Books / Reviews

'The Book of Tokyo' reveals sidelined Japanese writers, but not the city itself

by Iain Maloney

Special To The Japan Times

“The Book of Tokyo” is part of Comma Press’ “Reading the City” series, though most of the stories inside could be transplanted to other Japanese cities — Nagoya, Fukuoka or Sapporo — without any noticeable difference.

The Book of Tokyo, Edited by Michael Emmerich, Jim Hinks and Masashi Matsuie
224 pages
Comma Press, Fiction.

Other anthologies are more contingent on the megalopolis, such as “Tokyo Stories,” which lived up to its claims of being a “literary stroll” through the city. That collection is heavy on early-mid 20th-century writing and a 21st-century update is still needed — as is an anthology that recognizes the modern Japanese experience beyond its major city.

There are only 10 writers included in “The Book of Tokyo,” but the inclusion of criminally under-translated authors Hitomi Kanehara and Nao-Cola Yamazaki is cause for celebration. Kanehara’s “Mambo” (translated by Dan Bradley) is firmly in her comfort zone, a startlingly honest depiction of young Japanese women’s sex lives, while Yamazaki’s “Dad, I Love You” (translated by Morgan Giles) is a bittersweet slice of modern life.

Big names Banana Yoshimoto and Hiromi Kawakami should help shift units. Kawakami features regularly in these anthologies and her story “The Hut on the Roof,” translated by Lucy Fraser, is another first-rate piece of off-kilter and engaging writing. Yoshimoto’s “Mummy,” translated by Takami Nieda, is reliably odd.

Some of the choices are more baffling: Toshiyuki Horie’s “The Owl’s Estate” is underwhelming while Osamu Hashimoto’s “Vortex” rambles on too long.

Overall, “The Book of Tokyo” is a welcome addition to our shelves but feels like something of a missed opportunity.