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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Tokyo Tango

Yokomori Rika

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To purchase Tokyo Tango

Title: Tokyo Tango
Author: Yokomori Rika
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 247 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Tokyo Tango - US
Tokyo Tango - UK
Tokyo Tango - Canada
  • Japanese title: ぼぎちん
  • Translated by Tom Gill

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Our Assessment:

B- : offers a picture of a particular time and attitude, but not compelling enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       In Tokyo Tango Saya describes her life from the time she starts university until she's in her mid-twenties, the time of the Japanese 'bubble era', "when the economy heated up to boiling point and finally became totally out of control". It is an account of the madness of those times, when money meant everything and nothing, and of the effects of this.
       Saya is realistic:

I was a feather-brained girl with hardly a thought in my head. I did have a certain low cunning, I suppose, but mastering the techniques of passing university entrance exams had nothing to do with true intelligence.
       Her mother is a successful go-getter (whose success also drove her loser father out of the home), and she does make sure Saya at least gets into a decent university. But Saya isn't particularly interested in academics, and though she eventually graduates her studies remain peripheral throughout her account.
       To earn some money Saya takes both a job as a 'hostess' in a club, as well as a job at the ultra-shady Kabutocho Journal company:
From the client's point of view, it was a matter of sending cash to the company, which theoretically would use it to buy promising stocks on the client's behalf. In fact, however, the company used the money as operating capital to buy much larger parcels of other stocks -- ones that it really did fancy -- and never actually bought the stocks it had been recommending.
     'The point is we use their money to buy other, more profitable shares, make a wad for ourselves, and then give the clients back their original investment, saying we're terribly sorry but the stocks didn't go up this time, or something like that.'
       It doesn't sound like a very convincing con-game, but perhaps in those heady times people would fall for anything ..... Saya's association with the company is fairly brief, but she does meet the considerably older Bogey there -- "the picture of my ideal man". She becomes involved with him, as sort of his mistress and then sort of his wife. She likes his style -- even though he doesn't have much of one. His apartment is a dump, he gambles away pretty much any money he gets his hands on, and even when she lives with him he keeps and sleeps with other women. But Saya puts up with all of that (except the dirty apartment, which she cleans up and maintains).
       Bogey does have some things going for him. He is very free with his cash, and he does seem to make a lot of it. And he may be irresponsible, but even he realises when it's time to disassociate himself from the criminal house of cards that is the Kabutocho Journal company.
       There's easy money everywhere, but given Bogey's gambling it can be hard to hold onto: their fortunes rise and fall, but through most of it Saya sticks to her man. But how much of a future is there for a girl in her early twenties with such a guy ? (He had been married before, too, and has kids; the first wife essentially killed herself because of the money-trouble he was prone to get into..)
       Saya makes her way through school, but she isn't on any real career-track -- and women still can't get much responsibility in most company-jobs anyway. Even a fairly independent and successful woman like her mother advises:
     'A woman's happiness depends on her man,' she stated. 'Even if a woman gets a job in some company, she'll only be allowed to make tea. So I think you should go along with what Bogey says and see if he'll let you do some kind of light part-time work that'll keep you from getting bored.'
       Occasionally Saya recognises that she may have gotten on the wrong track:
For several years, now, pathetically enough, I'd thought of nothing but him.
       But the normal academic-, career-, and marriage-tracks hold no appeal to her either. She's fairly empty, and so the empty lifestyle Bogey offers is, if not entirely satisfying, about as ambitious as she gets.
       His other women do get on her nerves, and eventually she also plays that game, starting up a relationship with another man. Eventually, she wants to really move on, but Bogey proves hard to free herself from: she continues to have feelings for him, and he doesn't make it easy to separate either.
       Tokyo Tango does offer some insight into this world where suddenly money is everywhere but only makes for yet another distraction. Saya throws herself into her love for Bogey, but otherwise suffers from terrible ennui. Bogey is a cartoonish character -- "the bubble-gentleman personified -- he got bubblier evey day" (as the often not-quite-right translation has it) -- but somewhat representative for those times. The focus on the relationship misses quite a bit: despite her devotion to Bogey, Saya also does most of what is expected of her, including graduating college (how ?) and eventually staking out something of an independent future for herself.
       Yokomori's attempts to describe especially the overheated Japanese economy are only partially successful: she avoids almost any detail about how money is actually made and lost but presents too many 'examples' that are nearly ridiculous such as the Kabutocho Journal company, or a landlord who forgives Bogey a huge amount of back rent. (Since Saya pays little attention to worldly details Yokomori could have easily gotten away with being completely vague; it's the unrealistic examples that undermine credibility.)
       Saya's adventures are also only occasionally compelling. She's not a very interesting character, and her devotion to Bogey is not always convincing (especially since she constantly points out his many, many faults). Tokyo Tango is of some interest as an account of changing attitudes and approaches to life in Japan, especially among the younger generation, in the 1980s, but it is not particularly well-written (or fluidly translated) and fairly roughly conceived.

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Tokyo Tango:
  • JLPP information page
Reviews: Yokomori Rika: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Yokomori Rika (横森理香) is a Japanese author.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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