Although it has been years since I’ve traveled in mesmerizing Tokyo, my memories are as vivid as though they had been sparked yesterday—pleasures aswirl in unique flavors and music, creativity and ingenuity. So when luxury publisher Assouline released the new book Tokyo Chic, I dove into its 312 thick-paper-stock pages, with more than 200 photographs and illustrations, which are bound in an outsize (10-by-13-inches, 6.4-pounds) format—a hefty hardcover wrapped in silk. The brainchild of Andrea Fazzari, whose deft imagery and words are love letters to the inimitable capital, Tokyo Chic showcases a massively enthralling—yet strikingly intimate—city. Currently based in Tokyo, Fazzari is a James Beard Award-winning photographer, author and restaurant maven with notable backgrounds in fashion and film. Born in New York City, she has lived in France, Hong Kong, Italy, Spain and Thailand—and speaks four languages. What a sophisticated guide to have at your armchair traveler’s fingertips! Indeed, this coffee table tome would make a treasured holiday gift for those who have already vacationed in Japan or simply dream of doing so.
Care, Courtesy and Hospitality
Fazzari launches the book’s introduction by sharing a key anecdote that I find instantly relatable. She writes: “As I say thank you and leave the restaurant after dinner, I realize they are trailing me down the street. The click-clack of geta (traditional wooden-soled shoes) against the pavement cuts through the evening quiet of the Shinbashi neighborhood as a legendary 80-year-old chef and his daughter, in a kimono, engage me in this long goodbye. Each time that I turn to check if they are still there, they are, waving and bowing, the distance between us growing. Chef Nishi remains especially attentive, bowing deeply—his cane his only support—as I turn a final corner. Part of me yearns to go back to see if he is still there; such care, courtesy and heartfelt hospitality endear him to me. And each time this singular ritual of omiokuri (the honorable farewell) happens here in Tokyo, or elsewhere in Japan—especially after a meal or stay at a ryokan, or upon leaving a store—emotion overtakes me.”
I, too, remember the remarkable day that I departed my Tokyo hotel, curiously aware that—as I left the front desk for my waiting taxi—four staff members trailed me across the grand lobby and followed outside beyond the ornately wood-carved, double-entry doors. Silently, they smiled while the driver loaded my luggage into the car’s trunk. Then, standing precisely in a row, they bowed to me in unison and gently waved as my vehicle inched forward. It was a joyful parting gesture that carried me in high spirits back home to the United States. I still draw on the warmth of that touching adieu scene, a pivotal endnote. I knew then that Japan would forever remain particularly irresistible to me.
What elevates this ambitious book from so many other travelogues is its sumptuous optics. Fazzari focuses her sharp yet tender lens at bursts of rich colors, textures, shapes, patterns. Notice her perspectives of the city’s pulsating rush-rush, hush-hush rhythms. Examine her sashay of buzzy urban movements and serene nature-lavish pauses. Spy Tokyo’s humor. Applaud its dynamic biz acumen. Embrace its distinctive elegance. Gaze at lush landscapes, koi ponds, floral gardens and verdant arrangements. Stare at museums, galleries, public sculptures and murals. Delight in Fazzari’s spring-fresh captures of pink cherry blossom trees during Sakura season. Eye Imperial Palace—the main residence of the Emperor of Japan, built on the site of the old Edo Castle. Peer at Tokyo Tower, the observation-broadcasting structure rising 1,092 feet. Observe fabled hotspots, impressive shrines and pagodas, architecture-stretching skyscrapers, fascinating residences, stores galore, restaurants (oh, the culinary mastery is mind-boggling!) and lounges-bars (for sake and shochu), dance workshops, painter studios and performance spaces.
Many of Fazzari’s descriptive experiences in Tokyo Chic point to nourishing comfort, while aiming, too, for excitement. “Tokyo feels like home,” she explains, “despite my family’s origins from another continent and my years living in other countries.” Stories about her first visit to Japan convince us how easy it is to fall for Tokyo. “Each day was a dizzying adventure,” Fazzari exclaims.
