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  • Entertaining and informative
  • Enticing imagery
This book is a collaborative effort of Chris Bunting, author of widely read "Drinking Japan" (Tuttle 2011), and Stephen Lyman, an American authority on Japanese shochu and Okinawan awamori. It is a fascinating and entertaining read for everyone interested in alcoholic beverages and Japanese drinking culture.

Rich in illustrations and abundant in anecdotes, Bunting introduces the reader to Japan's rich drinking culture and to its history of producing rice-based alcohol. Sake brewing is almost as old as rice cultivation itself. The Chinese "History of the Kingdom of Wei" disclosed as early as 297 C.E. that the Japanese were fond of their alcohol; even at funerals friends would sing, dance, and drink liquor. Sake was as popular with the ruling class as it was with the ordinary Japanese who would often resort to producing their doburoku (unrefined home-brewed sake) because they could not afford the officially sanctioned version. The century-long cat-and-mouse game between rice farmers and the tax collectors from Kyoto or Edo even led to the rise of regional dialects as the officials would not able to overhear conversations. Footsoldiers were only given small provisions of rice for fear they would put most of it into sake making and starve. Even in modern days, alcohol is still considered a social elixir bringing people together, in private and in more formal situations.

The book consists of two parts: the Native Japanese alcohol traditions (sake, shochu, awamori, and umeshu), and the Western alcohol traditions in Japan (Japanese whisky, beer, Japanese wine, and cocktails). Each chapter presents in great detail the history, the ingredients, the production methods, the maturation, and the variations of the particular alcoholic beverage.

Although I am more partial to traditional Japanese liquor, I thoroughly enjoyed Part II on yoshu, Japanese interpretations of foreign alcohol. Japanese whisky has been receiving a lot of international acclaims lately, and the history spanning from Commodore Perry who brought 109 gallons of American whiskey as a gift for the emperor (none of which ever reached the latter) in 1853 to modern-day Japanese single-malts is fascinating to follow. Despite all praise, Bunting reminds the reader that not all whisky that has "single malt' and "Made in Japan" on its label is a quality product: one particular distillery has begun marketing their brew as "8- to 33-year old pure malts" which is actually low- to mid-quality malt whisky imported from Scotland and blended in Tottori. If you find the "Kurayoshi" on a shelf, study the label carefully.

The chapter on beer does, of course, focus on the recent craft beer boom but sheds some light on other trends, such as happoshu ("sparkling alcohol"), also known as "Frankenbeer", and "Hoppy", an ersatz beer that can be mixed with shochu. Bunting devotes two sections on Japanese wine and cocktails and a mini-chapter on Japanese gin.

The Bar Guide lists a few select places in Japan, the U.S. and London that specialise in one or more types of the drinks so
delightfully introduced in the book, while the Buyer's Guide will assist you in finding out what you should be trying first and where to acquire it.

The authors call Japan a "drinking paradise", a fact they prove on every page of their excellent compendium. Very educational, very entertaining, and highly recommended!
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  • Very comprehensive without overwhelming the reader
  • Up-to-date on the latest happening in Tokyo
  • Practical maps
Last week (20 Aug), Lonely Planet released the 12th edition of their Tokyo city guide, and it doesn't disappoint. We reviewed their Best of Tokyo 2019 a while ago and found it (not only visually) appealing. The difference between LP's city guides and their "Best of" series is that the former is very comprehensive and meticulous in detail, while the latter is more concise, focusing on the highlights and visualizations of the city presented.

The Tokyo City Guide consists of four sections that are useful to both the first-time traveller as well as the Old Tokyo Hand.

The Plan your trip section focuses on the Top 16 of Tokyo to see (in the order of description):
  • Shinjuku Nightlife
  • Tsukiji Market (bearing in mind that the fish market has moved to Toyosu last autumn)
  • Contemporary architecture and design
  • Shopping in Harajuku
  • Meiji-jingū
  • teamLab Borderless
  • Senso-ji
  • Yanesen (Yanaka, Nezu, Sendagi)
  • Sumo in Ryogoku
  • Kabukiza
  • Cherry Blossoms in Yoyogi-koen
  • Mount Fuji
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • Shibuya Crossing
  • Akihabara Pop Culture
  • Ghibli Museum Mitaka
All that should keep you busy for quite a while or last for several trips.

The first section also introduces short (and longer) itineraries as well as an overview of "What's New" in Tokyo, a feature that might be interesting to Tokyo residents, too. New is, for example, the Toyosu Market mentioned above, museums such as teamLab Borderless with its digital art installations and another devoted to contemporary artist Kusama Yayoi, VR attractions such as Sky Circus in Ikebukuro, new city developments like Shibuya Stream, new places dedicated to craft sake and third-wave-style tea, etc. LP also explains the recent crackdown on apartment-sharing sites and introduces new hostels for budget travellers.

The second section on Exploring Tokyo is divided into 12 areas or neighbourhoods with a focus on the top sights for each area, covering sightseeing spots, transportation, shopping, eating and dining, nightlife and other activities for each neighbourhood. A short chapter at the end of the section expands on day trips from Tokyo: Mount Fuji, Nikko, Hakone, and Kamakura.

Understand, the third part of LP's Tokyo guide provides the reader with a plethora of background info on the history of Tokyo, its pop culture, art and architecture, onsen (hot springs which you can also find in Tokyo), and the Olympics that will be held there in 2020.

A comprehensive Survival Guide and a handy map of central Tokyo conclude the compendium.

This is, without doubt, one of our most favourite city guides on Tokyo. Five stars!
  • Concise and up-to-date (issued biennially)
  • Also available as e-book
  • Sturdy, light and small enough to carry around
This is a more condensed version of Lonely Planet's regular Japan Guide. Apart from the (as usual) excellent survival guide for first-time visitors and the general introduction to Japan (history, people, food & drink, arts & architecture, onsen & ryokan), it introduces Japan's Top 12, locations that LP deems essential to visit and provides ample information on things you need to consider when planning your itinerary.

The Top 12 are:
  • Tokyo
  • Kyoto
  • Japanese Alps
  • Nara
  • Kii Peninsula
  • Naoshima
  • Hiroshima
  • Fuji Five lakes
  • Osaka
  • Hokkaido
  • Okinawa
  • Kagoshima
The authors suggest

Five-Day Itineraries:
  • "Kansai in Depth" (Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Kii Peninsula)
  • Tokyo and Mount Fuji

a Ten-Day Itininerary called the "Grand Tour" from Tokyo to Hiroshima and

a Two-Week Itinerary that includes all of the above, plus the Japanese Alps and Okinawa.

If you are travelling with children, the guide offers plenty of useful suggestions on how to satisfy the kids in case temples, shrines and museums start to bore them. And where to go to dine with the kinsfolk.

Each location is well laid out with short descriptions of places, sights and restaurants as well as easy-to-read foldable maps.

I am not sure whether it's really possible to complete LP's ten-day and two-week itineraries but the Best of Japan should help you plan your next trip to Japan, in particular, if you intend to visit the main island (Honshu). Other locations, such as Hokkaido, Kyushu and Okinawa would require you to fly: consider a second visit if you want to see those destinations.