In the early 1990s, writer and teacher Wayne Aponte had moved across the world from his hometown of New York City to Tokyo, Japan. In his book, The Year of No Money in Tokyo, Aponte openly details the personal and financial struggles he went through after hastily quitting the busy and stressful job that brought him to the city. Despite rough times, Aponte found a way to live a personally meaningful life in one of the most expensive cities in the world – and he still calls that city home.
After reading about his experience in Tokyo, I decided to ask Aponte to share some travel thoughts about the city. I hoped that he might be able to give some honest information that would reflect the candid writing-style he uses in his book, and he did not disappoint.
The following are excerpts of an email interview with Wayne Aponte:
J.W: As someone who has lived in Japan for almost two decades, can you suggest one thing a first time visitor to Japan should try, see, or do?
W.A: I have only lived in Tokyo. I don’t know much about other Japanese cities. Having said that, first-time visitors should take a Hato Bus tour and visit the predictable sightseeing spots. The more adventurous should consider a helicopter tour of Tokyo.
J.W: In your book, you mention various activities you did in Tokyo despite having little or no money. What would you recommend in Tokyo for someone traveling to Japan on a very tight budget?
W.A: Were I on a very tight budget, I would avoid Japan as a tourist, in all honesty. But I think an organized bus tour would be at the top of the list. There are also some free walking tours on offer conducted by local volunteers that may be of interest to people on tight budgets.
J.W: You mention in your book of your love of reading, and note that you often frequent book stores when you have the chance. What is the best book store in Tokyo in your opinion?
W.A: That’s a hard one because I tend to buy a lot of books online these days. But Kitazawa bookstore in Jimbocho is one of my favorite ones. The marble floors, formal atmosphere and range of English-language books will resonate with first-time visitors.
J.W: I am feeling slightly famished. Can you recommend a good place to eat in the Tokyo area?
W.A: I prefer fast-food and family restaurants. Places such as Yoshinoya, Bamiyan, and Saizeriya, as well as Jonathan’s and Mosburger, are good for those on a budget. Other reasonable options are lunch boxes sold at Department Stores. Maisen in Omote Sando is a fine choice for fried pork cutlet.
J.W: Do you have any favorite secrets in Tokyo that travelers might be interested in?
W.A: Yes, but I’m going to have to keep them secret. LOL. I do, however, have a recommendation. Tourists should visit the website www.bento.com for restaurant information in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The site is in English and allows visitors to search in terms of cuisine, location, and atmosphere. It’s very comprehensive and has lots of announcements on food-related things.
J.W: After being in Japan so long, is there anything in the country that you now could not live without?
W.A: I think it would be hard to live without my Japanese friends. Apart from that, domestic rice has become a kind of addiction–and my rice cooker.
J.W: Thank you for your time.
W.A: My pleasure.
Continuing to consider my questions, Aponte emailed later to add that travlers on a tight budget should visit the “many lovely parks in the Tokyo metropolitan area, such as Shinjuku Gyoen Park, which is my favorite; Showa Kinen Park, where they can rent bikes and boats; Koganei Park, which contains The Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum that has a lot of gorgeous old buildings; and Inogashira Park, which has a zoo and Hayao Miyazaki`s Ghibli Museum, if they are interested in animation.”
Wayne Aponte’s book, The Year of No Money in Tokyo, is available in both hardback and electronic editions. Check out Aponte’s website, www.wayneaponte.com, or my full review of his book for more information.
Read more about Japan by the Japan Travel Examiner