Now Reading
Tokyo: A Biography

Tokyo: A Biography

This month, as you can guess from the title, I’m revealing my next language project. It’s certainly something that’s happening much farther down the road. I’m still working on Spanish and then plan to revisit Russian, but Japanese is in my future. 

The past few weeks, I have compiled the resources I’d like to use, consulted with fellow learners and I feel just about ready to dive in. Once I give the other languages I’m already committed to the attention they deserve. 

As a quick recap, here are the books we’ve read so far this year:

January // Book about your native language
February // Book in your target language (translation of a book from your native language)
March // A book about someone who learns a language (can be fiction or non-fiction)

The guidelines to participate are available here and you can also join up by commenting on the posts here at Eurolinguiste or by becoming a part of the group on Goodreads.

This month, the challenge was to read a a book written by an author from a country that speaks your target language (the book can be a translation or in the original language depending on your level). So I chose to read Tokyo: A Biography by Stephen Mansfield. 

It’s a bit tricky how this one fits into the guidelines because while the author is not Japanese by heritage, he is based in Japan as an author and photojournalist. So in a way, he is from the country. A very roundabout way. The reason I do this though – stretch the rules a bit each month – is to show you just how flexible the guidelines for the language reading challenge can be. Hopefully it makes it more fun to read along and see how creative you can get with bending the rules.

Tokyo: A Biography, Disasters, Destruction and Renewal: The Story of an Indomitable City by Stephen Mansfield

Tokyo: A Biography is a concise history of Edo, today known better as Tokyo. The pace of the text is quick, but it’s interesting to read and packed with fascinating accounts of how the disasters and destruction that the city has faced over the years have led to it being what it is today.

The book doesn’t go into significant detail on any one thing, instead it provides an overview of Tokyo from ‘its elevation from a dismal fishing village’ in the late 1500’s to present day.

While many of the chapters discuss leaders, important figures, natural disasters, and wars, I felt that there was an imbalance in the telling. There was a pretty big focus on the pleasure district and prostitution in the city. And while these areas often contribute to development of areas and cultures, it seemed to me that the author spent more time on it than necessary.

The book isn’t about popular culture, but more about the movements and events that have shaped present day Tokyo over the last several hundred years. It shows the perseverance and determination of Tokyokko or Edokko (people who live in Tokyo) as they overcame the various disasters and misfortunes that struck throughout history. It is really incredible just how many times Tokyo has rebuilt and started over.

The ending is somewhat terrifying and a bit doomsday-ish, and while the mood recovers in the last few paragraphs, it leaves you with an eerie sensation as you arrive at the final words of the text.

See Also
A review of Olly Richards' Uncovered courses

Tokyo: A Biography is academic in tone, but not inaccessible to the average reader. The author, who has lived in Japan for several decades, in a way, gives you an historical tour as a local. It’s definitely an interesting read and if you’re interested in history or Japan, I would certainly recommend it.

TitleTokyo: A Biography, Disasters, Destruction and Renewal: The Story of an Indomitable City 
Author: Stephen Mansfield
Pages: 224 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
Publication Date: October 25, 2016

Language Reading Challenge Linkup Rules:

1. Share your post discussing the book that you’ve read this month. Submissions unrelated to the theme or links to your homepage will be deleted. You can share in the comments below.

2. Follow the host: Shannon from Eurolinguiste.

3. OPTIONAL: Join us on Goodreads.

© 2020 Shannon Kennedy & Eurolinguiste. All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top