“Confidence comes from being prepared.” ~ John Wooden.
Are you looking for how to prepare for a trip to Japan? Books are a great source of inspiration! But with so many Japan travel books on the market, it can be a little overwhelming in deciding what to choose to best help you prepare for your trip. Where to start??
Never fear, the obsessively-compulsively organised version of me has done all the hard yards for you in determining the best travel guide books for Japan – and I’ve even sorted them into themes depending on the type of traveller you are! Many of these have been tried and tested by me and have the dog-earred pages and scuffs to prove it.
If you’re someone after Japan highlights and itinerary ideas, a lover of the outdoors, a culture vulture (like myself) who can’t get enough of geeky things like art and history, a compulsive foodie, want to venture off the beaten track in Japan or just after some perspective on the best Japanese phrasebooks, I’m sure there is something in this detailed guide for you. Read on for more!
This guide to the best Japan travel books will cover:
This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Pin me to Pinterest for reference later! 📌
Guide to the absolute best Japan travel books
You ready for some honest reviews? Let’s jump into the why I believe these are the best Japan travel books on the market!
1. Best Japan travel guide books for exploring the country
When it comes to Japan travel planning, you really can’t go past the industry leader in travel guide books. I have consistently used Lonely Planet during my travels over the past ten years and highly recommend their travel guides to Japan. Here’s some of their best Japan travel guide books:
Lonely Planet Discover Japan
Lonely Planet Discover Japan could quite possibly be the best Japan travel guide book as it was literally my bible when planning my first trip to Japan. It covers all the highlights you’d expect on Japan’s “Golden Route” (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka & Hiroshima) in a great amount of detail. It’s super helpful for Japan trip planning.
As you’d come to expect from Lonely Planet, suggestions for accommodation based on budget have also been included, as well recommendations for places to eat in each area. Combined with the handy pull-out paper map, this is great to know in advance to avoid wandering around aimlessly when in Japan!
What separates this Japan travel book from others for me is the high-quality colourful images adorning the pages to showcase the beauty of Japan. It’s easy-to-follow-format makes it simple to skim over the highlights or read more about a particular destination in detail if you wish.
Each sight or attraction discussed has opening times listed as well as where you can find further information. The included maps and DIY walking tours for each of the places mentioned help make getting your bearings a breeze and ensure you don’t miss major drawcards.
Discover Japan covers transportation options in great depth, from when you first arrive in Japan to how you will get around from city to city. It discusses the types of transport passes available as well, so the task of choosing one that’s right for you doesn’t seem so daunting.
TIP: I especially loved the tips from locals about sights most tourists seem to skip over. Most of the hidden gems in Kyoto I found and wrote about were mentioned in this guide. It’s the is perfect Japan travel guide book for first-time visitors, hands down!
Buy Discover Japan →
Lonely Planet Best of Japan
Lonely Planet Best of Japan complements Discover Japan really well. Although there is minor content overlap about Japan’s Golden Route as mentioned above, Best of Japan is different as it explores beyond the major cities on the island of Honshu and spans from one side of the country (Okinawa) to the other (Hokkaido).
If you love finding off-the-beaten-track destinations and hidden gems, this may be the best Japan guide book there is! As well as covering the top experiences in Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka, you’re able to discover more about:
- The traditional beauty of a handful of cities nestled within the Japan Alps
- Incredibly scenic Fuji Five Lakes region Mt Fuji towers above
- Ancient pilgrimage routes on the Kii Peninsula
- Contemporary art and design on Naoshima Island
- How you can voluntarily get buried in volcanic sand in Kagoshima
- Skiing or hiking the wilderness on Hokkaido
- Island-hop the stunning tropical islands of Okinawa
These destinations aren’t covered in detail (or at all) in Discover Japan mentioned above.
This Japan travel book is ideal if you fell in love with the country during your first trip and are keen to go back, or if you plan on spending an extended amount of time there as a visitor or expat. Again, the format is very easy to follow and maps with images of the attractions help you understand where things are relative to one another, at a glance. The suggestions for self-guided walking tours are very good to add to your Japan itinerary, too!
