Travel to Japan has soared in the past five years, according to JTB Tourism Research & Consulting,with the number of visits tripling to 31 million in 2018. Prime Minister Shinzo¯ Abe has taken steps to boost that number to 40 million in 2020 by easing visa requirements and increasing inland flights ahead of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Publishers are hoping to capitalize on the growing interest, bringing forth a slew of titles celebrating everything from the island nation’s centuries-old temples to contemporary cosplay culture—with plenty of stops for ramen and tonkatsu in between.
“Our travel publishing program has definitely been ramped up for the Olympics,” says Christopher Johns, sales and marketing director at Tuttle, which specializes in Asia-focused titles. “It’s not just us; authors are also coming to us and saying, ‘We want our books out for the Olympics.’ ”
The publisher, with offices in North Clarendon, Vt., and Tokyo, releases books on a variety of topics including cooking, language, and history, but through spring 2020, Johns says, Tuttle expects to “vastly” expand travel titles that are geared specifically for the Olympics. “We have three coming out and by next spring expect to have eight more.”
The recently released second edition of A Geek in Japan by Tokyo blogger Hector Garcia includes 30% more content than the 2011 first edition, such as a new chapter on Kyoto. Much of the book is devoted to explaining Japanese popular culture to first-time visitors, with the final chapters suggesting places to visit lists and sample itineraries. It’s Tuttle’s most popular travel guide, Johns says, and, according to BookScan, nearly 27,000 print copies of the first edition have sold.
Manga artist and comic book author Evangeline Neo approached Tuttle with her first foray into travel publishing, A Manga Lover’s Tokyo Travel Guide (Aug.). In it, an illustrated Neo (with Kopi the dog and Matcha the cat at her side) leads manga fans to memorabilia shops, anime museums, cosplay studios, and drawing classes. Both books, Johns says, contain the kind of idiosyncratic information that might otherwise elude trip planners: “I don’t believe you can recreate them through a Google search.”
Tuttle showcases ancient traditions in Japan’s World Heritage Sites (Oct.) by John Dougill, a professor at Ryukoku University in Kyoto. The book has been updated to include all of the new UNESCO World Heritage designations since it was last published in 2014. The smaller trim size and lower price ($24.99, from $34.95) is an effort to appeal to travelers who may be looking for a souvenir on the way home from Japan, Johns says; Tuttle sells its books at airport bookstores throughout Asia, and in the English-language sections of Japanese bookshops.
The country’s UNESCO sites are the launchpad for photographer John Lander’s exploration of historical and natural wonders in World Heritage Japan (River Books, Oct.), which will be distributed in North America by ACC. The book was not published with the Olympics in mind, says ACC v-p and general manager John Brancati. Rather, it’s the culmination of Lander’s work photographing his adopted home over the last 35 years. Another longtime resident, travel writer Pico Iyer, contributed the preface.
After 32 years in Japan, Iyer stills feels like a newcomer. As he writes in the introduction to his forthcoming A Beginner’s Guide to Japan (Knopf, Sept.), which received a starred PW review, “I call this a ‘beginner’s guide’ not only because it’s aimed at beginners, but mostly because it’s written by one.” Drawing on personal reflections and conversations with his wife and other Japanese friends and family, Iyer’s observations act as an entrée into a culture.
Swedish food writer Jonas Cramby explores one of Japan’s most ubiquitous cultural exports in Tokyo for Food Lovers (Hardie Grant, Aug.). He begins the book with a disclaimer: Given that there are more than 150,000 restaurants in the city, “It is actually impossible to write a restaurant guide for Tokyo.” Instead, he’s produced a book that reflects his culinary “obsessions and hang-ups,” he writes; topics include how to consume yakitori (“Always eat the chicken straight off the skewer”) and the culture of an izakaya (“a temple devoted to the art of grazing.”)
The book, part of the Food Lovers series originally published in Swedish by Natur & Kultur, has been translated into English for the first time (forthcoming guides in the series focus on Paris and Rome). “We really loved the graffiti design and the authors’ focus on discovering new food trends in each destination,” says Hardie publisher Melissa Kayser. Cramby covers Tokyo’s ramen and sushi establishments but also devotes a chapter to “the hipster generation’s embrace of folksy Japanese curry.”
Keys to the Country
Guidebook publishers are prepping new and revamped editions in time to meet the expected crush of visitors. Moon Japan (Jan. 2020), written by Tokyo journalist Jonathan DeHart, is the publisher’s first Japan guidebook in 25 years and was on the wish list for more than a decade, says Grace Fujimoto, v-p of acquisitions at Moon.
Because of Fujimoto’s family ties to the country, getting the book just so was especially important to her. “It was really hard for me to find the right author,” she says. “Jonathan’s understanding and appreciation of the culture was everything I wanted.” The book guides travelers to a range of experiences, offering suggestions for those who’d like to spend a contemplative night in a countryside temple, for instance, as well as those interested in experiencing the hyperefficiency of a capsule hotel in the heart of Tokyo.
Wallpaper City Guide Osaka (Phaidon, Jan. 2020), which was last published in 2014, is aimed at design-conscious travelers, steering its readers to the most rigorously of-the-moment restaurants, nightclubs, and art spaces.
Lost Guides author Anna Chittenden hopes to appeal to the image-conscious traveler with Tokyo & Beyond (dist. by Cardinal, Oct.). At nearly 150 listings, it’s the most ambitious of Chittenden’s guides, she says, and though it concentrates on Tokyo, it also includes day trips made accessible by the bullet train, as well as a section on Kyoto. Entries are culled from her favorite finds, such as a flea market stall that sells vintage kimonos and a 10-seat Japanese-Italian restaurant hidden down a back alley from Tokyo’s main business district.
Chittenden says she’s most enthusiastic about sharing experiences that are enmeshed in traditional Japanese culture, such as taking a flower arranging class whose tenets date to the seventh century and spending the afternoon at an outdoor public bath.
Zipping through centuries of history in one of the world’s most modern cities is likely to prove disorienting to many of those setting their sights on Japan in 2020, no matter which guide they take along with them. And that’s okay, Iyer writes in A Beginner’s Guide, summing up assurances that can be found in nearly all of the guides cropping up to assist the expected masses. “You’ll be taking in the country as most of us do,” he adds, “bumping from the strange to the familiar and back again.”