I've visited many of the great cities of the world and I personally think Tokyo is the most fun to visit, even without taking into account the vibrant nightlife there. There is a richness to the environment for things to see and do, food to eat, and the unique atmosphere combining high tech and old tradition. Having exposure to anime, which are often set in historic, contemporary, or future Japan / Tokyo definitely made my experience deeper and better. There are not many places like Tokyo that also have a meaningful attachment to it through pop culture.
I finally decided to sit down and write a book about visiting Tokyo for everyone who wants to visit, but also apply a pop culture lens to let them get more out of their experience. My book emphasizes what to see and do for anyone, but provides a pop culture context to give more background to any visit.
The heart of the book is composed of four short stories and descriptions of more than fifty key experiences to have in the city. I actually wrote the short stories to act as easy introductions to the city with each one having a preface explaining terms and references used in the story. People remember stories so they should be able to learn something about the city and a particular aspect of pop culture as the same time. By the end of the book a reader should have a good idea about what they would like to see and do, and understand the context of some of the things they will experience. This is information that supplements any other guidebook or online source of information they will also use to plan their trip.
I hope you can give the book a read and enjoy both the stories and the experiences I write about.
The e-book is now available on Amazon Canada and USA.
An excerpt from the book is below, including the full preface to Neko Astray.
INTRO TO NEKO ASTRAY
This story introduces some of the basics about trains, Japanese gods, cat cafes, and some Tokyo districts. It is about the journey of a cat and the human that helps her through the mean streets of Tokyo. Cats are very much loved in Japan and are quite popular in pop culture. There are cat girls, cat cafes, cat manga, cat islands, lazy cats, cat conductors, lucky cats, etc. They have been rendered as cute figures in pretty much everything.
- Buddhist Temple: Buddhism originates in India, and was imported to Japan from China. Buddhism co-exists with Shinto in Japan and temple and shrine can exist in the same religious complex. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Buddha and is about overcoming suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth. There are many sects and traditions, and it has complex mythologies that include many gods, and guardians.
- Cat cafe: A theme cafe where you get to interact with cats while having a coffee or a dessert.
- Cat shrine: Tokyo has two famous cat shrines where you can pray for luck from a kitty or for a kitty. Gotokuji Temple is a Buddhist temple known for its cat shrine that has thousands of lucky cat figurines. Imado Shrine is the other famous cat shrine that features cat statues and it is known as a shrine for love relationships. Both shrines have a different origin story for the maneki neko.
- Conveyor belt sushi restaurant: Kaiten-zushi or rotation sushi where the plates of sushi are premade and placed on a conveyor belt. Diners pick the plates they wish to eat and a bill is tallied up from the number and type of plates at the table.
- Gomenasi: Go-men-a-sigh. Sorry.
- Gyudon: A beef rice bowl. Sauteed onions and thin strips of beef in a light sauce on top of steamed rice.
- Konbini: A Japanese loan word for convenience. Convenience stores are everywhere in Japan, and are very common near train stations. Konbini sell all manner of drinks (including alcohol) and snacks, but are known for their high quality fresh food like tasty onigiri (rice balls), sandwiches, pastries, bento, fried chicken, and other food. They also stock a good selection of household products, stationary, personal hygiene supplies, and even underwear in their small confines.
- Konnichiwa: Kon-ni-chi-wa. Informal hello and greeting from mid-morning to early evening.
- Maneki Neko: Lucky cat figure or beckoning cat represented by a sitting cat with one paw raised. Usually it is a white cat with the insides of the ears colored red. It is often found in homes and business to bring luck.
- Neko: Japanese for cat.
- Onigiri: Rice balls. Palm-sized balls of rice with a filling and maybe a wrap of dried seaweed. These are very popular in Japan and are basically their version of a sandwich. There are dozens of flavors including: tuna and mayo, salted cod roe, grilled salmon, pickled plum, and Japanese pickled vegetables.
- Shibuya Crossing: The busiest pedestrian intersection in the world. It is a scramble crossing where all vehicular traffic stops for pedestrians to scramble through the intersection from all the corners, then the cars take their turns in alternating directions. The cycle then repeats itself.
