Why did you choose the name Tokyo Handsome Boys?
NAOKI: Look at my face. You will know the reason.
KEVIN: The original name for Naoki’s Airbnb page was “Tokyo Handsome Boys”. At that time, there were only a few Airbnbs in Tokyo, but they were all filled with pictures of well-furnished homes without a person in sight. “Tokyo Handsome Boys”, on the other hand, was a picture of Naoki and his friends shouting at the camera. I guess you could say that individual spirit has stayed with us ever since.
NAOKI: Maybe some people think “Tokyo Handsome Boys” is a strange name. So many times I thought about changing the name to something more normal… “Tokyo Wonderful Tours”, “Hidden Local Tokyo Tours”… But I think guests who dare to click on the name “Tokyo Handsome Boys” will understand our style best.
NAOKI: …Ok, ok, the real reason is, when I first went to Vietnam, suddenly so many people were calling me handsome. I was flattered, but most of all I was surprised that everyone knew the Japanese word “hansamu”! I was so moved that they all spoke Japanese to me, that I decided to learn Vietnamese the best I could while in Vietnam.
KEVIN: Something doesn’t make sense about this story.
NAOKI: Then, why I came home, my friend told me that “handsome” comes from English. Wow… I was so shocked!!
Why did you start doing Tokyo Handsome Boys?
NAOKI: I believe to meet local people during travel is the best way to get an unbelievable experience. The thing that made me realize that was my friend I made on my first trip to Vietnam, Ram. I met him by accident on the street; after that he took me to local places, he showed me local foods, and even his house; we spent a special time together. One day he said to me, “if you didn’t meet me, you wouldn’t know anything in Vietnam, ha ha ha!”. I nod sincerely. After that, I went to Vietnam four times with my friends to introduce them to Ram. Every time Ram treated us very well, but on the fifth time he did not come. He had passed away. I realized too late that even with all the local places, local food, and amazing sights, I did not love Vietnam. I loved Ram who showed me Vietnam. For me, Vietnam is Ram. So I decided to be Ram in Tokyo.
KEVIN: I guess that makes Naoki kind of like my Ram. Actually, when asked what their favorite part of Tokyo was, some of our guests have said “Tokyo Handsome Boys”! And that’s what really drives us; that kind of thing is what always makes us want to keep working at improving Tokyo Handsome Boys.
NAOKI: My guests’ smile is my Red Bull.
Why nightlife tours?
KEVIN: There are so many historical sites, theme parks, museums, town squares, and other fun places to visit in Tokyo during the day, and we would love to give you suggestions for how to spend your time both in Tokyo and around Japan. We think if you have the right course, you can visit most of the exciting tourist spots in Tokyo on your own.
That said, nightlife is a different story. From my experience, even non-Japanese who have lived in Japan for quite a while have a hard time really breaking into the local nightlife. That’s why there are always so many people at Hub, the British Pub chain (laughs)
If you want to really enjoy the nightlife, you’ll need to venture into narrow alleyways lined with tiny bars and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs), and even if you can read the name you won’t be able to understand what’s inside. Even Tokyo locals can have a hard time exploring a brand new area.
Wandering into a bar with only Japanese on all the signs and menus, and pointing to a random line on the menu to order, is an exciting experience that I would definitely recommend trying at least once. However, I’m sure you don’t want your experience of Japanese nightlife to end there. Although the food at a local izakaya can blow you away – as the food on our tours certainly will – we believe the real draw of local nightlife is the communication with local people.
NAOKI: We will take you to bars with only local people, where people go to share the night together with both regulars and new faces. We will become your local bridge, so that you can meet real locals and understand what’s really great about Tokyo’s local nightlife.
Why should I go on a tour? Can’t I just use Google Maps?
NAOKI: I have visited quite a few countries, but I never met another friend as wonderful as Ram just by accident. All my other friends from abroad were originally guests at my Airbnb. Then, when I went to America, I visited so many of my friends who had stayed at my house, and they let me stay with them, and showed me all of their favorite local places, and let me into their slice of life, so I felt like I really experienced America. That’s how I realized, meeting local friends doesn’t have to be an accident or a miracle. If local people open the doors to the visitors to their country, there are so many ways to break those barriers.
KEVIN: I know that it’s hard to meet local people in Tokyo. Japanese people are very shy. That’s why we want to be your local bridge. We are sure that there are so many local experiences waiting for you in Tokyo, not just with us, but with all the people in this city. After our tour, we have an afterparty every week for the guests of our tours. Whether you’re a solo traveler or a whole family, we would love to have you and keep seeing each other again. Every time you come to Tokyo, you’ll have someone here you know you can see and feel at home away from home with. And every time you hear about Japan on the news, it won’t be a place on the map, but a part of you over across the world.
NAOKI: I am sure that Google Maps is great. Not only that, but net services will continue to get better and better, and eventually there will be no need for tour guides to show guests around local sites and explain the history, because all the information will be at the tips of your fingers. That’s why we don’t want to be your tour guides – we want to be your friends. We don’t want you to remember Tokyo as Tokyo Tower or the Shibuya Scramble; we want you to remember Tokyo as its people, and the experienced we shared together that are only ours.
What’s next for Tokyo Handsome Boys?
NAOKI: I want to be the #1 tour guide in Tokyo!!!
After Tokyo Handsome Boys becomes the top tour company, I want to take a trip all over the world, and meet all my former guests again, to say the most important Japanese word, “Kanpai!!!!”
KEVIN: When I first came to Japan as a student, I often went over to Naoki’s house and met his friends; I ended up becoming really close with one of them. He told me he had dreamed of being a writer when he was younger, but he was starting to approach the age where he had to start interviewing to join a company and had decided to give up his dream. When the day came when he joined a company, he had to move out out to Kawasaki for his new job. The next time I saw him, he was talking about his younger friend and how he needed to get serious and work hard to join a good company… It sounded so different from how he used to talk. Before I knew it, I had become a part of his past life. I’m sure he’s happy and that was the way he wanted it, but when Naoki told me he was unsure about whether he wanted to join a company, I knew that wouldn’t be the right lifestyle for him. So we decided to take a different path and do Tokyo Handsome Boys – it’s a pretty radical step in the eyes of Japanese society. I want Tokyo Handsome Boys to succeed not just for me and Naoki, but so that other young Japanese people can feel confident in taking the kind of path we did. If we could have an impact like that, I’d call that a dream come true.
NAOKI: Actually, my dream is to take Keanu Reeves to Nigi Nigi standing sushi in Nakano.