Tokyo: City on the Edge by Todd Crowell and Stephanie Forman Morimura (Asia2000)

Ernie Hoyt, Tokyo resident, unearths a different sort of guidebook that illuminates his hometown.


I can't help but love Tokyo, as it's been my adoptive city for almost fifteen years now. But to have visitors appreciate what some people have described as an urban metropolis, concrete jungle, city that never sleeps, city of contrasts or safest city in the world and a number of other cliches, it's nice to find two authors who share my special love for this city. They are Todd Crowell and Stephanie Forman Morimura. Crowell lived in Tokyo during the '50s and returned as a military intelligence officer in the '60s. He currently resides in Hong Kong where he writes for Asiaweek. Morimura moved to Tokyo in 1980 to work for the International Education Center on a two year contract. She met and married a Japanese national and made Tokyo her home.

I should point out that this is not a guide book to Tokyo. It does not have a listing of what's the best place to eat or where the cheapest place to stay can be found. It's about the city as a whole. The authors describe Tokyo as a "collection of villages" where each neighborhood has its own character and charm. It's a city in which twenty private railway lines and a dozen or so subway lines transports its million- plus dwellers to and from work everyday. A city in which the world's 500 largest companies are found,100 of which have their head offices here.

If you came to Tokyo as a first- time visitor, you would most likely land at Narita International Airport, located forty-five minutes outside the city by train. Once leaving the terminal, you would be surprised to see miles of rice fields and farmland, not the sprawling city of concrete you might have imagined. Once you board the train headed into town, the first major site you will see would be Tokyo Disneyland - however, you will still not be in Tokyo proper as Tokyo Disneyland is located in Chiba Prefecture.

You might also be surprised to find that in 1943, Tokyo was abolished as a city. It has become Tokyo-To which includes outlying suburbs and a few islands off the coast.

Tokyo Proper consists of 23 wards that each have a character all of their own. A few are introduced in this book to give an idea of the diversity of the city. In Arakawa Ward, you will find the last remaining Ding-Dong Trolley. It runs from Minowabashi to Waseda. In Sumida Ward, just north of the Ryogokukan (the building where sumo bouts take place), is a monument dedicated to those lives lost in the Great Kanto Earthquake and Fire of 1923 and to the victims of American firebombing in 1945 during World War II. (Although the book does not mention where this is, I went searching on my own and discovered it to be in a place called Yokoamicho Park.)

To get a glimpse of Tokyo's X Generation, all you have to do is head to Harajuku and Shibuya in Shibuya Ward. Not only will you find the latest in teen fashion, but you will find a host of gourmet restaurants as well. In Shinjuku Ward, you will come across Hyakunincho-- which plays home to Russian hookers and the Yakuza at night while by day it's a bustling Korea Town.

You are also introduced to some other neighborhoods that have their own claim to fame. Den-En Chofu is one such place, considered the Beverly Hills of Tokyo. Another is Yanaka-- where the residents fought to preserve old neighborhoods and buildings, and now use them as ateliers and boutiques. There is the Odaiba District -- Tokyo's waterfront city which could be compared to New York's Coney Island.

For anybody with an interest in Tokyo, this will be a delightful trip through an amazing place. I'm still finding new places to explore and new things to experience-- even after spending fifteen years in the middle of this wonderful city.