TOKYO HANDBOOK 東京ハンドブック
Somewhere in the 1990’s, French artist Sophie Calle proposed American novelist Paul Auster to write a story of a character that she would then try to impersonate. Mr Auster was not so sure about the safety of the proposition and declined, but in order to make her happy, he wrote a few instructions on how to improve her stay in NYC. It’s a set of easy rules like “smile all the time”, “carry always packs of cigarettes and sandwiches in your pocket to give to the homeless” etc. Ms Calle followed them and finally made a project with the results, called Gotham Handbook.
In no manner I aim to get even close to Calle or Auster, but the gesture of the novelist and the naming of the final project by the artist strung a few cords in me: giving people advice on how to survive a city that is foreign to them is something I’ve much needed in the past and I like giving nowadays. As a homage to both masters, I decided to call my upcoming book Tokyo Handbook.
How it came to be
When Norma Editorial asked me to make a book, preferably about Japan, I was flattered at first. But then I resisted and thanked them for their candor; I could not possibly think I was able to make a better book than the many you have already out there. And there are loads of them.
Also making a book with my work or sketchbooks was simply not my thing. I’ve never been a big fan of promoting myself and never found my persona as important as to make a book about it.
During the year after Norma’s request, I got married and started with my wife a residence for creatives in Tokyo called Almost Perfect. It’s a 100 years old rice shop and family house in Taito-ku where creatives can come stay and work upstairs and then show their work in the gallery downstairs.
And suddenly, the kind humans at Norma called in again. Would you now like to do the book? How do you say no twice to the publisher who has published all the comic artists I so much admired and loved since I was a teenager? How many of my friends struggle to find a publisher for their idea for a book?
I couldn’t. I wouldn't.
“OK, let me think about it and I will get to you shortly” was then my answer, in order to keep them at bay for a little while I could try come up with an idea for a book that wasn't about me and was not a redundancy on all the other books about Japan out there.
The Content: 9 stories, 9 guides
Nine Stories of Tokyoites
Most guidebooks will open with a more or less extensive history of the city, some dates you are supposed to remember and a couple of facts that might give you an idea of the city’s past so you understand its present. I always suspect these pages are often skipped or forgotten. I wanted to have the reader understanding the 35 million people that moves everyday in Tokyo. My best bet is to pick 9 random characters, and follow them in their doings throughout a day. This might give us an idea where all those masses go every day, what their houses look like, how are they treated by their bosses or why their shoes are always shining. This seems to me a good way of explaining things in an understanding and hopefully memorable way.
When visiting, the foreigner have most contact with locals only because they are serving them or with a counter between them. The language barrier is so high, they barely get to talk to a real Tokyoite during their trips.
And nine area guides
Almost every week, a friend – or a friend of a friend – is coming to Tokyo for the first time and they ask me for some guidance, tips, ideas for places to go or things they shouldn’t miss. It’s tiring, to be honest. In order to know where to send you, I’d need to know what are your interests, why, when and for how long are you coming. Also if you have already a hotel booked, so whatever I tell you is in easy reach... Actually my friend Elizabeth has made it her business to give advice to visitors. No, this is not something I enjoy doing over and over.
But there’s something I love doing and gets me excited when I finally meet the visitors: the part when I go and praise Tokyo and its wonderful sides. Telling about the clean and safe neighborhoods, describing how inspiring the back streets are, why everything interesting in the city is actually hidden and why Tokyo covers its scars continuously. I noticed most of the visitors would not understand much of the city and even when they loved it, they were always a bit puzzled and only see half of things; so nobody really gets it. Mind you, I myself am just scratching the surface after 6 years! But hopefully I’ve learned enough to help people enjoy their visit more.
It will be en Español
As the publisher is Spanish, the book will be published in Spanish first. Would you be interested in publishing it in other languages, please do get in touch in the form below, I will put you in contact with my editor.
Working on it
And so this is what I am working on right now, with deadlines to mark the rhythm and hopefully you will be able to buy it next year, before the summer. Writing it, illustrating it and of course designing it. The guide book of the not-to-be-missed places and an approach to Tokyo’s people, a way to get to know them. This is what I want to make of Tokyo Handbook. By not only giving you a list of places to go, but also a bunch of stories of normal, real inhabitants of the city, I hope to give you a guide you can use to get yourself out there, enjoying the city more because you understand it.
Questions, requests and updates about the book
Wish me luck!