Snippets from「Tokyo Totem – A Guide to Tokyo」(BTW, It’s Not Your Typical Guide Book)

Tokyo TotemTokyo Totem is one of the most stimulating, creative, and thought-provoking books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. This is not your typical guidebook. It’s a juxtaposition of fascinating contributions from talented writers, artists, mangaka, designers and various other makers from Japan and all over the world. These talented creatives have skilfully provided their own unique and captivating interpretation of Tokyo and what it means to live in this mind-blowing capital city.

As you turn each page, you not only feel like you’re walking with these writers and artists on the very streets of Tokyo, you also feel like you’re looking at this city from a completely new angle. Each essay, photo, story, comic, sign, and scribble will transcend your understanding of this marvellous city. One minute you’re in a bathhouse wondering whether a yakuza member will empathize with a gaijin (foreigner), the next minute you’re learning something new about Tokyo’s unique topography or you’re looking at Tokyo’s signs and symbols from a completely different perspective. When you turn another page, you suddenly realise the idea of Metabolism (a post-war architectural movement) is very much an integral and exciting part of Japan’s architectural formation, and towards the end the section on urban commons and shared communities provides a very optimistic ending on how Japan will cope with its ageing population problems in the future.

Every section of Tokyo Totem was wonderfully inviting and stimulating so I know I’ll be returning to reread different excerpts in the future even though I’ve already finished and thoroughly enjoyed the entire book. The reason for this is because Tokyo Totem will leave you feeling intellectually and emotionally inspired by its contents. So much so, I think every designer and Japanologist should have a copy of Tokyo Totem on their coffee table, if not only for the fact that this book is beautifully presented with lovely thick paper, the colour coding for each section on the fore-edge as well as the hinge of the book delights the eye, and the cover is very cleverly designed with the word Tokyo in the shape of a totem face, set above the Japanese Hinomaru circle of the sun.

Below are snippets I’ve taken from Tokyo Totem for you to enjoy before you buy the book.

The Noble Art of Subjective Exploration – Christiaan Fruneaux

“On one particularly warm night I was riding the bicycle I had borrowed from a friend. During the day Tokyo can be hot and humid but the nights are pleasant. A nice breeze brushed against my body. I was on my way to have dinner with friends. Above my head an artificial firmament of slow flashing red lights stretched out. Warnings for airplanes and helicopters, so they wouldn’t fly into skyscrapers, those dark concrete mountains that occasionally rise up above you. Tokyo felt like a dream. Interspersed within the metropolitan expanse were intimate residential areas. I was constantly cycling through barriers, from shadowy almost suburban neighborhoods to light metropolitan high-rises. I felt myself falling in love with the city for the first time. It wasn’t love at first sight, but that doesn’t matter. Perhaps it makes the relationship even more precious.”

The City of Children – Chris Berthelsen

“I envy my children, their everyday environment: Its flowers and vegetable plots, insects and pets, informal structures, fruits, berries and edible greens. The human(e) scale and pungent personality of Tokyo’s neighborhoods distill the exquisite refinement of sight, taste, smell and touch in a shifting stream of experience that comprises sensation, memory and anticipation.”

City Beyond Time – Joris Berkhout

“The structure of Tokyo is not to be found in its physical form. Instead some suggest that another layer, imperceptible but powerful, defines the city, a layer of symbolic meaning, a mythic field that provides coherence in a fractured and ever-changing urban landscape. This field is defined by symbolic elements such as traditions and rituals, local foods, the signs of convenience stores and shops, and the ubiquitous vending machines.”

