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Best known for his translations of “The Tale of Genji” and the fiction of Yasunari Kawabata, for which the author won a Nobel Prize, Edward G. Seidensticker was also an accomplished essayist and historian.

The first of a two-volume history of Tokyo, “Low City, High City” covers the years 1867 to 1923, when Tokyo, as well as the rest of Japan, joined the modern world after centures of feudalism. Written in a style conversational but not slangy, witty but not snarky, the book is packed with colorful anecdotes and pointed observations based on Seidensticker’s thorough primary-source research and long acquaintance with the city. (For decades, he alternated between residences in Tokyo and the United States, finally dying here after a fall near Shinobazu Pond in 2007.) It is not only an absorbing read from cover to cover, but can also be dipped into at any point with pleasure.

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