October is here and the past weeks have flown – the start of school, a flurry of traveler itineraries, plans for the autumn pilgrimage “home” to Japan. (I can’t miss foliage season!) Meanwhile, the pile of books by my bedside table has continued to grow. This week, the stack finally reached a guilt-inducing height and I’m (finally) taking the time to get around to some reviews.
A few months ago, Tuttle Publishing company – one of the top publishers of Japanese cultural and historical references – sent me a book on Japan’s otaku culture. I’m admittedly more a fan of Japan’s traditional offerings – Tuttle’s books on Japanese gardens are among some of my absolute favorites in what is quite a large collection. But it’s good to stretch one’s boundaries now and again and I’ve slowly been making my way through the Tokyo Geek’s Guide by Gianni Simone.
Like most Tuttle publications, this book is beautiful – a full-color production with numerous photos (many shot by the author himself), a durable paperback cover and well-laid out pages. Simone breaks down the book into sections – an introductory section is followed by thorough explorations of Tokyo’s various otaku neighborhoods.
Even for experts, the introductory section is the place to start. Rather than a dry recitation of otaku history and evolution, Simone presents the culture in a series of essays on various aspects of “geek” culture – manga, anime, video games, cosplay, even Godzilla and the giant monster genre. A handful of interviews with personalities (a company CEO, a rising trend setter, etc) tied to the otaku scene serve to bring even greater understanding to a subculture of Japan that has oft been maligned in its place of birth.
After the introductory section, the book is divided by neighborhoods. Simone breaks down the essentials – the history, the top shops, the otaku-related restaurants – in prose form, while also adding additional boxes on special events/festivals and nightlife. Each section ends with a map marking all the places mentioned and bullet points listing each location’s details (shop opening hours, websites, etc).
You get the feeling when reading the write-ups that Simone has visited nearly every one of the shops he recommends and his enthusiasm for the otaku scene really comes through. He includes enough little tidbits that make the reader feel they’re getting a bit of an inside scoop – how a shop or eatery really feels, if the product selection is excellent or somewhat lacking, etc. As an information junkie myself who rarely recommends sites I’ve never visited, this is the kind of personalized touch I really value. While I may not necessarily set off on a hunt for the nearest manga café my next time in town, I would whole-heartedly recommend this text to those with a strong interest in otaku culture for use as an on-the-ground guide. Perhaps it’s main drawback is its unwieldiness, as it won’t slip easily into a small shoulder bag and it’s the weight of an SLR camera. Still, travelers would benefit from its encyclopedic knowledge, while armchair adventurers will no doubt love the photos, introductory essays and fun neighborhood facts.