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The Last Children of Tokyo

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  916 ratings  ·  163 reviews
Yoshiro thinks he might never die. A hundred years old and counting, he is one of Japan's many 'old-elderly'; men and women who remember a time before the air and the sea were poisoned, before terrible catastrophe promted Japan to shut itself off from the rest of the world. He may live for decades yet, but he knows his beloved great-grandson - born frail and prone to sickn ...more
Paperback, 138 pages
Published June 7th 2018 by Portobello Books (first published October 31st 2014)
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Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
My review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, also can be found on my blog.

Short, strange, and whimsical, The Emissary tracks Mumei, a sickly child, and his great-grandfather Yoshiro as the pair wanders about post-apocalyptic Tokyo. An environmental catastrophe has left Japan with immortal elders and weak youths, and prompted the nation to sequester itself from the rest of the world. In delicate and ethereal prose, the author captures the loneliness of Mumei and Yoshiro’s daily routines, a
Elyse Walters
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The dentist in this story was 105 years old. ( normal adult age).
As a science-fiction book - we immediately suspend belief... we learn this generation has pretty much stopped dying.
A young boy Mumei loves going to the dentist - sitting in the big chair and listening to the dentist speak to him.
Mumei tells the dentist he likes worms much more than milk.
The dentist then goes into a monologue about the brain and the ‘other brain’ - meaning the intestines.
I immediately thought about Mary Roach’

”For an old man like Yoshiro, time after death no longer existed. The aged could not die; along with the gift of everlasting life, they were burdened with terrible task of watching their great-grandchildren die.”

Set in the Japan of the future, this story focuses on Yoshiro and his great-grandson, Mumei. What has transpired in the past is vaguely touched on, but never really fully explained. Countries are no longer in communication with one another - the whole world has chang
Paul Fulcher
Apr 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: net-galley, 2018
Now - under the better US English title The Emissary - winner of the first National Book Award for translated literature.

The aged could not die; along with the gift of everlasting life, they were burdened with terrible task of watching their great-grandchildren die.

The Japanese novelist Yōko Tawada writes, unusually in both German and Japanese. Her previous novel in English translation, Memoirs of a Polar Bear, rendered from the German by the excellent Susan Bernofsky. featured strongly in award
Lark Benobi
The Emissary has a layer of whimsy that contradicts the horrors of the post-apocalyptic story it tells. This contradiction is compelling, but also distancing. Take away the whimsy and what's left reminds me of Ibuse's Black Rain, the story of a young woman's slow death from radiation poisoning following the bombing of Hiroshima, as told through her uncle's diaries. Both novels tell the story of a young person with no future, and of a civilization with no hope. They both beautifully capture the s ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is a strange short novel, a near future Japan that has once again shut itself off from the world, after environmental issues have caused the elderly to live longer while the children seem unsustainable.

To me this novel connects to The Vegetarian by Han Kang and Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. The strangeness, the environmental impact causing a change in behavior, the inability the humans in the stories have to change what feels inevitable.
Matthew Salesses
I have no idea what I just read but I enjoyed reading it
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story is either a premonition or the bogeyman; you decide.

A month before, someone had put up a poster on the wall outside the elementary school: NO ONE SPEAKS OF THE WEATHER ANYMORE OR REVOLUTION EITHER. In bold fancy lettering, it was a take on the famous quotation, WHILE PEOPLE SPEAK ONLY OF THE WEATHER I SPEAK OF REVOLUTION -- but the very next day someone took it down.

