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Tokyo Junkie: 60 Years of Bright Lights and Back Alleys and Baseball Review

Tokyo Junkie: 60 Years of Bright Lights and Back Alleys and Baseball Review

-Written by: Will

Tokyo has been the setting for countless anime; but that’s it, a setting. Rarely do anime explore the inner workings of the city. When they do, it is usually isolated to districts such as Shibuya or Akihabara. Despite watching lots of anime, I don’t know about life in the world’s biggest metropolis, much less its history. That’s where Tokyo Junkie comes in. The author, Robert Whiting, is an American who has lived in the city for almost 60 years. He has encountered the best and worst of the city, and this memoir chronicles his experiences. The book gives you a big-picture look of the city and a gaijin's (foreigner's) personal experiences. It is an enlightening read for me and should be for others who want to learn more about one of the world's greatest cities.

The book goes from Whiting’s arrival in the 1960s through the present day. A social butterfly and reporter, he meets many different people. These people form the backbone of the book and illustrate the major themes. We dive into American military life, yakuza, student protests, sports, politics, and more. Whiting leaves no stone left unturned, exposing the best and worst of the city. In fact, the reader learns not only about Tokyo, but Japanese society as a whole. What’s more, we see how these subjects change over time. Favorite dance hall get replaced with new buildings and the yakuza lose their influence. This book covers a lot, but it is smartly organized so that it never becomes overwhelming. It’s only when you think back on it that you realize how much you learned. I wouldn't expect much else from Whiting..

As a veteran writer, Robert Whiting has honed his voice into one that is entertaining to read. He's got a sarcastic wit to his observations that make for funny passages. Sentences like “The Metropolitan Area Outer Discharge Channel, as this complex is lovingly called…” makes waste disposal entertaining and lays out the author’s opinion on the subject. He also does a wonderful job making the major subjects personal. When discussing the yakuza, he focuses on Jiro, a member of a yakuza syndicate. Through Jiro, we learn about the average yakuza lifestyle, fashion, and behavior.

But what I find fascinating are the reasons why the author loves Tokyo. As a fan of anime, I know Tokyo as a site of otaku culture. But Whiting actually lives in Tokyo. He loves the night-life, food, people, and intangibles only someone such as Whiting can know. As a baseball fan, Whiting first connected with the Japanese people via the sport. He recounts watching Yomiuri Giants games at a cafe, in awe of players Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima. That’s not to say it's devoid of pop culture. For one thing, sports is pop culture, but it also has references to TV and films. Before the Giants’ games, he would come to the cafe early to watch the latest episode of Star of the Giants, a baseball anime. This anime helps him learn about the attitudes of Japanese people and the culture’s focus on hard work. As an anime fan, I wonder if he’s seen other sports classics like Tomorrow's Joe or Mitsuru Adachi’sTouch. But that’s not the focus on the book, and that's why I had such a good time reading it.

Tokyo Junkie provides an insightful look into the city I see a lot of, but don’t know much about. Despite being far-reaching, the information is easily digestible. Whiting’s never-ending wit makes it fun to read as well. Both intimate and big-picture, Whiting’s memoir stands as a story about a city and a man, and succeeds at both.

Tokyo Junkie 60 Years of Bright Lights and Back Alleys and Baseball

Tokyo Junkie: 60 Years of Bright Lights and Back Alleys...and Baseball was written by Robert Whiting and includes black and white photographs throughout.

60 years of observation: an American journalist’s memoir about Tokyo’s modern urban transformation, its criminal underworld and, oh yes, baseball.

A book about the dramatic growth of the megacity Tokyo, once a dark, fetid backwater and now the most populous, sophisticated, and safe urban capital in the world. Told by an accomplished journalist who witnessed it all firsthand over a period of 60 years and experienced his own dramatic personal transformation in the process.

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