What to read before visiting Tokyo?
March 26, 2018 5:59 AM   Subscribe

I am visiting Tokyo for the first time, and am looking for something besides a guidebook (fiction or nonfiction) that will provide an interesting layer of interpretation as I move about the city.

Before visiting Las Vegas I read Tim Powers' Last Call, which was filled with historical stuff and a delightfully creepy layer of urban fantasy. Can you recommend something that will color my visit to the city in interesting ways? It need not be urban fantasy but even a nonfiction book about the city, but something other than a straight up guidebook, as I have plenty of those.

(related question: will reading too many guidebooks kill my new visitor buzz?)
posted by mecran01 to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
It's total airport bookstore fiction but most of the John Rain series by Barry Eisler has Tokyo as an important character. Then you can pretend you are simply doing a Surveillance Detection Route every time you get lost and turned around.
posted by ftm at 6:19 AM on March 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Edward Seidensticker, Low City, High City and Tokyo Rising, cultural history of the city, very readable and written by a man who really, really knows his stuff.
posted by huimangm at 6:30 AM on March 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I liked the Seidensticker books but flip through them beforehand. The pacing is unique and probably not for everyone.

Try Parade by Shuuichi Yoshida, which follows a group of young roommates, or The Cage by Kenzo Kitakata, about an ex-criminal who gets lured back in. Great Tokyo texture in both, fairly quick reads. Most of Haruki Murakami’s books are based in Tokyo, but you may know him already.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 7:53 AM on March 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for these cool suggestions. I've read som Murakami, but may need to revisit him. Oddly, I can't picture Tokyo when I try to recall his books.
posted by mecran01 at 8:27 AM on March 26, 2018

It's not a book, but if you have Netflix there's a show called Japanese Style Originator that does a number of episodes focused on Tokyo's food scene and traditions/history. It's originally from Japanese TV so it gives you a nice insider's perspective & is fairly entertaining.
posted by azuresunday at 9:16 AM on March 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For what it's worth, the ratings for that John Rain series are up in the Instant Pot range of cultish devotion.
posted by mecran01 at 9:21 AM on March 26, 2018

Not a book, but check out a few episodes of the Japanese TV show Midnight Diner. I've watched it on Netflix, but other platforms may have it as well. It definitely gives a vibe about Japanese culture (though I can't say if it's accurate or not).
posted by duoshao at 9:35 AM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ian Buruma, A Tokyo Romance (a memoir about life in Tokyo in the 70s, working in the "underground" art scene)

Murakami's After Dark, a "novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the spooky hours between midnight and dawn."
posted by Cwell at 11:07 AM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

One thing I loved about the first John Rain book, was that he even got the interiors of his Tokyo locations correct. I lived there from 2002-2005 and sometimes I leaf through the first novel with a bit of nostalgia.
Tokyo changes so fast, though, I wouldn't know what to recommend now.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:07 PM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

After Dark is a good choice for Tokyo-centered Murakami.

I remembered this Tokyo short stories compilation from 2004, with a diverse set of authors: Tokyo Fragments
posted by chimpsonfilm at 5:59 PM on March 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Rice, Noodle, Fish by Matt Goulding is also good for Japanese food culture (not Tokyo-specific, but some chapters are there), and I think it would be interesting to read Ivan Orkin's Ivan Ramen. It's dated now, but Speed Tribes by Karl Taro Greenfield was an interesting look at aspects of Japanese youth culture.
posted by sagwalla at 1:14 AM on March 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not a book, and kind of a guidebook (?) but Marky Starr's Japan This! blog takes an interesting etymological and historical approach to Tokyo places — worth looking up the neighbourhoods you are planning to visit.
posted by robcorr at 5:08 PM on March 27, 2018

This is a fun and funky guide by an individual: will give a little bit of a different perspective:


I couldn't make the link live!!!
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:26 PM on March 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Tokyo Tour Guide
posted by mecran01 at 10:09 AM on April 2, 2018

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