So you’re looking for the best Japan travel guidebook to help you plan your trip to Japan. Well you’re in the right place! We’ve researched all the best Japan guidebooks: from ones that cover all of Japan, to city-specific guides for Tokyo and Kyoto, to cultural guidebooks that cover food or onsens.
A good guidebook will help you plan your route, decide which landmarks to visit, and finding lodging at reasonable prices. A great guidebook will inspire you to go from an idea to making the trip a reality. And an excellent guidebook can help turn your Japan trip into a truly memorable experience.
We’ve done the research for you, and have come up with a big list of the best Japan travel guidebooks 2019 has to offer. What makes each of these books the best guidebook for your travel needs? For each book below, we look at the pros and cons, and why you should choose it to plan your trip.
Disclaimer: this article contains affiliate links to Amazon.com. We receive a small commission if you click the link and buy the book, at no extra cost to you.
Best General Japan Travel Guidebooks
Since releasing their first guidebook in 1973, Lonely Planet has published over 120 million guidebooks with the goal of helping travelers find unique local experiences on a budget.
Lonely Planet Japan not only gives you advice on where to go and what to see, but also helps you do so on a budget!
The book is rich in detail about unique experiences that the average traveler might easily miss. Their listing of sights to see include natural wonders like Mount Fuji, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Toshu-go, the lavish Shinto complex dating back to the 16th and 17th century and the eras of military and feudal rule in Japan.
Whatever your goal for the trip, Lonely Planet has you covered. If your goal is to go shopping in Tokyo, this book can help you plan an expedition to upscale Ginza neighborhood boutiques. If your goal is to ‘geek out’ in Akihabara, Lonely Planet Japan will guide you to the most interesting maid cafes, game centers and collectible shops.
If you have to choose just one Japan travel guidebook, this is our recommendation.
- Well-designed, easy to use layout
- Well-researched and up to date!
- Sections on planning your trip, visas, and language are really helpful
- Lack of photos makes it difficult to decide on your destinations
- Not as much depth about culture and history as DK Eyewitness Guide
- Paperback edition is heavy, especially if you’re traveling with it!
Rough Guides have been helping travelers see the most interesting sights, enjoy the most unique experiences, and find lodging and food at prices they can afford since 1982. The Rough Guide to Japan follows this tradition.
Use this guide to find the sights and experiences that will make your trip to Japan one to remember. Everyone goes to see Mount Fuji, but not everyone knows how to get tickets to a sumo wrestling match or arrange a soak in an onsen bath. Where you’re looking for the best places to party in Tokyo, or down to earth advice about how to navigate the countryside of Japan, this is an excellent travel guide.
- Impartial and well-researched
- Very detailed travel info
- Difficult to read the text near the binding
- Layout confusing to some readers
Fodor’s Travel is a travel lifestyle company that seeks to be the preeminent enterprise in the travel sector. In the past 80 years they have published an unparalleled amount of content aimed with the goal of aiding travelers around the world. Fodor’s Japan is no exception to this as their travel guide is an 800 page encyclopedia on everything Japan. Consisting of beautifully designed full color pages, Fodor’s Japan is a huge reference source for anybody looking to explore Japan. The book contains information regarding everything in Japan and is representative of the size and scale of the country itself.
Fodor’s Japan also benefits from its multi-talented team of authors who collaborated on the book. Instead of being a summarization of one person’s personal journey through Japan; Fodor’s assembles teams of experts to write these encyclopedias. As a result, the books are inclusive of all information one would need to successfully plan a trip to Japan; regardless of length. If you are only looking to purchase one book for your Japanese excursion, Fodor’s is the right book for you.
- Is all inclusive and contains all of the information one would need to learn anything and everything about Japan.
- Contains information about the culture and history of Japan that provides context to its most sought after tourist attractions
- Easy to read format that contains a wealth of pictures, diagrams, maps & figures to serve as visual aids
- Due to the immense size of the book, it is not recommended that this book go on your actual vacation with you
- The format of the book is in an alphabetical one, and it can create the appearance of being convoluted
- Does not contain any sort of itinerary planning
Frommer’s Japan provides great insights into the sorts of unique travel experiences that will make your trip to Japan memorable. From climbing Mount Fuji to taking a trip on the Skinkansen Bullet Train, Frommer’s Japan has lots of great information about how to make your dreams a reality.
