Reading Michael Pronko’s collection of essays, Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens, is a delightfully enlightening experience, especially for someone who has never traveled to Japan (or anywhere else in Asia). While it might go without saying that there are a plethora of significant cultural differences between the United States and Japan – and in this case, more specifically, Tokyo – reading about Pronko’s experiences and observations as a long-term expat living in Tokyo provides an insider’s view of what life is really like in this pulsing, densely populated Asian metropolis.
Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens includes dozens of richly detailed vignettes, each one an ultra-zoomed snapshot of local customs and peculiarities. Some topics might seem mundane at first, but even subjects as ordinary as, for example, riding the subway, become exotic as Pronko reveals the unique way in which Tokyoites move as a collective group, ever mindful to not take up more space than is absolutely essential. Other topics are inherently more alien, from an American point of view; like the necessity of obtaining a hanko, or personal stamp that serves as a one-of-a-kind means of “signing” important documents. Some essays, like A Little to the Side and Motion Sickness, portray an admittedly less than favorable, yet uncomfortably palpable environment, giving vertigo-stricken individuals pause when considering a trip to the area. Furthermore, many Japanese customs, for which there are simply no easily translatable American equivalents, are woven throughout the book, making it an even more substantial contribution to the illumination of the Tokyo way of life.
This little book of short, easy to read essays delivers to its readers an education about the cultural variances between Americans and Tokyoites that only someone who has lived and worked in Tokyo for an extended period of time, as Pronko has, could deliver. Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens gives its readers a realistic impression of the city, and what it physically feels like to be there, while also firmly establishing a sense of curiosity and wonder, and a strong desire to see all Tokyo has to offer for oneself. Reading this assortment of essays would likely better prepare a prospective traveler for a journey to Tokyo than would reading any run of the mill guidebook.