Out on 16 May 2019

The Bells of Old Tokyo

Anna Sherman

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16 May 2019
336 pages

In The Bells of Old Tokyo, Anna Sherman explores Japan and revels in all its wonderful particularity. As a foreigner living in Tokyo, Sherman’s account takes pleasure and fascination in the history and culture of a country that can seem startlingly strange to an outsider.

Following her search for the lost bells of the city – the bells by which its inhabitants kept time the bells by which its inhabitants kept time during the era when Japan was closed to the West – to her personal friendship with the owner of a small, exquisite cafe, who elevates the making and drinking of coffee to an art-form, here is Tokyo in its bewildering variety. From the love hotels of Shinjuku to the appalling fire-storms of 1945 (in which many more thousands of people died than in Hiroshima or Nagasaki), from the death of Mishima to the impact of the Tohoku earthquake of 2011.

For fans of The Lonely City, and Lost in Translation, The Bells of Old Tokyo is a beautiful and original portrait of Tokyo told through time.

The Bells of Old Tokyo is part personal memoir, part cultural history, but wholly unique. The fragile, fragmentary poetry of its prose so beautifully captures the transience of Tokyo time, the constant cycle of destruction and reconstruction, and the nostalgia for that which has been lost and yet wonder at all that remains to be found. It is the best book I have read about Tokyo written this century, and deserves to take its place alongside the works of Donald Richie, Edward Seidensticker and Paul Waley as one of the great interpretations of this great city.

David Peace

If a more soulful and original book on Japan has been published in the past few years, I haven’t seen it. Anna Sherman ventures deep into the land and its silences with an attention to the spaces between words, a lightly worn erudition and a poetic grace – a feel for all that she doesn’t have to say – that any of the rest of us might envy. This is the rare book that looks past the zany and clashing surfaces of Japan to excavate its heart, and everything we’ll never be able to explain about the place, even as we bow before it.

Pico Iyer

A tour-de-force mapping, in four dimensions, of the amazing place we call “Tokyo.” I realized I barely know the city . . . So much is dealt with so beautifully – Mishima, the 1945 firebombs, the tangle that is Shinjuku . . . Wonderful . . .

Liza Dalby