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.