It starts with a meeting at HarperCollins’ old offices in midtown Manhattan. A few of the brightest minds in book publishing and Anthony Bourdain, drinking office coffee with Matt Goulding and Nathan Thornburgh from Roads & Kingdoms, trying to figure out how to reinvent one of the dustiest shelves of any bookstore: the travel guide section.
One easy decision: the series has to start with Japan. “Ask any chef what country has the deepest food culture in the world,” says Goulding. “The answer is going to be Japan. It’s not even close.” Japan it is. But how to put it together? It starts with narrative, the kind of deep and complex storytelling that Bourdain and R&K gravitate toward. It moves from there into design. A book is a physical object, and it needs to be beautiful. It was decided: hardcover, full color, full-bleed images and cutting edge graphic design. R&K co-founder and Design Chief Doug Hughmanick would style it from cover to cover. Goulding would write seven long chapters, one for each of the best cities for eating in Japan, to tell rich stories about food and philosophy and the chefs who marry the two. Eventually, the book would have the title Rice Noodle Fish: Deep Journeys through Japan’s Food Culture.
But Bourdain makes it clear from the outset: to reinvent the travel guide, this book needs an equally strong digital partner. What if we took all the service journalism—the maps, the listings, the restaurant and hotel reviews—and extracted it from the book and put it right where travelers need it most: on their phones and laptops and tablets? Combine the beauty of the book with the usefulness of a digital guide, and you might just reboot this genre.
The search for the perfect digital partner started with that meeting with Bourdain, and it ended in Redmond, Wash. As newer competitors have washed away, OneNote—the Microsoft Office note-taking app—has gotten stronger with each update, and its legion of hardcore loyalists know what many others are just figuring out: this is a product that doesn’t fail, and works seamlessly across a dizzying array of devices and operating systems. It also has a beautiful new publishing partner, Sway, which puts users in control of the kind of beautiful layouts—full-bleed image, clean text columns—that power the hardcover book. The choice to partner with Microsoft to produce the digital guide across OneNote and Sway was ultimately an easy one for Bourdain and Roads & Kingdoms.
The end result is a comprehensive guide to how and where and when and why to eat at over 200 restaurants and bars in each of the guidebook’s seven destinations: Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Fukuoka, and Hokkaido. All of the tools that travelers need—maps, pricing, reviews, photos, hotel options—have been written by Goulding and a team of researchers on the ground in Japan. Bourdain has offered up his top picks for traveling and eating and even pre-trip film viewing. There are additional original primers on the finer points of Japanese cuisine and etiquette from Bourdain and Roads & Kingdoms. Japan is a notably complex culture and destination, but with the new digital guide, the traveler can not only eat where the locals know to eat, but can also navigate each meal with the ease and confidence of the locals themselves.
The traveler can access this information in beautiful Sways through a web browser, and then download the full suite of information on her mobile device through OneNote. It’s all free to use, all beautifully integrated and optimized for nearly any device.
“At Roads & Kingdoms, we believe that when it comes to travel, people want a deeper, more fully fleshed out experience,” says Bourdain. “Ideally we’d like to provide the ability to hold a book in one’s hand, read at length not just about the places you’re thinking of going but also about the people and individual voices you might encounter there—lesser known but fascinating aspects of the culture. We also want to add a digital guide: the hard information you’ll need to reproduce those carefully curated, personal experiences. Not just information but context. Not just what you need to know but a heartfelt argument for why you should know it. People are traveling differently and in ever-changing ways and for very different reasons. We hope to be at the forefront of those changes.”