Official Review: Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens by Michael Pronko
4 out of 4 stars
Review by ALynnPowers
Author Michael Pronko is a professor of American Literature at a well-known university in Tokyo. He has lived and worked in Japan for over fifteen years, and his articles have appeared in several popular Japanese publications. He has also appeared on television and radio programs to discuss his work. Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens is a collection of essays that were (for the most part) originally published in Newsweek Japan in Japanese, circa 2009. This is his second collection of essays to be released in English, with a third due out sometime this year.
Forty-eight essays appear in this book, all focusing on what it is like to live in the largest city in the world, from the perspective of a foreigner. Each essay is just a few pages in length, allowing for a quick and entertaining read. While the essays are grouped into four sections of similar topics, all of the essays are independent of one another. It’s easy to pick up this book, flip to a random page, and read an article in any order. There is a wide range of topics throughout the book, including: wearing white masks, opinion surveys, city noises, sweating in public, the bi-annual changing of the wardrobe, and bugs on the train, among many others.
It’s no secret what drew me to this book; as a resident of Tokyo, I was interested in reading what another outsider had to say on such a variety of topics. I was not disappointed. While a few articles were a bit different from my own personal experiences, it’s easy to overlook those differences as just a matter of perspective. For the most part, the way that Pronko depicts Tokyo life is spot-on, and other residents like myself can definitely relate. Other essays brought up topics I had never even considered before; my own view of Tokyo was further broadened as a result.
Some essays are more entertaining than others; for example, I wasn’t a big fan of the essay about maps or the one about energy drinks. My favorite essay, which had me inappropriately laughing out loud while riding the Tokaido Line early one morning on my way to work, discusses the subculture of foreigners in Tokyo and the correct way to react when running into another foreigner in a public space. You’d be surprised at what we do, but I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who does it.
Because of this, I feel that this book is more for the residents of Tokyo than for tourists; unless you have experienced it for yourself, it might be hard to relate to the topics of the essays. Pronko also uses a lot of Japanese that doesn’t easily translate into English (or in cases in which the Japanese word is just better than its English counterpart). I tend to do this in my daily conversations with coworkers, so I loved seeing another English-speaker doing the same thing. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, have no fear! There is a glossary in the back of the book with these words explained.
A few random errors here-and-there throughout the book didn’t detract from the pleasurable reading experience at all. I give this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars and recommend it to other Tokyo residents who need a reminder of why we love living in this city. Others who might be coming to Tokyo or who just have a strong interest in what it is like living in this amazing city would also enjoy this book.