
The guide consists largely of very brief descriptions of sites and events in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Okinawa, and one of the things I really like about this guide is that unlike many other guidebooks, it’s not seemingly aimed at the generic world traveler, either the backpacker (at one end of the economic spectrum) or the high-powered jetsetter (at the other). This is a Japanophile’s guidebook. It doesn’t guide you to only the most standard touristy sites, doesn’t exoticize Japan as a “travel experience” in general, but rather as a Japan experience in particular, and it doesn’t focus on super expensive things to see and do.
I remember being a study abroad student, my first time in Tokyo, and being so eager and excited to see both the ultramodern “wacky Japan” and also the traditional and historical side of Japan. I wasn’t interested in the super standard touristy things – the kind of things a non-Japanophile would be looking for, visiting Tokyo only once in their lifetime alongside trips to Florence, London, and anywhere/everywhere else. I was interested in those things that might specifically appeal to a Japanophile like myself.
This travel guide addresses those interests, those interested parties. For the Kyoto section, it touches on not only Nijô Castle, Gion, and Kiyomizu-dera – the standard must-see tourist sites – but also the International Manga Museum, and a couple suggestions for live bars, and advises against the touristy bar scene at Kiyamachi. Similarly, for Tokyo, the guide mentions Meiji Shrine, Sensô-ji, Tokyo Skytree – a lot of the standard things – but also cat cafés and French pastry bakeries. The guide’s sections on festivals includes not just the most traditional things like Gion Matsuri and Aoi Matsuri, but also AnimeJapan, and Asakusa’s annual Samba Festival (yes, as in Brazilian samba).
There are definitely places mentioned here I have never heard of, let alone been to, which I think is saying something – I have been fortunate to visit Japan five times now, and to go to pretty much all the most major sites in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Kamakura, as well as to many other places. So, if you can recommend gardens, temples, bars, cafés that I’ve never heard of, it means you’re going off the well-beaten path. Good on you.
The guide can be far too basic at times – for example, devoting only a paragraph to Kamakura, saying very little about what to see there, how to get there, how to get around while there, but only saying very general broad basic things about it.
Kamakura is a small city at the south of Tokyo. Simply put, it’s beautiful. If you’re into
visiting shrines and temples, spend the day there and pay your tribute to the giant Buddha
of Kōtoku-in. The city hosts five Zen temples. Visit the eastern part of the city, which is
more tourist-free and still full of sacred places. Here, you can witness a tea-ceremony,
walk through a sky-scraping bamboo forest, and face the Pacific Ocean.
On the flip-side, though, they could have done the same for Nara, but instead they do a nice job, devoting quite a few pages to giving Nara more or less as in-depth a treatment as Tokyo and Kyoto. I’ve been to Nara several times, but still absolutely learned something from this section of the guide – next time I go back, I’ll know where to find a saké museum, and reportedly excellent curry.
The guide also includes a brief section on Okinawa, which is more than can be said of many Tokyo/Kyoto-centric guides. As with Kamakura, we get only the briefest descriptions of a dozen different places, and basically nothing at all in-depth. For the capital city of Naha, the guide says only that you can find all of Okinawa here, in one place, but makes no mention at all of Shuri castle, Naminoue Shrine, or any other specific sites.. instead guiding the reader to a theme park Okinawa World in Nanjô, a bit of a distance away from Naha. But, still, I guess it’s good that they’ve mentioned Ôgimi-son, Yaeyama, and a handful of other things a bit off the beaten path, rather than repeating the standard things about Kokudai-dôri (International Street – Okinawa’s equivalent to Times Square, the super touristy area that probably should not be the center of your Okinawa experience).
So, all in all, this guide is probably best as just a starting point, to be used in concert with other resources, which can fill it out, flesh it out, tell you more about each of the cities and sites mentioned so briefly in this guide. But, the guide is only 99 cents on Kindle from Amazon, and right now (for a limited time, I presume), it’s free!! So, at those prices, it certainly cannot hurt to grab it up.
All photos my own.