BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City’s Most Colorful Neighborhoods by Florent Chavouet

Tokyo on FootDuring a term I spent as a grad student in Yokohama, Japan, I wandered every free afternoon through nearby Tokyo with camera in hand. Knowing my time was limited, I even planned out a detailed schedule for which neighborhood (Tokyo is sprawling!) I would go to when. I did eventually mount all those endless pictures into photo albums (that’s all we had back then in the 20th century), although I couldn’t tell you where they are now …

But no matter, because Frenchman Florent Chavouet’s recent graphic memoir is a huge improvement on my anonymous photos … and for those familiar with Tokyo at all, it’s quite the remarkable, humorous, highly colorful walk down memory lane, as well.

Chavouet lands in Tokyo for six months in 2006, accompanying his partner while she completes an international internship. With time on his hands, “I started to draw, with no particular goal in mind. Accompanied by my two most faithful friends, a lady’s bicycle and a folding chair, I went scouring the streets to see what my new surroundings looked like.”

Divided into chapters that highlight a specific Tokyo neighborhood, Chavouet opens each with that neighborhood’s kōban, the local police precinct building. Stations vary in size and staff, but most in unique personality – you really need to see to fully appreciate Chavouet’s fabulously insightful humor. Then comes a hand-drawn map of just the specific neighborhood – “admittedly quite personal in their details” – that serves as a guide to that chapter’s unpredictable illustrations that follow. From what Chavouet saw, did, ate – bugs, festivals, storefronts, a fake French mansion, random drinks and snacks – his illustrations catch perfect little details you’ll never find in any guide book. His myriad of people (especially those kōban­ dwellers!) caught in the midst of their everyday lives are undoubtedly the book’s highlight.

Chavouet manages to survive on less than ¥900 a day (less than $8 in 2006!) on his creative forays, although he chides himself for not learning nearly enough Japanese. “[A]ll that observing and sketching,” however, did help him “develop his own visual style.” By the time he’s back in his native France, he’s got an award-winning, fascinating book that surely makes for ideal reading for both armchair tourists and peripatetic travelers alike.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2011 (United States)



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