Chefs Luke Burgess and Michael Ryan Collaborate for “Only in Tokyo”

A culinary adventure that's much more than a simple travel guide

Luke Burgess and Michael Ryan‘s Only in Tokyo—part city guide, part storybook—is a celebration of food, travel, culture and photography. The Australian chefs (and Japanophiles) take readers on a wild ride through some of the city’s best restaurants, bars and cafes, and offer insight into the individuals that make these locales so special. From the best sandwich in Tokyo by former sushi chef Hayato Naruse, to ramen at Saikoro, and a contemporary take on a traditional tea ceremony at Sakurai, Burgess and Ryan (along with their friends and colleagues) offer a comprehensive selection of culinary treasures that delve deeper than most travel guides. And, with beautiful photographs by Burgess, the tome blossoms into a personal and captivating tale. We spoke with Burgess about the new book and why nobody is ever truly finished exploring the magnificent city.

Can you tell us how this collaboration with Michael Ryan came into existence?

Michael and I found ourselves on a river barge in Adelaide after cooking together for the Adelaide Festival when he asked would I be interested in shooting a book on Tokyo. We both have a deep interest in Japan, with Michael having spent time there as a student and having visited over 30 times since. It felt like the right project to partner on. He took the proposal to a publisher he knows and the rest unfolded effortlessly. It was a brilliant project to work on and Michael’s knowledge and humor made our trip the most entertaining I’ve had to date.

Can you tell us about your process for photographing this?

It was a kind of juggling act between something quite old and cumbersome to an agile, lightweight digital camera. The bulk of the shooting was done on an Olympus OM-D EM-1. It’s quick, lightweight whilst delivering great images in small, tight spaces. As a film-lover having trained in the analog days, I also used my Contax 645, which although heavy has beautiful lenses and is a joy to shoot with. It seemed to me the right idea to combine the two as Japan is a place of technology and history and no better can you find an example of this than with photography. The old along side the new. Both equal, both respected.

This book was important to me particularly because we had complete creative control. [Publishers] Hardie Grant were fantastic in their support for the concept and with that freedom I was able to gather the images I felt I needed to capture rather than follow a strict brief which didn’t reflect our experiences.

Only in Tokyo tapped into my love of culture and how I view it in the moment and how it feels to look back on what I’ve captured once home. I hope this book is a chance to focus on what I love to shoot and move forward with other ideas that can be complied into a book either now or some time in the future. With the world changing so rapidly, I may not have the context or words right now, but the images need to be captured before the changes erode the possibility of holding onto that moment forever.

Food-wise, what is the most surprising or unexpected aspect of dining and drinking in Tokyo—for those who might not have visited?

I still remember the first visit and the overriding sensation that nothing can prepare you for is the shear volume of places where food and or beverages are served. In most Western countries, building code would not allow you to install a chargrill or deep-fryer in the seventh floor of an office building in the middle of a major city. This is commonplace not only in Tokyo, but all over Japan. I’ve eaten some of the most insanely intricate and beautiful meals in a building that has a dentist or accountant as their neighbor. I find it amusing still today.

On that note, Tokyo is so well-served by places to eat that it’s absolutely impossible to say you’ve “done Tokyo.” I’ve not been anywhere in the world to eat where this can be said. I’ll always be surprised and rather relaxed about eating in Tokyo, just go with the flow and know that you’ll never conquer this gastronomic delight.

What’s your favorite thing about Tokyo, if you can sum it up?

My absolute favorite thing about Tokyo is the feeling of landing in a city that becomes more and more familiar after each visit, but knowing that I’ll have a completely different experience each time and visit a whole range of places I’ve never experienced. I can wander the used film camera shops or vinyl stores, take a detour in the backstreet of any chome (city district) and feel completely lost! It’s an experience that allows you to be a voyeur or play a role and it’s something that feels new every time.

Images by Luke Burgess