- Shinto: The native religion in Japan predates Buddhism and has shamanistic elements to it. It is tightly coupled to nature gods/spirits or kami and all things on earth can have a kami representing them. All things on earth also have a spirit. Prayers and offerings to the kami can be for fertility, good harvest, success in business, to luck in love, etc., depending on the kami. Kami respond to human prayers to influence the natural course of events. There is a saying that you are born Shinto and die Buddhist. Shinto Shrines are often family run.
- Shinto Shrine: A sacred space that houses the kami it is for. Entering through the torii gate, often red, means you are entering sacred ground. There may be guardian spirits represented too. For example, an Inari or Fox Shrine will have two foxes guarding the approach. There are often sacred trees and objects associated with shrines. Jinja is the Japanese for shrine.
- SUICA card: A SUICA is a smart chip debit card that you preload with cash at the train station ticket machines, and is used to pay for train rides by scanning at the entrance and exit gates. The card is used in multiple cities and is valid at many retailers in train stations and even at some vending machines. PASMO is a competitor card with the same benefits.
- Sushi: A topping of thinly sliced seafood, omelette, or vegetable is placed on top of a small, palm pressed clump of cooked white rice. The topping can be cooked or raw.
- Tendon: A tempura rice bowl. Tempura in a sauce on top of steamed rice.
- Tempura: Battered and deep fried seafood and vegetables.
NEKO ASTRAY Excerpt
Saturday is supposed to be a day off, but you found yourself at work early to put the finishing touches on a presentation for Monday morning. At least your boss is also in this morning to do the final review, and you receive a curt but genuine thank you for your hard work. Done by lunchtime, you decide to grab a quick bite at a tendon restaurant near the office.
You order a bowl of shrimp and vegetable tempura on rice and leave the restaurant in a better mental state and a pleasantly filled stomach. There’s nothing like crunchy tempura with sweet and savory sauce on warm rice for comfort food, you think to yourself. Well, maybe beef bowl might be pretty darn good too, or even a … Stopping this train of thought as it could go on for awhile, you wonder what to do with the rest of your day.
You were supposed to meet up with friends this morning, but you had to cancel that due to work. Thinking for a moment, you decide to visit a cat café in nearby Shibuya and then do a little shopping. A ten minute walk through the streets of densely packed office buildings takes you over to Shibuya Crossing. The sun is shining and the weather is just right, so the day is turning out pretty good.
Shibuya Crossing is famous for its scramble crossing and statue of the loyal dog, Hachiko. Hachiko was a Shiba Inu who awaited for his master every day after work even after he had passed on, a story that is both touching and tragic. The statue is also a popular meeting place, often featured in the media along with the scramble crossing behind it. The Hachiko exit out of the busy Shibuya Train Station is one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world with thousands of people trying to cross at once during busy times to get to the popular Shibuya shopping district.
When the light changes you begin to cross the street as part of a wave of pedestrians from the Hachiko corner. You head towards the glass and steel building with the giant 5 story high TV screen that showed a giant walking dinosaur in the movie Lost in Translation. Under the screen is a Starbucks where you have taken a break before. This busy coffee shop provides a third floor view over the crowds of people surging through the intersection. Your pedestrian wave meets the other crowds from the five other corners of the intersection in the middle of the intersection. Somehow, everyone dodges by each other without collisions. You then angle slightly to the left of the TV building to head towards Center Gai, the main street in Shibuya for shopping and entertainment. Walking in a couple of blocks you turn off the main street onto a smaller side street to see a doorway embedded in the mouth of a giant cartoon cat.
It is Café Nyan de Puff, a café where you can have a drink or a dessert and meet cats up close. You’ve always liked cats and befriended several neighborhood strays before you moved to Tokyo from your home town. You’d like to own a cat, but your apartment building prohibits pets, so you come to this café once a week to get your feline fix.
Entering, you are greeted by a waitress who directs you to sit down at any open seat. The café is an open rectangular space with a hardwood floor and walls decorated in bright, cheery colors with cartoon kitties on the walls. Small tables and chairs are scattered around the room, which is lined with cat trees and ledges and walkways for the cats to roam on. The front entrance is at one of the narrow ends with a closed off kitchen area in the back, along with a private cat area for cats to retreat to if they don’t want to be bothered.
