Tours of Japan

Visiting Japan, a land of dazzling contradictions, is an unforgettable experience.  High-tech cities harbour relics of a fascinating past.  Futuristic fashion and gadgets share the streets with evidence of deeply held traditions. A soaring sky scraper may house a chamber for ancient tea ceremonies (sado), with tatami mats and sliding wooden doors.  Japan is a country famed for its quirky vending machines, where you can purchase soup and even beer!  But Japan also has a rich and proud history of architecture, culture and the arts.  Literature, in particular, continues to flourish, with this nation responsible for the haiku poem.  This Guide to Japan for mature travellers will assist you in planning your visit.  It provides key information on what makes Japan so memorable, plus some insider tips for mature travellers, either couples or those enjoying solo travel.

The word Japan conjures for most the image of bright lights and concrete jungles, but the cities abound in natural wonders.  Once you step outside the urban centres, expect stunning, geographically diverse landscapes. Japan offers some of the world’s best skiing, and the blooming cherry blossoms draw people from across the world.  Japan is also home to 15 cultural and four UNESCO world heritage listed sites, including exquisite temples and sacred sites.  Always surprising and incredibly diverse – from its cities to the mountains and semi-tropical beaches, Japan offers travellers unique experiences.

Developing a sense of place

For mature and senior travellers who are planning a trip to explore Japan. Whether on an Odyssey tour or as independent travellers, this reading list is intended to help you develop a sense of place before your journey commences. For all Odyssey tours, we actively encourage travellers to read something from this list before joining one of our small group tours.
This is Odyssey’s list of ten great books on Japan. Please feel welcome to contribute to the comments section at the bottom of page. We appreciate any feedback on books listed, or further suggestions that will help travellers prepare for their tour of Japan

1. Lost Japan

by Alex Kerr
An enchanting and fascinating insight into Japanese landscape, culture, history and future. Originally written in Japanese, this passionate, vividly personal book draws on the author’s experiences in Japan over thirty years. Alex Kerr brings to life the ritualized world of Kabuki, retraces his initiation into Tokyo’s boardrooms during the heady Bubble Years. Kerr tells the story of the hidden valley that became his home. But the book is not just a love letter. Haunted throughout by nostalgia for the Japan of old, Kerr’s book is part paean to that great country and culture, part epitaph in the face of contemporary Japan’s environmental and cultural destruction.
Alex Kerr is an American writer, antiques collector and Japanologist. In 1994, he became the first foreigner to be awarded the Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize for the best work of non-fiction published in Japan. Lost Japan is his most famous work.

2. An Introduction to Japanese Society

by Yoshio Sugimoto
Now in its fourth edition, An Introduction to Japanese Society remains essential reading for students of Japanese society. Internationally renowned scholar Yoshio Sugimoto uses both English and Japanese sources to update and expand upon his original narrative in this sophisticated yet highly readable text. This book explores the breadth and diversity of Japanese society. Chapters cover class, geographical and generational variation, work, education, gender, minorities, popular culture and the establishment. Updates include an exploration of the ‘Cool Japan’ phenomenon and the explosion of Japanese culture overseas. This edition also features the latest research into Japanese society, updated statistical data, and coverage of recent events including the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the change in government. Written in a clear and engaging style, An Introduction to Japanese Society provides an insight into all aspects of a diverse and ever-evolving contemporary Japan.

3. A Concise History of Japan (Cambridge Concise Histories)

by Brett L. Walker
To this day, Japan’s modern ascendancy challenges many assumptions about world history, particularly theories regarding the rise of the west and why the modern world looks the way it does. In this engaging new history, Brett L. Walker tackles key themes regarding Japan’s relationships with its minorities, state and economic development, and the uses of science and medicine. The book begins by tracing the country’s early history through archaeological remains. Before proceeding to explore life in the imperial court, the rise of the samurai, civil conflict, encounters with Europe. And finally the advent of modernity and empire. Integrating the pageantry of a unique nation’s history with today’s environmental concerns, Walker’s vibrant and accessible new narrative then follows Japan’s ascension from the ashes of World War II into the thriving nation of today. It is a history for our times, posing important questions regarding how we should situate a nation’s history in an age of environmental and climatological uncertainties.

4. For Fukui’s Sake: Two years in rural Japan

by Sam Baldwin
Far from the high-tech, high-rise of the super-cities, there lies another Japan. A Japan where snakes slither down school corridors, where bears prowl dark forests and where Westerners are still regarded as curious creatures. Welcome to the world of the inaka – the Japanese countryside. Unhappily employed in the UK, Sam Baldwin decides to make a big change. Saying sayonara to laboratory life, he takes a job as an English teacher in a small, rural Japanese town that no one – the Japanese included – has ever heard of. Arriving in Fukui, where there’s ‘little reason to linger’ according to the guidebook, at first he wonders why he left England. But as he slowly settles in to his unfamiliar new home, Sam befriends a colourful cast of locals and begins to discover the secrets of this little known region. Helped by headmasters, housewives and Himalayan mountain climbers, he immerses himself in a Japan still clutching its pastoral past and uncovers a landscape of lonely lakes, rice fields and lush mountain forests. Joining a master drummer’s taiko class, skiing over paddies and learning how to sharpen samurai swords, along the way Sam encounters farmers, fishermen and foreigners behaving badly. Exploring Japan’s culture and cuisine, as well as its wild places and wildlife, For Fukui’s Sake is an adventurous, humorous and sometimes poignant insight into the frustrations and fascinations that face an outsider living in small town Japan.

5. Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

by David Pilling
A pacy, fresh and surprising portrait of Japan and the Japanese – from David Pilling, award-winning writer and Asia Editor of the Financial Times. Despite years of stagnation, Japan remains one of the world’s largest economies and a country which exerts a remarkable cultural fascination. David Pilling’s book is an entertaining, deeply knowledgeable and surprising analysis of a group of islands which have shown great resilience, both in the face of financial distress and when confronted with the overwhelming disaster of the 2011 earthquake. The resulting tsunami, which killed some 19,000 people, and nuclear catastrophe highlighted both the deeply impressive practical resilience of ordinary Japanese and a political culture of extraordinary carelessness and arrogance. Pilling describes the emergency and its aftermath, but then writes far more broadly about many aspects of Japan which are little known to outsiders and which do so much to explain these contradictory responses to the earthquake. Bending Adversity is a superb work of reportage and the essential book even for those who already feel they know the country well.
Odyssey Traveller offers regular escorted small group tours to Japan each year. This link take you to the Tours of Japan page. Odyssey has produced a “country profile” article on Japan, which provides further information for travellers. Check out the official tourism website for Japan for inspiration. Click here to order a copy of our current brochure for tours of the world. And to keep in touch with Odyssey Traveller and receive information on our upcoming tours, please call or send an email. We’d love to hear from you!

6. Japan: The Story of a Nation

by Reischauer, Edwin
One of two texts which introduce East Asian history, both have been rewritten to take account of the changes in China since Mao’s death, of Japan’s economic success, and of the emergence of Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore as important political and economic powers. They aim to combine authoritative scholarship with comprehensive coverage and a succinct, readable style and are aimed at undergraduate students and the general reader. Japan is a land of modest geographic size, but it is one of the larger countries of the world by population and today is the world’s economic powerhouse. Though in culture it is a daughter of ancient China, Japan has developed one of the most distinctive cultures in the world. This makes Japan a subject of great interest, but the unique course of Japanese history has made it of even greater significance. Despite its East Asian cultural origins, Japan evolved along a very different course to its neighbours; subsequently it became the only non-Western land to respond successfully to the challenge of superior Western technology in the nineteenth century. Today Japan has become a leading nation of the so-called First World.
As the only non-Western member of the this grouping of nations, Japan stands in a very special relationship to the other industrialised lands. Its success in negotiating this vast change and the great economic power this has produced are matters of importance to both groups of nations. Even more significant is the fact that Japan, in industrialising and in “modernising” its institutions, has preserved a sharp self-identity and a considerable part of its traditional, pre-modern culture, despite the tidal wave of Western influences that has inundated it in modern times. These survivals from its past civilisation give Japan an unusual cultural richness. They contribute special strengths as well as difficulties to its handling of the problems of modern urban society. This revised edition gives special attention to Japan’s economic success and the problems resulting from that success.

7. A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony

by Hector Garcia
For every fan of manga, anime, J-pop, or Zen.  A Geek in Japan is a hip, smart and concise guide to the land that is their source. Comprehensive and well informed, it covers a wide array of topics in short articles accompanied by sidebars and numerous photographs. This book provides a lively digest of the society and culture of Japan. Designed to appeal to the generations of Westerners who grew up on Pokemon, manga and video games.  A Geek in Japan reinvents the culture guide for readers in the Internet age. Spotlighting the originality and creativity of the Japanese, debunking myths about them, and answering nagging questions like why they’re so fond of robots. Author Hector Garcia has created the perfect book for the growing ranks of Japanophiles in this inspired, insightful and highly informative guide.

8. The Tale of Genji

by Murasaki Shikibu
Written in the eleventh century, this exquisite portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan is widely celebrated as the world’s first novel. But The Tale of Genji is no mere artifact. It is, rather, a lively and astonishingly nuanced portrait of a refined society where every dalliance is an act of political consequence. A play of characters whose inner lives are as rich and changeable as those imagined by Proust. Chief of these is “the shining Genji,” the son of the emperor and a man whose passionate impulses create great turmoil in his world and very nearly destroy him. His tempestuous nature, family circumstances, love affairs, alliances, and shifting political fortunes form the core of this magnificent epic.

9. Memoirs of a Geisha

by Arthur Golden

This brilliant debut novel tells the true confessions of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha.
Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929.  Nitta a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha. A story of dance and music; wearing  the kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount. Where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder. Where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men Where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami

Japan’s most highly regarded novelist vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel. A story that is a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II.

In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat.  Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo.  As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an ageing war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria.

Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon.

Odyssey Traveller offers regular escorted small group tours to Japan each year. All our tours include an English-speaking guide to introduce you to the mystic cultures of this incredible nation. Odyssey’s tours of Japan remain very popular. Our Specialist Escorted Small Group cultural Tours exploring Japan is guaranteed for departure in early 2018. This link take you to our Tours of Japan page. Odyssey has produced a “country profile” article on Japan, which provides further information for travellers. Check out the official tourism website for Japan for inspiration. Click here to order a copy of our current brochure for tours of the world. And to keep in touch with Odyssey Traveller and receive information on our upcoming tours, please call or send an email. We’d love to hear from you!

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