Home » The Bells of Old Tokyo, Book Review (2023)

The Bells of Old Tokyo, Book Review (2023)

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The Bells of Old Tokyo, Book Review (2023)

There is a very specific point in Tokyo where a skyscraper rises next to a tree that is over three hundred years old; that violent contrast between two opposite worlds and that could go unnoticed by any neighbor’s son have made Anna Sherman –with a degree in Greek and Latin studies, and a resident of Japan for more than twenty years– captures her fascination for the Japanese capital in an extensive essay. She, a Westerner in a city populated by almost fourteen million people, reflects on those contrasts and on the history of the city that was formerly known as Edo.

The arrangement and order of its small chapters, precise as the mechanism of a clock, invites us to discover the relationship between time and space from symbolic elements as important to Japanese culture as bells. Sherman tells us about them, omnipresent throughout the country, and their relationship with specific spaces: from prisons and gallows to temples and castles. The author also explains about the wadokei, the old Japanese clocks, and the new time measurement systems that came to the country from the Jesuits. All this, full of historical episodes and juicy literary references that please the expert and interest the initiated.

The closeness of the first-person story, its careful writing, its sometimes unpredictable free structure, and its content –which, without skimping on data, is not at all academic– make the author’s gaze allow us to fall in love (or fall in love again, depending on the case) of a magnetic and bustling capital, in which, as he says, “silence can be sinister”. And although its development obviates many aspects that could be of great interest, these two hundred pages -to which are added hundreds of complementary notes and a very complete bibliography- are highly recommended reading for anyone who feels an emotional bond, so invisible as inexplicable, with the old city of Tokyo.

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