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From The Asian Reporter, V14, #26 (June 22, 2004), page 16.

Book unlocks travel deals in costly Japan

Letís Go Japan

St. Martinís Press, 2004

Paperback, 720 pages, $22.99

By Oscar Johnson

Special to the Asian Reporter

Letís Go has done it again. This time the maker of the popular budget travel guides for destinations ranging from Alaska to New Zealand has added Japan to its list of annually updated titles. Knowledgeable shoestring travelers with an eye to the Land of the Rising Sun will likely rejoice. The adventurous who are unfamiliar with the series would do well to find out why.

Like some 36 other virtual bibles for the backpack-toting globetrotter, Letís Go Japan offers the skinny on some of the countryís cheap eats, low-cost lodgings, and must see ó or skip ó sights. Priceless details on essentials such as transportation, currency exchange, and useful government and non-government agencies (phone numbers included) make it an asset even for those not planning to rough it.

Touring Tokyo? Like the megalopolis itself, the book offers much: See what all the hoopla is about. Visit Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanís recent prime ministers earned kudos from conservatives and irked pacifists by paying official homage to this memorial to fallen warriors ó including some of World War IIís Class-A war criminals. Club hop in the notorious nightlife of the Roppongi district, or simply stroll Shinjuku National Gardens. Where, when, how, and how much are all listed.

Tired of the big city? Camp out with the bears in the northern wilds of Hokkaido or sip pineapple wine down south on one of the paradisiacal Okinawan islands. Traveling by plane, bus, car, or ferry, as a weekend excursion or an entire summer vacation, on a first-time adventure or an annual pilgrimage, this is probably the single most important atlas of utilitarian information available.

The book is formatted in easy-to-use, destined-to-be dog-eared chapters labeled by region, city, and even neighborhood. Within each of these are sections on topics such as food, accommodations, and transportation. Additional chapters detail the "essentials" of planning a trip, offer "alternatives to tourism" such as teaching or studying, or summarize the cultural and historic "life and times" of the country. Maps, an appendix, and a Japanese language cheat sheet help make this wealth of information about as user friendly as it can be. And a smattering of short essays on various factoids helps break up the monotony.

That said, often ó like the educational overseas adventures the publisher aims to facilitate ó the book is not without its own faux pas. And itís not just the occasional typo ó which, given that Letís Go writers are supposedly all students, might be forgivable, save that they are exclusively Harvard University students. (Really, what are these kidsí parents paying for, anyway?)

To be fair, Letís Go had little way of knowing that the mega 100-yen shop (can you say $1 store to the 1,000th power?) or the palatial Virgin Records store it recommends in its Tokyo section would close a month before publication date. As for the linguistic advise that, "Children, very good friends, and pets can be called by their last or first name and the diminutive suffix Ď-chan,í" beware. Since Ď-kuní is the masculine equivalent, male buddies might wonder why theyíre addressed as women or children. Not to worry though, the book is right about the "forgiving" nature of the locals.

True, this mighty tome for the pennywise is far from perfect, or complete. But given its subject matter ó budget travel in one of the worldís most spendy destinations ó itís worthy of praise and at least a skim if youíre planning a trip to Japan.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon