Book Review: Lonely Planet: Japan

Worldschooler's picture

Lonely Planet: Japan (10th edition, October 2007).

I've often thought the best part of Lonely Planet books are the first few pages: the history section, the color photos, the main color map, and the sample daily budgets. This Japan guide from Lonely Planet was no exception. The first thing you turn to is a two page map of Japan with text bubbles explaining the highlights and also indicating where it is in the country and in the book. For example:

"Tokyo (p104) Enjoy a quirky, curious cosmopolis that glitters and pulses with constant energy - Tokyo must be seen to be believed."

"Kyoto (p309) See beautiful temples, shrines and gardens in the cultural heart of Japan."

"Hiroshima (p453) Experience this dynamic modern city and learn about its tragic past."

I lived in Osaka, Japan for eight months and I'm leading a Worldschool Travel Tour there this November, 2009. I'm going to take the young adults on the trip to all my favorite places but I'm also hoping to take them to some new onsen - "traditional Japanese hot springs".

Turns out there is a whole section on p75 all about onsens including info on onsen, etiquette and a list of the best onsens in Japan sorted by categories like: Best Mountain Onsen, Best Onsen/Beach Combination, Best Island Onsen, etc.! I wish they had a mountain onsen listed that was a little easier to get to (one day's hike) for our three week trip but it sounds sound well worth it if you have more time.

Lonely Planet makes a good point in the book about assuring people that Japan doesn't have to be as expensive as most people think. And they have a good, reasonable list of daily expenses if you're travelling on a budget: about 65USD/day or more midrange 135USD/day. But when they list and recommend places to stay it seems like the book is sometimes geared more towards people with a bigger budget than that: sometimes their "top picks" for accommodations are about $200USD/night.

Of course I took special interest in the Osaka section because that's where I lived. And they did seem to miss one of the nice, very inexpensive guesthouses I often saw advertised while I was there: the Lemon House and the Orange House. But they had some hostels listed that sounded very reasonable.

I was glad to see they highlighted the Open Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses as one of the top attractions in Osaka. It doesn't sound as exciting as Osaka Castle, Osaka Aquarium, or the flashy Dotombori neighborhood but I really enjoyed seeing the traditional buildings and tools on display outside. They were also honest about the fact that Osaka is not a very pretty city of most concrete blocks, but still has some charm.

The accommodations listed for Kyoto were pretty good but I was able to find better ones online. And the book was published in October 2007 which is not that long ago, but the truth is they are competing with the up to the minute updates from the internet in these books. But with a stable country like Japan, not that much changes in a couple years and being able to hold and casually browse through a book is not the same as looking it up online for me.

Another thing they have at the beginning of the book is a list of recommended books and movies to read to get to know Japan better. I also made a list of movies for the people on my Worldschool Travels to check out: I was happy to see some of them were the same: "Lost in Translation" and any of Akira Kurasawa's movies. I wish they had listed some of Hayou Miyazaki's anime films though: they are really beloved by people of all ages in Japan and can really give a glimpse into the Japanese psyche. But I am excited to check out the films they listed that I hadn't even heard of.

Throughout the book are beautiful colorful photos from around Japan from springtime cherry blossom festivals, to skiers on snowy peaks, to sumo wrestlers, temples, and bustling shiny metropolises. The range of the things you can find in Japan is amazing and these kinds of photos and descriptions really inspire you to go see them for yourself!


Click here to see the latest specials on travel guides from Lonely Planet.



Eli Gerzon is the Worldschooling Editor for Wandering Educators.

He blogs about travel, homeschooling, and unschooling, and leads Worldschool Travel Tours. You can find him on the web at:

Comments (1)

Leave a comment