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Customer Review

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful and useful - but there are some flaws, 14 April 2014
This review is from: Lonely Planet Tokyo (Travel Guide) (Paperback)
The ninth edition of Lonely Planet's guidebook for Tokyo - written by Timothy Hornyak and Rebecca Milner - was published in August 2012. The book is divided into four main sections. Here is a brief overview:

** Section 1: Plan Your Trip
There are 14 chapters in this section, including the following: Eating, Drinking & Nightlife, Entertainment, and Shopping

** Section 2: Explore Tokyo
There are 15 chapters in this section, including the following: Day Trips from Tokyo and Sleeping

** Section 3: Understand Tokyo
There are six chapters in this section, including the following: History, Arts, and Architecture

** Section 4: Survival Guide
There are 3 chapters in this section: Transport, Directory A-Z, and Language. In addition there is a general index plus six sub-indexes.

Twelve maps at the end of the book cover different areas of the city. The book comes with a pull-out map: on one side a map of central Tokyo; on the other side a map of the Tokyo subway (such a map is important; you will not be able to get around in Tokyo without consulting it).

This book tells you what to see and what to do when you are in Tokyo. It gives you information about restaurants and hotels and tells you how to get around in Tokyo.

It presents the majors sights of Tokyo, for instance:

* Meiji Jingu (a Shinto shrine, page 116)

* Senso-ji (a Buddhist temple, page 168-169)

* Tokyo Tower (an old monument, page 82)

* Tokyo Sky Tree (a new monument, page 170)

I had it with me on a recent trip to Japan. During this trip I was able to test the quality and the value of the information in the book. In my opinion, it is helpful and useful. But there are some flaws. In addition, there are some cases where the information given should be expanded and/or updated. Here are some examples:

*** About smoking:

"The majority of Tokyo's night spots allow smoking" (page 45).

This is true, but not the whole story. Many restaurants and coffee shops are divided into 2 sections, one for smokers and one for non-smokers. Almost half the space of the place may be devoted to smokers, even if there are only 2 or 3 of them present. Consequently, the space for non-smokers is limited. Sometimes you will have to wait in line, because the non-smoking section is full, while the smoking section is almost empty. What about the staff? They must work in both sections! In some respects Japan is a very modern society. But in other respects it is very old-fashioned. This topic is a case in point. Lonely Planet should give us the whole story about smoking in Japan.

*** About tipping:

"Despite the high quality of customer service in Japan, it is not customary to tip" (page 261).

This formulation is not quite accurate. Tipping is simply not accepted. It seems tipping is regarded as an insult. Lonely Planet should be more precise.

*** How to call the waiter in a restaurant:

In the western world we look up and try to catch the waiter's attention. Sometimes we raise our arm and wave it. We are not always successful. In Tokyo there is a modern solution to this problem: many restaurants have a small device on the table. It is an electronic bell. When you are ready to order, just press the bell. The waiter can see which table is calling, and he will show up at your table. This system seems to be quite common in Tokyo (but we did not see it in Kyoto). Lonely Planet does not mention this system.

*** Regarding Tokyo Sky Tree:

This monument is presented on page 170. There is a picture of it on page 173. The information about this monument is very brief, perhaps because the tower opened in May 2012, just before the deadline of the book expired. In addition, the prices have been raised since the book was published. Here are the current prices:

Platform one = pay 2,060 yen
Platform two = pay an additional 1,030 yen

The tower is very popular. This means you cannot just walk in and buy a ticket. On a busy day, there is a complicated system for buying your ticket:

(1) Stand in line to get a numbered card with a time slot
(2) When the time has come, stand in line to buy your ticket to platform one
(3) Stand in line to enter a lift to platform one
(4) Take the lift to platform one

If you wish to go further, you must complete the following steps:

(5) Stand in line to buy a ticket to platform two
(6) Buy your ticket
(7) Stand in line to enter a lift
(8) Take the lift to platform two

When you wish to return to the ground, the process is reversed, although you do not have to buy a ticket to go down.

