A Tokyo Romance
A classic memoir of self-invention in a strange land: Ian Buruma's unflinching account of his amazing journey into the heart of Tokyo's underground culture as a young man in the 1970'sWhen Ian Buruma arrived in Tokyo in 1975, Japan was little more than an idea in his mind, a fantasy of a distant land. A sensitive misfit in the world of his upper middleclass youth, what he longed for wasn't so much the exotic as the raw, unfiltered humanity he had experienced in Japanese theater performances and films, witnessed in Amsterdam and Paris. One particular theater troupe, directed by a poet of runaways, outsiders, and eccentrics, was especially alluring, more than a little frightening, and completely unforgettable. If Tokyo was anything like his plays, Buruma knew that he had to join the circus as soon as possible.Tokyo was an astonishment. Callow and unformed, Buruma found a feverish and surreal metropolis where nothing was understated, and everything shouted for attention--neon lights, crimson lanterns, Japanese pop, advertising jingles, cabarets, and PA systems. He encountered a city in the midst of an economic boom where everything seemed new, aside from the isolated temple or shrine that had survived the firestorms and earthquakes that had levelled the city during the past century. History remained in fragments: the shapes of wounded World War Two veterans in white kimonos, murky old bars that Mishima had cruised in, and the narrow alleys where street girls had once flitted. Buruma's Tokyo, though, was a city engaged in a radical transformation. And through his adventures in the world of avant garde theater, his encounters with carnival acts, fashion photographers, and moments on-set with Akira Kurosawa, Buruma underwent a radical transformation of his own. For an outsider, unattached to the cultural burdens placed on the Japanese, this was a place to be truly free. A Tokyo Romance is a portrait of a young artist and the fantastical city that shaped him. With his signature acuity, Ian Buruma brilliantly captures the historical tensions between east and west, the clash of conflicting cultures, and the dilemma of the gaijin in Japanese society, constantly free, yet always on the outside. The result is a timeless story about the desire to transgress boundaries: cultural, artistic, and sexual.

A Tokyo Romance Details

TitleA Tokyo Romance
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 6th, 2018
PublisherPenguin Press
ISBN-139781101981412
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Cultural, Japan, History, Travel

A Tokyo Romance Review

  • Tosh
    January 1, 1970
    Over the years, and especially going back and forth from Japan, I have read many books by fellow Americans and some British citizens on their time spent in Japan. A lot of them are crap. The ones that stand out are the ones that wrote about Japanese cinema and literature. The girls or guys who went there to get a job as an English teacher are usually not that interesting, but alas, those who are devoted to a specific Japanese artist or thinker, then yes I very much enjoy that type of book. There Over the years, and especially going back and forth from Japan, I have read many books by fellow Americans and some British citizens on their time spent in Japan. A lot of them are crap. The ones that stand out are the ones that wrote about Japanese cinema and literature. The girls or guys who went there to get a job as an English teacher are usually not that interesting, but alas, those who are devoted to a specific Japanese artist or thinker, then yes I very much enjoy that type of book. There are two writers that I love when they write about Japan - Donald Richie and the other fellow is Ian Buruma. Buruma wrote a fascinating book called "Behind the Mask," which is an excellent book on some of the darker elements of Japanese literature and the arts. His new book "A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir" accounts for his time spent in Japan to study cinema, but mostly the theater arts of Kara Juro, an avant-garde playwright, with his theater group in Tokyo. Similar to temperament but not precisely in style as Terayama Suiji. Buruma knew both men, and it's his unique point-of-view, due that he was a foreigner, being involved with Kara's theater group. A lot of foreign writers have written about the oddness of one being part of Japanese society, or living in Japan, and finding it alienating. But then again I think that's the nature of the Western fellow or girl. We're raised to be apart than together, and therefore lies the situation of such countries in Asia and elsewhere. What makes this book unique for me is that I share Buruma's interest in the Japanese arts, and spending time there as well, I can identify in what he writes about, in regards of living there and appreciating the same sort of artists/writers. Also, the book is full of fascinating figures, some know and some entirely new to me. Donald Richie is a writer I know quite well through his writings in various articles (mostly in the Japan Times) as well as reading his books on Japanese cinema. His Journals are without a doubt, the classic work by him. He is a guy who knew everyone from Ozu to Mishima, and also a gay man living in Tokyo. His insights into the Japanese