Beauty and Chaos
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More About This Title Beauty and Chaos


Tokyo—City of Contradictions? Yes and no!

The largest city in the world teems with chaotic energy and serene, human-scale beauty. With 40 million people, the largest urban economy in the world, 400 years of history and as many trains as India, Tokyo is consistently ranked as a great place to travel but what is life really like there? What is the real city like?

Writing about Tokyo for over 15 years, essayist and professor Michael Pronko opens up Tokyo life and reveals what’s beneath the gleaming, puzzling exterior of the biggest city in the world.

Whether contemplating Tokyo’s odd-shaped bonsai houses, endless walls of bottles, pachinko parlors, chopstick ballet or the perilous habit of running for trains, the 45 essays in Beauty and Chaos explore Tokyo from inside to reveal the city’s deeper meanings and daily pleasures. In turns comic, philosophic, descriptive and exasperated, Pronko’s essays have been popular with Japanese readers for more than a decade.

If you’re traveling to Tokyo, these essays enlarge the significance and illuminate the contradictions of this fast-paced megalopolis. Part travelogue, part comparative culture, and all


Michael Pronko has written about Japanese culture, art, jazz, society, architecture and politics for Newsweek Japan, The Japan Times, Artscape Japan, as well as other publications. He has appeared on NHK and Nippon Television doing video versions of his essays. He runs his own website, Jazz in Japan ( He teaches American Literature and Culture (novels, film, art and music) at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo and after discussing Kurt Vonnegut or Jackson Pollock in class is in the right frame of mind to wander Tokyo contemplating its intensity.


Table of Contents

Part One: Fastidious Refinement, A Meticulous Love of Life
No Space Left Unmapped
Automatic Tea Ceremony
Floods of Advertising—On Sale Now!
What's Your Bag?
Life Delivered to the Door
Half Empty or Half Full? Walls of Bottles
Waiting to Blossom—Cherry Tree Maps
How I Ended Up Here

Part Two: A Beautiful Confusion
Frames of Emptiness
Clothing That Shouts--T-shirt Words
Standing Libraries
Reading the Signs
The Point of Point Cards
The Noisiest Time of Year
Ordered Around—Public Rules
The Delicate Ritual of Small Change
A Big Bowl of Japan

Part Three: Scenes from the Train
The Paperback-Cellphone Hypothesis
The Pumpkin Train--Late Night Commuting
Hanging On the Meaning
The Ebb and Flow of Human Motion
All the World's a Stage-Train Platforms
Slideshow Lives, Glimpses Inside
Both Directions at Once, Change in the City
Tokyo's Million Marathons
No Time to Spare—Schedules

Part Four: Beauty and Chaos, Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life
Souvenirs from the Land of Impulse--Don Q
Elegant Eating--the Art of Chopsticks
What Goes Around Comes Around—Pachinko
The Tradition of Banners
The Summer Whispers and Calls
Bathing in Kanji—Hanging Menus
Pink Power
Floating in a Sea of Words
Singing in the Rainy Season

Part Five: A Maze of the Mind
Up and Down and Down and Up—City of Stairs
A-Maze-ing Tokyo
The Shiny and the Rough
Escalators to Heaven
The Love of Small Places
Around and Around--Going in Circles
Bonsai Buildings

Part Six: After Words
Seeing the City, Reading the City
The City Provokes Me--Why I Write These
Japan and Me
Afterwords and Thanks



Gold Award First Place for Cultural Non-Fiction (Reader's Favorite Awards 2015)
Gold Award for Creative Non-Fiction (eLit Awards 2015)
Silver Award for Travel Essay (eLit Award 2015)
Gold Award Non-Fiction Authors Association 2015
"Beauty and Chaos is a rare gem of exploration that holds the ability to sweep observer/readers into a series of vignettes that penetrate the heart of Tokyo's fast-paced world. Anyone planning a trip to the city (and many an armchair reader who holds a special affection for Japan) must have this in hand - and, in mind. Very highly recommended." --D. Donovan, Senior Book Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

"An exciting book that takes readers on a sightseeing trip of Tokyo, the place, its culture and essence." -- Mamta Madhavan for Readers' Favorite

"Pronko's topics are varied and surprising. He notices the kinds of things that might be taken for granted by the Japanese and overlooked entirely by visitors...These pieces feel flowing and natural, perhaps because many arose simply from walking around, people-watching." -Rebecca Foster, The Bookbag

"For readers interested in Japanese life and culture, or in simply reading a beautiful set of essays of a place you may or may never have been yourself, Beauty and Chaos is a spectacular read. Its essays are long enough to be cohesive and provocative while remaining short and sweet. The collection is masterful and unique, and well worth the time to read through. Pronko illustrates his points with marvelous skill." - Self-Publishing Review

"A cleareyed but affectionate portrait of a city that reaches beyond simple stereotypes. An elegantly written, precisely observed portrait of a Japanese city and its culture." Kirkus Reviews

"Japanese who are used to Tokyo are caught off guard by his conclusions derived from careful observation, and are struck dumb. Tokyo, the city we are so careless of, suddenly starts to become glorious. It is a wonder!" --Chunichi Shimbun (Newspaper)