More Essays on Tokyo
by Michael Pronko
Page Count: 278
Published: December 18th 2015
Publisher: Raked Gravel Press
Published: December 18th 2015
Publisher: Raked Gravel Press
Motions and Moments is the third book by Michael Pronko on the fluid feel and vibrant confusions of Tokyo life.
These 42 new essays burrow into the unique intensities that suffuse the city and ponder what they mean to its millions of inhabitants.
Based on Pronko’s 18 years living, teaching and writing in Tokyo, these essays on how Tokyoites work, dress, commute, eat and sleep are steeped in insights into the city’s odd structures, intricate pleasures and engaging undertow.
Included are essays on living to size and loving the crowd, on Tokyo’s dizzying uncertainties and daily satisfactions, and on the 2011 earthquake. As in his first two books, this collection captures the ceaseless flow and passing flashes of life in biggest city in the world with gentle humor and rich detail.
Praise for the first collection
Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life
"A clear-eyed but affectionate portrait of a city that reaches beyond simple stereotypes. An elegantly written, precisely observed portrait of a Japanese city and its culture." Kirkus Reviews
"Beauty and Chaos is a spectacular read. Its essays are long enough to be cohesive and provocative while remaining short and sweet. The collection is masterful and unique." Stephanie Chandler, SPR Review
“He notices the kinds of things that might be taken for granted by the Japanese and overlooked entirely by visitors.” Rebecca Foster, The Bookbag
Gold Award First Place for Cultural Non-Fiction
(Reader's Favorite Awards 2015)
(Non-Fiction Authors Association 2015)
Praise for the second collection
Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens: Essays on Tokyo
“As chapters flow through Tokyo cultural experiences, readers receive a rare glimpse of the structure and nature of Tokyo's underlying psyche. It's a powerful, intimate consideration of many aspects of Japanese culture.” D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
"An insider's view of what life is really like in this pulsing, densely populated Asian metropolis...this little book of short, easy to read essays delivers to its readers an education." Vera A. Pereskokova Luxury Reading Blog
“Could one have a better guide? Anyone planning to work and live in Tokyo for a period of time will find Pronko indispensable.” BookReview.com
“Tokyo's Mystery Deepens is so much more than just a guidebook to Tokyo…it actually plunges into the minuscule details of what it is like to be a Tokyoite.” OnlineBookClub.org
Gold Award for Creative Non-Fiction
(eLit Awards 2015)
Silver Award for Travel Essay
(eLit Award 2015)
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...
About the author
I have lived, taught and written in Tokyo for fifteen years. I work as a professor at Meiji Gakuin University teaching American literature, culture, film, music, and art. Fielding questions from my students about Jackson Pollock or Kurt Vonnegut and then wandering through Shinjuku’s neon mayhem always puts ideas for writing into my head. Teaching keeps me searching for the heart of life in the world’s biggest city.
I have written for many publications in Japan: The Japan Times for a dozen years, the once-great Tokyo Q, a learner-oriented weekly ST Shukan, Winds magazine, Jazz Colo[u]rs (in Italian!), and Artscape Japan. I have run my own website Jazz in Japan (jazzinjapan.com) for almost a decade. I also helped found Japan’s first bilingual jazz magazine, Jazznin and continue to publish academic articles and run a conference on teaching literature.
The essays in Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life were originally published in Newsweek Japan in Japanese and then collected together in a single volume in 2006. Two more collections followed, also in Japanese, The Other Side of English—An Anti-Grammar Manifesto and Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens, both in 2009. These other two collections will soon be out as e-books in both Japanese and in English.
Until now, these essays have never been published in English. Their popularity here in Japan has led to my being invited for regular appearances on programs for NHK (Japan’s PBS) and Nihon TV’s “The Most Useful School in the World.” It’s fascinating to video-fy the essays, but TV is a very different mindset from the written word. Essays seem to capture Tokyo best, or at least offer a calm space from which to ponder it all.
I was born in Kansas City, also a very different world from Tokyo. After traveling around the world and popping in and out of graduate school, I lived in Beijing, China for three years. Now, I live in Tokyo with my wife, Lisa Yinghong Li, who also teaches and writes.
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