Frommer’s provides the details you need to experience the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, or to travel to the rural areas of Japan. From suggestions about where to find a traditional Zen rock garden or enjoy a kaiseki meal, Frommer’s Japan has you covered.
And, for the budget-conscious traveler, Frommer’s Japan follows the tradition of their guidebooks dating back to 1957 and Europe on $5 a Day. They offer lists of accommodations and restaurants by price brackets for virtually all major cities and rural areas that you may choose to visit. Also recommended for traveling in Japan with kids.
- Valuable as a first resource (augmented with online research)
- Practical and interesting suggestions for day trips
- Balanced writing style, with travel information as well as cultural and historical info throughout
- Poor user experience on Kindle (lack of index, clickable links, etc)
- Not as frequently updated as others on this list
Written by Tom Fay, A British writer and Author based in Japan who studied Medieval History at the University of Manchester, Must See Japan is a perfect summarization of Japan’s unique cultural and historical landmarks.
Must See Japan has a 2018 update that included nearly 30% more content. It strives to be the only book someone would have to buy when planning a trip to Japan, regardless of length. This book is unique in that it is the summarization of one man’s journey to every corner of the Japanese islands. Fay has spent the past decade completely immersing himself in Japanese culture, and has an insatiable passion for Japan that continually baffles and mesmerizes him even ten years later.
At 188 pages, this book is an easy pack in your suitcase and contains a wealth of information. The most important being that Fay has written out customized itineraries to include lengths from a couple of days to multiple week excursions. The book also contains insider tips, maps, detailed travel information, and lots of really important information that is better read in a book rather than on Google Maps reviews.
- As a writer for Forbes Travel Guide, The Guardian, and multiple Japan-based editorials and publications; Fay is a brilliant and talented writer
- Contains many detailed tips regarding japanese cultural norms in areas such as tipping and general restaurant etiquette, public transportation navigation, Wi-Fi standards, and other best practices regarding Japanese culture
- Includes links to websites that include more subject matter on almost every topic the book covers
- The book’s content is limited in the sense that it a depiction of what travel routes one should take and also a summary of the authors favorite Japanese places
- For those looking for a more encyclopedia-style book about everything Japan, I would highly suggest the ones by Lonely Planet or Eyewitness Travel
Are you on a budget? Do you want to experience as much of Japan as possible while still maintaining a budget friendly mindset? If you said yes to either of these questions then do I have the book for you!
Super Cheap Guides is a series of books written by serial traveler Matthew Baxter. Baxter hails from the United Kingdom and has traveled extensively in Japan throughout the years. Japan is normally considered an expensive country to visit, which can be discouraging for those who don’t have a hefty savings account. However Baxter avails some of that tension in his budget-friendly guide to Japan.
At only 181 pages, Super Cheap Japan is a book that is packed full of useful information that is mostly from a first hand perspective. Baxter provides information on key Japanese cities and includes information about the city, the main attractions to see, the best ways to get around, and most importantly, ways to save save save! Baxter covers money saving techniques related to food costs, lodging costs, transportation costs and more. The book even includes a list of free to attend festivals all throughout Japan. Baxters book is a must have for anyone seeking any sort of information related to traveling throughout Japan on a budget for any length of time.
While this book touches on Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima, Mt Fuji, Miyajima, Himeji Castle, Kobe, Yokohama, Kamakura, Nikko, Hakone, Kansai & Kanto, the author has released supplementary publications that cover both Tokyo and Sapporo and the rest of the Hokkaido Prefecture in the form of Ebooks.
- Great tips included on how to visit Japan on a budget
- Some readers have noted their costs to be under $40 per day while using the book
- Info on cheap restaurants, how to find free wifi hotspots, 100 yen shops, etc.
- As at least one reader has pointed out, accommodation choices are geared towards the male solo traveler
- Limited suggestions in terms of nightlife in Japan
- Lack of info on certain regions (Hokkaido for example)
Japan’s extensive rail network is fast, efficient, safe, and comfortable. Decades of infrastructure investment in past 60 years have yielded tremendous results in terms of the ability to effectively use trains to traverse the nation. The system can be daunting to non-japanese tourists however, and authors Ramsey Zarifeh & Anna Udagawa have collaborated on what is being considered as the gold standard when it comes to information about Japan’s various rail system.