Buy Best of Japan →
Lonely Planet Tokyo City Trails
Although Lonely Planet Tokyo City Trails has been targeted towards kids, it’s an ideal Japan travel guide book because it takes you inside the mind of a child and what they would find interesting… Say what? Who doesn’t enjoy being a big kid sometimes!
You’ll discover many offbeat things to do, unusual sights, interesting facts and fun attractions that as an adult you may never have even thought of adding to your Tokyo itinerary. I loved how the book breaks down the things to do in Tokyo into themed trails to explore, such as amazing art, kawaii, spooky sights, cartoons, seafood and more!
Buy Tokyo City Trails →
Looking for more Japan travel books that aren’t Lonely Planet?
There are quite a few more on the market of course, the bestsellers worth looking at are:
- Fodors Essential Japan →
Written by locals who share their top insider tips and advice about travelling through Japan. It also includes lovely colour photographs and advice on booking restaurants and hotels from a local’s perspective. The layout is quite user friendly and easy to skim through or read about a particular attraction in more detail. As a bonus, it even has detailed instructions and diagram on how to use the Japan Rail ticket vending machines!
- Frommers Japan →
Written by an author who has spent extensive time in Japan and knows the country very well. This Japan travel guide book is not updated as frequently as Lonely Planet or Fodor’s but remains a best-selling resource. The “Best of Japan” categories sort the experiences depending on what you’d like to see: Castles, gardens, museums, old and modern Japan, temples, shrines and more.
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Japan →
Personally, I find the layout of this book not as user-friendly as its Lonely Planet or Fodors counterparts, but still contains enough detailed information nonetheless to get you started with your Japan trip planning.
2. Japan Travel Books for learning the language
Do you enjoy being an Invisible Tourist when you travel? Love learning about culture and local lingo? These Japanese phrasebooks and culture guides are for you! All tried and tested by me personally, read on to find out more about the best Japan travel books that cover the essentials to help you make the most of your trip:
Berlitz Japanese Phrasebook and Audio
After taking a paid course in Japanese at my community college, I was introduced to Berlitz Japanese Phrasebook & Audio after exclusively using Lonely Planet phrasebooks for years. I found that many of the phrases in the Berlitz Japanese phrasebook were more simplified, easier to pronounce and remember compared to Lonely Planet’s. Combined with the great audio resource, Berlitz is now my #1 go-to Japanese phrasebook.
I found the Berlitz audio guide especially helpful for practicing the correct pronunciation. Unlike its Lonely Planet equivalent, the Berlitz audio is clear and simple to understand. The Lonely Planet audio is very rushed and challenging to differentiate the words in what’s being said, especially for beginners dipping their toes into learning the Japanese language.
If you prefer learning language in the good ol’ fashioned way through books, it’s nice and compact so it’s easy to fit in your pocket, handbag and great to read whilst you’re in transit.
Buy Berlitz Japanese →
AJALT Japanese for Busy People
Japanese for Busy People was recommended to me by the university where I studied a short course in Japanese for travel. It’s quite useful because it covers etiquette and phrases for situations you would typically encounter in Japan as a tourist (or visiting on a business trip).
In some areas, especially business situations, the book goes into more detail about culture in Japan that your average phrasebook does not. You might find this as interesting as I do!
I especially like how I was able to test my knowledge with the exercises at the conclusion of each chapter and learn more about do’s and don’ts in Japan. The 70-minute audio CD covers the correct pronunciation from the exercises, which is also great.
Buy Japanese for Busy People →
Chineasy by Shaolan
Does the thought of learning over 2,000 Kanji seem overwhelming to you? It sure was for me! This is where Chineasy by Shaolan comes in real handy. Despite the book being created to help you learn Chinese in an easy way, it’s incredibly useful when learning Kanji (as it’s derived from Chinese).
Sure, the way the symbols are pronounced may be different in Japanese but the book does an amazing job of breaking down the kanji into simple pictures to make them easy to remember. It’s like fast-tracking your way to reading the Kanji basics and knowing what they mean. Perfect for visual learners, like me.
Lonely Planet Small Talk Asia
Planning on visiting Japan in addition to more Asian countries? This nifty book is a great little survival guide. Lonely Planet Small Talk Asia covers basic phrases you’ll need on a daily basis in not only Japan but also Korean, Cantonese, Lao, Vietnamese, Thai and more.
