Official Review: Tokyo's Mystery Deepens by Michael Pronko

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ALynnPowers
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Official Review: Tokyo's Mystery Deepens by Michael Pronko

Post by ALynnPowers » 30 Sep 2015, 23:24

[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Tokyo's Mystery Deepens" by Michael Pronko.]
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4 out of 4 stars
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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.

Tokyo's Mystery Deepens is so much more than just a guidebook to Tokyo. You can pick up any random book in the travel department of the bookstore and learn all about hot springs, famous shrines, and maid cafes. This book doesn't have any of that; it actually plunges into the minuscule details of what it is like to be a Tokyoite. 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.

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Tokyo's Mystery Deepens
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Post by Tanaya » 01 Oct 2015, 09:46

Great review! It was definitely even more interesting since you were able to personally relate to the book. Sounds like the perfect book for the intended audience that you mentioned. If I ever were to become a part of that group, I'd definitely read this book based on your recommendation.

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Post by amybo82 » 01 Oct 2015, 13:48

As always, I really enjoyed your review! I'm glad you read and reviewed this book because of your unique experience of being able to have an in-depth understanding of the setting.
A book is a dream that you hold in your hand. –Neil Gaiman

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Post by ALynnPowers » 01 Oct 2015, 17:30

Thanks! Yet again, I feel like this book was written just for me.

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Post by kat6496 » 01 Oct 2015, 20:25

ALynn,
I thoroughly enjoyed your review of this book. Even being a foreigner, it sounded like an interesting read and something right up my alley. I also, as the others stated, found it interesting and fortunate that you could personally relate to this text. I also found it fantastic that you gained a new perspective as well.

Great job. I look forward to reading other reviews in your repertoire.

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Post by ALynnPowers » 02 Oct 2015, 05:24

I didn't realize that there were other essays by this author until I got to the About the Author section at the very end... so now I am curious as to what other topics he has written about. I came up with a few of my own as I was reading.
I am especially curious to see if he has written anything about the toilets! The women's bathroom alone holds so many of its own secrets. Hahahah!

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Post by zeldas_lullaby » 02 Oct 2015, 19:26

Wow, this book was right up your alley! Great review!

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Post by HalcyonFlower » 02 Oct 2015, 21:02

Incredibly insightful, probably best for those who haven't had a chance to travel to the city itself. Thanks for the concise review!

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Post by ALynnPowers » 02 Oct 2015, 21:22

Thanks for the comments!

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Post by H0LD0Nthere » 05 Oct 2015, 21:54

This sounds delightful! Having once lived as an expat myself, I know nothing is quite so funny as the expat experience, especially when it's described by a clever and perceptive person. You can tell this is one of those, even from the title. The title is already funny!

Though I have no plans to dwell in, or even visit, Tokyo, I do have some Japanese friends and a relative who has lived in Japan, so this book might be worth a read.

Thanks for this review.

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Post by ALynnPowers » 06 Oct 2015, 00:50

Every time I see another foreigner now, I keep wondering if he is this author. Hahaha.

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Post by H0LD0Nthere » 07 Oct 2015, 19:24

Do the Japanese assume that all foreigners know each other?

Also, great avatar. Love it.

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Post by ALynnPowers » 08 Oct 2015, 06:51

Haha, thanks! And nah, in Tokyo, most people are aware that we most likely don't know each other. But in the countryside where I used to live, it was a different story. But we all did actually know each other, in that case. All 7 of us in the whole area. Ha!

There might be a bit of a tendency for people to believe that all foreigners are Americans, though. :D

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Post by H0LD0Nthere » 09 Oct 2015, 13:08

... Yes, on behalf of Americans, sorry about that. :-& We had some Canadian colleagues when I was an expat, and they quickly learned to say, "I am not an American person." :-)

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Post by ALynnPowers » 10 Oct 2015, 08:43

Hahahah! Yes!
I must admit that I am guilty myself! There is a really big Russian population in this one area where I work sometimes, so I occasionally meet the Russian parents of my students and start blabbering away in English. Met by a look of fear as they try to keep up with me (since they have spent most of their lives in Japan and are better at Japanese than at English).

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