HIKING THE LONELY PLANET

Taking Japan’s back trails to far towns

by Julian Ryall

Lonely Planet Publications has recently added to its 560-strong stable of travel books by producing a series of hiking guides, including one dedicated to the tracks and trails of Japan.

“Hiking in Japan,” from Lonely Planet Publications

The organization that since the mid-1970s has been producing “The Backpacker’s Bible,” as the distinctive tomes are widely regarded, now publishes everything from detailed travel guides to atlases, phrase books to city guides and diving books to guides that get you there “on a shoestring.”

It is refusing to rest on its laurels, however, and the “Hiking in Japan” guide is the first in a new series of specialist books that landed on bookstores’ shelves in February.

The robust, pocket-size book has trail notes, including the kanji characters hikers will meet on their given route, more than 70 day and multiday hikes and 70 detailed maps, including contour lines so you know how far you’re going to be climbing.

Jointly written by five Japan-based hiking enthusiasts, the book has sections on hiking with children, flora and fauna that walkers are likely to come across as well as a nine-page basic introduction to the Japanese language.

The guide, which sells for 3,500 yen, also outlines accommodation options, from gateway cities to remote campsites, gives tips on transport to and from trail-heads and gives practical advice on local culture, responsible hiking practices and prehike planning.

Its release comes just four months after the seventh incarnation of the “Japan” book hit the stores, joining the “Kyoto” and “Tokyo” city guides, a Japanese phrase book and “Lost Japan,” a title in Lonely Planet’s travel-literature series. Around the world, the company sells roughly 100,000 copies of its six Japan titles a year and is confident the hiking book will prove popular.

“Over the last few years we have released a lot of new series, and one of our areas of concentration is to build up the series lists so that they cover more areas of the world,” says Fiona Kinniburgh, senior marketing and communications coordinator at the publishing house’s headquarters in Melbourne, Australia.

“In some ways, it’s like starting all over again,” she says. “There are so many places in the world to cycle, dive, eat, walk, etc., that the hardest part is deciding which region to choose next.”

Lonely Planet is presently going through a period of expansion that started about three years ago. The new drive involves not only providing more specific areas of travel, such as diving or hiking, but also keeping at the forefront of providing information electronically through CitySync, the travel guide for hand-held computers.

Japan accounts for 9 percent of Lonely Planet’s sales in Asia, Kinniburgh says, and part of the attraction of Japan for the traveler is still its “mystique.”

“From the technological advancement of your large cities to the traditions and folklore that are still prevalent, there is a great deal for the visitor to explore and discover about Japan,” she says.

And that even goes for the hardened travelers working for Lonely Planet: “I was reading through ‘Hiking in Japan’ the other day and I realized that it opens up a side of Japan that a lot of visitors rarely see,” she says. “It made me want to get on a plane immediately and start hiking!”