Great Travel Literature: Japan

Thinking about planning a trip to Japan or hoping to bone up on your knowledge about the island nation?

Pick up one of these insightful books, recommended by our travel literature expert, Don George:

  • The Way of the 88 Temples, by Robert Sibley, offers an intimate account of a two-month journey along Japan’s most famous pilgrimage route: the 88-temple circuit around the island of Shikoku, which was established in the ninth century by the revered scholar-monk Kōbō Daishi. Of Japan’s four main islands, Shikoku is the place where traditional ways and spirit still most robustly abide, and Sibley’s rural wanderings provide enriching insights.
  • In The Roads to Sata, Alan Booth vividly evokes his 2,000-mile, 128-day journey on foot from Japan’s northernmost point, Cape Soya in Hokkaido, to Cape Sata in the south. As he recounts his misadventures on this epic trek, Booth, who resided in Japan for more than 20 years until his death in 1993, also engagingly reveals the realities of off-the-tourist-track Japan.
  • Donald Richie’s Inland Sea is a glorious, idiosyncratic work that weaves together essays and journal entries from numerous trips to the little-visited islands of the Seto Inland Sea. A renowned expert on Japanese cinema and culture who lived in Tokyo for 50 years, Richie is a deeply knowledgeable and sympathetic guide whose observations and musings unlock the riches and rigors of Japanese life.
  • Old Kyoto is not a work of narrative nonfiction or fiction but rather a guidebook dedicated to celebrating the best traditional shops, restaurants, and inns of Kyoto. It is also a rewarding entryway into the crevices and corners where ancient traditions still thrive. Written with grace, humor, and eloquence by long-time Kyoto-phile Diane Durston, it’s an indispensable resource for anyone who wants to appreciate the enduring presence of Old Japan.

Don George is an editor at large at Traveler and the author of The Way of Wanderlust and Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel WritingHe has also edited award-winning travel writing anthologies, including An Innocent Abroad. Follow Don on Twitter @don_george.

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  1. Eshar
    January 20, 12:10 am

    Before the Dawn by Tōson Shimazaki is a tale about the beginning of modern Japan as told by a marginal rural gentry family. The family ties to Japan’s history by living on the important Kiso road (aka nakasendo), which is one of the three major routes between the shogun in Edo and the emporer in Kyoto. The relationship of so many major storylines in Japan of that era are seen through their eyes. Read about the backbone of Japan and then travel it.