Welcome to the fourth chapter of our lockdown library—a series of great recommendations from our book exchange group.
Times are strange, there’s no denying it, but one thing that never changes is the charm of a good book. Check out our first chapter (Trevor’s picks) and Chiara’s picks in chapter 2 and author Lee’s choices in chapter three!
What’s your name?
Vo Ram Yoon
Where are you from?
Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Tell us about yourself (and your reading habits).
Hi! I’m Vo and I’ve been living in Tokyo for over 3 years now working as a curriculum developer, college admissions consultant, and most recently, as a barista and cookie baker. I have a soft spot for angsty young adult fiction and academic texts on education. The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library in Minami-Azabu has an extensive collection of classic and contemporary books in English and, although you’re not allowed to check them out, it’s nice to drop by and discover a new book that you can leisurely take your time reading!
You can find out more about Vo and follow his Tokyo adventures on Instagram.
What are you reading right now?
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Without further ado: the books
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
It’s sometimes said that the arc of history bends towards justice, but this book illustrates how detached history can be towards the tribulations of minority groups in a colonial empire. Centering on the experiences of a Korean family that immigrated to Japan in the early 1900s, Min Jin Lee beautifully weaves the experiences of multiple generations of parents and children that have inherited both trauma and resilience over the years.
The complex relationship between Korea and Japan frequently resurfaces in political disputes to the point of caricature, so this book offers a welcome, more nuanced portrayal of how Japanese and Korean history are intertwined through the journey of a single family. On a personal level, my mother’s side of the family used to work in Japan at pachinko parlors and yakiniku restaurants so each page was a powerful reflection of an often overlooked part of my family history.
Order it here
Intimate Japan: Ethnographies of Closeness and Conflict by Allison Alexy and Emma E. Cook
Whether it’s a New Yorker article on rent-a-family services to viral Youtube videos showing a Japanese man marrying a hologram, the Internet is rife with exaggerations of what relationships and romance look like in modern Japan. But from a series of interviews on birth control usage among Japanese high school girls to the ways that queer Japanese people identify themselves in a heteronormative society, this compilation of qualitative work highlights how Japanese ideals of love, family, and intimacy are far more complex than they seem. The writing can be dense at times, yet the rich narratives of this book will dispel any misunderstandings that readers hold about a country that is simultaneously fetishized and portrayed as asexual.
Order it here
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Told from two perspectives, this book follows the life of 16-year old Japanese-American Nao in contemporary Tokyo and Canadian novelist Ruth, who discovers Nao’s diary in a Hello Kitty lunchbox that has most likely washed ashore due to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Part mystery, part philosophy, and part coming-of-age, this book features multiple locations in Japan that locals and visitors will find intriguing, from a French maid cafe in Akihabara to a sacred temple in Sendai. Readers often travel across time between Ruth’s “present-time” attempts to figure out what happened to Nao and Nao’s past struggles in assimilating to Japan while dealing with dysfunctional parents.
As a Korean citizen who was raised in Bolivia, I deeply related to Nao’s experiences in reconnecting with a culture that was somewhat familiar, but still foreign while learning a thing or two about Japanese spirituality. And while I generally find the usage of multiple narrators to be gimmicky, the dual points of view definitely adds to the reading experience of this particular book.
Order it here
If you’re looking for more ideas, we have our own top picks for your consideration as well as a great guide on where to buy cheap books in Tokyo. While it’s not recommended that you go out right now, they’re good for future reference. Also, it’s worth checking if your local library has a delivery service like Saitama. If all else fails, your trusty Kindle is always an easy option!
Why we’ve chosen the book depository: They offer free worldwide delivery, ship from the UK (so still ok to get to Japan for the time being) and use far less packaging than the likes of Amazon! Of course a Kindle offers the most package-free (and paper-free) option, but if you’re after the real thing, the Book Depository is a great choice.