Before each chapter is a super handy table on how to pronounce the vowels and consonants in each language, as pronunciation is crucial in getting your message across. Just one incorrect vowel sound can change the meaning of the word completely and can be easily taken out of context, so it’s a good idea to know this before you go. NOTE: This book may be tricky to get your hands on as it’s quite rare!
Buy Small Talk Asia→
3. Best Japan travel books for outdoor enthusiasts
Japan is popular for its incredible natural scenery and gorgeous sculpted zen gardens. Here are some Japan travel books that cover what you need to know about the outdoors at any time of year to enrich your trip:
Hidden Gardens of Japan 日本の秘庭
Japan is bursting with incredibly beautiful gardens, some of the best in the world. This Japan guide book explores the numerous gardens throughout the country that are often overlooked by tourists due to their isolated locations. If you’re looking for little-known tranquil gardens and parks to escape the crowds, this is an ideal book.
Buy Hidden Gardens of Japan →
- Lonely Planet Hiking in Japan (Travel Guide) →
Are you hoping to climb Mt Fuji to watch the sun rise? Indulge in spending some time in Japanese onsen (hot springs) and witness steaming volcanoes? If you love hiking in a responsible way, this Japan travel guide book is a great option. With over 70 hikes in Japan, including pilgrim trails, wildlife encounters and destinations based on season, there’s bound to be a few you’ll want to add to your trip!
- Walking and Trekking in the Japan Alps and Mount Fuji →
Another Japan travel book about hiking and trekking, although this is specific to the Japan Alps and Mount Fuji rather than the country as a whole. This Japan travel guide covers 31 hikes that range in difficulty, from easy through to hard, short or long walks.
- Onsen of Japan: Japan’s Best Hot Springs and Bath Houses →
Japan is dotted with geothermal wonders and no visit would be complete without a visit to an authentic hot spring. It’s a great introduction to Japanese communal bathing and features over 2,500 onsen in Japan – and where you can find them!
- Speak Japanese & Sh*t →
This quirky book seems ideal for the ski or snowboard lover wanting to learn more about Japanese ski culture and the lingo that goes with it!
4. Japan books for art and culture lovers
Do you love hunting down art and creative things to see and do when you travel? Enjoy learning about the local culture to understand and appreciate it more? These Japan travel books have you covered:
Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave
“The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” is perhaps Japan’s most recognisable piece of art. But did you know there is so much more to the artist than this incredible woodblock print? Hokusai’s Beyond the Great Wave explores in detail many more beautiful pieces of art by this master, and is sure to leave you with a greater understanding about why Hokusai’s work is so iconic to Japanese culture.
My book pictured was purchased from the National Gallery of Victoria, and is now unfortunately sold out. Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave is a great alternative as it features commentary for not only Hokusai’s most famous series “36 Views of Mt Fuji” but of the wonderful collection of works from his other series.
It also includes lesser-known works in various mediums, his sketches and even insights into what inspired the great man. A must-have for art lovers!
Buy Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave →
Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen
While also covering food and shopping, this book is a detailed guide about Japan for art and culture lovers! Learn more about otaku (Japanese geek culture), ever popular anime and manga, and find out where you can even attend cosplay festivals! The book also covers where to find traditional Japanese arts if that’s more your thing.
Buy Cool Japan Guide →
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long & Happy Life
Why does Japan have the most supercentenarians – people who live to be 110 years or more – in the world? The secret is all these people found their ikigai in their lifetime. Ikigai can be described as the driving force behind what motivates one to get out of bed each morning.
With today’s busy society and everyone being so connected to smartphones, work and the digital world, Ikigai scientifically examines the ancestral reasons why our lifestyles today are so stressful. It provides actionable steps we can take to bring more meaning and joy into our everyday lives, just like the supercentenarians learnt to do.
Ikigai is a very interesting read! Despite knowing more than most about Japanese culture, I learnt so much about the reasons behind why older Japanese people are so active and what motivates them to continue living, even after a century on this Earth!
