“The Monocle Book of Japan” by Tyler Brulé


In  2007, Londoners found a new magazine on the stands called Monocle. Thirteen years later, as we are informed on the back cover, it grew from a fairly modest debut as “a briefing on the world, from diplomacy to design, business to travel, culture to hospitality” into “a fully-fledged media company with a 24-hour radio station, a website, films, shops and cafés—and books.” This book is just what one would expect from such a source—its emphasis is on modern and contemporary Japan rather than on historical aspects (although these are not entirely neglected), and is perhaps an ideal book for younger people who want to know what Japan in the 21st century has to offer.

And for those of us who have lived and worked there, it’s a wonderful souvenir book, offering glimpses of Japanese life through excellent photography and brief explanations, as well as covering all the islands which make up the nation. Brulé takes readers outside Tokyo and the Kanto area through featuring other cities, such as Sapporo, Hiroshima, Fukuoka and Naha. Every aspect of modern Japanese life is covered here; in addition to one on culture, there are sections on transport, hospitality, business, retail, design and architecture, all the things that someone who is curious about Japan but has never been there might need to know. In addition to this, there’s a section entitled “Meet the people”, which features firefighters, coastguards, a “karate kid”, a taxi driver and many others. Readers can also find out about J-Pop, fashion and, of course, food.


The illustrations are well-chosen, the quality of photographs excellent, and the range of topics immense.

The Monocle Book of Japan, Tyler Brûlé, et al. ( Thames & Hudson;, May 2020)
The Monocle Book of Japan, Tyler Brûlé, et al. (Thames & Hudson, May 2020)

Tyler Brulé is a Winnipeg-born Canadian journalist, who moved to Britain in 1989 and wrote for, amongst other publications, The Guardian and Vanity Fair. He traces his love for Japan back to the age of eleven,


to afternoons spent in the reading room at the Japanese Consulate in Winnipeg … I even lobbied my head teachers to renovate our school along the lines of an institution I’d spotted in Kobe.


Ten years later he finally went to Japan and by 2020 he was visiting “almost every month.”

Brulé recognises the twofold nature of this book, namely that it can both inspire a reader to visit Japan and also serve as a “reminder to all the delights Japan has to offer”, and has admirably succeeded in both. The illustrations are well-chosen, the quality of photographs excellent, and the range of topics immense. This is a book I will treasure as a memento of my own years in Japan, balancing my intense interest in older Japan with an entertaining and informative volume on a very modern and progressive country.

John Butler recently retired as Associate Professor of Humanities at the University College of the North in The Pas, Manitoba, Canada, and has taught at universities in Canada, Nigeria and Japan. He specializes in early modern travel-literature (especially Asian travel) and seventeenth-century intellectual history. His books include an edition of Sir Thomas Herbert’s Travels in Africa, Persia and Asia the Great (2012) and most recently an edition of Sir Paul Rycaut's Present State of the Ottoman Empire (1667) and a book of essays, Off the Beaten Track: Essays on Unknown Travel Writers.