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Sunday, Jan. 18, 2004

THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF

Book bites


JAPAN (8th Edition), by Chris Rowthorn, et al. Lonely Planet, 2003, 768 pp., $27.99 (paper).

The latest edition of Lonely Planet's Japan has all the features that we've come to expect from the publishers of the world's top travel series -- Japanese script for most place names, a list of accommodations to fit any budget, a comprehensive language glossary, beautiful color photographs, accurate information and, most important of all, lots of maps -- 150 in all.

New to this edition is a 15-page chapter on Japanese cuisine with tips on what to expect when eating out, the kinds of food available, the best places to sample them and how much to expect to pay, as well as a cuisine glossary complete with names written in Japanese to make ordering easier.

Also appearing for the first time is a 32-page Arts & Architecture section that provides a crash course on Japanese music, cinema, literature and the performing arts, Japanese tea ceremony and Japanese garden design.

Having lived in Japan for more than a decade, most of my travel books began to gather dust on my shelves years ago. But a first-time visit to the Kansai region during the New Year holiday gave me a chance both to play tourist once again and to put the latest edition of Lonely Planet Japan to test.

The guide's focus on what non-Japanese visitors would find interesting is a great feature and came in handy a number of times. So did its frankness. My Japanese friends were amazed that the writers would be so bold as to give their own opinions on what they liked and disliked.

In Kobe I took the guide's advice and skipped Kitano, a neighborhood of old European-style houses that appeals to Japanese much more than Westerners, and instead made a beeline to Chinatown where I homed in on a recommended restaurant and feasted on truly spectacular za With so much to see in Kyoto and Nara, but only a day to spend in each, Lonely Planet's efficient walking tours allowed me to make the most of my precious time, guiding me to some of the more interesting sights, giving me informative details on them, and leaving me feeling satisfied even if I had only seen a small percentage of the cultural jewels on offer.

Whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned resident, Lonely Planet's Japan can help you make the most of any excursion.



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