Experience the serene Zen gardens coexist and the sensory overload of Shinjuku’s neon lights from the comfort of your home with these incredible books, movies and albums.
What to read
Florent Chavouet’s 2009 book, Tokyo on Foot, is still of interest today because the author is an artist with an eye for quirky details who captures what he sees in charming drawings and whimsical notes. This isn’t a guidebook but a timeless “graphic memoir” of people and neighbourhoods discovered over six months of exploring. (Note the paperback is easier to pore over than the e-book.)
◖ The Devotion of Suspect X (2005): Keigo Higashino’s thriller about an awkward maths genius, his single-mother neighbour and the death of her abusive ex-husband was a phenomenon in Japan, selling two million copies. Sparely written but intricately plotted, it will keep you guessing right to the end.
What to watch
In the satirical drama Tokyo Sonata (2008), a middle-class family splinters after the father loses his job but is too ashamed to tell his wife and sons. It’s the younger boy’s secret gift for piano that offers solace as this Cannes prize winner builds to its moving finale.
◖ Tampopo (1985): A joyful mix of offbeat comedy, heartfelt romance, food obsession, violence and unabashed M-rated (albeit creative) eroticism, this cult favourite was described by its director as a “ramen western”.
◖ Godzilla (1954): The special effects look hokey now but Japan’s postwar trauma is clear in the iconic radioactive-monster movie. Seek out the restored original and avoid the Americanised 1956 version.
What to listen to
Ryuichi Sakamoto has been making music for more than 40 years, first with pioneering techno band Yellow Magic Orchestra then as a solo artist and collaborator. He is also the Oscar-winning composer of film soundtracks, including Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) and The Revenant (2015). The album Playing the Piano (2009) is a powerful solo acoustic reworking of a dozen of his best- loved pieces.
◖ Akogare (2016): You don’t have to know Japanese to enjoy this melodic, upbeat single from indie rock quartet Mitsume.
◖ Pick Me Up (2015): J-pop, Japan’s homegrown cousin to Korea’s K-pop, is powered by young things who look adorable while singing and dancing in perfect unison. Google the clip of this hit from girl group Perfume.