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Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  43 ratings  ·  21 reviews
Tokyo--City of Contradictions? Yes and no! The largest city in the world teems with chaotic energy and serene, human-scale beauty

Want to know the real city? Writing about Tokyo for over 15 years, essayist and professor Michael Pronko opens up Tokyo life and reveals whats beneath the gleaming, puzzling exterior of the biggest city in the world.

Whether contemplating Tokyo

Kindle Edition, 162 pages
Published November 7th 2014 by Raked Gravel Press (first published January 1st 2009)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  43 ratings  ·  21 reviews

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Patrick Sherriff
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan, essays
What a relief it was to read Michael Pronko's gentle slice-of-life essays on Tokyo, not because this collection was particularly profound (it wasn't) or particularly scathing (not at all) but because his observations of an ex-pat's opinions on life in Tokyo rang true to my own experiences. I found myself nodding in agreement at his attempts to see the bigger picture in the little details that make living in Japan so interesting and often so frustrating. I laughed out loud over his observations ...more
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebooks, travel
I've never been to Japan, although I've read a lot of books that are set there, both fiction and non fiction. Pleasantly surprised to learn that I could appreciate his observations, rarely feeling that I had heard what he had to say before. Looking forward to his other essay collections!

The pleasant and diverse travel essays in this collection draw on Pronkos 15 years living in Japan. Anyone who has seen Lost in Translation will retain the sense of a glittering, bewildering place that Westerners wander through in a daze. He notices the kinds of things that might be taken for granted by the Japanese and overlooked entirely by visitors, such as the prevalence of vending machines and bottle displays or the popularity of store bags, loyalty cards and truck deliveries.

See my full
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, essays, gift
Visiting Tokyo is an experience that is hard to forget, something that, no matter how experienced world traveler you are, is not comparable with anything else anywhere in the world.

Michael Pronko has lived and wrote in and about Tokyo for fifteen years. Working as a professor at Meiji Gakuin University and teaching American literature, culture, film, music, and art, Pronko is a man that rightly, regardless of his origin, can be called insider. As he nicely wrote -fielding questions from his
Sophie Cayeux
Nov 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Enjoyable. Interesting to read before or after a travel to Japan. Review at
The book will definitely enhance ones experience of Tokyo. I am a lover of Japan so this is why I picked this book to read. It is a series of short essays. What I find good about the book is that it doesnt have to be read all at one time. One can pick up a topic of interest at random and enjoy the authors essay about it. The prose is faultless, clear and easy to read. It offers a
Sep 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Patrick Sherriff
Shelves: nonfiction, japan
I really liked this a lot. It took me a long time to finish because I only dipped into it when I had not much time to read. This book works well for those that want to just read a little at a time. Lots of good stopping places, though the material is so interesting it is hard to put down. These short essays are a wonderful look at a very different society. Michael Pronko does a terrific job of observing without strong prejudices for or against what he sees. A very good reporting job and a ...more
Jul 07, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-writers
When you think of Tokyo, what images come to your mind? High rise office buildings? Flashy electronic gadgets? Kimono clad women? Cherry Blossom trees? Youre likely to see them all if you ever get a chance to visit the capital although as a tourist you wont touch more than the surface of this city.

Journalist and university professor Michael Pronko has spent 15 years living and working in the city. The result is a collection of articles first published in Newsweek Japan and now published in
Jodie "Bookish"  Cook
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katie/Doing Dewey
I've been a bit down on short stories lately, so I was thrilled to find a short story collection in which I truly enjoyed every story. I loved the focus on the little details of life in Tokyo. By the time I finished the story, I felt as though I knew what life was like in Tokyo in a way that books about travel rarely manage. It also made me want to step back for a moment and appreciate the little details in my life. Even though I enjoyed all the stories, the following stories particularly stood ...more
Paul Franco
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heres a book of essays on Tokyo, told by an American whos lived there for a while now. It reads like blog entries, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Its certainly better written than most blogs.
Ive been to Japan a half dozen times, but never for more than a few days, certainly not long enough to gain the type of insights he has on the culture. His is an interesting point of view, a Westerner in Tokyo but someone whos lived there for years, more than just a tourist, so he fills the
Jun 27, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seasoned armchair traveler tries various destinations. Even ones they would probably not go to in real life. Or maybe especially those. Hence this selection. Pronko knows his subject having lived in Tokyo for great many years. He's a literature teacher and this book very much reads as such, it's very literary and very serious, the latter not my preference, I do prefer my travelogues humorous, but I digress. Pronko's essays are cinematically vivid and are very much of a sociophilosophical nature. ...more
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ranked as the number 1 city of the world, Tokyo is a city that will always be fascinating for travelers and tourists; the quiet elegance and dignity of the nation with serene beauty forms quite a contradiction to the latest fashion fads and large, glowing advertisement boards. This is a brilliant book which takes the reader through a virtual journey. And, I think that is my favorite part of this book.

