Japan travel guides

For this Wednesday, I have decided to compare some travel guides. I have been to Japan only once, it was a five days trip to Tokyo in March of this year. In December, I will make my second trip to Japan, to Kyoto this time.

French guide vs Korean guide

To prepare the Tokyo trip, I used both the French travel guide Le Guide du Routard and one Korean guide called 프렌즈 도쿄, published by 중앙books.

It is obvious that French and Korean do not travel in the same way. When the French guide contains a lot of information concerning places to visit, with historical contents and anecdotes, the Korean one makes sure you will miss any of the trendy boutiques of Tokyo.

In the Routard, travellers will find places to stay, places to eat or drink and of course, places to visit. The authors always select places of cultural and historical interest, as well as traditional architecture or on the contrary, modern and impressive buildings. They all come with interesting explanations about the place’s history and so on. The guide is perfect for travellers who really want to discover Japan, from the most traditional and authentic spots to the modern ones.

The Korean guide is full of places to go shopping and eat or drink. They give the address and a full description of all the boutiques where you can buy clothes and accessories, trendy cafés and a lot of restaurants too. As for places to visit, the guide does mention them but it really isn’t the core of the book.

As I am used to travelling with the Routard, I was very shocked by the Korean guide. When travelling abroad, buying clothes and drink a fancy coffee is not my priority. I want to discover the country’s cultural heritage, and learn more about historical places. Korean travel guides are not for me I guess…

But, I must admit that the Korean guide gave us the best restaurants we went to on our trip. I like the Routard, but when it comes to restaurants, it can be somewhat disappointing, at least concerning the Tokyo guide. They give only a few addresses and among them, I found several French restaurants. Now, why should I want to eat French in my first five days trip to Tokyo?

Even if the Korean guide did sound superficial to me, I would have missed a lot of foodies if I had taken just the Routard. So having the two was not bad at all.

Japanese guide るるぶ

For this winter trip to Kyoto, however, I bought for the first time a Japanese guide. This was a new shock… At first, I hated it, the inside is just as the cover, full of information, colours, titles, all kind of fonts, photos and commercials. Just flipping through it gave me a headache and it took me a lot of determination to study it. I am glad that I made the effort because, under the overwhelming and colourful presentation, the guide is well structured and very useful.

guide japonais1
The るるぶ guide for Kyoto has very colourful and rich contents

How the book is structured

The first part contains general information about Kyoto, namely:

  1. Places to visit: 人気京スポット全部知り
  2. Kyoto’s cuisine: 絶品京グルメ全部食べ
  3. Souvenirs worth buying: お目立て京みやげ全部買い
  4. Cultural experiences you can make in Kyoto: 流行りの京体験全部見せ

The second part is a focus on the central parts of Kyoto with things to do, places to eat and souvenirs to buy.

The third part is the main guide. The guide focuses on 6 areas of Kyoto. At the beginning of the book, you will find a map with the 6 areas marked with different colours. As you can see on the picture above, each area is easily found in the book thanks to the bookmarks on the left page.

The last part gives indications concerning Kyoto’s neighbouring places.

Why I like this guide

Related to what I said concerning French and Korean guides, I find the Japanese one to be a good mix between the two. Temples and other places to visit are the main entry for each double page but the guide gives a lot of valuable information about what to eat, what typical dessert to taste and what to buy.

The pictures of food make me want to try absolutely everything, even what I don’t like or can’t eat.

What I particularly appreciate are the promenades proposed for each area. There is a clear little plan with things to do, see and eat on the way:

guide japonais 3
Example of a promenade proposed in the るるぶ guide

Talking of maps, the guide comes with a booklet entitled “京都まち歩きmap”. It contains a lot of detailed maps of all the areas of Kyoto. I like detailed maps and on this point, I must say that the Japanese guide wins over the Routard (though, some may prefer clear and simple maps):

comparaison cartes
The same area of Kyoto. On the left, Le Guide du Routard, on the right, るるぶ


If I were to take only one guide, it would still be the Routard. I like how they focus on cultural aspects of Japan. Even if I will make further researches concerning the places I plan to visit, the descriptions contained in the Routard are a good start. Furthermore, it focuses on places worth of interest for European, whilst the Japanese guide aims at Japanese…

This being said, the るるぶ guide is a great supplement and I am glad that I ignored my first distaste of the flashy cover and bought it. If you plan a trip to Japan and can read some Japanese, I really suggest that you take a look at one of these Japanese guides.