With interest in Japan's birdlife increasing continually there has been a growing demand for a new English field guide to the country. Copies of the 1982 "A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan" change hands for huge amounts of cash. Prices vary from £75 to £300! There have been several photo guides by Japanese authors, but they contained little English and the distribution maps were often of the entire world - which was a bit unhelpful given the size of Japan. This new book has been long-awaited and follows the format of the Helm photo guides to India.
This book's main focus is Japan, but it also covers Korea, Siberia and north-east China. These areas overlap very well with Japan, but require 50 species to be added that are not found there. The majority of these are familiar Western Palearctic species, but some are not - so it is useful to have photographs of species such as Daurian Partridge, Siberian Grouse, Red-legged Kittiwake, Rufous-bellied and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers, Hill Pigeon, Asian Short-toed Lark, Manchurian, Spotted and Chinese Bush-warblers, Chinese Hill Warbler, Chinese Nuthatch, Reed Parrotbill, Songar Tit, Grey-backed Thrush, Tiger Shrike, Rufous-backed Bunting and Chinese Penduline-tit. The latter is now becoming firmly established in southern Japan. There are also good photos of Heuglin's, Vega, and Mongolian Gulls. This is also the first Japanese guide to show Cackling Goose as a full species.
None of the Chinese endemics makes it this far east, but the book recognises ten Japanese endemics. Two endemic forms split by most authors are lumped here: Japanese Scops-owl (Otus semitorques) with Oriental Scops-owl, and Japanese Skylark (Alauda japonica ) with Eurasian Skylark.
In all over 520 species are illustrated with around 800 colour photographs. With up to three images per page these are often rather small. A brief text of around 100 words provides information on plumage and similar species, plus range and status in Japan. So About 100 vagrants to the region are excluded, although plenty of rare migrants are covered. Maps are given for most species and focus only on the area covered, so they are better than the previous photo guides, but they are really small so it still not possible to see much detail.
A useful appendix gives translations of species names into Japanese, but not Korean, Mandarin or Russian. The book also has a short introductory section which summarises the main habitat types.
I would imagine that this book started out life as a work on the birds of Japan, but was perhaps altered to attract a bigger market. One can understand that such decisions are required by publishers but I can't help feeling that it would have been best to keep the Japanese focus and produce more detailed maps accordingly. The photographs could then have been given more space and maps could have been bigger.
These points aside this book is a welcome arrival at an attractive price.