ARTS & MORE: When armchair travel is a last resort
BY LOUIS TEMPLADO, STAFF WRITER
2008/8/1There's only one bad thing about traveling: You have to leave town to do it. Some of us have just come back from vacation, after all, and there's the stuff we need to catch up on.
Fortunately there's a way to work off wanderlust: Travel-themed places right here in Tokyo where you can get a taste of the road even as you plan your next escape.
"Not everyone who comes here is actually planning a trip. Some people prefer just reading about it," says Masakazu Kawata, who runs the bookstore Nomado, located in the Nishiogi neighborhood of Tokyo's Suginami Ward.
It's not the only specialty travel bookstore in Tokyo--there's 246 Bookstore in Aoyama, with its many photo books, as well as Map House in Kanda, with its collection of maps--but Nomado has the broadest selection. There are standard-issue backpackers' bibles such as the Lonely Planet series alongside self-published guidebooks and travel diaries and unusual merchandise such as khanga shawls from Africa, displayed with a book explaining how to wear them.
Nomado migrated to Nishiogi one year ago from nearby Kichijoji, where it opened nine years ago, when it was the only shop of its kind.
A lot has changed in Japanese traveling patterns since, Kawata says.
"Before there used to be quite a lot of books meant for backpack-style travelers," he says, filled with nuts and bolts details on how to rough it. "Now most of the customers here are women. The books that catch their interest are about fashion, things you can buy overseas and where to eat.
"Now many guidebooks are really more like shopping diaries."
It's a shift that Kawata doesn't claim to understand. He himself was a backpacker who trekked through 50 countries before settling down behind the counter. His aim, he says, is to turn the place into a salon, where travel writers and photographers can present their works.
If book browsing still isn't enough to slake the thirst for the road, then Travel Cafe Bliss--not to be confused with the Travel Cafe chain--might be worth a visit.
Located in the Harajuku district of Shibuya Ward, Bliss is by turns a cafe, a party venue, a travel agency and a gallery. On the menu can be found such items as Bali coffee, Turkish tea and Argentine mate tea, served in a hollowed gourd--meant to bring back memories of trips past. Meanwhile in a booth sits owner Nobuhiro Koga, who dispenses advice and arranges tickets for travelers as well.
"What I do is a lot like "travel image training," says Koga, who started the cafe nine years ago as a more personal and relaxed alternative to travel agency offices. "Often, people choose a destination but don't know why or what to do when they get there. I talk them through it until a concrete plan comes into view."
The Internet, he says, has dramatically changed the way Japanese travel--but not all for the good.
"Even 10 years ago agents were still using telephones and faxes to arrange itineraries," he says. "And about some places we had no information at all. If you wanted to go somewhere it was because you had really set your mind to it.
"Now there's too much information," he adds. "Travel has become like fashion. People now mix and match whatever's in front of them, without thinking deeply about it."
The cure however is simple: reading a few more books, perusing a few maps, and talking to people who've come back with stories. In short, all it takes is a little more armchair travel.(IHT/Asahi: August 1,2008)