Asia Art Tours interviewed Gianni Simone: a  Japan correspondent for both Vogue Italia and Zoom Japon magazines. Gianni has also contributed to a number of Italian, French and English publications including The Japan Times, Metropolis, Animation Magazine and CNN Travel.

 You can find out more about Gianni and other Japan Writers in our  “Old silent pond… A frog jumps into the pond, splash!” Literary Tour of Japan 

 How did you start writing about Japan? 

As soon as I arrived in Japan, back in 1992, I fell in love with Tokyo and decided I wanted to write a city guidebook. Unfortunately Italian publishers were only interested in translating foreign guides (Lonely Planet, etc.). So I decided to self-publish my writings. The result was an English zine called Orga{ni}sm that I traded with other zine makers. One copy somehow ended up in the hands of an Italian writer who introduced me to a Vogue Italia editor. Strangely enough, my zine connection was also instrumental in finding freelance work in Japan as my first article for The Japan Times was about the local DIY scene. 

What have been some of the more interesting stories you’ve written about as a journalist?

I’ve been very lucky to meet and interview many interesting people who have shared their stories and helped me understand this country better.

In November 2014 I wrote a series of articles about natural disasters for Zoom Japon, and talking to the head of the Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park, I realized that I was living on top of a huge time bomb ready to go off any time. On a lighter note, I had a lot of fun writing about housing in Japan for The Japan Times. Whenever I can, I like to add a healthy dose of black humor to my stories, and this article ended up in the JT’s top ten list for that year. Last but not least, as a big fan of everything otaku, in 2016 I had the honor of interviewing Tsuburaya Production’s president Shin’ichi Ooka and actor Susumu Kurobe when Zoom Japan devoted a special to Ultraman’s 50th anniversary 

What advice would you give to those interested in writing about Japan? 

Obviously if you want to go beyond the surface (that in Japan can be quite misleading) you should try to master the language as better as possible. Also, don’t be afraid of throwing away your map and getting lost. Quite often the best discoveries are to be found by chance, right behind the corner.

 What do you predict will be the biggest Japan story in the next 5 years? 

The Olympic Games are only two years away, and they are going to monopolize the news pages. It will be interesting to see how well the country is going to cope with the huge surge in foreign visitors. Apart from that, I’m not very good at predicting things, so I would like to add a wish: I hope the Japanese will become more proactive and critical of the powers that be, and stop delegating everything to power-thirsty politicians.  

Lastly, what are some of your favorite Japan writers and stories that you would recommend? 

I love anything by Rey Ventura. This Filipino writer first came to Japan as an illegal worker (an experience he chronicled in the seminal Underground in Japan). As one of very few foreign commentators who is not a privileged white expat, his take on life in Japan is always original and thought-provoking. Donald Richie is justly famous for introducing western readers to many aspects of Japanese culture and society. My favorite work is The Inland Sea. Another great read is Will Ferguson’s Hokkaido Highway Blues about his cross-country hitch-hiking adventures. To those who are into Japanese cinema and entertainment I recommend Mark Schilling books, particularly his Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture, while those who want to know why it’s always better to behave while in Japan should read Kazuichi Hanawa’s manga memoir Doing Time and Paul Murphy’s True Crime Japan.

(Gianni with Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Director: Kenji Kamiyama) 

In 2017 Gianni  published his first book, Tokyo Geek’s Guide, and keeps blogging about Japanese otaku culture at One of Gianni’s passions is urban exploration. He is hopelessly in love with Tokyo and looks forward to sharing his findings with you.

Author Matt Dagher-margosian

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