Tokyo: A guide for a certain type of resident

Moving to, exploring, shopping and residing in, and, most of all, enjoying the high life of Japan's vibrant capital city


TOKYO: The Complete Residents’ Guide, by Andy Sharp, Beau Miller, Frank Spignese, Jennifer Geaconne-Cruz, Julian Satterthwaite, Karryn Cartelle, Tamsin Bradshaw. Dubai: Explorer Group, Ltd., 2008, 444 pp., profusely illustrated, $14.99 (paper)

This book, says the introduction, “is going to help you to get to know the city, its people, their culture and customs, and much more.” It is not, it avers, just another tourist guidebook. Rather, it is “filled with everything you need to know to make the most of life in Tokyo.” In fact, “from local festivals to finding your dream home, we’ll tell you how and where to do it.”

To this extent then this guide resembles the recent “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrant to Japan” by Arudou Debito and Higuchi Akira, a volume that, in considerably more detail, treats similar subjects: documentation, certificates, licenses, working permissions, financial and legal affairs, housing problems.

“The Complete Resident’s Guide,” however, is much more popularly written and contains an amount of information of equal appeal to the tourist. There are also very large and full sections on eating out, on bars and pubs, on specialty restaurants, and nearly 60 entries under “Shopping.”

The guide’s ideal reader, here for the year or the week, is fairly young and fairly wealthy, and is interested in flower arranging but no more so than in aerobics/fitness classes and American football — the first two in the 60 some listings of sports and activities, ending with wine tasting.

The ideal reader would also be interested in many of the services listed in the guide: how and where to find domestic help, child-care, baby-sitting. The amount of information given on these and allied topics is impressive. The complications of Tsutaya DVD renting are fully exposed as are the differences between the DHL, Federal Express, Kuroneko Yamato, Nippon Express, Sagawa Express, and UPS courier services.

In fact, the ideal reader will be delighted with this guide. But what of the reader who is unfortunately not ideal and whose needs are not so thoroughly corporate?

For example, the location of your “dream home.” This area is here entirely restricted to the 12 wards west of the Ginza district, the yamanote or “high city.” The shitamachi, the “low city,” to the northeast, is not considered a living area at all. To be sure Ueno and Asakusa are mentioned but only under fun things to do, as though they were day-trips out of the city.

Yanaka, for example, is one of the most livable neighborhoods in Tokyo. Located just north of Ueno, it is tree-filled, has many little parks, affordable rents, civilized neighbors, fresh air, and no cars. Roppongi would have to work hard to beat that. Yet Yanaka appears only once in this guide and then not as a fine place to live. Rather it is called “a sleepy old neighborhood,” and is mentioned only because a local, retro coffee shop, very cool, has somehow caught Roppongi’s eye.

Leaving out half the city while locating Tokyo dream homes is perhaps, however, consistent with the concerns revealed in this guide. These somewhat resemble those exhibited in the lists one sees advertising Tokyo as the most expensive city in the world, the kind where the compilers do not know where to eat well and cheaply and so recommend a meal at Roppongi Hills.

The many writers of this guide are, of course, much more sophisticated than this. Nonetheless, Tokyo’s “eclectic mix of shopping subcultures” seriously considers National Azabu Supermarket, “a haven if you’re hankering for some food from home,” while the “Worst Point” of the Oedo subway line as it runs through Nerima is that “it can get crowded and there isn’t much in the way of exciting shopping.”

As is almost inevitable in processing such a large amount of information as that contained in this guide, there are errors. I will mention just two in hopes of making possible a better second edition. The National Film Center is not a “wing” of the National Museum of Modern Art, at least not in the architectural sense the guide suggests. It has had its own building for over a decade and this is in Kyobashi and not in Takebashi. Also the picture on page 90 is wrongly captioned. It is called “Housing in Hibiya,” but it shows Zojo-ji, the Prince Hotel, the Jikeidai Hospital, and Mori Building No. 32 — it is Shiba.

For the ideal reader, however, this guide — corporate-culture-friendly, edited, printed, and bound in Dubai — will begin to answer many of the resident’s questions.