Buy Ikigai →
If you enjoy Ikigai, the authors have also published two related books:
- The Ikigai Journey: A Practical Guide to Finding Happiness & Purpose the Japanese Way – This book is an extension of what you learn in the first Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long & Happy Life as our ikigai and priorities may change in different stages of our lives (buy here)
- Forest Bathing: The Rejuvenating Practice of Shinrin Yoku – Learn how to find peace and recharge in any space (buy here)
- Thanks to the above three books, I learnt so many of these beautiful words in Japanese and their meanings!
Japan – Culture Smart! Essential Guide to Customs & Culture
Did you know slurping your bowl of noodles in Japan is considered polite? And talking on your phone while on the Metro or bullet train is frowned upon? There are plenty things to know about Japanese manners and culture you may not have thought of!
This detailed book outlines Japanese values and attitudes, religion, customs, traditions, business etiquette and more. (Pssst, for the nutshell version of essential do’s and don’ts take a look at my guide to Japanese etiquette!)
Buy Culture Smart Japan →
A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony
On the topic of anime and manga, this detailed book on Japanese culture is sure to amuse and delight. It provides first-hand accounts and insights into the fascinating world of all things to do with Japanese culture.
Buy A Geek in Japan →
5. Books on Japan travel for history fans
Nothing helps you appreciate a new country more than learning a bit about its history beforehand. If you’re after some Japan travel books that cover the country’s long history, take a look at these:
- History of Japan The Most Important People, Places and Events →
From Japanese art to modern manga and ancient Asian wars to modern superpowers. This book takes you back in time to explain the detailed and rich history of Japan as far back as 1400 BC! It’s available on Kindle and in paperback.
- The Postwar Occupation of Japan →
If you’re a war history enthusiast, this could be for you. This book outlines the transition of Japan from World War II to the modern post-war Japan we have come to know and love today.
6. Japan books for foodie and beverage connoisseurs
Coffee Life in Japan →
Coffee isn’t normally associated with Japan but this book will explain its long history in the country. If you’re a coffee fanatic, this might make a nice coffee table book, too.
Food Culture in Japan →
Learn the history behind various popular foods in Japan and how they are prepared. It also includes a few recipes for you to try before or after your trip!
The Sake Handbook →
This guide contains all the information you need to become a sake expert! As Japan’s national beverage of choice, if you don’t know the difference between jizake, namazake and ginjoshu, this book will have you on your way to becoming a sake connoisseur. The author is the world’s leading non-Japanese sake expert who shares his extensive knowledge, helping you best enjoy this traditional drink.
Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide →
Whiskey is a relatively new beverage to appear in Japan. Despite this, Japan has fast become internationally recognised as a global leader in its creation! This book is the ultimate guide as it explores the secrets behind Japanese whiskey, its popularity and why it continues to score top industry awards.
7. BONUS: My Book!
Do you want to learn how to not look like a tourist in Japan (or anywhere in the world)? My book is for you! Packed with everything you need to know to tailor your own invisibility cloak, in this handbook you’ll learn how to:
✓ Plan a stress-free trip every time & ways to reduce disappointment
✓ Enjoy popular destinations without contributing to overcrowding
✓ Feel fulfilled by personal, authentic encounters with locals whilst helping their businesses
✓ Avoid pickpockets & scammers for a safe travel experience
✓ Preserve local cultures & identities instead of diluting them
✓ Protect attractions of significant cultural heritage & the natural environment.
Concluding the best travel books for Japan
There you have it, my essential guide to the best Japan travel books! Did you find something to help you with your Japan travel planning? I hope you did, but if not feel free to check out my detailed guides and itineraries for exploring Japan to get you started.
I can honestly say almost half these books have played an integral part in my Japan trip planning, as they’ve helped me to discover hidden gems and offbeat destinations that I may not have otherwise heard of.
Also, if you’re wanting to learn the tips and tricks I personally use to be an Invisible Tourist, be sure to have a look through my complete “Be Invisible” archive for insider tips and advice for visiting Japan and other destinations.
What do you think of these Japan travel guide books? Do you have any of these in your collection? Let me know in the comments below! If you found this helpful please share it with your friends or come and join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok for more Japan inspiration!
Until next time,
Do you love Japanese sweets, snacks and candies?
Read my Tokyo Treat review and get popular Japanese snacks delivered here, or read my Sakuraco review and get traditional Japanese sweets delivered here!
Like it? Pin it! 📌
This guide to the best travel books for Japan contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!