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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Motions and Moments: More Essays on Tokyo by Michael Pronko | Spotlight and Giveaway

Motions and Moments:

More Essays on Tokyo

by Michael Pronko

Page Count: 278
Published: December 18th 2015
Publisher: Raked Gravel Press

An exclusive interview

with Michael Pronko


1. How did you decide to write Motions and Moments?

How could I not? Tokyo is such a fascinating place, and it’s amazing to me that more writers don’t write about Tokyo. The city begs to be written about, it’s so confusing, provocative and weird! Practically speaking, I wrote a monthly column for Newsweek Japan, the foreigner’s view of Tokyo, for ten years. That kept me thinking about Tokyo all the time, experiencing it as a writer on a daily basis. It seemed natural to bring all the pieces together. They create a different synergy collected in one place, rather than as stand-alone pieces spread out every month.

2. Can you give our readers an idea about what they should expect in the series?

The first two collections explore various sides of Tokyo, while the third one is more personal. There’s a bit of a progression from outside observation to internal reflection. Over the years, I have become more comfortable in Tokyo. Though not always, but even when I’m not, I’m more accepting of my discomfort. I try to get readers into the flow of Tokyo life, but get myself into that flow, too. I want readers, but also myself, to ponder this massive urban space more overtly, and more deeply.

3. Can you tell us a bit about the kind of research that went behind Motions and Moments?

More observation than research, I think. For example, one day I spilled an entire bottle of soy sauce across the table at a crowded lunch place. Then, I flipped a bowl of soup into my lap. That’s my kind of research! I could have forgotten that, and my humiliation, but I wanted to capture that as part of the life of the city: crowded spaces, apologies, embarrassment, rushing waitresses, the archetypal clumsy foreigner. I’d stumbled on, or spilled out, a few basics of Tokyo life. Research for me means observing what happens in my constant interaction with the city. Seemingly small things connect to larger things, if you just keep pulling on the thread.

4. Tell us about some of the biggest challenges or learning experiences you faced throughout the writing and publishing process.

Writing is hard work. Publishing is tedious work. I like the results of both, but not the process. Both are a challenge to do well, with a high failure rate. I teach full-time, so there are always some temporal skirmishes going on in my schedule. But, I think to write and to publish you just have to fail a lot, and each time “fail better,” as Samuel Beckett said. Both writing and publishing are stunningly inefficient undertakings. The scale of wasted time and energy is enormous. Of course, it’s not really wasted ultimately. Once you get used to that, all the challenges are just part of the process.

5. Things that you like/dislike the most about Tokyo?

I like the size and scope of Tokyo. The sheer number of people, shops, possibilities—the number of everything–is overwhelming. I just went to one part of the city where it’s all musical instrument shops! I can understand why people wouldn’t like to be swallowed up by that, but I like constant variety and oddness of experience. There’s always something unexpected, baffling or unknown. It becomes addicting.

As for dislikes, Tokyoites have a cold and distant public manner, which I find irritating, though I understand it’s a necessary coping mechanism. Tokyo is still, more or less, a closed set of environments. You can kind of sneak inside some of them, but most remain inaccessible. I don’t like that, but it intrigues me.

6. Japanese authors/books you would love to recommend to readers worldwide?

Oh, so many! I love Japanese writers like Kenzaburo Oe, Kobo Abe, Junichiro Tanizaki, Osamu Dazai, Yasunari Kawabata, all superb writers. As for more contemporary writers, there are quite a few who are wonderful or just pure fun: Natsuo Kirino, Miyuki Miyabe, Ryu Murakami, Keigo Higashino. I could go on, but those are the ones that impress me the most. I also love reading about Zen, too, which seems a marvelous approach to so many aspects of life.  

7. What’s next?

More writing! What else? I have two detective/mystery novels set in Tokyo. One will be out by the end of this year. I am working on a book about jazz and Zen, comparing and contrasting the two. Some of those essays are on my website, Jazz in Japan, which also takes up a lot of writing time. I’m doing an app for all the jazz clubs in Tokyo and Yokohama, over a hundred of them. I also started a collection of essays on traditional Japanese things, like food, handmade paper, indigo-dyed cloth, daily rituals and cultural forms. That should take me right through the next several years!

*Wouldn’t I LOVE to read that!

8. Lastly, any special thoughts for your readers?

Come to Tokyo! And if you can’t, read about it. Cities are, for better and worse both, one of the great forms, experiences and products of our age. Tokyo is an amazing place, so I hope my readers will get a sense of how the details of city life can be richly rewarding, and deeply meaningful, if seen in the right light. I think every city has its own unique metaphors, images and experiences. Capturing and considering those in essays makes the everyday flow of life come alive.

*This interview is making me want to visit Japan even more. Soon, Shun san, soon…

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