The Naked Neighborhood: Exploring the Metropolitan Bathscape – Greg Dvorak

“Tokyo baths usually invite passersby to enter via a large, sometimes neon, sign that says “yu” (hot water), written in red . . . Yakuza gangsters, whose tattoos are like permanent body suits, also come to soak away their stress . . . public baths that serve taxpayers, local sento businesses in Tokyo (many of whom are built on yakuza-controlled land) place no restrictions on these thuggish men. I actually consider it a thrill to bathe with them. Where else (except maybe in prison) does one have a chance to quietly marvel at the amazing artwork of dragons and giant carp and Japanese gods and goddesses dancing and cavorting across the backs and buttocks of gang members? And my local yakuza are actually quite friendly. Sometimes they even say hello.”

 "yu" (hot water)

“yu” (hot water)

Documentarians of Change – A Short History of Street Fashion in Tokyo – Daphne Mohajer-Va-Pesaran

“Harajuku would earn a reputation as a place of counter-culture and rebellion, facilitating youth-led subcultures, art and fashion design (notably the work of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto). The area would become one that would allow young people to experiment with various dress styles and transform themselves during their formative years.”

In the Arena of Alternative Modernities – Julian Worrall

“Tokyo – in the coruscating kaleidoscope of its fashions; in the endless churn of its building sites; in the urban metronome of its train timetable; in its diurnal round of morning sobriety and nocturnal exuberance; in the annual exultation of spring sakura and the summer matsuri; in its April inductions and December big cleans; and in the slow toll of the New Year’s bell – the rhythms of an alternative modernity, one whose procession is nothing other than an eternal perambulation around the arena of history.”

 Super Legal Buildings – Boots Street 長靴通り  – Yasutaka Yoshimura 

“If the widening of a road is anticipated, the architecture that can be built along this road is subjected to certain restrictions regarding the size and the structure. The manner in which these buildings align to the road, being lower in the front and higher in the back, almost seems like a row of boots neatly placed along the road. The lower front section gives rise to a moderate sense of scale that is optimal for stores. Typically one will find such buildings on relatively busy streets.”

Hera Shibori (Metal Spinning) – Fritzi Ponse

“Okada told me about metal-spinning craftsmen who produce not only pots and pans for local households, but also the noses for Japanese bullet trains and the casings for NASA’s rocket engines; they do it all by hand too, assisted by homemade machinery. I got curious. I wanted to meet these “high-tech craftsmen”. I wanted to see how they worked, how they combined manual skills and home-made-machinery to produce not just cutlery but vital parts for smartphones, satellites and high-speed trains as well.”

Tracing the Past in the City of the Future – Jephta Duillaart

“When I think about the geographical condition of Japan and its history of devastating earthquakes, tsunamis and fires, I’m beginning to understand the ease with which Tokyoites replace the old with the new. It is no surprise that the idea of Metabolism, a post-war architectural movement, sprung from this seismologic unstable soil. The Metabolist architects, of whom Kenzo Tange is the most well-known representative, believed in the continuous renewal of the city, identical to the organic growth of natural organisms.”

Feeling at Home in Tokyo  – Anna Berkhof

“A concept that may help us to understand how Tokyoites feel at home is the duality of “uchi” and “soto”. Uchi means inside, soto means outside, and the dual concept is often associated with the creation of a sense of self in Japan. It is a cultural notion that distinguishes between us–uchi–versus others–soto, and it’s therefore a bit different from the Western duality of the individual versus the rest of the world. Uchi connotes not the individual but the closest group around the individual: the community. The key inside group is, of course, the family, but the word is also transferred to broader groups, like neighbours, schoolmates, colleagues, and even nationality.”

Omoiyari (Altruistic Sensitivity) – Maiko Arrieta Aoki

“The most important thing at the izakaya [tavern], even more important than the food, is that clients feel as comfortable as they would in their own homes. It is a place to relax. Good izakaya owners work hard to meet their clients’ needs. In Japanese this type of kindness is called omoiyari, which roughly translates into English as “altruistic sensitivity”. The omoiyari expressed in each dish shows the owner’s inner feelings for his clients: He makes each dish a powerful vehicle of communication. Omoiyari doesn’t only work one way (owner-client), though. It also works the other way (client-owner), with clients showing their gratitude through the way they eat their food or place their chopsticks.”