At a hefty 528 pages and in its 4th edition printed in 2016, This book has become the de facto source of information for almost everything Japan; not just its rail network. The book contains detailed information concerning most of Japan’s metropolitan areas, key tourist attractions, a schedule of all of the yearly festivals, and most importantly; suggested itineraries for travelers of all demographics. The City guides and maps that include detailed information with the intended purpose of serving as the only guide one would need for their Japanese adventures.
- Has an ebook version for those that don’t want to carry around a hefty book and also has a website created by the authors that contains even more information for everything Japan
- Focuses on rail transportation but is a really detailed guide to all aspects of travel in Japan
- Would be the only book you would need to buy
- Since the authors are writing from their expert point of view, the information displayed is somewhat biased and is not factually based
- Maps contained in the book are small and can be somewhat hard to read
Since 1888, National Geographic has been a world leader in publications on almost every topic imaginable. Their award winning publications have created a global movement around travel and cultural exchange and their travelers guide for Japan is no exception to this rule. At 400 pages, NatGeo has published a very well researched narrative on navigating Japan’s culture and geography. The book is beautifully designed with glossy photography-focused pages and is designed in a way that creates a narrative focused on getting the most out of one’s experiences in Japan; no matter what it is that you are looking for.
For this particular guide, NatGeo enlisted the help of author Perrin Lindelauf, an established travel writer who partnered with a native Japanese photographer to maximize the value provided by the guide and the results are simply stunning.
- If you are familiar with the National Geographic brand, then this book will make a great addition to your collection
- Has a companion website that contains supplementary information and a continuously updated blog
- The signature NatGeo writing style is prevalent in all of their Travelers Guides, and if you are someone who travels to many countries, the entire series of these books might make a great purchase for your bookshelf at home
- Aesthetically, this is the best book you could purchase
- Not as comprehensive as some of the other travel encyclopedias dedicated to Japan
- A common argument that is inherent in most of NatGeo’s writing publications is that they focus too much on photography at the sacrifice of the value of the written content
The front of the book says “The guides that show you what others only tell you” and that is exactly what “DK’s Eyewitness Travel Japan Edition” does throughout its 416 pages. The book is fully illustrated with color photos and diagrams that make learning about Japan travel easy, exciting, and fun. The collaborative efforts of more than a dozen people are on full display here as the book is perhaps the most complete anthology but textually and visually of all aspects of Japanese culture.
DK was founded in 1974 and is perhaps the world leader in illustrated reference books on a wide host of topics. Their travel book series has now reached more then 350 publications and is a must-have series for any frequent traveler.
- Includes a wealth of up-to-date maps that will help any traveler navigate Japan’s wide array of transportation networks
- Written in incredible detail about everything from hotel suggestions to restaurant guides and everything in-between
- Truly an all-inclusive guide book that is a comprehensive encyclopedia on everything one would want to know when planning a trip to Japan
- Bulky and heavy. Not recommended to travel with the actual book unless you have ample room in your luggage
- The book is also one of the heaviest on the list at 1.4 pounds
- The book seems to have omitted important information in many explanations of the various cities it covers
As the first of two books in this list by author Rob Goss, “Japan Traveler’s Companion” is a visual guidebook with no equal in presentation. This 144 page Japan travel guidebook will take its reader on a visual journey throughout every discernible aspect of Japanese culture in a captivating manner. The book itself is full of hundreds of images with more then one on every page and shows its viewer the stunning beauty of Japan.
As the winner of the “North American Travel Journalists Association Excellence in Travel Journalism Award”, Goss’s full potential as a descriptive and passionate journalist is on full display as he inspires readers to explore the most Japan has to offer. The written content of the book is also feature-rich; covering the 100 most important sights in Japan and 22 UNESCO World Heritage sites among other aspects of Japanese travel.
