If you are looking for a book to accompany you on your visit to Tokyo, we have found the one you need.
Now here’s something you don’t see too often. A travel guide that’s not only practical, but also fun to read. As the title suggests – A Manga Lover’s Tokyo Travel Guide –, this book is both a manga and a guide to Tokyo. And it works well on both levels. First, it’s an entertaining comic book in its own right, full of travel tales that will charm the reader, whether you intend to visit Tokyo or not. Sec-ondly, as a city guide, it’s packed with all the good advice and fascinating facts you’d hope to find in such a book.
A lot of contemporary travel writing adopts a brash, bossy “go here, do this, eat that” tone. A Manga Lover’s approach, on the other hand, is to take you by the hand and say “come with me and my friends. I’ll show you around my favourite places. It’ll be fun!”
In her signature comic book style, author Evan-geline Neo (along with Matcha and Kopi, her imaginary cat and dog pets) recounts her travels around all her best-loved shops, restaurants, cafes, monuments and museums. As you might expect from a manga lover’s look at the city, these places include a wealth of pop culture and otaku haunts. In fact, the ‘Animanga Tokyo’ chapter devotes over 40 pages to activities like a trip to Akiba-hara’s anime and manga merchandise stores, a visit to Studio Ghibli – home of the legendary anime producers – and the Doraemon Museum. Eva also takes a manga class in Nakano and tries a Cosplay studio in Akibahara where you can dress up as your favourite character. She then visits Sanrio Puroland, an indoor theme park devoted to Hello Kitty, and other Sanrio char-acters. Expect a lot of pink!
But even if you’ve never read a manga, or have never heard of characters like Totoro, Ponyo or One Piece, this chapter offers a fascinating peek into a parallel universe, one that’s very big busi-ness in Japan.
But you don’t have to be a manga fan to enjoy this book. In the chapter entitled ‘Exploring Tra-ditional Tokyo’, Eva visits such conventional must-sees as the Meiji Shrine, the Imperial Palace Gardens and Asakusa (the place with the huge red lantern hanging from a big red gate). There’s also a hint-packed section on visiting Mt. Fuji. Eva makes the intimidating challenge look really easy, so you have no excuse for not going to the iconic mountain.
By retelling her exploits in the form of short comic book stories, Eva proves the value of the old writer’s maxim “Show, don’t tell”. Her colourful, lively illus-trations give you a far better idea of what these places are like than any wordy descriptions could do.
They also guide you through such tricky chal-lenges as how to use an onsen, or the correct pro-tocol to follow when you visit a shrine. And if you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside a maid cafe, (or the even creepier butler cafes), but were too shy to go in, just follow Eva and she’ll show you exactly what it’s like.
It’s all very amusing, but there’s plenty of prac-tical information too. The two sections on shop-ping and food are particularly useful. The ‘Shop-ping Heaven’ chapter takes you round a wide range of shops, from electronics and souvenirs to cute clothes. It also includes ever-popular emporiums such as the Daiso 100 Yen shop, the UNIQLO clothing chain and the ubiquitous 24-hour convenience stores.
The ‘Adventures in Japanese Food’ chapter con-tains helpful illustrations of the different types of noodles and sushi, along with their Japanese names, plus other typical dishes like shabu-shabu and sukiyaki (kinds of hot pot), and, crucially, how to use the dipping sauces. You’ll also find tips on where to eat cheaply, and a useful guide to Japanese drinks including the delicious vari-eties of cha (tea).
Elsewhere, there’s advice on getting around on public transport, tax-free shopping and even some basic survival Japanese expressions.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are looming on the horizon like a big torii gate. This book, with its easy-to-understand comic format, makes an ideal companion for all those first-time visitors looking to make sense of what’s going on around them. Japan can sometimes seem more than a little con-fusing for foreign visitors. With this book at hand, finding your way around the city and its culture just got a little bit easier.
Seasoned Japan vets and armchair travellers will also find plenty to chuckle about.
STEVE JOHN POWELL