I browsed through this guidebook in the bookstore before I bought it and was really impressed with how it covered almost all areas of Japan, provided ample maps and photographs, and had lots of practical detail information, like on lodgings, cheap meals, and unique attractions. Once I bought the book and started reading/researching for my trip, I was even more pleased with it as I thought it was written in a casual and practical style, giving ample hints and pointers to the best of the best and more than a few offbeat and unusual things to see in Japan. I bought my Japan Rail Pass and airline ticket and with this guidebook in hand, I had the most fun, interesting, relaxing, remarkable and indeed amazing trip of my life through the magical land of Japan. In every city (at every rail stop) I consulted this book and felt fortunate to have experienced some of the wondrous not-to-be-missed sites and attractions thanks to this book. It was an excellent resource, and I highly recommend it.
If I had to mention any minor criticisms of the book, I'd just have to mention that the author's tastes/preferences in food differ a bit from mine, and I found some of his restaurant recommendations questionable. But that's a personal choice matter. Of course, his general recommendation to look for good eats near railway stations and in the basements of large department stores was absolutely true, and I found lots of great, delicious foods that I liked. Also, a large section of the book is devoted to railroad timetables and itineraries, and though it might be very useful to some people, I had a very enjoyable time being a more casual and free form traveler, just choosing whether to step onto a train or not on a whim. I personally found this section unnecessary. He mentions that there are 3 types of Shinkansen ("bullet trains"), the Kodoma, the Hikari and the Nozomi, but he doesn't really explain the difference between the trains. The Kodoma (meaning echo) is the slowest of the Shinkansen, stopping at every train station, hence represented by the "speed of sound". The Hikari (meaning shining light flash) is the intermediate speed Shinkansen that makes only limited stops in the biggest cities, hence represented by the "speed of light". The Nozomi (meaning hope) is the fastest of the Shinkansen and tend to go non-stop from one major destination to another i.e. Osaka to Tokyo, hence are represented by the "speed of thought". Finally, I had two particularly thrilling and entertaining special events on my trip. I attended a pro baseball game, and I witnessed the Hamamatsu Kite Festival. Though both are briefly mentioned in this book, the author does not convey how exciting, energetic, and moving these experiences are when witnessed firsthand. I've never seen anything like it! Japanese baseball fans are insane (yelling, singing, banging sticks for the whole game)! I thought perhaps because the author is a Brit that baseball was not really an interest. The Kite Festival was just beyond words (like a half million yelling, bugle blowing, drum beating Japanese in traditional costume flying giant kites in 60 man teams on this giant sand dune park, with a double row a quarter mile long of food, game, souvenir, and beer stands). And that's just the beginning of the revelry. It was truly interesting to see the Japanese people losing all their inhibitions and just going jubilantly wild at these events. All I'm saying is that the author should better emphasize that these Festivals and games are truly amazing in Japan.
If you are going to Japan and plan on traveling around a bit you absolutely have to get this book. It will pay you back a hundred fold. Literally. There is so much to see and do in Japan and if you want to travel a bit you have got to use the rail system which criss-crosses the whole country and will get you wherever you want to go fast and on time.
Now here is the gold in this book. Japan has a very special deal for tourists where you can get an unlimited rail pass (free ride) practically anywhere for either a 1 week or 2 week period. The cost of the pass is less than a single train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto. Which is a ridiculous bargain. But the caveat is that you have to purchase a voucher for the pass out of the country! And then when you arrive in Japan you cash in the voucher for your rail pass. I did all of this and am so happy I did. I rode around, all over the place from city to city, for free. I can't tell you how much money this saved me. The rail pass gives you the freedom to see what you want to see, and where, without even considering the cost.
This is the focus of this book. It tells you exactly where and how to get the rail pass, where to cash in the voucher, and how to use the rail system to see the country. Loaded with lots of great information about the stunning tourist attractions in the country.
If you are going to japan and want to travel around a bit, maybe see Himeji castle, Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, Tokyo etc. then simply buy this book. There is no question that it is money well spent.
The train system for outsiders: The Japanese train system is very laid out, very organized, very disciplined and on-time. But it can be hard for a foreigner to understand. There are different types of trains and different train lines, you can reserve a seat etc. This book helps you figure all that out.
One caveat: The rail system in Japan is composed of the rails from several different companies so the Japan Rail Pass will not be good on every track and every train, or on the city subway systems but that doesn't matter much. It's good on the vast majority of rails and trains. So glad I got this book!
The title says it all. If you are planning on doing a lot of train travel in Japan this is a very informative book with lots of tips and information that I haven't found in other guides (and I've read them all I think). It doesn't have a huge amount of information about the rail linked cities & towns but this would require a huge book and there are plenty of others that do that, but it does give overviews and list places of interest. This simply tells you how to get from place to place by the most efficient rail route and will save you lots of time especially if you haven't travelled by rail in Japan.
Robert J. Hingle Jr.
I was so excited to find this book as we were planning to see "Japan by Rail" just like to title. Browsing through it when it arrived I wan't immediately disappointed, but upon actually trying to use it in Japan I wanted to toss it out the train window. I ended up leaving it at one of our stops so I wouldn't have to carry the extra weight. This book is TOTALLY USELESS! Here's a short list of why I hate it:
- horrible organization, good luck finding out about your next stop, it will be scattered over a whole chapter
- woefully incomplete, why not just list every train route? How could a two-inch thick book about trains in Japan not include a complete all-in one route guide?
- waste of space sightseeing information, there's no way you're going to Japan with this as your only reference, you're going to need a Lonely Planet or something. So don't waste heavy pages trying to tell me what to see in a couple randomly selected write-ups
- no time table - are you kidding?! No timetable?! A freaking book about trains!
- no station information - how about some station maps and information? even airplane magazines tell you where you're going to need to go in major city airports
- mostly covers bullet trains - bullet trains are very easy to take and have English announcements. The local trains are difficult and are only in Japanese. almost no information on these routes.
DON'T WASTE THE TIME MONEY OR WEIGHT!
We are currently in Japan and found this book extremely helpful. As one would expect for a book published 15 years ago, the prices are not current. However, have found that the descriptions, commentary and recommendations to be spot on.
Traveled from Narita to Tokyo to Sendai/Matsushima and Hachinohe and have been impressed with the accuracy of the contents. The Japanese system of train travel is incredibly organized.
We will use this book as a basis for traveling again.