- Written in a persuasive manner that will inspire you to book your plane ticket to Japan
- At only 144 pages, it is light and easy to pack
- May not go into as much detail as one would hope for
- Additional research is required due to the brief length of the book
- The writing style is less informational and more eliciting of an emotional response
Best Tokyo and Kyoto Guidebooks
Since 1972, Lonely Planet has established itself as a household name in the travel industry. Having sold more than 120 million books and employing a staff of nearly 200 authors, their commitment to providing quality is unparalleled. Their city guides for Tokyo and Kyoto are no exception, providing beautiful layouts, expert advice, and all sorts of essential info that is helpful for travelers of any demographic and budget.
The books are organized in a logical manner that first helps a traveler plan a trip, and then subsequently explain the layout the city and key information. This layout provides useful context in understanding each respective cities layout, history, culture and other facets that make it unique.
Especially for Tokyo, this guide is incredible in the amount of explanation the book provides for what is quite possibly one of the worlds most intimidating cities. Tokyo can make or break a traveler and that all depends on the amount of preparation one does before their trip.
- At 296 pages for the Tokyo guide and 232 for the Kyoto counterpart, the books are full of information but still easy to carry
- These are the only guide books you need for these cities. The information contained in these books is complete, easy to understand, and up-to-date
- The layout of the book makes this a difficult guide to navigate on the kindle edition
- Lack of photos can make it difficult to decide where to visit
As the main contender to the Lonely Planet throne of best travel guide company, DK Travel continues to put out quality guides that provide an unparalleled level of depth in their writing of Tokyo. As with all DK publications, heavy emphasis is placed on the visual element of their books and their city guide to Tokyo is no exception. Tokyo is one of the largest and most photogenic cities in the world and the DK Tokyo book provides high quality photos of Tokyo’s most sought after attractions.
Combine the photos with the detailed itineraries, illustrated 3D drawings, and area maps; and you have one of the most complete visual guides of the world’s largest city. Fully exploring Tokyo would take one person a lifetime and the DK Travel team has seemed to have fully embraced the challenge of photographing every single aspect of the city.
- Small in size compared to the larger Japan edition and can be easily taken in bags of any size
- Contains a subway map in English with tips on how to navigate the vast network
- The argument could be made that the book sacrifices the value of the written content for its visual element.
- A common complaint for this particular book is that it is organized in a confusing manner
Author Jane Lawson is a serial foodie. After finishing her career as a chef in Australia, she took her talents on the road, eating her way throughout most of the world and documenting it along the way. Her book “Tokyo Style Guide” is her seventh publication on the topic of gastronomy and is an expert dissertation of Japan’s vast food culture. Jane’s experience as a traveler in Japan for over thirty years is on full display as she offers her unique insight into the three things that interest people most when traveling; eating, sleeping & shopping.
At 320 pages, the book provides such great detail about Tokyo’s culture that it should be required reading before visiting Tokyo. Lawson gives expert recommendations on where to eat, sleep and shop all over Tokyo; all the while crafting a narrative that makes you want to get out and discover the city.
- One of the most knowledgeable of the individually published books on this list. Lawson offers almost 30 years of experience of travel throughout Japan and the Tokyo city-proper
- Contains a huge wealth of information and is up-to-date with its 2018 update
- This book is far too bulky to even consider taking to Japan with you.
- This book is best read before venturing to the island nation
- Has more of a narrative style of writing which might lead one to prefer the type of encyclopedic writing inherent in other travel guides
Kyoto’s Zen Gardens represent one of Japan’s greatest achievements. As the cultural capital of Japan, the city contains nearly 2000 temples and shrines that pay tribute to Japan’s rich cultural history. The city itself is a world treasure, having 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a rich cultural history and aesthetic.
Written by British professor John Dougill, a British Studies teacher at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Dougill is a uniquely qualified expert on Kyotan culture due 30+ years experience working in Kyoto as an educator.
Dougills writings on the 50+ Japanese temples and gardens highlighted in the book are accompanied by incredible photographs by critically acclaimed photographer John Einarsen. A foreword is provided by Takafumi Kawakami, the Deputy Head Priest of the Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto. Kawakami is famous for his TED Talk entitled “How mindfulness can help you live in the present” that has been viewed over 450,000 times as of the publication of this article.
- Can help introduce readers to the zen philosophy.
