Sun, May 12, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Tokyo: A city like no other (except maybe Taipei)

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Ask any Asia-based writer and you'll hear the opinion that a book published in English in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo or Singapore will probably have been turned down previously by publishers in New York, London, or even Sydney.

Yet this new book from Hong Kong publisher Asia 2000 carries on its cover an endorsement from no less a writer than Jan Morris, author of some 30 books, most recently Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere [reviewed here Dec. 30, 2001].

It's therefore more than likely there's something special about it. What can it be?

The answer would seem to be that this is a book crammed with information, statistical analyses, and generalized overviews, enlivened by two reasonably personal perspectives.

It doesn't have Jan Morris' distinctive touch, needless to say. But, having penned several famous "city" books herself, she probably felt that this one would fill a gap, and do for Tokyo what she didn't expect, or especially want, to get round to herself.

And it's true Asia 2000 has already published one outstanding work, Christopher New's trilogy on expatriate life on the South China coast from the early 1900s to the late 1980s. Comprising Shanghai, The Chinese Box and A Change of Flag, these add up to the nearest thing to a classic the British presence in the region can claim. It's not impossible, then, that very good books can get published in English in the region.

The international publishing giants have their own priorities, and manuscripts can get turned down that were simply submitted to the wrong office at the wrong time. These things are not always what they seem.

Tokyo: City on the Edge consists of 11 chapters written alternately by the two authors. Crowell, a Hong Kong-based journalist writes on business, power and painting; Morimura, a writer who divides her time between Tokyo and New York, on food, fashion and history.

Publication Notes:

Tokyo: City on the EdgeBy Todd Crowell & Stephanie Forman Morimura

223 pages

Asia 2000

What proves most entertaining are some of the bizarre facts the book contains. The Tokyo press, for example, have identified the nation's King of Commuters, a man who for 25 years has been traveling daily from 130km north of Tokyo to Yokohama and back again, a total round-trip of some six and a half hours.

A love hotel in the Hyakunincho district bears the sign "Prohibit to go into with foreign ladies who are waiting on the road," a reference to the many Russian night-workers. One Roppongi bar displays a notice "Customers must be drinking at all times." And a taxi ride to the far suburbs after midnight can cost you over US$100.

Again, if Mitsubishi were an independent country, it would rank approximately 15th in terms of gross national product, just behind India but ahead of Sweden. There's an average of one suicide a day by jumping in front of trains -- the Chuo Line being the favorite because it charges least for the removal of the remains. And so on.

The chapter on Tokyo's foreign residents is interesting. Koreans top the list, naturally, followed a long way behind by Americans. The book quotes an estimate of 271,048 illegals overstaying their visas, though how such a statistic could possibly be calculated must remain a mystery.

But such visa-less workers are nevertheless still protected by the state in cases of industrial disputes, there being apparently no links between the employment and immigration departments of government.

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