Book author and travel expert, Charles Spreckley, a Brit living in Japan has just launched his book about Tokyo. Charles is an ex-journalist who have been living in Tokyo for 15 years and have recently turned his love for Tokyo into a book called – People Make Places and a travel business. He was in Hong Kong recently to launch his book at Kapok where its sold. People Make Places introduces 48 Tokyo destinations that have heart, soul and a personality inherited from their creators. It focuses on the clothing designer and her boutique; the cocktail maker and his bar; and the bladesmith and his knife shop. He gives us an insider guide to his favorite ‘people and places’ and exclusive recommendations on what we want to know to enjoy Tokyo like an insider.
What do you love most about Japan?
Something surprises you every day. You’re always discovering things. Not only places. But also new reflections on life. Things happen differently in Japan, and it makes you look at your own assumptions about how things ‘should’ be, and question them.
Tell us about your current project?
I’m promoting my project People Make Places, which is a printed and digital book about Tokyo’s amazing creative culture: chefs and their restaurants, baristas and their coffee shops, designers and their fashion brands. We took beautiful photos of all of them and interviewed them in depth. And we have a travel service that helps people visit them.
How do you select the people to feature in your book?
The only criteria for being in the book is that when you visit the place, it leaves you with that sensation that feels like ‘I love Japan’. Anyone who has been to Tokyo will know what I mean. You stumble across an amazing place that is both brilliant and humble, and you feel like you never want to be anywhere else.
Top 3 designers from the book doing great stuff that you’ve discovered?
Volga Volga: A design due, one Japanese and one Russian, who learned from Yohji Yamamoto and Hanae Mori. No surprise, then, that their garments are clean and sharp. But they’re also brutal around the edges. Feels like a great combination of Japanese calm and Russian fire!
TOGA: Yasuko Furuta, the designer, always delights and I love her empowering vision for women’s fashion in a culture where many people feel boxed in. And her ethos of reselling items from previous collections in parallel to her new garments is just pure common sense.
John Lawrence Sullivan: For menswear, this brand pulls not punches – appropriately for a designer, Arashi Yanagawa, who used to be a boxed. He knows how to make a suit. But he also knows how to make it iconic, with colours and shapes, without losing the timelessness that every good suit should have.
Where to eat?
Breakfast: Baishinka has a wonderful Japanese breakfast – rare in Tokyo outside the main hotels. The clean, natural minimalism of the architecture is also magical. In the suburbs but worth the journey. (Reservations required.) www.yakumosaryo.jp/baishinka 3-4-7 Yakumo, Meguro-ku. 03-5731-1620
Lunch: Kawakami-an is the soba noodle restaurant I go to more than any other, because it balances high quality with decent portions sizes and a nice relaxed atmosphere. The noodles are think and textured. The walnut dipping sauce is to die for. Nice cool crowd, too, and open until late at night. kawakamian.com 3-14-1 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku. 03-5411-7171
Dinner: Tanyaki Shinobu is one of my favorite places to eat from the People Make Places book. It’s totally casual and has a great vibe of people relaxing after work. They basically only have beef tongue, served in a variety of styles, all simple, all delicious – especially washed down with a nice cold beer. No website. 16 Saneicho, Shinjuku-ku. 03-3355-6338
The 3 places you recommend people who have been to japan and are looking to get an authentic Japan experience:
Cafe Lion in Shibuya. Truly an only-in-Japan experience: an escape from reality, with a certain gothic romance. Less like a coffee shop, more like a church to classical music, with massive speakers in place of an alter. To be enjoyed in silence. 2-19-13 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku. 03-3461-6858. No website.
Sakurai Tea in Aoyama. This is old Japan in the contemporary era. The interior is slick and the hospitality super professional. Get the three-step gokurocha tea, which is more caffeinated than espresso, but without the mania. You also get to eat the leaves! 5G 5-6-23 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-6451-1539 sakurai-tea.jp
Kiyosumi-teien. I love this old garden so much I’ll travel all the way across the city to get there. There is everything you need from a Japanese garden — hungry carp, stone bridges, and a teahouse. All for 150 yen!
Any custom to follow in Japan from your experience you would like to see more from tourist?
People should show up for restaurant reservations. The chefs make the food especially for each guest, so if you don’t show up, all their work is wasted. They have to throw it away. It’s not about the money to them — it’s a simple matter of respect.
Your favourite souvenir to buy from Japan to gift your dearest friends ?
I’m obsessed with ceramics. Utsuwa Kenshin has amazing stuff from really cool young ceramic artists from across Japan in his tardis-size shop. utsuwa-kenshin.com 2-3-4 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-64279282
Your tips to enjoy Japan like a local?
Get a bicycle, amazing for exploring the backstreets of local neighbourhoods like Nakameguro or Yoyogiuehara. Ignore the Michelin guide — the best dining experiences are almost always casual. And get to know the people — that’s what People Make Places is all about. It makes things more memorable that way.