Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kyoto Travel Books

I had mentioned somewhere earlier on that I was going to include some references to books that I used before (and after) my travels to plan the trip to Kyoto. And here they are. They certainly aren't an exhaustive list of books for Kyoto, but they're not a bad start. I've sourced all of the book details from Amazon... but haven't included costs etc.

Kyoto A Cultural History
John Dougill

This is an excellent book that gives a great background to the history of the city - and with, much of the rest of Japan through the ages. It's largely text, with a few hand-drawn images. As a scene-setter, it's very readable and enjoyable... however, it's structure is that of different slices or perspectives of Kyoto life... roughly equating to the different epochs of the Japanese history. As such, it's chronological structure makes it hard to relate to the sites around Kyoto without knowing a fair bit about the history of the city. Still, recommended for a general overview.
Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1st edition (February 23, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195301374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195301373

Kyoto A Cultural Guide (Revised Edition)
John H. and Phyllis G. Martin

This is a somewhat strange book - once again, largely text-based with a few crude maps interspersed. There's a fair bit of detail on each of the sites... but more importantly the structure is that of a series of set tours. This is great for stringing together a number of different day trips if you have the time... and there's a fair bit of detail here to keep you interested... with plenty of history thrown in to describe each of the locations. Would have been perfect if it had been a little more graphical in nature... or if they had provided maps of the sites themselves. Great for planning a large trip.
Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Pub; Revised edition (June 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804833419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804833417

Seeing Kyoto
Juliet Winter's Carpenter

This is one of the quintessential tourist books that deals with Kyoto and fits within a series alongside Seeing Japan, and Seeing Tokyo. It's a great book to get enthused about Kyoto, but lacks detail to get a real picture of the city (and can't really be used as a way to structure a tour). Having said that it's most popular due to the large, beautiful photos... but then again... there are plenty of beautiful photos of Kyoto on Flickr these days.
Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha International (November 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770023383
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770023384

The Temples of Kyoto
Donald Ritchie and Alexandre Georges

This is perhaps the most unusual of the books... as it deals specifically (as the title suggests) with the temples of Kyoto... which, let's face it.... are 90% of the tourist sites. There's a fair range of temples included, and they go into a good level of detail for each. The photos are nice, but have a slightly dated feel these days. Still a good read if you're into temple viewing. Plenty of history to keep you culturally aware... interestingly however, there's not that much background on the Buddhist beliefs or traditions - but focus is squarely on the buildings and the history.
Hardcover: 152 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (October 15, 1995)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0804820325
ISBN-13: 978-0804820325

Kyoto - City Guide (Lonely Planet)
Chris Rowthorn

If you're planning a trip to Kyoto, then this is a fantastic resource. It's very small (almost pocketable), and yet covers a wide range of areas in and around Kyoto (as well as nearby  locales such as Osaka, Nara and Himeji). Thoroughly recommend this - and I understand the author Chris Rowthorn is available for personal tours throughout Kyoto as well. The book contains great maps, and the level of information is superb for getting you started.
Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Lonely Planet; 4 Pap/Map edition (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1740598458
  • ISBN-13: 978-1740598453

Nara A Cultural Guide to Japan's Ancient Capital
John H. and Phyllis G. Martin

This is a relatively densely packed book on nearby Nara... and has a similar feel to their other book on Kyoto (above). The book's a little dry for my liking... but then again, I picked it up at a book bargain bin in Adelaide. There's a reasonable amount of coverage, but you'll most likely find yourself wanting to know more detail. At least I did.
Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (January 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804819149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804819145

Well - these were the main books that I have used for gathering information... I know... it's somewhat ironic that I've used books as my primary source of info, when there's a whole internet out there waiting to stream into my consciousness with information. At the end of the day, there's something very nice about having a book with you... especially a small one like the Lonely Planet guide which you can shove in your jacket pocket and read whilst on the subway.

I spent quite a long time preparing the trip to Kyoto... and had read, and re-read many of these books. Some of the books I purchased in I just couldn't resist. We have generally gone for the full-on holidays where we push ourselves pretty hard. You see a lot when you do... but it takes a fair bit of preparation, and a whole heap of patience and determination. If you're going to Kyoto for 2-3 days, then I wouldn't recommend anything other than a Lonely Planet guide (or equivalent).

Hope this has been a little helpful... and if you want any further info, just give me a bell. Also - feel free to tell me about your own favourite books on Kyoto!


  1. Cool info -- thanks for the mini-reviews. I've only read the Seeing Kyoto book. I'll have to look for some of the others.

  2. It's actually quite difficult to come across good books. They each have something that is useful and interesting, but I've yet to find a great complete book on Kyoto travels. I suppose that's because the sort of nerdy things I like are unlikely to appeal to the mass market (if such a market exists for Kyoto books).

    I guess that's why the internet is so good for finding bits and pieces on those things that interest us. And another reason why I wanted to put a bit of effort into my Kyoto posts... I kinda wish that I had found this sort of info when I was planning 4 years ago. Then again - I was less an internet junky back then as well.