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on July 22, 2003
It is an uphill struggle to get me to praise a Rough Guide. I have written many unkind words here about many other books in the series - dull righting, self-righteous tone, preachy ambition - and I stand by what I had said. I continue to feel that travel is a happy business and guidebooks should be written by people who are positive and cheerful, not by grumpy and cruffy backpackers with enormous aptitude for righting the world and with handfuls of easy answers to every question of Third World economic developent. I am also convinced that a guide is not a forum for political campaigning.
So you can imagine I approached Rough Guide Japan with very, very low expectations. However, I can now say that whatever is wrong with other Rough Guides (poor writing quality, excruciating boredom, naive anti-capitalist rhetoric), you will not find it in this book. Whatever they do right (detailed research, up-to-date info, accurate maps) - there is plenty of it, heaps, loads, all you need! My God they are good. In Japan, they are better than DK Eyewitness, my long-time favorite for most destinations. They even finally sorted their writing - it is readable, and you don't fall asleep after first three passages.
I find very little to fault in this book: the maps are accurate, listings exhaustive and detailed, and they have most of the practicalities covered, unlike Lonely Planet, who still live firmly in their senile eigthties as far as any transport and banking information is concerned. And let me repeat this (listen all of you who, like me, detested Rough Guides for their oversized egos and belief that they have a role in fixing the world) - there is no usual garbage about how capitalism and tourism ruined a beautuful country. All the annoying whining is gone. The authors really like Japan, they admire it and help you to enjoy your trip. That's all I am asking for.
The only remarks would be that there could be more photos, and please, PLEASE, change those heart-stoppingly ugly chapter icons and tacky logo. I know you at Rough Guide use those icons everywhere, they're part of the design, but believe me they are hideous. Those drawings look exactly like something that adorned local authority leaflets cautioning against vices of drugs and smoking 20 years ago. And your logo looks like a fire exit sign.
I wrote earlier that DK Eyewitness Japan, although not perfect, was the best. Well, now I have read and used both DK Eyewitness and Rough Guide in the field. Rough Guide is much better. In fact, this Rough Guide is so good that, despite my earlier promises not to touch them with barge-pole, I will be checking out Rough Guide for all my future destinations.
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on February 11, 2002
This is a book in the LP- or Moon guides- type vein: information for the individual traveler looking for places to go, stay, and eat. It is not the Fodor- or Insight Guides-type that is filled with nothing but big glossy pictures with some history about the big tourist places to visit. In other words, if you're taking a package tour, most of the info contained here isn't necessary. However, if you travel, as opposed to being a 1-week book-a-tour tourist, this book contains information that will help you find places to stay and how to get to them, as well as the souvenir stops.
I purchased this book in the hopes that I could find out about places other than those that were already covered in Lonely Planet Japan. However, place for place it covers almost the exact same ground with about a 95% plus overlap. There are a few hotels/ryokan that are not listed between the two and a few places that are in one but not the other (i.e. Goto Islands in LP but not RG). I was disappointed; not that much is different.
Its strengths lie in its writing style, which is not as abrupt as LP, its maps which are simpler (this can also be a detriment), its context chapter at the end, and its having the area codes on all the telephone numbers (very annoying in LP where you have to find the beginning of the section to find the area code).
Weaknesses include an inconsistent subtitling for basic information. For example, in some chapters, hotels are under "Practicalities" and in others it's under "Accomodations." This slows you down a bit until you get used to it. Another is the hotel pricing system. As anyone who's been around the inexpensive hotels in Japan knows, pricing is done per person, and not per couple (double or twin). Even a "discount double" is often only Y500 less than 2 singles. Many business hotels have very limited twin and double accomodations, being mostly singles (Hotel Hawaii in Akita has over 300 singles but 9 doubles or so). In some ryokan/minshuku rooms, a double price is misleading because if you squeeze a 3rd or 4th person in the room, you pay for each person. A Y5000 per person room is only Y5000 with one person, but Y20,000 with 4. That said, the Rough Guide at least has a few different accomodation listings from Lonely Planet, but not always. Train and bus connections are sometimes hard to find as they are only at the end of main divisions, and not at each destination. I would mark them with post-its or just get a JNTO rail schedule at Narita.
In conclusion, look over the maps and styles, but don't get both the Rough Guide AND the LP Japan; they both fill the same niche in travel books. Pick the one that looks good to you and you'll have a useful tool. If you want the pretty photos and all your hotels and meals are already paid for, you don't need this guide or the LP guide.
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on February 8, 2000
I am constantly looking for good travel guides to Japan. I've used three of them. I choose to use the Rough Guide now. It is the most accurate and the most interesting, and also the most recent.
I am surprised that the maps have been criticised. In some cases (Nikko, for example) they are much better than those of other guides.
Finding things in Japan can be harder than elsewhere, and books can only help you so much. I had trouble finding a particular restaurant in Kumamoto because the book only gave its address and map location, but another well-known guide gave no contact information for any of the restaurants it mentioned.
The Rough Guide is my first choice. The Lonely Planet guide would be my second choice. None of the other guides come close to offering the right combination of practical data and background information to help you enjoy what you see and do.