Single Ladies – Tomoko Kubo

“Condominium purchases by single women became an emerging phenomenon in Tokyo . . . Ebisu especially is well known as a “liveable town for single women”. There are many good restaurants that stay open late, and the suburb is filled with fashionable streets with high-fashion boutiques. It is a place where (wealthy) single women can enjoy their lives. But Eastern Tokyo, which includes Ginza and Ochanomizu, is also in high demand, since it is considered the center of high culture. There are many museums, large halls for classical music, and ballet, theaters for kabuki and other dramas, and many good bars and restaurants that people can visit before or after a show or exhibition. The condominiums in central Tokyo were built especially for single women who wish to enjoy this kind of mature urban lifestyle.”

New Urban Commons – Christian Dimmer

“While the gloomy narrative of Japan’s inevitable decline is still prominent, an alternative, far more positive reading is possible: it is the encouraging story of a dawning post-growth society whose seeds we may be seeing in Japan’s quickly multiplying new urban commons. It is a story of empowerment, of the careful treatment of natural resources, of a newly awakening do-it-yourself spirit, of creative problem solving, and of sharing precious time, space, and goods . . . Kankan Mori and its diverse residents form such a self-defined community. The residents not only share ample common resources – such as a shared office, a communal kitchen, a living room, two garden terraces, a laundry room, and a wood workshop – but they also engage in diverse communing activities in order to collectively manage their resources.”

"In Tokyo, the businessmen, the geisha girls and the fashion commandos all wear big shoes. A big shoe is usually worn three sizes too big. A leather shoe is mandatory for men, while women have more choices." Read more at

ŌKINA KUTSU, BIG SHOE: “In Tokyo, the businessmen, the geisha girls and the fashion commandos all wear big shoes. A big shoe is usually worn three sizes too big. A leather shoe is mandatory for men . . . With the three inches between his heel and the backside of his shoe, he anticipates personal growth.” Read more at


Best Japan-Related Books in 2015/16


In 2015, I wanted to expand my horizons and read several Japan-related books written by contemporary well-known authors or emerging novelists who are starting to make a real name for themselves in the literary world. If you get the chance to read these any of these books you’re in for a real treat. I’ve also listed five books I’m looking forward to reading in 2016.

This list of books does not include any of the classics written by well-known Japanese authors such as Yukio Mishima, Natsume Sōseki, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Yōko Ogawa or Haruki Murakami but the writing styles are wonderful, the characters are memorable and the plots are well-developed and uniquely crafted.

1. Tokyo by Nicholas Hogg

Tokyo Nicholas Hogg
What I liked about this book: I was really looking forward to reading this book and it did not disappoint – I thoroughly enjoyed every page. I don’t want to give away too much but I can say it’s a very good reference for anyone planning to live in Japan. In the story, a social psychologist Ben Monroe returns to Tokyo after a failed marriage, determined to look for his former Japanese lover called Kozue.  The characters in this story are so convincing they offer an excellent introduction to understanding the Japanese mind-set and the plot touches on a lot of important issues that haunt modern-day Japan. I thoroughly enjoyed “Tokyo” and I hope Nicholas Hogg writes another book set in Japan. He has a strong understanding of the Japanese culture and his writing ability is phenomenal.




 2. Fallen Angel: An Only in Tokyo Mystery by Jonelle Patrick

Fallen ANgelWhat I liked about this book:
I’ve lived and worked in Japan but I have a very limited understanding of the male host industry and I also know very little about the world of mizu-shōbai (the night-time entertainment business in Japan) so this book was a real eye-opener. The author has clearly done extensive research to make this book come to life and I was very impressed by how cleverly she meshed the intricacies of the Japanese culture into an intriguing and delightful story. It was also great to see the Japanese concepts “on” and “giri” expressed throughout the book. The writing clearly shows how these principles exist within the Japanese ethic system and how they apply to the lives of every Japanese person, regardless of their social standing. “On” is the Japanese concept that represents a sociological and psychological sense of indebtedness after receiving a favour. “Giri” is the give-and-take principle in social situations that drives the Japanese people to fulfil their duties. This is a fantastic book and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel “Idolmaker”. 



