‘Tokyo Stroll’ gives insider tips for Tokyo’s most iconic neighborhoods

"Tokyo Sroll" cover


By Gilles Poitras (Albany, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2022, 512 pp, $22.95, paperback)

Tokyo is the world’s biggest city, and visiting the megalopolis can be an overwhelming, bewildering experience. Most travelers are familiar with a handful of areas to stay in and landmarks to visit: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo Station, Sky Tree, Asakusa, Harajuku and Ueno. Those are the well-trodden destinations that tourists have gone to in the past and paved the way with reports of their journeys, photos and videos on social media.

But there’s more to Tokyo than the crowded hot spots. “Tokyo Stroll,” a new book by Gilles Poitras, is a handy guidebook that introduces readers to a new perspective on exploring the city and its many gems.

Poitras is an Oakland, Calif.-based expert on anime with three books about the topic: “Anime Essentials: Everything a Fan Needs to Know,” “The Anime Companion: What’s Japanese in Japanese Animation” and “The Anime Companion 2: More What’s Japanese in Japanese Animation?” As the last two suggest, Poitras is an expert not just in anime but in Japanese culture writ large. He’s also a well-traveled Japanophile, who’s been to Japan and walked the many districts and neighborhoods he describes in-depth in his latest book, “Tokyo Stroll: A Guide to City Sidetracks and Easy Explorations.”

This volume is designed as a guidebook for anyone who’s eager to explore the sites beyond mere touristy sightseeing and drink, dine and shop at the businesses that are off the beaten trail and crowded train stations. Poitras brings his deep knowledge of the best that Tokyo offers, and lists them in a useful format.

The format of “Tokyo Stroll” is unique from a typical book for travelers. Poitras starts the trip with an introductory section where he offers general tips and insights for traveling in Japan from “Things seen and not noticed”: the presence of koban, or small police stations in many neighborhoods; the prevalence of potted plants in front of residences; how to tell an apartment building from an office building; and how many waterways there are throughout Tokyo. Then he has extensive and useful advice for “Preparation and Arrival”: planning around the pandemic; which times of year to visit and when to avoid the crush of national holidays; the average temperatures for each month; whether to use credit cards vs. cash and how to use the IC cash cards that are the best ways to get around trains and subways; the importance of keeping your passport with you; the best navigation tools for getting around; a primer for the city’s bewildering-at-first train and subway systems; and of course some fundamental rules of etiquette in Japan.

Then, Poitras gets to the meat of the book — the Tokyo Stroll Guide.

The guide is his expertly curated and knowledgeable walking tour of 22 areas, including touristy destinations like Akihabara and Kanda to Asakusa and Ginza, as well as the areas around Shinjuku and Shibuya Stations. But he also covers lesser-known areas around Tokyo, such as Fukagawa, Hongo and Ningyocho. And even with the touristy spots, he explains the rich histories of the shops people might otherwise wander past, and guides readers to lesser-known side streets and alleyways to out-of-the-way shops and family-owned eateries.

For each area, Poitras includes maps with numbered locations of business, restaurants and landmarks worth visiting. And with each place, he includes insightful histories, sharing when a restaurant was opened in the 1800s, or when a shrine was built hundreds of years earlier. The book also features photographs he’s taken on his travels.

Even if you don’t get to visit every district and place he’s included (who can, especially in just one trip?), readers will feel enlightened and be more familiar with the real Tokyo, not just the surface stuff where tourists swarm.

Poitras doesn’t stop with just the book, either. As a living digital addendum, he maintains a “Tokyo Stroll” Facebook group where he posts extra insights on Tokyo, updated information, links to articles in Japanese and U.S. media about travel to Japan (not just Tokyo), and interacts with members of his community.

The book and social media make a perfect pair and a way to truly appreciate Tokyo and the culture of Japan through Poitras’ guidance.

In addition to the Facebook group, Poitras also has added a Tokyo Stroll Supplement page to his Website, with links to sections on “Eating in Tokyo,” “Regular Events and Festivals” and “Tokyo on the Cheap,” as well as additions and corrections to places worth visiting. https://koyagi.com/TokyoStroll/TSmain.html.

One response to “‘Tokyo Stroll’ gives insider tips for Tokyo’s most iconic neighborhoods”

  1. Hiromi Y. Somawang Avatar
    Hiromi Y. Somawang

    Hello Gil, This book looks like a wonderful resource. I’m going to Tokyo in a few weeks!

    Can you recommend any books about Japan that are “good reads”. ?

    Your input would be greatly appreciated!

    Hiromi (a happily retired teacher (of 13 years) in Fresno, CA.)

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