culture, but also his somewhat detached views are excellent observations of life around him. In that sense, he reminds me of Paul Bowles' travel writing. Buruma shares the same interest as Richie, and is also, a fantastic prose writer. His commentary on Richie, who sort of led him through Tokyo when he first arrived, is a fascinating tour of the metropolis. The second personality of interest is the Actress Yamaguchi Yoshiko. She started her career during the war years making a propaganda film in China, where she was identified as a Chinese actress. But alas, no, she's Japanese and eventually went on to star in the American Film "House Of Bamboo" directed by Sam Fuller. The book doesn't mention it, but she was also married to the artist Isamu Noguchi. Yamaguchi eventually became a member of the Japanese parliament for 18 years and had a TV show where she focused on and interviewed such characters as Mao, Idi Amin, and Kim Il-sung. "A Tokyo Romance" is a book full of fascinating people, and Buruma himself is interesting because he is also an individual who is half-Dutch and half-English, so he's very much a bi-cultural, or maybe at this point, since he lives in New York City now, a tri-cultural figure. With his background, he has an understanding of what it's like to be in a culture that is very singular in focus and design. A classic book on Japan, but also a rare text in English on the world of Terayama and Kara Juro.
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  • Adriana
    January 1, 1970
    Buruma spent several years in Japan experiencing all he could about the post-war, avant-garde theater scene in Tokyo. It’s incredibly interesting to get such a privileged view of the somewhat crazy and hyper-cultural counter culture of Japan in the 70s, even more so when it comes from an outsider/foreigner who managed to luck into some very rare opportunities. Every troupe and individual worth mentioning in the time period is someone Buruma either interacted with in private or met in highly pers Buruma spent several years in Japan experiencing all he could about the post-war, avant-garde theater scene in Tokyo. It’s incredibly interesting to get such a privileged view of the somewhat crazy and hyper-cultural counter culture of Japan in the 70s, even more so when it comes from an outsider/foreigner who managed to luck into some very rare opportunities. Every troupe and individual worth mentioning in the time period is someone Buruma either interacted with in private or met in highly personal situations. It’s astounding, he even mentions that he was getting a special pass to intrude due to what he terms as a foreigner’s privilege to participate without being expected to know the complicated dance most Japanese interactions require. It might be incredibly subjective and painted over with time passing by, but it was fantastic to able to share the privileged view this foreigner got.The one thing I will say in the negative is that, while the telling of the tale necessitates the continual name dropping that happens in the pages of the book, it did get to be a bit much when you’re “introduced” to the 20th person in the chapter. It doesn’t really take away from the experience, but it did annoy me.
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  • Gayle Zawilla
    January 1, 1970
    West meets East and past meets future in this somewhat self-indulgent retrospective into the “gaijin” author’s foray into the creative, if sometimes seedy, underground culture of 1970s Tokyo. It reads like an ethnography in parts, which I guess it is. I was given an advance copy courtesy of LitHub First Readers’ Club Book Giveaway (thank you).
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  • Jim Coughenour
    January 1, 1970
    An unfinished book that regularly reappears on my bedside table is The Donald Richie Reader: 50 Years of Writing on Japan, or its alternate, The Japan Journals: 1947-2004. Richie arrived in Japan in 1947 and ended up enjoying the rest of his life there – the journals, writings on Japanese cinema and culture (not to mention, The Inland Sea), never lose their charm for me. Richie appears in the first sentence of Buruma’s new book, and I was guilty of expecting a modulation of the same, the insider An unfinished book that regularly reappears on my bedside table is The Donald Richie Reader: 50 Years of Writing on Japan, or its alternate, The Japan Journals: 1947-2004. Richie arrived in Japan in 1947 and ended up enjoying the rest of his life there – the journals, writings on Japanese cinema and culture (not to mention, The Inland Sea), never lose their charm for me. Richie appears in the first sentence of Buruma’s new book, and I was guilty of expecting a modulation of the same, the insider/outsider’s view of living in Japan in the 1970s.In this respect the book is a slight disappointment, lacking the force and focus of Buruma’s other writing (most of which I read as it turns up in various literary journals). The “romance” never quite gets off the ground, and the chapters on his picaresque involvement with various outré theatre troupes would be interesting only to an aficionado. Buruma seems to have had a terrific time during his Japanese sojourn (I was frequently impressed), but little of the fun filters back to the reader.
