Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Tokyo On Foot" by Florent Chavouet

I've been coming back and forth to and from Tokyo for the past 25 years, and it is without a doubt an amazing city on so many levels.  It has been said before, but Tokyo is sort of like numerous layers of an onion.  Each layer is a unique taste, and I often feel Tokyo is sort of a city with many dimensions - in sort of a Philip K. Dick way of looking at a landscape or even JG Ballard.  Also for the past 25 years I have been trying to write a long prose piece about the city, but it never came out good in my opinion.  I think my problem is that I am trying to locate a position to write from  - and Tokyo is very much like a devilishly tasty ice cream cone.  There are so many ways to eat that cone, all of it pleasant, but never the essential all-over experience.  After so many years, I am still acquiring new things about the city.

Florent Chavouet, is a French artist/illustrator who stayed in Tokyo for a bit, and this is his visual journal of sorts.  He wisely divides the book into different sections of the city, and gives a very subjective, yet I think the popular view of each area of the city.  Which means the iconic as well as something personal.    There have been a few books I have read by foreigners (either British or American) that strikes me as either just plain wrong or naive at its worst, but here Chavouet goes into each area and just draws various people and buildings, but he adds details either through his illustration or minimal text.   It's not a right or wrong approach to the city, but it is own approach and it is highly personal and quirky in a very good way.   Also his map drawings are very good.  You can use it if you wish to take this book with you.  On the other hand it is a large book, so it is not made for a tourist, but perhaps for someone who either lives in Tokyo, and is either a foreigner or a Tokyo-citizen who is curious how a Frenchman looks at his or her's culture.

My favorite little part is when he gets arrested for a stolen bike (he's innocent) and was taken to the local police station.  His observations are never mean - spirited, but also quite informative.  A wonderful book.

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