- While the book does a great job of explaining the historical significance of Kyoto & Zen Philosophy, the book seems to lack critical information regarding the layout of certain sites and other information important for planning a visit to such historical monuments
15. Old Kyoto
Originally published in 1986 with a second edition being released in 2013, author Diane Durston has established herself as an expert on the mystical city of Kyoto. Durston is a cultural consultant who has helped introduce the rest of the world to Japanese art and culture through her work with a collaboration of museums and universities around the world.
Her work in helping bring Japanese culture to the forefront of international affairs has yielded tremendous benefits; many of which are explained in great detail throughout her book on Kyoto. “Old Kyoto” reads more like an insider’s guide to a city that has confounded people for generations. Durston easily dispels the mysterious shroud of Kyoto’s rich culture and aids its viewer in exploring on of the world’s most breathtaking cities.
- A great book not just for travelers, but for anybody interested in Japanese culture
- Contains many great tips for exploring each part of Kyoto and is written from the perspective of a native English speaker who has been living in Japan for decades.
- The 2013 reprint is identical to the original, meaning that information in the book is seriously outdated.
Walking is one of the best ways to get to know an unfamiliar place. Taking your time to use your senses to fully appreciate the moment you are in is one of travel’s biggest allures. Walking throughout Tokyo is no exception, as the city is described as one of the best cities to walk in.
Schwab builds his guide-book on more than 5 years experience living in the vast city. His love affair with the city is obvious in his explanation of Tokyo’s as a city of contrasts, and of breathtaking inspiration and beauty. The guide itself contains 42 complete walking tours to 500 sites around Tokyo city proper. The tours all begin at a subway station somewhere in the city which makes navigation easy. The book also contains 48 different maps to help navigate the myriad of Tokyo’s streets. A second edition was just published in April of 2019 to ensure it is as up-to-date as possible.
- User-friendly and well designed to help you experience the best that Tokyo has to offer
Also great for people living in Tokyo long-term
- Printed on low quality paper & black/white ink. The Ebook version is in full color however
At just 140 pages, The Monocle Travel Guide to Tokyo is written for those who would rather feel like locals than tourists and uses its photo induced pages to provide insider tips about how to expertly travel throughout Tokyo with a locals mindset.
- Monocle’s lifestyle focused approach to writing is unique and makes this book stand out from many on the list as a guide to living the best life in one of the world’s most fascinating cities
- For people that are serial travelers, or those that live the fashionable upscale lifestyle, then their travel book series would yield great benefits in providing relatable content and advice to those on the road
- Full of great ideas, but brief in descriptions. Additional research if planning a trip to Tokyo.
- It could be argued this book focuses too much on Japanese culture and a smooth integration into the Tokyo lifestyle, rather than helping the reader plan itineraries for their trip to the world’s biggest city
Compiled as pocket sized travel guides for Tokyo & Kyoto respectively. These compact travel guides are part of a much larger series of city-travel guides that are published for nearly every city around the world by world renowned publisher Phaidon. With more than 1500 titles in print, they are known for their well-researched curation of content, and their Tokyo and Kyoto guides are no exception.
The books are fully colored with photographs and maps that provide useful context to the more then 100 destinations in each respective book. With a unique focus on architecture, design, luxury & style, these guides will help you be the trendiest and hippest traveler in all of Japan.
- The books compact size enables it to easily be taken anywhere with ease
- Currently in its 9th edition and it shows in the high quality writing
- Brief excerpts on all the highlighted destinations. You’ll need to use the internet and/or another guide book plan your day trips in Tokyo and Kyoto
- More of a travel lifestyle guide, and more practical for younger people and those traveling without children
Best Japan Food and Drink Guidebooks
Quite possibly one of the best books on this list. “Rice, Noodle, Fish” is a collaborative effort between award winning author Matt Goulding and Anthony Bourdain. Goulding is a New York Times best selling author of over 20 books and currently has sold 10’s of millions of books. His entry into Japanese culinary culture is an exceptional work.
The book has won multiple awards including:
Travel Book of the Year by the Society of American Travel Writers
Finalist for the 2016 IACP Awards: Literary Food Writing
One of “The Financial Times” Best Books of 2016
Rice, Noodle, Fish is not written like most travel books. The book is a collection of stories about people known as Shokunin, which translates to a craftsman or artisan, and in this case, the passionate and dedicated chefs and culinary artists seeking to perfect the art of Japanese food. This book is a must read for anybody interested in Japanese food & culture.
