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Book: Japan's World Heritage Sites

Kyoto-resident John Dougill travelled around Japan for over 4 months in 2012. On the way he visited all its 18 WHS, including their separate locations. Ancient Kyoto alone already comprises 17 of these serial spots, such as the magic hall dedicated to Buddha's mother at Kiyomizu-Dera:

"Those looking for closure might want to seek out the intriguing Zuiguido Hall ... where for Y100 you can enter pitch blackness and feel your way around a basement symbolising the womb".

His journey resulted in this good size publication: it is fairly comprehensive at 192 pages, though without the weight of a coffee table book. It has an attractive "clean" layout which does both the text and the many photos justice. The pages are further enhanced with custom maps showing the locations of the sites and site parts. Opening hours and directions are also covered.

Separate entries for serial locations

Dougill did well in grasping the often confusing concept of World Heritage sites, core zones and separate locations. This is a refreshing surprise, as we have seen so many WHS books over the years with lots of factual errors. All three zones of the Kii Mountain Range are covered with separate entries for example. This made the wonderful Kumano Old Roads come alive for me. The final pages cover Japan's Tentative Sites too.

Some of the included photos are a bit heavy on the use of photoshop/multicolor: I encountered several unnatural blue skies. This however seems to be a common taste among East Asian tourist agencies such as the JNTO. And of course the cherry blossoms are omnipresent too. I personally prefer Japan's natural colouring: dark wood, green moss, raindrops and a vermillion gate here or there.

Dougill's forte lies mainly in his understanding of Japanese belief: he feels at ease writing about mountain deities and the like. His expertise on this subject clearly shows on his own blog: Green Shinto. Those who always enjoy a good list should check out his Rank of WH Shinto Shrines!.

Homework for Temple Buffs

With "Japan's World Heritage Sites" he created a fine book to browse through for anyone with an interest in Japan or WHS. Its detailed descriptions and tempting photos of the temples and shrines in the Kyoto-Nara region make it an especially great start for temple buffs preparing to visit the area.

John Dougill, Japan's World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature (Tuttle Publishing July 2014)

Els - 26 October 2014

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