Disturbing, yet engrossing, Tawada has created this post-apocalyptic tale that is so understated, but drowning in pathos
Tawada manages to construct such a truly innovative dystopian future for Japan in such a short space of time. Characters are introduced at natural points in the narrative and the many facets of Tokyo’s new society are revealed to the reader steadily throughout. You never feel like there is a push to relay information even though this world building has to be achieved in just over 100 pages. She makes the unrealistic easily believable with beautiful, gentle prose that sometimes still manages to c ...more
Helen McClory
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Slow moving, delicate, and sort of quietly devastating. It took me many more days to read than I thought as my attention drifted in and out - but I think some books just need to drip into you like that.
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A gentle dystopian novel, where a great grandfather lovingly and joyfully raises his feeble but playful, and near beatific great-grandson. Which makes it sound like a tear-jerker, but it's not. There's whimsy, humor and a quiet hopefulness in their world, thanks to the children. Among the charms: old Japanese holidays are reinvented – Children’s Day becomes “Apologize to Children Day”, Labor Day becomes “Being Alive is Enough Day” - and new holidays are democratically voted on, like “Off-line Da ...more
En «The Last Children of Tokyo», Yoko Tawada imagina un Japón en el que los ancianos disfrutan de vitalidad e inmortalidad, mientras que la esperanza de vida de los niños apenas roza la edad adulta. Se desconocen las razones del desastre medioambiental que ha desembocado en un Japón aislado del mundo, desprovisto de animales -excepto perros, gatos y conejos-, con lenguaje restrictivo que demuestra la costumbre de la autora de proyectar su interés por el determinismo lingüístico (por ejemplo, no ...more
J. Watson (aka umberto)
3.75 stars

It's a pity I've never heard of Yoko Tawada or read her books, this is her very first one so it's a bit tough to say something on the story. Indeed I decided to buy this one to read due to its introductory first sentence, "Yoko Tawada's new novel, The Emissary, is a breathtakingly lighthearted meditation on mortality." (back cover), its publication by New Directions and her formidable academic stature as a Japanese and German writer who is a PhD holder in German literature from the Uni
Thank you to New Direction for providing me with a copy! I‘ve read this for university and written a project paper about it so I might not be very neutral in my review.

The book is set in the future (though it does not say when exactly) in Japan. Old people can‘t die, but the young are to weak to survive on their own. The story focuses on Mumei and his great-grandfather Yoshiro. There are hints that some form of (possibly nuclear) catastrophe took place in the past which caused this, but
Sigh. Another three star book!

Yoko Tawada's novella has an incredibly intriguing premise which is ripe with potential: the setting is Japan in the not too distant future, where the elderly live forever and children are born frail, with multiple health issues and die young (creating a new category of society dubbed the "young elderly"). Countries are sealed off from trade with each other, and travel is near impossible, the centre of Tokyo is uninhabitable. The environment is massively degraded by
May 29, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 I like the premise, but the writing was chaotic and nothing special. It’s not bad by any means, but somehow my attention kept drifting away. Maybe if it more structured, it’d be more pleasurable to read.
Callum McLaughlin
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: translated, dystopian
This is perhaps the quietest dystopian I've ever read, but it's no less thought-provoking for that fact. There's an almost ethereal tone to the whole thing that lets Tawada's unique narrative voice shine through (despite the translation process), allowing her to explore themes in a way that somehow feels both speculative and current.

Though some details of the world's downfall are deliberately left to our imagination, we get enough to understand that this future is one not unlike what we ourselve
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely marvellous and mysterious book by the author of Memoirs of a Polar Bear. I have loved Japanese writer’s Yoko Tawada’s previous writings, but this one knocks it out of the park with its sheer sublime investigation of caring and time and what it means to be present in the world. The book takes place in a dystopic Japan that is cordoned off from the rest of the world. The elderly have been bestowed with a strange gift of immortality and grow feisty and more active the older they becom ...more
Resh (The Book Satchel)
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
A dystopian tale where the old remain healthy and the young are weak (can't even eat fruits etc).
Rating : 3.5 stars

What to expect?
- great writing. I loved the read.
- slow read
- the events seem to be a possible reality. Though we don't know what led to the world becoming a terrible one, we are given hints that it is due to unsustainable development.
- Though the great grandson is weak and the great grandfather is healthier (a direct opposite of what we expect in physical strength in our world), we
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arcs-proofs-work
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. And after I read it, I chased all my colleagues to read it because that is how amazing this book is.