3.  Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet

Tokyo KillWhat I liked about this book:
I don’t usually read thrillers but I do write Japan-related fiction so I was really looking forward to reading “Tokyo Kill”. In this book an antiques dealer turned detective becomes heavily involved with a group of killers in Japan. I was very impressed with all the references to the Japanese culture and I learned a lot about Chinese culture and history as well.  Lancet obviously has an expert understanding of the Japanese mind-set, the Japanese culture, and how Japanese people behave in both casual and more formal situations in Japan.






4. Naked As The Day: A Tokyo Novel by Marcus Bird

Naked as the dayWhat I liked about this book:
This story is very well written with powerful prose, fascinating characters, and an absorbing plot. The author also captures the true essence of life in Tokyo as he tells the story of a young man in his twenties, living and working as an English teacher in Japan, and how this man develops physical and psychological aversions to his life and the people around him. The author’s writing style is reminiscent of the methods used by Haruki Murakami to portray the human condition. “Naked As The Day: A Tokyo Novel” surpassed all my expectations. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in Japan or if you’re simply looking for a great novel with a compelling storyline and captivating characters.





5. The Translator by Nina Schuyler

The Translator
What I liked about this book: Schuyler’s understanding of the Japanese culture as well as the Japanese mind-set is very impressive. This is clearly evident in the dialogue between Hanne and the Japanese characters Moto and Renzo. I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful interpretation of an American woman who travels to Japan to find herself as she searches for the answers that will validate her work as a translator. Every page is a testament to good prose and a captivating plot and this will hold your attention until the final page of this wonderful story.






THE BOOKS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO READING IN 2016                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

1. Tokyo Totem – A Guide to Tokyo edited by C. Fruneaux and E. Gardner

Tokyo TotemSynopsis: “This is a guidebook with contributions from “artists, designers, anthropologists, architects, bathhouse connoisseurs and many, many other seasoned urban explorers who will invite you to look, read and experience Tokyo differently.”








  2.  Yokohama Gaijin by George Lavrov

Yokohama GaijinSynopsis: Yokohama Gaijin is George Lavrov’s personal story, told from his own eyewitness account. It recounts the horror of WWII carpet bombings of Japanese cities, including the tragic loss of his elder brother, Konstantin, who was killed instantly when a bomb from an American B-29 bomber made a direct hit on the Lavrov residence in Yokohama, Japan, on May 29th, 1945







 3.  Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein

Tokyo ViceSynopsis: Jake Adelstein is the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, where for twelve years he covered the dark side of Japan: extortion, murder, human trafficking, fiscal corruption, and of course, the yakuza. In  “Tokyo Vice” Adelstein delivers an unprecedented look at Japanese culture and a searing memoir about his rise from cub reporter to a seasoned journalist with a price on his head.”






4. Washing Over Me by Benjamin Brook

Washing over meSynopsis: “Set against a backdrop of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, Washing Over Me is a tale of loss and love, of the destructive power of nature and the resilience of humankind. In the height of the Tokyo summer, Shoichi sits at his wife’s bedside hoping that today will be the day when she wakes from her coma. Without Kimiko, he finds himself lost in the modern world. Frequently daydreaming, his mind wanders back through the past to key moments in their life together: breaded pork cutlets, unusually coloured tomatoes and the most beautiful sunrise he has ever seen. Shoichi also lives in fear. How will he cope with the loss of yet another person whom he loves so dearly?”





