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The best Japan travel guide books to inspire wanderlust during COVID-19


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During and after COVID-19, tourists to Japan may be perplexed by what to do on their trip. While most people visit Tokyo and Kyoto, it’s vital to realize that Japan has additional locations that are less crowded and provide a more genuine experience while respecting social distancing and practicing health and safety measures. I’ve gone through and picked out some of the most outstanding books I think can assist you in your decision-making process, whatever your area of interest. Of course, it is entirely up to you to follow the itinerary plans given in the books.

Each of the books listed will have its own set of benefits and drawbacks. And there’s no such thing as a “one book” for everyone. So please accept our recommendations as they are simply that: ideas. Then, do your research and choose the best book for your needs. After all, being well-informed is your best chance for an enjoyable Japanese trip and making your stay more pleasurable, ranging from where you should go on holiday with the children to those seeking luxury experiences or off-the-beaten-track options.

Best Japan travel guide books

There are many travel guide books about Japan out there, but not all of them are worth reading. We know that you’re looking for the best to get your trip off to an excellent start. Whether you’re planning a short weekend trip or want something longer term, this list will have everything you need to prepare an unforgettable vacation in Japan!

Lonely Planet Japan: Country Guide

You can always expect the best from Lonely Planet! I’ve always used this book as a reference point, and I can’t think of a better guide to start with. Lonely Planet Japan is the most comprehensive guide on the market, winning many awards for the best travel guides.

The content is well-organized, so it’s easy to navigate around the book. The “Need To Know” and “First Time Japan” sections include practical information such as fast facts about Japan, getting around, finding accommodations, daily sample budgets, and pretty detailed sample itineraries, while including highlights of what to do at each location. It also offers tips for saving money while making your stay more enjoyable.

The main drawback? Sometimes we wish there would be even more content! The country of Japan is full of surprises, and we want all the info we can get. This is why, along with this Japan guide book, I advocate using a companion resource to help you master Japan travelers. Keep an eye out for the publication of the 17th Edition in December 2021, which will include up-to-date information about travel during COVID-19.

Here’s an overview of the sample itineraries inside the book:

  1. The classic itinerary from Tokyo to Kyoto to Hiroshima or Tokyo to Mt. Fuji and around.
  2. The less-traveled regions of Japan, such as Kagoshima in Kyushu’s southern islands.
  3. The wilds of Hokkaido, the northern area of Japan, beginning in Sapporo and heading north to Akan National Park.

Fodor’s Essential Japan

Fodor’s is another travel resource I love to use to plan trips and get inspired. It’s a great companion to Lonely Planet Japan Country Guide book. Fodor’s, in comparison to Lonely Planet, is more concerned with the cultural aspects of visiting Japan, making it a superior guide for people who wish to learn more about Japanese culture as well as participate in non-Tokyo and Kyoto-based cultural activities.

The biggest disadvantage of this guide is that it lacks maps across the board, which may be easily discovered online or obtained from tourist offices; however, as with other Fodor’s publications, this does not detract from the book. This book focused on the areas of interest to you rather than simply tourist highlights, and it included a great mix of in-depth writing and beautiful pictures for me to discover new places.

DK Eyewitness Japan Travel

For those of us who currently live in Japan, oftentimes we forget how to simply travel and truly enjoy this great country. That’s where the DK Eyewitness can be of great help. Unlike Lonely Planet and Fodor’s, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides use gorgeous photographs, expert guidance, and detailed visual guides to tell the bulk of the tale. This is of particular use to expats, as it reminds us why we (in most cases) came to live in this country, to begin with, giving us the kick in the pants we need to get back out there and explore.

This book offers a lot more than photographs though. Detailed city maps, 3D cutaway drawings of popular sites, interior maps, guided tours, and insight into the history of each area are just a few of the features of this guide. I think this guide is definitely the choice for those living in Japan since it covers a lot of areas and activities which often require multiple return trips just to get the full experience.

Are you seeking for more travel companion guide books? Here are a few of my suggestions.

