Tourbooks for residents

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Tokyo is so big, so bustling and so very full of attractions that every overwhelmed citizen has a dilemma: Where to go when you're feeling bored or stuck in a rut? Luckily for us, there is a popular market for city guides. Every bookstore has a section devoted to them.

They are all in Japanese but you don't have to be completely literate to use them. As long as you take the time to decode the key points, they books are perfectly useful. The more you can read, the better, but it's not strictly necessary.

We picked up Tabearuki Navi Tokyo ("Trying the food at various restaurants Navigation Tokyo") published by Shobunsha. It lists "from old favorites to the new open, 500 delicious restaurants."

In typical fashion for Japanese non-fiction books, there is a huge amount of information squeezed into a small space. In each entry's 7x10 cm slot, a photograph dominates the left half, with a sample menu and prices as the caption. On the right, symbols indicate whether this is a good place for a date or dining alone, whether it's best for families, salarymen or women. There's information on the location and type of restaurant, as well as the average price for lunch and dinner. A short paragraph explains what makes the restaurant worthwhile. Below that, come all the necessary details: phone number, hours, address, how many seats, credit cards details and so on. The final row of symbols encodes whether they restaurant does parties, private rooms, has parking, smoking or take-away.

This is just one of scores of guides. Hanako women's magazine publishes a range of mook (magazine-books) directing trendy office ladies to the hottest eateries and boutiques; OZ magazine gets into the act with its OZ mini guides for Tokyo neighborhoods. Kodansha, Japan's largest publisher, has a bewildering number of monthly magazines focussing on new products for men and women, food, and city travel.

So next time you're bored and looking for something new to amuse yourself, go to the bookstore.

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