Japan is a wild place, at least for anyone who doesn’t frequent it often.
Tokyo in particular is a sprawling megacity filled with enough cool stuff that it can easily be overwhelming. It can be difficult for any fan from the west to figure out what and what not to do while making their first trip. Luckily, we’ve found the perfect companion for your would-be trip: Gianni Simone’s Tokyo Geek’s Guide.
Now, to be clear, this is the sort of book you want to read before going to Japan, not while you’re there. It is, after all, jam-packed with enough information that it can feel like a trip in itself just by reading it – which is a good thing! Coming from the mouth of someone who has worked for Vogue Italia, The Japan Times, and CNN Travel, it’s an essential piece that I recommend for planning a trip. Just maybe not for those already there, mainly because of its extreme focus on Otaku culture which, hopefully shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given the book’s title.
For anyone who hasn’t visited Tokyo themselves, it might seem as though there can’t be that much ground to cover. The great, or maybe daunting surprise, depending on which way you look at it, is that the over 400 photographs that come with the book aren’t there to mask a lack of information. If anything, this book is a great example of why Japan, and Tokyo specifically, is such a diverse locale. You’ll see a lot more than just a visual tour of Akihabara here. That being said, Simone makes clear from the outset that this isn’t a book that covers every single niche, but rather one that casts a wide net. The Tokyo Geek’s Guide is all about finding stuff that you can only find in Japan – from anime to manga to video games and beyond.
Yet Simone doesn’t simply throw tons of information at you from the get go, either. Everything is prefaced with the history and context of the situation. Opening by giving a short history lesson on the different sects of otaku-dom, Simone even delves into topics like J-Pop Idols and Cosplay, as well as the more expected ones like games and anime. Not a school-textbook level of information is here however, so if you’re looking for a firmer understanding of the information at hand it’s wise to do further research on your own, but what’s offered is a good place to start even if most of the information is common knowledge.
Of course, the main reason you’re probably looking at a book like this is to help you decide where to go on your fantasised trip. Places like the aforementioned Akihabara, Jimbocho, Harajuku, and Shibuya are explored to great detail, along with many more. Yet Simone does more than just bullet point where interesting spots in these locations are. Containing both detailed maps and descriptions of the Tokyo famous and not-so-famous districts, each area is detailed in such a way that it feels like a tour in itself. Unique shops are characterised as if you were standing in front of them, but don’t eat up too much of the page’s real estate. Speaking of which, the same care isn’t given to the restaurants described within, but nevertheless important information like their specific importance and what times they’re open make it easier to navigate. Make sure to check out the most updated days and times for operation though since these things often change.
Perhaps the most useful bits of information are contained inbetween the lines, however. While Tokyo Geek’s Guide is a wonderful and informational tour through the famous city’s geekiest places, Simone writes with the detail of someone who has truly lived the Otaku lifestyle. Even for someone who’s never visited Japan, there’s so much useful information beyond just the list of interesting places. As you read about trading card shops for instance, Simone takes an extra step by detailing what Trading Card Games are and why they’re important in Japan. This is where the real worth of the book shines through. It’s more than just a simple travel guide. In the age of the internet, there is enough information that you could make up a guide yourself. But within the pages of Tokyo Geek’s Guide, you’ll find the experience of a Japanese travelling expert. With games like Yakuza and Persona 5 getting so many people interested in Japan as a location and not just a place with interesting exports, the book couldn’t come at a better time.