As a Japan newbie on her initial touchdown, Fazzari rejoiced at Tsukiji Market “for a thrilling tuna auction; we devoured sushi at five a.m. We prayed at Meiji Shrine, where I purchased a silk omamori (amulet),” she writes. “I saw my first Kabuki performance at the Kabukiza in Ginza.” Fazzari celebrates Tokyo as an epicenter of expansive ideas and cherished delicate details. She talks about Japanese films, as well as American movies set in Tokyo, such as Lost in Translation—directed by Sofia Coppola; starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. She features a bounty of chefs (her passion) and savors nihonryori (Japanese cuisine)—kaiseki, soba, unagi, sushi, tempura—not only for sustenance, but also for its aesthetic presentation. She heralds fashion highlights—including vintage kimonos and the cutting-edge modernism of designers Junko Koshino, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto. And she marvels at “meticulous packaging with washi (traditional handmade paper), at breathtaking displays in depachika (basement food halls in department stores) and at the poetry and discipline of the tea ceremony,” Fazzari pens. “Even the humble onigiri (rice ball) enticed me, as did the omnipresent aromas of dashi and shoyu, and the most gracious deferential manners. When I was exploring on foot, both the daring and the traditional architecture, as well as the ubiquitous noren (curtains hung in doorways of shops and restaurants or between rooms), caught my admiring attention. So did the white-gloved taxi drivers and the impeccable metro system, where the sound of chirping birds was piped in. There [were]…so many seasonal matsuri (festivals) that I could not keep count.”
Once again, reading Fazzari’s Tokyo Chic passages prompts my flashbacks to an ancestor-revered festival that I stumbled upon in a large Tokyo park one late summer evening years ago. Lanterns and thousands of tiny twinkling lights were strung between tree boughs, as hundreds of families, including grandmothers and little granddaughters who were dressed in kimonos, danced together in choreographed-like steps to the resounding boom-boom-boom beat of muscular musicians on the spotlit stage, swaying and pounding their huge mallets atop enormous drums. It is an achievement when an author is not only able to open future horizons for readers, but also to stimulate recall of the best of their travel past.
“Everything was different,” Fazzari explains, about her first foray in Tokyo. “I wanted to know why things were the way they were.” So with her Pentax camera, she “scampered around, asking people if I could photograph them.” How fortunate readers of Tokyo Chic are that often the answer was yes.
Since then and throughout her moments in Tokyo, Japanese “have opened their lives to me in this singular megalopolis, a network of 23 special wards and 39 other municipalities, making it the most populous metropolitan area in the world…. It is layered, complex and idiosyncratic, its vast culture and social norms offering me a heightened, thrilling and sometimes challenging reality.” In Tokyo Chic, be aware of kaleidoscopic canvases of Japanese life and neighborhoods that Fazzari chronicles: an artist with lengthy dreadlocks in Omotesandō; an androgynous couple both wearing hot pink garb in Harajuku; four uniformed schoolgirls strolling after class to the subway in Roppongi; musicians playing the shamisen, a plucked string instrument; and a salaryman gazing out the window of a Shinkansen train car. Fazzari’s flame is lit by “Tokyo’s chicness—super-charged within its power of simplicity, style and design.” She is intoxicated by the Japanese constant striving for perfection.
Fazzari has talked with a profusion of Tokyoites, among them: actors, architects, artists, coffee connoisseurs, dancers, designers, entrepreneurs, gardeners, hoteliers, lacquer makers, mixologists, musicians, shopkeepers, sumo wrestlers, textile producers, writers and geishas. “In Akasaka, I met the geisha Ikuko, a professional entertainer in traditional Japanese performing arts and social skills,” writes Fazzari. “Ikuko was neatly enrobed in a dark-blue kimono with white butterflies, a flash of orange under her robe, her hair sculpted into a…chignon. I had come to photograph her…. Choosing to be a highly skilled geisha gave her economic independence and the ability to resist societal pressures to marry and have children; she thanked me for acknowledging her strength of character and self-reliance…. As Ikuko opened her expansive closet of folded kimonos, pulling out a few to try on, she reminded me that geishas were Japan’s original autonomous businesswomen.”
Another intriguing personality: Fazzari connects with third-generation temple priest Keiko Kagiono, who accepted her role out of a sense of duty to her family “when her father could no longer fulfill his responsibilities on his own,” writes Fazzari. Initially, Kagiono desired a career as an industrial designer. “Now she is content and at peace, pleased with her vocation and ability to continue her family’s legacy, the Japanese theme of ikigai—sense of purpose and responsibility.”
Learn about Japanese customs and etiquette, goals and breakthroughs, amusements and delicacies in a “city that holds more adventure and possibility than I could ever experience in five lifetimes,” Fazzari muses. “In Tokyo, I will always find mystery, beauty and challenges…. In Tokyo, I feel wonder.” You can, too.
Manske recommends: For further info about planning a trip to Tokyo, reach out to the Japan National Tourism Organization, which has an office in New York City. The five-star Park Hyatt Tokyo, in the hub of Shinjuku with 360-degree views of the city and Mount Fuji, is a favorite getaway and appears in Tokyo Chic. Looking for an ace travel advisor? Contact a Virtuoso agent and consider deluxe Japan tours.