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Postcards from Japan - Charlie Spreckley // People Make Places

Charles Spreckley, Tokyo-based writer and founder and CEO of the travel-guide platform, People Make Places

People Make Places. No words ring truer than the title of Charlie Spreckley’s book, a beautifully designed and lovingly-curated collection of unique spaces found in Tokyo! Showcasing 48 independent businesses, it is a must for lovers of aesthetic coffee shops and Japanese minimalist design. Not only is it a book, People Make Places is also a Japan-wide travel and experience design company whose mission is to introduce to the world Japan's hidden-gem people and places. We chat to Charlie, founder and author of People Make Places, about its humble beginnings, personal recommendations from the book as well as top tips on how to make the most out of one of the world's most exciting cities.

Hi Charlie, thanks for joining us today. To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself and how you became intertwined with Japan.

I came to study here as a university student in the 1990s and fell in love with Tokyo. I couldn’t understand why more people didn’t know about this incredible city. First, I got a job as a journalist. People reading my articles started contacting me and asking for tips. So, a friend and I started a day-tour side business, and ever since then I have been straddling both writing and travel design.  

The 'People Make Places' book

What is the story behind ‘People Make Places’? How did it grow into what it is today?

In 2011 and 2012 I had time on my hands after the big Tohoku earthquake, so I started writing a guidebook. One of the locations I wanted to feature was a classic old coffee shop, and while I was watching the barista artfully make my brew, I realised how much thought and attention had gone into every detail of the place, not only the coffee, but the cups, and decor – everything. A regular guidebook could never do it justice. So it morphed into long-form book, People Make Places, and a travel service of the same name. 

How do you go about discovering these wonderful local places?

Most of them are just places known and loved over the years. The only criteria was they had to be independent businesses, and they had to give you that “OMG I love Japan” feeling when you visited them.  

Is there a particular space or story from that collection that holds a special place in your heart?

One of them is Gokirakutei, an okonomiyaki restaurant that I have been going to for years. The ‘mama-san’ who runs it is the nicest person. She had never agreed to be featured in a book like this before, but she was so happy her whole story was told – that we really took the time to understand. And there are some lovely anecdotes like the beef chef (Oshima-san from Shima) who says he can feel in his fingers while dissecting the meat how good it will taste.  

Where and what would you recommend to travellers who are looking to experience a different side to Tokyo?

The main thing you need is courage – courage to go inside interesting-looking places. Which is easier said than done! If you can do that, just pick a neighbourhood, any neighbourhood, and explore with no plan. You are guaranteed to make your own People Make Places-style discovery, because the city is full of countless thousands of such businesses. 

What are some of the ways that ‘People Make Place’ helps travellers make the most out of their trip to Japan?

It’s a subtle thing, but I think that our people-first philosophy is what makes us different. We truly value our relationships, with the teachers, guides and drivers, we work with, and the business owners too. We love working with them, and them with us, and I think that vibe is felt by the customers too.  

Lastly, what’s next for you and ‘People Make Places’?

Our focus has always been on family trips until now, but in the future we want to start People Make Places style small group trips of like-minded people who share our philosophy. They would definitely be a lot of fun! 

Thank you for talking with us!


To find out more about People Make Places and be inspired for your next Japan trip, check out their website and Instagram!

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