The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman

Anyone with an interest in Japan will benefit from Anna Sherman's inquisitive mind at work in her new book, The Bells of Old Tokyo

Book Review by Laura Waddell | 10 May 2019
  • Tokyo
Book title: The Bells of Old Tokyo
Author: Anna Sherman

Anna Sherman draws on her own travels and corresponding history to explore Japanese culture in The Bells of Old Tokyo, jumping off from themes raised by the book Edo’s Bells of Time by composer Yoshimura Hiroshi, and the sense there is a ‘lost city’ lingering in today’s bustling metropolis. In Edo, the pre-curser to the modern city ruled by Shoguns, bells rung across the city, marking time and setting the pace of working, eating, and waking. Now, the five o’clock chime rings out from loudspeakers testing Tokyo’s emergency broadcast system. 

A lot of research backs the book, with around a third of the page count going to a bibliography and notes, often enjoyable reading in their own right. There’s clearly an academic mind at work here, but for all its sourcing and contextualising, the book rarely feels bogged down by it, and it’s a warm and engaging read. It makes a refreshing counterpart to quite a few books which fall into the 'gaijin gets into mishaps' model – this author isn’t here to tell us about culture shock clichés like coin locker hotel pods, for example. 

Sherman walks the city, tracing the path of the old bells, talking along the way to locals and workers, and forming a friendship with a cafe-owner. Anyone with an interest in Japan will benefit from her inquisitive mind at work in this book. 

Atlantic Books, 16 May, £14.99