Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: Lonely Planet Tokyo, Kyoto, and Japan

Compared to the cost of a trip to Japan, buying guidebooks is cheap. So when the local library ran out of copies to checkout, I didn't hesitate and bought all 3 Japanese guidebooks. I also bought the Japan Touring Mapple from Omni Map.

In all cases, the pull out maps were pretty useless. They cover too small a section of the city, and aren't referred to at all in the text. I have to ask why they even bother!

Lonely Planet Tokyo: Their recommendation of Homeikan for best-allround Ryokan was great. Not only is the service amazing, their breakfast is good, their baths are great, they have an onsite laundry machine, and the area is quiet. The place is also incredibly affordable. This alone paid for the price of the book. The recommendations for SkyTree and the bigger shopping areas such as Akhibahara and Shinjuku could use some work. The advice on Nishiki Market could also use more color (such as "show up well before noon as the wait outside restaurants is north of an hour at lunch time"). But I'll forgive them all that because of the recommendation of Homeikan. The omission of a subway map is also questionable.

Lonely Planet Japan: Their coverage of the Matsumoto area was great. I'd discount their comments about renting a car and driving if you're from California. If you regularly drive Highway 1, Highway 9, visit the Sierras or the Trinity Alps, you're used to much worse driving conditions than anywhere in Japan. Rent a car and go where you please! Their recommendation of Sugimoto Ryokan was outstanding. Their recommendation of Ougatou more questionable, not because the hotel was bad, but because they probably should have prefixed it, "which was the best season to go?", with the note that late Spring might not have the best conditions. Their disparagement of the Yudanaka Monkey Park was unwarranted, but if the book hadn't contained a sidebar on it I wouldn't have known about it and wouldn't have been diverted so we could go there. Their mention of Obuse was also a worthy side trip.

Lonely Planet Kyoto: Their neighborhood description caused us to pick Yumiko's AirBnB listing.  Huge win. The photos are also really good. We basically picked where to go by flipping through the photos at the front of the book and then going there. The restaurant recommendations were also decent. The only thing I can complain about is that they said that if Kyoto is booked solid, you can stay at Nara instead. I think that's a mistake. Unlike Tokyo, Kyoto has next to no subway, so rapid transit from Kyoto station is nearly non-existent. You're stuck with buses, which are really too slow and frustrating to get anywhere quickly. If you're visiting Kyoto, stay in Kyoto. Ignore all advise to do otherwise, in this book or elsewhere.

All in all, these 3 books were worth the money. It's unusual that I take trips where the visits to cities is more important than touring the countryside. But Japan is unusual: the country side in Japan isn't really all that pretty, especially the mountain roads. The cities are where all the action is, but are crowded as heck. So these types of guide are more useful than is usual.
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