Tokyo Realtime is a series of audio-guided walking tours through Tokyo’s interesting neighbourhoods. Since it is not possible to currently travel to Japan due to the current situation around COVID-19, the makers of Tokyo Realtime have made two Tokyo soundwalks free to enjoy.
Expect to learn a thing or two or ten about a certain part of Tokyo while listening to the pleasant voices of narrators Max Hodges and Patrick W. Galbraith. On the website of Tokyo Realtime, they will offer you a map, gallery, some more information about the neighbourhood and the people who worked on these soundwalks. The audio tours are supported with sound effects belonging to the story told by the narrator and music to give extra atmosphere to the tour.
Just a few minutes from Shinjuku Station, you will find the Kabukicho district, a very known entertainment (and red-light) district. In an hour you will imagine yourself in Japan by taking a virtual walkthrough Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, starting from the train station. You will get an insight into the history of Kabukicho, interesting locations to visit and places to grab a bite or take a drink. In total there is 1 hour and 4 minutes of audio material about (the nightlife of) Kabukicho and it is not meant for people below the age of 18, since there is a chance of red ears.
For a lot of people with an interest in anime and manga, this place is the most important location to visit, we are talking about Tokyo’s Electric Town, Akihabara. While being welcomed by a robotic voice, Navi, to set the atmosphere of this soundwalk, soon you will be greeted by the voice of Patrick W. Galbraith who will guide you to the interesting locations in the Akihabara area. Since the narrator calls himself an otaku and has written books about the topic, so he seems to be a perfect choice as a tour guide. From maid cafes, interesting shops, good places to game, (chika) idols and more, if you want to get to know ‘Akiba’ better, this audio walk might be of interest to you. Although here is also the warning that every now and then topics are discussed that are more suitable for people towards adulthood. In this audio tour more space is given to Patrick Macias, who has been an editor for Otaku USA Magazine until 2014 and has written several books about Japanese pop culture.
Since the narrators are not originally from Japan their point of view and their examples (like referring to Walmart) differs from what you might expect from a tour organised by natives. It is not something to be bothered about, so you will be having fun with 2 hours of listening material. Of course, it is not the same as physically walking around in these neighbourhoods while being guided by this audio tour. The soundwalks are not only filled with the narrator talking, you can also listen to a few interviews that they had with people from these neighbourhoods or people with more knowledge about these locations to give more depth. The audio tours do feel that you are walking around with a tour guide who has the best knowledge and tips for you to have a pleasant stay. Both audio tours feel adventurous, so you tend to keep listening. If you haven’t visited the locations before, this is a great start.
It is unknown how long these free soundwalks will stay online, so if you have some free time, don’t forget to check this out. Since things are changing very fast, Harajuku is a good recent example of this, it is more than logical that these free audio tours might feel dated here and there. You notice it especially when Governor Ishihara is mentioned, who was the Governor of Tokyo from 1999 to 2012. But that does not mean that everything in these audio tours is outdated, the audio tour about Kabukicho was released in 2008 and Akihabara was released in 2010. In addition to the digital version of these audio walks, there is also a possibility to have access to a physical package with a CD, booklet with photos of the area and a map. It is interesting to note that there are only two audio tours made, about Kabukicho and Akihabara. If there are new audio tours on the way is unknown, but if they are still being made it might be also interesting to have one with a female narrator to give a different point of view, especially in other locations of Japan. There is so much more than just Tokyo.
More about the narrators of these tours: Patrick W. Galbraith is the author of many books with a connection to otaku culture and Akihabara. He is the author of The Otaku Encyclopedia (Kodansha, 2009), Otaku Spaces (Chin Music Press, 2012) and The Moe Manifesto (Tuttle, 2014), as well as the co-editor of Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture (Palgrave, 2012) and Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan (Bloomsbury, 2015). Max Hodges is the founder and director at White Rabbit which he co-founded in 2003. He produced and written both audio tours of Tokyo Realtime.
A strange thing I noticed on the website of Tokyo Realtime is the use of a logo with a neon effect of Dutch maid cafe Neko Neko Ni in the main artwork. Very nice addition to the artwork made by Dilara Özden, but totally not located in Tokyo.