39 Thrills for the Tokyo Traveler

Traditional Japanese Exercise Photograph courtesy of C. Gros-Loh

Traditional Japanese Dance Photograph courtesy of C. Gros-Loh

Destination: Tokyo, Japan

Book: Little Adventures in Tokyo by Rick Kennedy

Guest Post by Christine Gros-Loh

I have been living in Tokyo for nearly three and a half years now, and before that I lived here on and off throughout my twenties. So I know Tokyo really well – or thought I did, until I picked up a copy of [amazonify]1880656345::text::::Little Adventures in Tokyo: 39 Thrills for the Urban Explorer[/amazonify] by Rick Kennedy. What a treasure of a book! It’s a slim, quick read, but transports the reader instantly to a Tokyo that you’re not going to find in Frommer’s, Fodor’s, or Lonely Planet. That’s  because Kennedy takes you off the beaten track to get inside the Tokyo that only a long-term resident knows.

Tokyo has so many sides. It’s an incredibly complex city, a mix of very old and the ultra hip, modern and cool.  Kennedy’s book covers much of what a traveler might want to consider for an authentic Tokyo experience. He has a knack for choosing interesting, offbeat outings which he describes in quietly witty and compelling prose.

Dancers in Tokyo, Photograph courtesy of C. Gros-Loh

Dancers in Tokyo Festival, Photograph courtesy of C. Gros-Loh

Little Adventures in Tokyo is a great read for an armchair traveler because he describes the outings in such intimate detail that you feel like you are right there beside him, whether it’s side trips to soak in the essence of old Tokyo by taking lessons in sitting quietly during a zazen meditation session, seeing a magnificent old farmhouse at Minka-en, or having tea in the garden of a Kamakura temple, or engaging in something a bit more modern like having sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji fish market, viewing a department store morning opening ceremony, or even skiing indoors!

His text is sprinkled with insider tips such as, “To buy a Buddhist altar for the home, everyone knows you should go to a certain street in Ueno where there are a dozen stores selling Buddhist altars, the street is not far from the block where there are dozens of shops selling used motorcycles“,

or  “Iseya’s tempura is rough and ready, Edo style, heavy on the soy sauce. It is not served to you piece by piece as in the lofty tempura establishments in the Ginza, but all scrapped together in a savory mass like in a Mexican omelet.”

My favorite descriptions are of the matsuri, neighborhood festivals. It’s coming up on summer matsuri season now and while I have attended many of them over the years, I had never really understood the background of all the little rituals, the importance of the drum and flutes and the meaning of the chants, the slow parade of the neighborhood omikoshi containing the local god, and what festivals mean to Tokyoites until I read Kennedy’s book.

I also love the descriptions of Japanese baths and the outings to some traditional Japanese neighborhoods where you will see tiny, wonderful clusters of stores on narrow streets – old-fashioned Japanese sweets made of red beans and rice, tea shops whose scent of roasted tea permeates the whole neighborhood, traditional fish cake makers, noodle makers, rice cakes of every variety, and kimono shops.

This is not a comprehensive book, nor is it meant to be. It makes an ideal complement to other, more conventional travel guides to the area and its detailed and carefully chosen outings and Kennedy’s witty, seasoned insider voice provide a lovely escape, even for someone living right in Tokyo like me.

Christine is a mother of four, crafter, journalist, and author. She wrote The Diaper-Free Baby(HarperCollins, 2007), a book about elimination communication, and a book and craft kit, Origami Suncatchers (Sterling, 2011). She’s now writing a book about global parenting practices to be published by Avery, a Penguin Books imprint, in 2013. Visit her at her blog. You will remember Christine from the very popular post she wrote about children’s books about Japan, and she will be back next month with children’s books for Korea. (Bio updated 2/28/22011)

Photographs by Christine Gros-Loh. All rights reserved.

Question for readers: When you travel, how do you prioritize between the “must-see” sites and the more offbeat attractions listed in this book?

Vera Marie Badertscher

Travel and lifestyle writer, wife, mother and grandmother. Publisher of A Traveler’s Library and Ancestors in Aprons>. Also co-authored a biography of Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.

8 thoughts on “39 Thrills for the Tokyo Traveler

    1. Happy to see you over here at the library. Didn’t know you were a Tokyo traveler as well as your special place, Italy. Woman of the world!

  1. Awesome timing! I recently finished reading “Plum Wine,” and then picked up a few Japan travel guides from the library. I’ll look for this book at the store. I have an idea that I can get to Tokyo for 10 days or so later this year … thanks!

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