- The 352 page book contains 195 high quality color photographs
- Detailed and descriptive about the many fascinating aspects of Japanese food culture
- Written primarily as a narrative about Japanese cuisine and not really a guide book
- Not very practical for planning a trip to Japan. Read this book to get excited about a prospective excursion to Japan, but also partner it with one of the more comprehensive guide books.
Written by Yukari Sakamoto, with photography done by Takuya Suzuki; “Food, Sake, Tokyo” is a journey throughout the vibrant and diverse culinary scene in Tokyo proper. Sakamoto’s unique experience as a chef, sommelier, journalist and restaurant consultant has yielded a must read book for anyone who is serious about maximizing their enjoyment of Tokyo’s incredible food scene.
Sakamoto acknowledges the complexity and tradition-steeped nature of Japan’s food culture, and uses the book to help guide the reader throughout the many cultural norms in Japan that make it unique. The book is divided into sections that tackle different aspects of Japanese cuisine to help the reader understand each facet of Japanese food culture easily. The book also provides the reader with important context for common foods in japanese cuisine like vegetables, pork, chicken & beef products, tofu & soy products, rice, noodles and dried products that are common in many popular Japanese dishes. Sakamoto’s book is a must have for anybody looking to get serious about eating their way through Tokyo.
- At 304 pages, the book contains a huge wealth of information and is one of the most complete food encyclopedias ever written about Japan
- Condenses the wealth of information about the world’s largest city into an easy to understand format
- Published in 2010, so some information may be outdated at this point. Use the internet to verify information is still accurate
- Contains superfluous information regarding the use of raw ingredients in Japanese food. The information is interesting if you are a chef or work in the food service industry, but to the average consumer it might be too much
As the shortest book reviewed on this list at only 77 pages, “Tokyo Eating Tour” focuses on only one thing, Japan’s vast and popular fast food culture. The book is helpful in guiding its readers to the sometimes obscured Japanese homegrown fast food chains and into a wealth of savings.
More than 10 popular and affordable Japanese chains are highlighted with menu recommendations, how-to advice and expert commentary from an author who has truly eaten his way around Japan.
- For anybody traveling on a budget, this book will help save any frugal traveler a lot of money
- Contains a wealth of pictures to help tantalize the taste buds of a hungry tourist
- Small enough to pack in a bag of any size
- If you are not traveling on a budget, you may be better off purchasing one of the more broad guides to Tokyo’s culinary scene.
- Published in 2015 and a new version has not been released. Some of the information may be outdated.
Nearly every region in Japan has their own distinctive type of Ramen. Introduced to Japan by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century, the dish was highly popularized in the years following world war 2 as the nation experienced a significant rice shortage that forced the population to explore other options in its culinary palette. Ramen took the nation by storm and created a cultural movement that only continues to grow in the present day.
The Tokyo Ramen Perfect Guidebook is a love letter crafted by a writing team that is absolutely crazy about Ramen. The book was written due to the absence of a travel guide dedicated to this deeply cherished japanese culinary tradition. In this book, you’ll find reviews, how to guides, and a detailed breakdown of the types of ramen prepared by each restaurant. For anybody exploring Tokyo’s vast Ramen culture, this book is a must have!
- Written by a team of Japanese, with insight that only locals can provide
- Contains 200 pages with full color photos of each highlighted restaurant, along with a complete breakdown of the menu and type of ramen
- Fascinating book for anybody that loves learning about food
- Only contains information relevant for restaurants in Tokyo. If you are not travelling to Tokyo or are not interested in Ramen then this guide book is not for you
No trip to Japan is complete without being able to properly enjoy Japan’s diverse and exciting drinking culture. Author Chris Bunting postulates early on in the book that the Japanese islands are the best places to drink in the entire world. Japanese hospitality is one of the nation’s most enduring set of values and Bunting does a great job showing through examples, the meaning of this culture.
Bunting provides fully illustrated reviews of more than 120 of the country’s best bars with menu tips, directions, and language help in Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Kyoto, Kobe & Hiroshima. At 288 pages, Bunting’s book is quite possibly the most complete dissertation on Japan’s bar scene and would make a worthy read for anybody looking to explore the fascinating nightlife the country has to offer.
