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Japan Book Reviews

Tokyo Stories: Life, Love and Laughter in the Big City

Author : Christine Miki
Publisher: Oshino Books (2004)
ISBN: 902425-00-9
pp. 196
Distributed by: Alexandra Press

Reviewed by :

Colin Donald
(The Daily Yomiuri)

"one of the best depictions available of a particular kind of cosmopolitan social life in Tokyo"

Tales of the city from a writer who knows how it looks from myriad angles. Most of the viewpoint characters are privileged and moneyed, like Henry, the Porsche-driving financier and babe magnet of the chapter titled "Sex, Lies, and Too Much Champagne" who picks up girls like pollen but embarrassingly underestimates Japanese determination when it comes to shedding them. Others are gaijin struggling with English teaching and hostess work, trying to realize themselves in a denaturing social jungle that demands fakery and display.

It is ingeniously constructed and organized to be readable either as short stories or as chapters in a socially panoramic novel reminiscent of Short Cuts, the Altman film of the Raymond Carver stories. The storylines intertwine and characters gossiped about in one story are seen from the inside in another. Once suspicions are allayed about a certain self-admiration and brand-consciousness in the authorial point of view, it becomes clear what a subtle and worldly-wise writer Christine Miki is, and how sharp her eye for farcical sexual entanglements and party disasters. She describes a round of casual relationships and bitchy one-upmanship with comic aplomb and shrewd sensitivity.

It has to be said that it is doubtful that the book would have appeal far beyond the gaijin community in Japan--a reflection of its literary limitations--but nevertheless must stand as one of the best depictions available of a particular kind of cosmopolitan social life in Tokyo in a particular era. You might barely be aware from these stories that a few Japanese people live in Tokyo as well, though their social and inner lives remain inscrutable, and their consciousness disappointingly is not subjected to Miki's sophisticated treatment.

Having said that, some of the best writing in the book concerns Espie, the long-suffering Filipina maid whose quiet virtue is eventually rewarded.

Reviewed by: James Mulligan (Tokyo Weekender)

Christine Miki's 15-year stretch in Japan as a diplomat, marketing exec and journalist means she has obviously rubbed shoulders with characters similar to those found in Tokyo Stories and Tokyo Weekender.

From ELT to Oomalian Ambassador, she trots them out in amusing fashion in her jolly debut novel that interconnects the lives, loves and laughter of a gaggle of gaijin who live in Tokyo. Miki presents familiar scenarios for anyone who has been around the Tokyo block, and she is right on the button with her characterizations. Aspiring cads and bounders would be wise to take heed of the problems wealthy stockbroker Henry has finishing with Kiyomi, who moves in to his bachelor pad after he is a little nice during a one-night stand that lasts a weekend: Hell hath no fury like a twenty-something OL scorned, we learn.

For those in the high-falutin' ex-pat community whose lives revolve around the Tokyo American Club, National Azabu Supermarket and International School circuit, Marjorie will ring a few bells. She's a woman who, "because she couldn't speak Japanese and didn't intend to learn it either decided to consider her Tokyo stay as one long sunny holiday at the Tokyo American Club." You'll either laugh knowingly, or look guiltily in the mirror.

And we meet Peter, who is losing his mind and his ability to talk in his language-teaching job. Full of self-loathing, he's torn between throwing the towel in and heading home or continuing to eke out an existence and save for his dream condo. Don't expect anything too deep though. A case in point is the aforementioned Henry, and Ernesto the diplomat, a couple of skirt-chasers whose lives are one long Krug-quaffing, bed-hopping frenzy.

In other "big city books" the author would try to paint a picture of moral decay and dissolution in these protagonists' lifestyles that ultimately leads to unhappiness. Miki just makes the reader bloody jealous of all the fun they're having. "Painfully delightful" is how co-Publisher Jim Merk describes it in his foreword. Well, it's mildly diverting stuff. Read it on your next vacation away from Tokyo. If you find yourself yearning to come back, obviously this book is for you. In fact, this book is you.

Read more about Tokyo Stories at the official web site: http://www.tokyostories.net/.

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