After a quick look at the menu on your table, you order a latte, and take a look to see if there are any friendly cats wandering about. Photos of each cat along with their name and personality are placed along the walls so you can call the kitties by name. You don’t need the pictures though as you are looking for a particular calico cat named Tama. She has white, orange, and black fur with a black patch over her left eye. Last weekend this cat had a very nice session of much petting and purring on your lap. Tama had just arrived two weeks ago, being adopted by the café from a cat shelter, after being found wandering the streets. She had a collar with a name, but the tags were missing so she couldn’t be returned to her owner.
All around you are grey cats, white cats, black cats, but you don’t see Tama. “Where are you, Tama,” you say softly to yourself. Something is suddenly rubbing against your legs and you look down to see that it is Tama. She trills and looks up at you.
“Tama!” You exclaim. “You found me.” You reach down and pet the cat. After a moment you sit down at your table and she jumps up into your lap, rubbing her face against your hands. Both of you are happy to see each other.
Your latte arrives and you have a sip while giving Tama a scratch under the chin which she enjoys. Many minutes pass and you finish your latte. This is when you observe that Tama is somewhat distracted, after the initial excitement of being reunited with you. She keeps looking at the front door, which has a double set of doors to keep the cats in.
It has been almost an hour since you arrived and you flag down the waitress to pay for your drink and the cover charge. She brings a bill and you pull out some coins to pay. Tama suddenly jumps off of you and moves to the front of the cafe. She turns to give you a look and a meow that almost sounds like a goodbye.
A big group of high school girls in their uniforms arrives at the café at that moment. They are having a very animated discussion, and hold both the inside and outside doors open as they enter. Tama sees the opening and makes a break for it between the girls. Dodging between the feet she darts out and runs down the sidewalk. The girls don’t even notice.
“Tama!” You shout out. The waitress looks up from dealing with another customer to see the cat escape and exclaims, “oh no!”
“I’ll try to get her,” you reply. “Thank you,” the waitress replies in a flustered tone.
You manage to squeeze by the students who are clustered around the entrance and look down the sidewalk for the cat. She has a pretty good head start and is halfway down the block already, trotting quickly towards the main street. You break into a run to catch up. Tama seems to hear you approaching and looks back at you, then breaks into a run around the corner of Center Gai in the direction of Shibuya Station.
Arriving at the corner, you frantically peer down the street, trying to spot the cat at the feet of numerous pedestrians. You just manage to spot a tail disappear behind a sidewalk rack of cosmetics at a corner drug store. Dashing to the corner, you see Tama is still well ahead of you, but you swear she is talking to a grey street cat. The two cats are face to face and the grey cat seems to meow and point its head to the side.
“Tama!” you shout again, slightly out of breath, thinking your office job makes you sit too much.
Tama looks at you again then runs into an alley as fast as her little paws can take her. The grey cat also takes off in a different direction. You follow her into the alley past stacks of plastic crates against the walls to see the cat run through the back door of a building. Arriving at the door, you find out it is the kitchen of a conveyor belt sushi restaurant.
You see the cat heading right for the front door, undistracted by all the raw fish on plates circling the restaurant on the conveyor belt. She is unnoticed by the diners enjoying their fresh and cheap sushi. There is hesitation in your step when you enter the restaurant in this unorthodox manner, but you need to follow the cat who has just exited through the automatic doors at the front of the restaurant.
Unlike the cat, you are noticed exiting the kitchen by one of the sushi chefs, who gives a shout of surprise. Not wanting to explain what you are doing to a man with a sharp fish knife, you call out a quick sorry as you dash to the front door of the restaurant. A number of the diners look at you curiously as you run through the restaurant. Exiting the front of the restaurant you see the cat descend some stairs down into the subway. A quick glance behind you shows that no one is chasing you, thankfully. This cat seems to really want to go somewhere, you think to yourself.
continued in the book...
The e-book is now available on Amazon Canada and USA.
Supplements to the Tokyo Stories book
Supplement #1 - Simplified Tokyo Train Map for Tokyo Stories
Supplement #2 - Sights and Experiences Checklist for Tokyo Stories