-- Sunday Times, London
-- Sunday Times, London
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.
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summarize an entire country in a thousand pages there will be mistakes and omissions, and of course information will go out of date.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.