Even if the focus has been mainly on sushi and teriyaki dishes, Japanese cuisine has made more of an impact stateside than many other food types, which makes this pocket-sized guidebook all the more valuable when planning a visit to the source of such epicurean delights. As part of Lonely Planet's great World Food series, the entry on Japan is full of useful information about the complex food culture there, whether it's providing a historical perspective, recommending select restaurants for their specialties or discerning the nuances of a sweet shop. Author John Ashburne, a Kyoto-based Englishman, has an obvious passion for Japanese delicacies and an irreverent eye toward unlocking their mysteries. Granted the book is not as comprehensive as I would have liked given the inherent conflict between its size and the richness of the subject, he covers most of the high points.
Although I am Japanese-American, my knowledge of the food culture was fairly limited when I visited the land of my birth three years ago. This book allowed me to seek out the more traditional dishes I heard about in my childhood. There are terrific sections focused on home cooking traditions, the components of a standard Japanese banquet, and a detailed rundown of regional variations and foreign influences, in particular, from China and Korea. Like other books in the series, this one ends with a definitive culinary dictionary, a quick-reference glossary and useful phrases when you order food and drink there. Ashburne also includes recipes, city and regional maps highlighting his favorite eateries, and entertaining essays, such as the social history of curry rice and the schedule of activities at the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market. Even though Ashburne makes the food come alive through his prose, the colorful photographs really make this one indispensable when planning a trip there.