  5. Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Synopsis: “For five days in January 1989, the parents of a seven-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl sat and listened to the demands of their daughter’s kidnapper. They would never learn his identity. They would never see their daughter again. For the fourteen years that followed, the Japanese public listened to the police’s apologies. They would never forget the botched investigation that became known as ‘Six Four’. They would never forgive the authorities their failure. For one week in late 2002, the press officer attached to the police department in question confronted an anomaly in the case. He could never imagine what he would uncover. He would never have looked if he’d known what he would find.”





If you love my recommendations and you’d like to read one of my own books check out “Tokyo 2060: Welcome to the Future”.  This novelette is a futuristic sci-fi set in Japan forty-four years from now when androids and robots have become part of everyday life! It takes about 45 minutes to read and it’s only 99c/99p for a limited time.


Tokyo 2060: Welcome to the Future

In the year 2060, Poppy and Oliver Montgomery travel to Japan for a six-month stint in Tokyo. Oliver can’t wait to start working for a company that produces androids and Poppy is looking forward to shopping in the futuristic department stores. When this British couple begins their life in Tokyo, they are fascinated by all the latest cutting-edge technology in Japan. Poppy is even more delighted when her husband’s new company lends her an android for three days. Little do they know, this android hides a sinister secret that is about to turn their life in Tokyo into a disaster.


Spectacular Cherry Blossom Photos by Award-Winning Australian Photographers in Japan

It’s that time of the year again when the cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom in Japan and everyone in the Land of the Rising Sun is looking forward to celebrating this magnificent seasonal display of delicate pink and white blossoms with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties and picnics.

Unfortunately, I live in the United Kingdom so I will not be able to enjoy this fleeting pleasure. However, I thought this was the perfect time to show you a stunning selection of cherry blossom photographs taken by two fellow Australians, Tracey Taylor and Dee Green, from 37 Frames Photography. Tracey and Dee are multi-award winning photographers who have been in Japan since 1997. They specialize in awe-inspiring contemporary portraiture and wedding photography.

Tracey and Dee

Tracey and Dee (pictured above) are also listed in the World’s Top 30 Wedding Photographers by Signature Weddings Magazine and they continue to win awards in Japan and overseas. These highly imaginative Australians are renowned for their stylish yet heart-warming photos as well as their extremely professional approach and this has given them the reputation as world-class photographers on an international scale.

If you’re looking for a very special photographer for a cherry blossom shoot, a spectacular wedding package, or a photographic session to capture your travels in Tokyo or other parts of Japan, you’ll need to book as soon as possible because Tracey and Dee at 37 Frames Photography are nearly fully booked for 2016. Their sessions are so popular you will need to be very quick to make a reservation. If you’re lucky, Tracey and Dee may be able to fit you in if there is an opening or a cancellation. I have provided their contact details at the end of this blog post.

Take a look at these beautiful portrait photographs with the cherry blossoms in the background. I’m sure you’ll agree Tracey and Dee have really captured the personalities in these pictures as well as this celebrated season in Japan.

As we’ve just celebrated Valentine’s Day and because Tracey and Dee are award-winning wedding photographers, I’d also like to share these spectacular wedding photos below taken by 37 Frames Photography. These gorgeous photos show brides in Japan in different types of wedding kimonos as well as Western-style bridal growns. In Japan, a bride wears a white kimono called an uchikake, covered in flowers and Japanese cranes as a symbol of good luck, to the wedding ceremony. The bride will change into a coloured kimono after the wedding ceremony and then change into a Western-style bridal gown for the reception.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such beautiful photography set in Japan and I think it would be a great honour to take part in a photo session with 37 Frames Photography. Tracey and Dee are really passionate about creating wonderful memories for you, your family, and your friends in Japan or overseas and they have a complete range of full and mini packages. If you’re interested in enquiring about their services please visit their website 37 Frames Photography or you can email Dee Green directly at You can also phone Dee in Japan on +81 (0) 80-3271-9071.