“Travel guidebook to Japan off-the-beaten-track – the lesser known towns, where quiet, bucolic ways of life, and proudly maintained local history and traditions can be found.”
In today’s pocket Wi-Fi world, where there is so much free travel information online, it’s debatable whether printed Lonely Planet style guides still have a place at all. If you do buy one, it’s probably for the convenience of having all of your travel information in one place, rather than for an interesting read. It’s rare to find a travel guidebook where “deep” and “characterful” are descriptors that come to mind but Japan – 100 Hidden Towns is just that: not only 400 pages of useful travel information but a book you can peruse on an idle afternoon, deepening your understanding of Japan as you go.
Destinations off the beaten track
Japan – 100 Hidden Towns was written on the premise that most international tourists follow a “Golden Route” on their Japan visits, involving Tokyo, Mt Fuji, Kyoto and Osaka. While much can be said for these heavy hitters, this route alone will not cover the huge cultural and natural variation the Japanese archipelago has to offer. Moreover, as anyone who has braved the crowds at Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji will know, these destinations are often missing that delightful sense of intimacy and authenticity that can be found off the beaten track. 100 Hidden Towns is just what it says: a selection of towns spread across Japan which offer touristic delights as well as a sense of mystery that is hard to find at the hotspots. Towns were selected by a Japanese committee and the book was then written by a team of foreign residents. The resulting collaboration is a travel guide that is both charming and useful.
Discover a deeper culture
The book is well organized and pleasantly laid out with a color coordination system and symbols that are both aesthetically sharp and help you find what you need. With the country divided into eight regions, each chapter begins with a general description, maps, climate and travel information. The “hidden towns” all have their own description and between five and ten attractions, as well as food and accommodation recommendations. These sections are accompanied by beautiful photos, but it is the additional features that set 100 Hidden Towns apart from other guide books. The “Did you know?” sections are filled with fascinating tidbits of information that add color to each town; from a famous haiku about one town to an amusing soccer anecdote about another.
The “We Say” component provides welcome personality and a drop of subjectivity that is so often missing from travel guidebooks. 100 Hidden Towns has the feel of a knowledgeable local telling you about the places no one else goes, which, in a way, is exactly what the book is.
A criticism of the book, is that the authors sometimes become victims of the depth of Japan knowledge. Although an accessible tone is maintained throughout, occasionally it feels like too much knowledge is being presumed and some sections could confuse a fledgling tourist. While the book’s accompanying website is not short of useful information, the details of the towns are replaced with “destination maps” which are unfortunately all in Japanese. But if the website was perfect, you wouldn’t buy the book.
Japan – 100 Hidden Towns aims to fill a gap in the market: the informed tourist or foreign resident who wants to step off the beaten track into hidden Japan. It not only succeeds, but is well thought out and accessible enough to appeal to both Japan buffs and keen first-time visitors. Authenticity is a desirable yet elusive quality to many of today’s travel experiences and this book clearly lays out path to it. So whether you’re about to embark on your next adventure or want to dream of far off mountains and bucolic ways of life from your Tokyo apartment, get a hold of a copy and, as the tag line says, discover a deeper culture.