There are few well-known must-see tourist attractions from which to get your bearings; not like London with Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly, New York with Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, or Paris with Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower (though, confusingly, Tokyo has one of those, too.)
No, Tokyo is not a city of things to see, so much as a city where people meet to create and exchange ideas--and have a rollicking good time when they can. Rick Kennedy introduces the stories and personalities of this utterly fascinating city to us.
Most of the Little Adventures are walking tours with explicit directions, a godsend in a densely-packed, chaotically organised place with an unintelligible address system. A city of Tokyo's size and wealth can afford to indulge almost every whim, and Kennedy shows a good selection of whims, both the eccentric and the commonplace. Perfect example: without this book, I would never have visited the particular art supplies shop where the brushmaker who supplied Picasso still works. I visited Akihabara several times before discovering that the radio building had an upstairs level...full of antiques.
Since few people have the room to entertain at home, Tokyo abounds in restaurants, bars, and other social places. Rick seems to have visited all of them. (A sister publication and website, Tokyo Q, gives an even better guide to restaurants, as well as being funkier)
The only thing that keeps me from giving this guide five stars is that a few of these little adventures really do require some Japanese language skill to get the best out of them, which Kennedy seems to gloss over.
But it's wonderful gloss. While the information Kennedy gives us is useful, the great joy of this book is its charming, poised, mature style. Better than Bill Bryson, and often as funny. A real pleasure to read.
When friends visit me in Tokyo, I send them my copy in advance. I find that they're able to amuse themselves admirably while I'm busy, and I can enjoy myself with them when I'm not.
Next edition, maybe he'll add an orientation walk around Shibuya? I work near Shibuya and visit regularly, but it still baffles me.
While not exactly an "off the beaten path" type of guide, there is plenty here to compliment a Lonely Planet or Frommer's. "Little Adventures in Tokyo" is more like having a friend showing you around his beloved city, from the top sites to his favorite hole-in-the-wall. Major attractions like Tsukiji, the famous fresh fish market (Adventure 10), are illuminated in fine detail. Interesting little bits like where to go for avante-guarde theater (Adventure 27) show an entirely different side. Variety is the key here, ranging from high priced to free, from esoteric to amusement.
The book is very well written, and can be read as a traveler's tales account of Tokyo in its own right, as well as used as a guide book. Several of the adventures I will never do, but I enjoyed reading about them all the same. It seems to be written a little more for residents than casual travelers, as several of the Adventures take some time.
The only word of warning is to take the prices with a grain of salt, as in Japan's rapidly changing economy things don't stay the same for long. I found everything to be about 100 yen more than the guide prices.
If you're on a whirlwind tour of Tokyo and/or Japan, you can leave this book at home. But if you'll be in Tokyo for even a week or more, I highly recommend trying the tea ceremony, seeing some minka, meditation, going to a public bath, etc. These are activities many Japanese people don't know about or don't take the time to do often. Moreover, they're activities that very few tourists (read: gaijin) do, so it is more of an enjoyable experience in my opinion.
Great book for those who enjoy places off the beaten path ...