- Easy to read, even if you’ve had a couple of sakes or Japanese whiskeys already 😉
- Organized by drink categories, and lists bars that specialize in each category.
- Contains a small language guide to help those with no background in speaking Japanese
- If you don’t enjoy drinking or nightlife, this is not the book for you
Best Onsen & Ryokan Guidebooks
Authors Steve Wide & Michelle Mackintosh are a writing duo who are self-described as being obsessed with Japanese culture and travel. Their book “Onsen of Japan” is the third they have co-authored and is a summarization of the vast and culturally significant world of Japanese communal bathing. Japan’s rich volcanic geography has presented the nation with the gift of naturally hot water almost everywhere around the country. The book features listings for over 140 Onsens across all of Japan’s major islands and is the most complete encyclopedia of this aspect of Japanese culture.
Authors Wide & Mackintosh combine their expertises of writing, book design & illustration to present readers with a complete narrative on the the vast world of Japan’s bathing culture. At 192 pages, this beautifully written book helps its readers navigate the complex etiquette and customs of communal bathing in a practical and easy to understand manner.
- Beautifully illustrated with full color photos and graphics
- Written from a western perspective
- Includes checklists with important information such as price range, bathing demographics, and important do’s/don’ts
- While this book is incredibly detailed about Onsens all over Japan, you many need an additional travel guide to plan your trip
- The book only contains listings for 140 Onsens, but there are thousands of them all over Japan
The second book on this list by Rob Goss and presented as a work of incredible detail; authors Rob Goss and Akihiko Seki have compiled a very comprehensive guide to the world of Japanese Ryokan and Onsens. Ryokans are a type of Japanese inns that represent the storied cultural history of the nation. Having existed since the 8th century A.D., the features of these time-honored accommodations have stayed very true to their roots in Japanese ancestry and are one of the most authentic experiences one can experience on their trip to Japan.
Ryokans typically exist in rural areas near some sort of Onsen, which applies both as the Japanese term for a hot spring and also the bathing facilities within traditional Ryokans. Japan is one of the most volcanically active countries on the planet and as a result has a large abundance of hot springs scattered throughout all of Japan’s islands. The presence of an Onsen is what gives Ryokan’s one of their key defining traits; that being the use of naturally warm water from the spring for bathing purposes.
Goss & Seki’s book provides a detailed description of 40 of the best Ryokans in Japan for English speaking travelers. The descriptions include information on how to get there, what is included in the stay and also a detailed etiquette guide to make sure your stay is as enjoyable as possible. For those interested in exploring the rich cultural history of Japan, a stay in a Ryokan is a must, and this book makes the seemingly daunting task simple and easy to understand.
- Heavy emphasis is placed on photo illustration
- The etiquette guide for the book is written in a way that helps the readers learn the most about the seemingly daunting task of understanding Japanese etiquette
- The Ryokan’s described in the book are some of the most popular in Japan, which may be sold out months in advance
- Aside from Ryokan’s, the book provides little information regarding the rest of one’s trip to Japan. You’ll still need a regular guidebook
Written in 1986 by Anne Hotta & Yoko Ishiguro, A Guide to Japanese Hot Springs presents a wealth of information when it comes to the world of Japanese hot springs. From scientific information regarding the chemical composition of hot spring water, to the history of Japan’s use of Onsens; this book is full of value for anybody looking to explore this important Japanese tradition.
The authors divide Japan into regions, highlighting the best Onsens in each region. At 284 pages this is by far the most comprehensive guide to Japanese hot springs available.
- Contains a directory of dozens of Onsens throughout Japan’s main islands with detailed information regarding the amenities preset at each
- The authors have a very easy to understand writing style that presents information in a clear and succinct manner
- This book was written in 1986 and a new version was never released; some of the information may be outdated
- Contains almost no pictures and the maps are hard to read and also outdated by this point
- It is strongly advised to verify the information presented on the Onsens with another source, such as the internet or another one of the books regarding Japanese Hot Springs on this list
What about learning Japanese?
Want to learn some Japanese for your trip? We highly recommend JapanesePod101. See our sister site’s review of JapanesePod101 here.
Which Japan Travel Guidebook did you buy for your trip? Let us know in the comments!