  • Moon Japan by Jonathan DeHart – For those who are traveling back, I believe Moon Japan has the most helpful sample itineraries to assist you with your trip planning. It includes two weeks of the ‘Best of Japan’ and a seven-night stay in or around Tokyo. Those interested in niche travel such as spirituality, anime, food, fashion, trekking, and more will all benefit from this book’s expert guidance. It also offers advice for people of the LGBTQ community, women, elders, and families with children.
  • Frommer’s EasyGuide to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Western Honshu – This book is a no-frills travel guide written by one of the Visit Japan Ambassadors, Beth Rieber. The Japanese government bestowed her the title for her efforts in promoting tourism in Japan. It’s tiny enough to keep in your pocket or handbag, so treat it as a reference card that you can pull out when you need it.
  • National Geographic Traveler Japan covers inspiring photography, insider tips, cultural interpretation, and expert advice to ensure a more authentic, enriching destination experience.
  • Fodor’s Tokyo – My favorite Tokyo guidebook! It contains all of the major attractions, including popular restaurants and hotels where you can stay while visiting. It also includes several itineraries to help you plan your days and spend as much time in Tokyo as possible and side trip information for Mt. Fuji, Nikko, Kamakura, and Yokohama.

Books for understanding Japanese culture and language

The world of Japanese culture is so rich with variety that it’s hard to find a single book that covers everything. We created a list of the best books for Japan lovers out there, covering culture and my recommended book for Japanese language learning. It was really tough to narrow down the selection – we’d love to hear your recommendations too! You’ll find some popular titles as well as hidden gems you’ve never heard about before! Check them all out below!

Japan Unmasked by Kiyoshi Matsumoto

Kiyoshi Matsumoto explores the many various yet interconnected issues that make up this unique and ancient culture. It goes back in time and speculates why contemporary Japan is not only a reflection of the west, despite its ability to fiercely preserve its own distinct identity in the face of homogeneous westernization.

This book is a must-read for every foreigner who wishes to reside in Japan, and for tourists, whether on vacation or business, who desires to learn more about what they will encounter in Japan’s Land of the Rising Sun rather than just scratch the surface as it covers solutions and answers to many of the issues and mysteries about exotic Japan. The writer explains these issues in simple terms while the writing demonstrates how much study was put into it.

The Japanese Mind by Roger J. Davies

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning how the Japanese think while giving an understanding of all things related to Japan in today’s society, history, mentality, behavior, and values. It is a good read for those who are trying to better understand Japan as a whole or are thinking about moving there. It’s filled with an abundance of insights, essentials, and practicalities that will give you a greater awareness of today’s Japan. The book covers the history, mentality, behavior, and values of the country while focusing on problem-solving suggestions rather than simply providing abstract information.

Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World by Matt Alt

This illuminating and fun excursion into Japan’s cultural exports since the Second World War was conducted by an expert on Japanese pop culture and folklore, who really dug deep for this enlightening and enjoyable journey through Japan’s cultural exports from the Second World War. I’ve lived in Japan for 11 years and spent the majority of that time in the hobby industry, but I even picked up a lot of fascinating toy knowledge, including about Japanese toys, the Walkman, Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and other topics.

The book’s overall presentation is outstanding, with well-researched material on the history of karaoke and an interview with the person who started it all. The book’s language is clear and simple to read and understand. The balance of reportage, including interviews, social history, and deep product knowledge intrigued me. The broader narrative is that these discoveries spread from Japan to establish the global pace, and this was no less impressive. Overall, this book has a good style, is interesting and informative!

A Geek in Japan by Hector Garcia

The Japanese culture is known far and wide as being a strange mix of traditional and spontaneously zany. Much of this has spilled into their pop culture to create some of the world’s most famous geek cultural examples. A large sector of Japanese tourism is based on the otaku (geek) culture, which has resulted in some of Japan’s most unique and unusual locations. A Geek in Japan is a book written particularly for individuals who grew up on Pokemon, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Ball Z and became interested in Japan. It introduces you to the culture and goes beyond a simple travel guide by helping to explain the origins of many of these obsessions and why Japanese culture is the way it is.

That said, it is still a travel guide. Whether you’re looking for manga or maid cafes, this book should satisfy even the most discerning otaku. Not a self-professed geek? This book is also helpful for people who want to learn how a tiny island nation became a technology and cultural leader in the world today. At this point, you could be wondering, “That sounds wonderful, but does it assist me in making a trip?” Yes, but rather than telling you to “go here” or “see this”, this book helps you choose your trip by describing critical aspects of Japanese culture.

Gateway to Japan by June Kinoshita and Nicholas Palvesky

This good old book focuses on culture rather than pop culture. Believe it or not, some Japanophiles use this for their bedtime reading. You can really feel the passion for Japan these authors have infused into every page of this guidebook. The first part of the book is dedicated to helping you understand what makes Japan tick, both its history and culture. The second half guides you around the country, advising on where to go and how to get there. It covers fascinating explanations of the different architectural styles and symbolism embedded in Japanese sites. There are excellent write-ups on the various periods of Japanese art and history, Japanese religions, castles, villas and gardens, and so forth.