A useful tip to people who get very upset over errors in guide books: first, learn to expect some, second, take two guides if you can afford the extra space and weight - if a phone number or address is wrong in one of them it is usually right in the other.
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on November 2, 2000
We just came back from a two-week trip to Japan using the RG Japan. We visited Ise Pennisula, Shikoku, Kansai and Kyushu area and found the guide book was very detail yet accurate in all aspects. The book is especially helpful for us for the accommodations and eateries. One example is the Hiroshima International Youth House in the Aster Plaza in the Hiroshima city center, which has brand new western rooms (two beds and bath, no food) for only 6,260 Yen for two person per night. The book provides accommodation price range from 1 through 9 and we tried one Ryokan with 9 in Dogo Hot Spring in Shikoku. The bill was 52,000 Yen per night, just like the book described (also the superb service and garden). In addition to the normal description of tour details, the book provides considerable historical and cultural background information which helped us to understand Japan better. I compared the RG with similar guide books from the LP and Frommer and my experience is that RG Japan is definitely far superior than the latter two for touring Japan.
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on August 27, 2002
This guide has not those beautiful pictures of, say, the National Geographic guide, nor it has very detailed maps. That may be the meaning of "rough."
We had a bad experience when visiting Hokkaido: The book said a recommended site was 50 km South from the station we would get to. So we planned our trip with that idea in mind. But in the way we found the site at a map and it was 50 km NORTH! We had to change the plan and get to a "less recommended" site by the same guide (yes, the poor bears should return to the forests). It wasn't that bad but I can't compare, you see.
So please CONFIRM the places you are going in a map. You could get one (or take a look in an atlas) in a tourist information center or the like. Don't always trust the guide.
However, we got useful information from the guide, like a nice Youth Hostel that was not listed in a very good Japanese book of accomodations. In the guide you'll find the phone numbers and even the web page.
The maps have only the minimum information: you have to ask in the station about the time you need to get to every place, because not all the stations are drawn in the guide's maps.
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on February 3, 2004
The Rough Guide is hands down the best travel guide on Japan. The writing is fresh and informative, the practical information is up to date and helpful, and the data is accurate. For the amount of material covered, the depth is amazing ... From Hokkaido to the islands of Okinawa you can navigate the entire country with just this book. And not just "navigate", but plan what to see, where to eat, and where to stay with a variety of options.
The main complaints previous reviewers have concern the occasional mistake and the lack of pictures. Of course, when you try to summarize an entire country in a thousand pages there will be mistakes and omissions, and of course information will go out of date. Which is why you should always double check your sources, or be prepared to roll with the punches. Most places have websites and even the smallest cities in Japan have at least a little bit of tourist information in English. If you're spending the time and money to come all the way to Japan, what does it hurt to spend a little bit of extra time on the internet double checking the details on places you want to see.
The same goes for pictures. Personally, I'd rather wait until I get to a place and see for myself what something looks like, but when it comes to pictures (or maps) the internet is a treasure trove of information.
No matter how well you plan things, there will always be hangups. Traffic is bad. A place you want to see is taking the day off. A bar you want to go to has closed its doors. The best you can do is get as much information ahead of time and hope for the best. From my experience living in Japan, if you are going to rely on one main source for your travel information in Japan, use the Rough Guide. It's better than anything else out there.
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on September 9, 2003
As it's names suggests, this book is a good comprehensive and readable rough guide to Japan. However, if you want a more in-depth source of info you'd be better off contacting the Japanese Tourist Office and asking them to send you pamphlets and maps. There are places which are not covered by this book and many rural places are mentioned only in passing. There are sections where the authors have clearly visited and remembered enough to write down directional guides, but on the whole, I'd say that the book provides an overview of what's on offer. Overall, I'd recommend it to someone who has never visited Japan, but to get the most out of your holiday, I'd use this as starter reference only. My only gripe is that there aren't enough pictures and you don't get a feel for the places.
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on October 30, 1999
Maps were useless. Lonely Planet always denotes suggestions on map. This book mentions a subway stop for your DETAILED directions. That is it. You are on your own from there. Sometimes there is no map, no address, and not even a phone - i.e. Megero Parasite Museum in Tokyo.
I personally would suggest that a Paris map would be more helpful in Tokyo than the maps in this book. At least the Paris map would not falsely lead you into believing that any effort was spent on making it helpful for you to get around Tokyo.
I assure you, the people of Japan will thank you for not buying this book, and asking their assistance every time your foolish enough to open it and try to follow the cryptic directions to a suggested site.
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on February 21, 2000
Unless you're completely void of imagination and self reliance, DISREGARD THE ROBERT COMMER REVIEW... he's blaming the book for his own stupidity on one occasion on one city. The book isn't useless, and I strongly doubt it was less help to him in Tokyo than a map of Paris. What a crybaby. There's plenty of info in any guidebook (certainly in RG Japan); sometimes that one piece isn't, so sometimes you look elsewhere...
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on August 18, 2000
I have been to Japan five times in the past two years and this is the one book that always comes with me. This book is light-years ahead of the typical travel book (eg: Fodors, Frommers). I really enjoyed how the authors made an effort to cover towns not usually mentioned in other guides. If you only want to carry one Japan guide in your luggage this is the one it should be.
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