Clearing out some books at home I rediscovered an old friend, the 1962 Fodor‘s Guidebook to Japan (and East Asia), that I picked up in a charity shop a few years back. Looking back to see what was being recommended to Japan visitors nearly 50 years ago is fascinating. It is also interesting to see how much of the advice still holds true today, so although many aspects of Japan have changed completely, many essential experiences have remained the same.
Let’s start at the beginning – how to get there. Fodor’s 1962 quotes return flights from London (“Polar route or Middle East”) at £729, which is remarkably similar to what a ticket would cost you today – oh no, hang on, that’s £729 for First Class – if only! And why fly with a UK carrier when you can enjoy the following with Japan Airlines, according to their ad in the 1962 book: “When you come aboard as our guest, be prepared to be pampered as only a Japanese hostess knows how; sip hot sake or iced champagne, nibble on traditional Japanese tidbits or familiar hors d’oeuvres…”
What else? Well, how about some aspects of Tokyo that HAVE changed: “Earthquake laws limit the height of buildings to 100 feet, which is perhaps seven storeys, but they all seem quite as huge as in New York or Chicago.” Or, “From Tokyo there are a dozen limited express trains daily, taking less than six hours to reach Kyoto“.
But as I said, plenty of what was back then, still goes today – “Japanese trains leave on the dot – never a few seconds later than scheduled”, or the advice on geisha – “A great deal has been written in an attempt to explain the geisha (pronounced gay-sha, not gee-sha), but there actually isn’t a great deal to explain. They are, simply and purely, highly trained entertainment girls who usually perform at relatively small gatherings. They dance, sing, serve you, make conversation and join in foolish little party games.” Fifty years later and the world is still confused about geisha – I cannot think of a more accurate description than Fodor’s had back in 1962 – well done them!
Look out for more observations from the 1962 book coming soon. Does anyone out there have an even older Japan guide book…?