Japanese from Zero! 1 by George Trombley and Yukari Takenaka

This is a fantastic book for those who want to learn Japanese as a beginner. George and Yukari have done an excellent job of making Japanese acquisition as easy as possible! They go above and beyond by providing cultural context that helps learners understand the language and its appropriate usage. Furthermore, they provide comprehensive exercises that aid in linguistic success. With this textbook, you’ll be able to speak and comprehend the language with confidence! I want to emphasize that I am a complete newbie, so learning was a blast as I proceeded through the book rather than regurgitating outdated textbook words. Everything was methodically broken down to make things easier to comprehend. After you finish the book, consider buying the second book, “Japanese from Zero! 2” to continue your studies!

Japan travel books for food enthusiasts

Food plays a central role in Japanese culture, but it isn’t just about good eats – each meal is an art form that expresses appreciation for nature and beauty. There are many mouth-watering dishes in Japan (and even more if you include regional cuisines), but some things you should definitely try when in Japan include: sushi (raw fish); sashimi (raw seafood); tempura (lightly battered and deep-fried vegetables or shrimp); soba noodles; udon noodles; ramen noodles; okonomiyaki (savory pancake); yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers); Kobe beef; unagi eel—the list goes on! Here is a list of books that will lead you to some great eats in Japan:

Tokyo Ramen by Yes! Ramen Magazine

Ramen is the most incredible Japanese meal (which is a bit of a joke since it originated in China), so this book is like a love letter to ramen fans worldwide. It’s for ramen fans, by ramen fans. One of the characteristics of this guidebook that stands out is that it is jam-packed with gorgeous high-resolution pictures guaranteed to make your mouth water (as mine is now while reading through the book for reference). It includes photographs of each establishment’s ramen noodles and other tasty items on display at the shop, and information about how to order with the typical ticket machines used by most ramen restaurants in Japan. However, some shops and restaurants featured have closed and failed to survive during the pandemic. So be patient when you go looking for those places, later on, only to discover that they’re no longer there.

Rice, Noodle, Fish by Matt Goulding

It’s challenging to come by a food travel guide for Japan that isn’t just a Tokyo restaurant guide. It’s as if the rest of the country doesn’t exist, and only Tokyo matters. So this book is a welcome relief from other guides’ predictable patterns. While it isn’t as detailed as the preceding entry, Rice Noodle Fish does give a good sense of Japan’s many cuisines and provides us an insight into Japanese culture from the people and locations that created it.

If you’re traveling to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Hokkaido, or the Noto Peninsula, this book will help. This book is a fantastic introduction to the area and its specialties, as recommended by the late Anthony Bourdain. For those who don’t know, Japan is a drinking culture, and alcohol plays a significant role in Japanese lives and has its own cuisine culture, detailed in this book. Matt Goulding takes you from Izakaya’s to Karaoke bars, covering the famous Japanese nightlife and providing you with the information you need to have a great time (or perhaps a terrible one).

Tokyo Eating Tour by Hiroshi Satake

An excellent guide for the foodie backpacker, Tokyo Eating Tour covers some of the most popular and cheap Japanese dishes in the Tokyo area. To the point and straightforward, this guide is a must for those who like the simple things in life (read: food). The goal of this handbook is to show foreign visitors the country’s most famous fast food. Any journey may be made more pleasurable through the experience of fabulous dining. Although Japan is a highly costly nation, this guidebook will introduce you to low-cost meals worth around JP¥500 or less in popular restaurants. Typically, tourists flock to Shibuya, Shinjuku, Asakusa, and Akihabara in Tokyo for their culture. These areas are well-known for fantastic sightseeing and shopping opportunities, so this guidebook provides recommendations for some favorite food shops from these locations. More importantly, the guide covers how to eat these foods as well properly; I bet you didn’t realize you were eating sushi wrong!

Conclusion

There are many travel guide books about Japan, but not all of them will be the best for you. What is your travel style? Do you prefer to learn more about culture or history before traveling somewhere new? The right travel guide book can help tailor your trip and ensure that everything goes smoothly once you arrive at your destination. Which kind of traveler do you think you are?

Last Minute Essentials for Your Trip to Japan

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1 thought on “The best Japan travel guide books to inspire wanderlust during COVID-19”

  1. Thank you for putting this out there. I agree with your opinion and I hope more people would come to agree with this as well.

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