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  • Charlie
    January 1, 1970
    A great source of reading ideas for me these days is the weekly NYTimes Book Review "By The Book" column where I was first introduced to Ian Buruma who I hadn't heard of before. The idea of this book resonated with me as my wife and I spent two years in Japan. Buruma was attracted to Japan by the Japanese cinema and spent much of his time there among some of the most radical, innovative theatrical producers and movie directors in the country at the time (the mid-1970s). Can't say that I could re A great source of reading ideas for me these days is the weekly NYTimes Book Review "By The Book" column where I was first introduced to Ian Buruma who I hadn't heard of before. The idea of this book resonated with me as my wife and I spent two years in Japan. Buruma was attracted to Japan by the Japanese cinema and spent much of his time there among some of the most radical, innovative theatrical producers and movie directors in the country at the time (the mid-1970s). Can't say that I could relate with much of the book...while his various experiences were interesting, this reader didn't find much meaning or lessons from those experiences. However, the last chapter of the book (Chapter 11) is quite interesting. In it Buruma reflects on the difficulty (impossibility?) for a non-native visitor (gaijin) to be taken seriously by an inner-directed country such as Japan. He makes an interesting comparison to E. M. Forster's "A Path to India" as an illustration of the challenges inherent in cultural connections, but that Japan in the 1970s represented an even deeper challenge to him and other westerners he knew there.
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  • Sara
    January 1, 1970
    I was prepared to love this book and looked forward to a trip down memory lane since I was also in Japan during the time period Buruma is writing about. But it's more of a brag about his own youthful sexual exploits and unless you have a really strong interest in Japanese cinema, a lot of this is old hat and just another gaijin in Japan story. There were moments when he did express some deeper and more interesting thoughts so the book is not a total loss. But mostly I just thought, "this again." I was prepared to love this book and looked forward to a trip down memory lane since I was also in Japan during the time period Buruma is writing about. But it's more of a brag about his own youthful sexual exploits and unless you have a really strong interest in Japanese cinema, a lot of this is old hat and just another gaijin in Japan story. There were moments when he did express some deeper and more interesting thoughts so the book is not a total loss. But mostly I just thought, "this again." It could have been so much more....
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  • Jenny
    January 1, 1970
    This is a memoir about a "gaijin" (a white person) in Japan in the late '70s. I was surprised at the contemporary films, theater, and art scene described (at times reminiscent of what I've read about the Andy Warhol scene at the Factory in its outrageousness). Ultimately everything had a foreign feel, but what resonated for me was the attempted immersion into another culture described in this book.Thanks to First to Read- Penguin Books USA for the free copy of this book.
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  • Sam May
    January 1, 1970
    Very interesting read about an expat’s experience in the elusive Japanese way of life and the clash of cultures between gaijin and Japanese.
  • Michelle Olms
    January 1, 1970
    Great book
  • T
    January 1, 1970
    4.5It was fascinating to learn about Ankoku Butoh, a modern Japanese form "invented" by Hijikata in the late 1950's as a deliberately grotesque aesthetic reaction against Western ballet and classical Japanese dance. Rebelling against ballet, what a unique idea. Some dances might include rape scenes, castration, or a live chicken killed during the performance. I liked knowing that this art form exists in the world, just because.
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  • Holly Barker
    January 1, 1970
    I read a chapter of this book and have no desire to continue. The description makes it sound fascinating, but I found the prose scattered and a bit morose.
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