Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
If Michael Pronko’s prior Beauty and Chaos captured the exquisite essence of the urban heartbeat that is Tokyo, then this follow-up essay collection, Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens, is its soul, offering up pieces of Tokyo’s psyche through the observations of a visitor who became immersed in its culture.
Ask Pronko about the process and he’ll say: “My editor keeps saying this book shows how well I’ve adapted to Tokyo, but I’m not sure that’s true. Maybe I have accepted some level of confusion and disorientation, and work around it, just to keep going. I have more Tokyo habits, and find myself reacting at times not like an American, but like a Tokyoite.”
Perhaps the bigger question here is: how has Tokyo adapted to Pronko? The answer lies within pages that reveal not only Tokyo’s heart and soul, but the process whereby visitors become not just observers, but participants in the city’s pulse.
Examples reflect diversity in such vignettes as ‘Apology Speed’, in which the author mirrors the essential politeness that is the hallmark of Japanese modern culture (“Perhaps the best sign of adapting to Tokyo life is apology speed. I’ll never be a native speaker, but I am already a “native apologizer.” On that day, and others, too, I had a sense of pride in doing something so correctly Japanese.”) or ‘City of Small Gestures’, which successfully captures the subtler nuances of the Japanese public persona (“Tokyo body language, slight as it is, keeps the social network flowing with as full and complex a range of meanings as in more openly demonstrative countries like America, where emotion is always on public display.”)
As chapters flow through Tokyo cultural experiences, readers receive a rare glimpse of the structure and nature of Tokyo’s underlying psyche, whether it be adaptations to rainy seasons, the new culture of youth dragging shopping in wheeled bags and disrupting unspoken public train etiquette and paths of movement, or how compact living in small spaces is achieved.
This collection – along with Beauty and Chaos – should be required reading for any Westerner bound for Japan. It’s a powerful, intimate consideration of many aspects of Japanese culture that is difficult to locate elsewhere; much less in a series of lively inspections handily presented under one cover.