If you want to visit the tower on a busy day - i.e. a day with nice and clear weather - you must be prepared to spend 3-4 perhaps even 5-6 hours on a visit to this monument, which is at the moment the tallest tower in the world. If you ask me, the view from platform two is not better than the view from platform one. My advice: go to platform one. Do not bother with platform two. Save your time and money for something else.

*** Regarding transport in Tokyo:

This topic is covered on pp. 252-257. The reader is advised to buy a special card which can be used on the subway and the bus in the Tokyo area: the Passmo card, issued by the subway, or the Suica card, issued by JR. This advice is sound. On page 256 we are told: "You can replenish the value of the cards as needed at stations."

This is not quite accurate. In the subway, you can always top up a Passmo card. But you cannot always top up a Suica card, because the machine by the exit will not accept it. In some stations there are two machines: one for the Passmo card, and one for the Suica card. If you have the Suica card, be sure to top up when you see a machine that accepts the card. Otherwise you will have a problem, if your balance is too low to pay your fare. Lonely Planet does not give you this warning.

Incidentally, the Suica card can also be used on the subway in Kyoto, but for some reason it is not valid on the bus in Kyoto.

[For more information about Kyoto, see Lonely Planet Kyoto (Travel Guide).]

*** Regarding the Yasukini Shrine:

This (highly controversial) monument is covered on page 141. Behind the main building there is an area which is sometimes used for sumo-wrestling. When we were there, we noticed that many visitors walked to the right of the main building and then disappeared. When we followed them, we came to the sumo-wrestling area where a large audience was watching a large group of sumo-wrestlers. Clearly, the Japanese knew of this event. Access was free. Personally I am not fond of this sport, but it is a part of Japanese culture and history. Sumo-wrestling is mentioned on pp. 170-171 in connection with another location. Lonely Planet does not mention the area behind the Yakusini Shrine.

*** Regarding Tokyo National Museum:

This place is presented on page 158. The authors say: "If you visit only one museum in Tokyo, make it this one." I agree. This is a great museum. It is an excellent choice on a rainy day. The prices listed in the book need to be updated: an adult must now pay 620 yen, while a student must now pay 410 yen. A senior and a child may enter for free, but Lonely Planet does not tell us how these categories are defined. A senior is 70 years and older, while a child is younger than 18.

What about a camera? Can I use a camera inside the museum? Lonely Planet does not say anything about this topic. I am happy to tell you that you are allowed to use a camera inside the museum (but no flash and no tripod).

*** Regarding the Tsukiji Fish Market:

This place is described on pp. 68-69. It is presented a one of the top sights in Tokyo. But the attraction of this sight is overrated, and the information given in the book is misleading.

The text says the main action takes place between 5 and 8 AM. Therefore the reader is advised to show up early. We arrived one morning at 7 AM. When we tried to enter a hall, we were told to go to the next hall. When we tried to enter the next hall, a local guard walked up to us and showed us a sign which said in English: "Do not enter this area before 9 AM." He told us to get out. Not only that. He followed us all the way to make sure that we actually left the place. When we wanted to stop for a second to take a picture, he shouted: "No pictures!"

Many Japanese are very polite and friendly with foreigners. This guy was not one of them.

The next day we returned to the marked after 9 AM. There was nothing much to see. My advice: The Namiyoke Inari Shrine next to the market is an interesting place. Do not waste your time on the fish market.

*** Regarding Senso-ji:

This temple is presented on pp. 168-169. Regarding transport to the temple the reader is told to take the Ginza line to Asakusa station and to use exit # 1. In fact the correct exit is # A4.

*** Regarding taxes:

On page 261 we are told: "Japan's consumption tax is 5 %." This was true when it was written, but in the spring of 2014 this tax was raised to 8 per cent, which means the price of (almost) everything went up.

*** Regarding maps:

(a) There is no map of Japan in this book. I would like to see where Tokyo is in relation to the rest of the country.

(b) The 12 maps of different areas of Tokyo do not always touch each other. This means several areas of the city are not covered by any map.

(c) The fold-out map covers only the central part of Tokyo. Lonely Planet should give us a better (i.e. a more comprehensive) map than this.

I have written to Lonely Planet to tell them about these flaws. I hope they will be corrected in the next edition of the guidebook.
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