The book has been divided into 6 parts with 6-8 chapters in each section; each chapter has been
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015, kindle
These essays were originally written in Japanese and published in Newsweek Japan for a Japanese audience. Describing these as travel essays would probably seem strange to that original audience, yet once the author translates them to his native English for a non-Japanese audience, this label fits. As with any good travel writing, Beauty and Chaos explores what is different about or makes a particular place unique. Many of these essays look at something the author has noticed, often with his ...more
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anyone with an interest in Tokyo will want to consider the fifteen years of experience that's gone into Michael Pronko's Beauty and Chaos, an essay collection that comes from a professor with much experience in the city, who can bring it to life through flowery written descriptions.

Just what is so special about Beauty and Chaos, and what sets it apart from your usual Japanese cultural observation or travelogue? Plenty! For one thing, many of the essays center on the ironies and inconsistencies
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a series of essays offing small insights and observations about the Japanese way of life from a gaijin living and working in Japan.
I have visited twice, so a lot of this was familiar, while other parts wouldn't have occurred to me at all. For example, presentation - it was obvious that shops give a lot of attention to wrapping and bags for purchase. I had no idea about people having drawers of them for different occasions at home. Very different to here in Australia where many retailers
Absurd Book Nerd
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found Michael Pronko's collection of short stories about his time in Japan fascinating. It reminded me of the stories I heard from my brother-in-law from the year he spent in Japan studying and teaching English. I loved the focus on the little details of life in Tokyo and felt it gave me a feel for Toyko that normal travelogues don't come close to conveying. I think anyone who is interested in travel or Japanese culture would like this book.
I received this book for free from ARC in exchange
Rhonda Lomazow
May 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating group of essays by an American who has lived&taught there for 15 years.each essay is a little snap shot of Tokyo from ramen houses his favorite food to all the steps in the city which can be dangerous.His essay on observing people on the train reading rather then playing with their cell phones surprised him.This is a real glimpse into the city&its people.
Aug 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of essays pointing out the sometimes missed, misunderstood, or just plain unique about Tokyo. If you've never been, this gives a nice taste of the local flavor. If you have been, this is a nice reminder of what makes this city so great.
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm a bit of a fan of Japan. I've learned some [terrible] Japanese, and have travelled there several times, for holidays and for music competitions. I like the contradictions of the place, and am always looking for an excuse to journey back. This, Michael Pronko's first collection of essays on Tokyo, offers a pretty good trip.

Pronko is an academic who has lived in Japan for a number of years, teaching American literature, music, art and film at Meiji Gakuin University. He is a Tokyoite now, and
Chris Bull
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
Very Wordy

As a journalist the author must be used to being payed by the word. The essays are verbose. There are few nice turns of phrase here and there. Bye and large the writing I found padded.
Chris C
Earlier essays were quite good while the latter ones tended to be much more ephemeral and loose. Still a great introduction to Japan.
Shay DDarr
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Sep 18, 2018
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Aug 22, 2015
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Michael Pronko is an award-winning, Tokyo-based writer of murder, memoir and music. His writings on Tokyo life and his taut character-driven mysteries have won critics awards and five-star reviews. Kirkus Reviews called his second novel, The Moving Blade, An elegant balance of Japanese customs with American-style hard-boiled procedural and selected it for their Best Books of 2018.

Michael also

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