It is a short, enjoyable read with a mind blowing idea: what would happen if elderly people lived forever and the kids born frail and die young? It is such a simple idea, but the development, the narration, the plot, the characters… everything is so carefully plotted that the result its just amazing. Its one of those books t
Joe M
Part speculative fiction, part feel-good(maybe?) dystopia, The Emissary is a short, dreamy novel in which Japan, in the wake of an unspecified natural disaster, has closed itself off from rest the world. In this surreal, futuristic version of Japan, children are born with the constitution of the elderly, while their grandparents live long, healthy, active lives-- cooking, working, and occasionally even stopping by the local Rent-a-Dog for some companionship on their morning run. (For real though ...more
Rachel (Kalanadi)
2.5 stars - I didn't get it. Plenty of ideas were interesting, but it was all ideas strung together and just when a plot might have got stopped. I think the problem is that I approach this from an SFF point of view, rather than literary fiction. I expect the wrong thing from the story and I get invested in the wrong bits. Oh well!
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japanese-authors
THE quietest dystopian I have ever read. Japan has isolated itself from the rest of the world after some kind of disaster has left the world (entire planet?) in not great shape. The elderly do not die and age well into their 100s. The new generation are born with a number of health issues, making them frail and causing them to die young.

This story follows Yoshiro, a well-aged elderly man who is working hard to keep his great-grandson, Mumei, alive. Many foods are hard to come by because interna
Stephen Durrant
Yoko Tawada's writing has been described as one of "magnificent strangeness." This short novel, to be sure, is strange and makes me eager to read more of Tawada's writings. However, it is so brief and yet filled with bizarre, enticing ideas that I wished constantly for more development and came away feeling I sometimes did not quite understand what was happening. Perhaps this is part of her "magnificent strangeness." Still I was left intrigued but slightly discontent. One thing is clear, this is ...more
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No other book I've read has captured not only the sadness but also immense sense of guilt that I feel raising my children in today's world. I do feel like the centenarian Yoshiro raising his great-grandson Mumei in a world increasingly devoid of nature and hope, where catastrophe awaits in the corner, whether from the weather, epidemics or artificial intelligence. The tone of the novel is oneiric, scenes morph into others seamlessly. There are also subtle shifts in the narrating perspective, but ...more

A curious but mostly unsatisfying, frustrating read. Tawada's dystopia is poorly fleshed out and unconvincing. I have no doubt of her sincerity in writing this but it just doesn't work as either fantasy or polemic/warning. Even the whimsy falls flat. Disappointing.
This book was weird as shit. I don’t know what to think about it...or even if I want to think about it. Dystopian novella set in a world that throws into question all of the dichotomous paradigms we take for granted: Old and young, healthy and sick, male and female, fit and frail. Maybe we should all be octopi.
Angela Groves
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very beautiful and well translated book. The story considers the implications of a world where the old are strong and live seemingly forever, whereas the young are sick and weak, where countries close their boarders, and laws can be changed overnight. This is certainly a thought provoking and heart breaking read, sprinkled with the hope only the young can have in the face of such struggles.
Aug 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dystopic-esque, japan
What a strange little book.

The Emissary is set in a not-so-distance future version of Japan, where eternal life has basically been achieved (i.e. everyone lives well into their hundreds and remains strong and able-bodied) but the upshot is that all the children are weak and unhealthy and age so quickly that they are all dead before they're twenty. This future Japan has also completely shut down its borders; travel to and from foreign countries has ceased and trade is a thing of the past.

The two
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't really say this DIDN'T deserve its NBA Translated Fiction Award, since it seems like a fluid translation, but it just didn't particularly grab me. Tawada has been called a 'surrealist', but that doesn't seem to me to be her style at all. And for all its somewhat bizarre happenings, it really lacks anything resembling a plot - it just seems to be descriptions of Japan after some nameless catastrophe changes the social dynamic, but there is a lack of internal consistency that just makes it ...more
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Prize Readers: 2018 NBA Translated Longlist: The Emissary 6 14 Nov 08, 2018 07:38PM  
Yōko Tawada (多和田葉子 Tawada Yōko, born March 23, 1960) is a Japanese writer currently living in Berlin, Germany. She writes in both Japanese and German.

Tawada was born in Tokyo, received her undergraduate education at Waseda University in 1982 with a major in Russian literature, then studied at Hamburg University where she received a master's degree in contemporary German literature. She received he
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“On his youth, Yoshiro had prided himself of always having an answer ready when someone asked who his favorite composer or designer was, or what kind of wine he preferred. Confident in his good taste, he had poured time and money into surrounding himself with things that would show it off. Now he no longer felt any need to use taste as the bricks and mortar fora structure called «individuality».” 0 likes
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