Reviewed by: M.K.Turner
“Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens” is a collection of essays by Michael Pronko who has been writing of and in Tokyo for fifteen years or so. A professor of English at Meiji Gakuin University and columnist for Newsweek Japan, Pronko writes that “Essays fit Tokyo well…they can switch modes quickly and easily.” Now, the man writes so well you will want to keep turning the pages, but I would suggest that you pull back and read one or two essays at a time. Tokyo—all the different Tokyos that we meet—takes a bit of getting used to.
My guess is that Pronko’s earlier essay collections covered the things of which guide books are made, but here we find the world that a Westerner confronts day in and day out in this truly exotic city. We vaguely know that Tokyo is a huge, crowded place, but “knowing” and actually taking part in the unending face to face encounters one has in the dense and fatiguing daily life takes considerable getting used to. The essay on the Japanese constant use of the apology—a quick “Sumimasen!” and bow– is an excellent introduction to the tempo and mood of the city. When one has thousands of interactions with people all day every day “keeping small things small” is sound policy.
The physical city, writes the author, is in many ways “easy to ignore…there are no overt demands to participate or appreciate its beauty.” Cities such as Paris and London have a gritty authenticity blended with their beauty, but his “’How beautiful!’ in Europe gradually turns to a bemused ‘How strange!’ back in Tokyo,” where one bumps up against “one wacky idea of how to use space after the next.” Fantasy rules. “Tokyo’s urban planning seems more like urban gaming—virtual, shifting and always new.” And yet there are moments: “Tokyo will always be a lovely isolating city whose pleasures are doled out in brief passing moments.” There is a “love of small, love of instant.” There is “skip to a different point of view and look again.” Could one have a better guide?
Anyone planning to work and live in Tokyo for a period of time will find Pronko indispensable. The author grew up in Kansas; it would appear that Dorothy is not the only one to find a magic world over the rainbow. Bookreview.com recommends “Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens” as excellent.