Documenting explorations in Tokyo

Jon Kent-Uritam ’00
Courtesy Jon Kent-Uritam
When Jon Kent-Uritam ’00 first moved to Tokyo for his accounting job in 2011, he used his free weekends to explore the city — and soon discovered this was no easy task. He realized there was a lack of resources about Tokyo in English, such as museum addresses, so he began to make a list of maps and collect information for his own use. This eventually prompted the creation of The Tokyo Files, where he shares carefully researched information about Tokyo’s geography, transportation, culture, history, and fascinating sights. Kent-Uritam spoke with PAW in March about his explorations in Tokyo, his areas of interest and research process, and how his blog has evolved.

The treasure hunt

“A lot of the blogging process I think of like a treasure hunt — there’s an answer I want to find, or a place I want to find. The blog post is sort of my way of documenting how I found that thing. … One thing that I find myself gravitating towards in posts is explaining just how Tokyo works, the physical infrastructure. … There are literally hundreds if not thousands of underground rivers and streams in Tokyo, and that influences the current street design.

“So I would say many of my posts are just saying, ‘Here’s how the whole city fits together,’ which I find fascinating because in the Tokyo metro area, there are 30 million people roughly, and there are some problems … but in general the whole system works. I don’t get too polemical within the blog, but I try to highlight ways in which Japan does things a little bit differently, or ways in which life's expressed a little bit differently.”

Surprising connections

“Absolutely the most satisfying part of the blog is when people reach out. … I’ve had a handful of people who were from the U.S. or they had just moved to Tokyo, and they said, ‘Oh, I read your blog, would love to meet up some time, maybe tour the city,’ that kind of thing. I was invited to a conference about the future of transportation … because of the blog, so that felt very validating.

“And then even just comments … . So there was a decently well-known movie from the ’60s, and one of the actors was a black American man, which is quite unusual because it was a Japanese-language Japan production. He was a soldier and then he settled in Japan and got into acting, so I wrote about that. Two or three months later his granddaughter commented on the post and said, ‘My grandfather recently passed away, and it’s so nice to see that he has fans. Some of these pictures I haven’t seen before.’ That just made my week. … Those personal interactions are very powerful.”

Top Tokyo travel tip

“To me, the best part about Tokyo is exploring and being surprised, but also finding it on your own. … So I would say go to a random train station, find a river, and just follow it and see what happens.”

Interview conducted and condensed by Juliette Hackett ’17