An American expatriate’s perceptions of Tokyo, from its places to its moods.
In this essay collection, which was previously published in Japanese, Pronko (The Other Side of English, 2009, etc.) leads readers through his adopted hometown, one vignette at a time. The narrative moves through the city’s physical space, following maps and train lines, as well as what it means to be a Tokyo resident. For example, he covers the reuse of shopping bags and the nuances of bag quality and how one must run the last few feet to catch a train. Pronko sees metaphors throughout the city (“Drink vending machines are like the little cups of water handed to marathon runners as they pass by”) and has an experienced observer’s eye—far from jaded but never squealing with delight when discovering new facets of his host culture. His essays describe the elements of a Tokyo existence in a respectful tone, taking note of the details that make the city unique without exoticizing them. It neither sets up Tokyo as a foil for the shortcomings of Middle America nor devolves into complaints about crowds or the high cost of living in another country.
The author’s prose is polished, with pithy insights (“My body adapted to Tokyo long before my mind did”), elegant descriptions (“High heels, a summertime addiction, are thin as chopsticks but loud as kendo swords”), and cultural frames of reference (“Japanese pilgrimages…involve walking around and around a circling route of temples. Western pilgrimages are pretty much straight lines right up to the holy spot and then straight back home”). The result is a clear-eyed but affectionate portrait of a city that reaches beyond simple stereotypes. It will draw in readers who have no experience with Japanese culture, but it also highlights details of daily life that will have readers in the know chuckling with recognition.
An elegantly written, precisely observed portrait of a Japanese city and its culture.
April 20th, 2015