If I could go. What a strange time we are in when the Olympics are live sans visitors. After already having postponed the games last year, this is where we’ve ended up, all thanks to the blasted Coronavirus pandemic.
Summer ’21, the world is still floundering, but it seems the powers that be have deemed the sporting ritual must go on. Not much different than the major leagues, I suppose. And while it fulfills its role as an anesthetic to the masses, we’ll cruise through the summer, headlong into the inevitable fall ‘variants-wave.’
I wouldn’t have been able to go to the Games even if the pandemic hadn’t bulldozed the world, so it isn’t much of a difference to me if I’m honest. But when I think about the athletes who are risking their health to compete, I wonder how many of them will miss their friends and family being there to support them as they live their dream. Or maybe they feel safer knowing their loved ones are home and less vulnerable? The whole thing is unfortunate.
Was it wise to go ahead with the Olympics? I don’t know. I do know it’s nice to have something to look forward to entertainment-wise. I am perplexed, however, as to how the Japanese government and The Olympic community would allow such an abysmal national vaccination rate in the country hosting the Games. If I were a citizen of Tokyo, I would be none too pleased over this data. The necessary quarantining of those who catch the dreaded virus could result in no players for the games, and what kind of a competition would that be? Time will tell how the variants might spread or how hard it will be to maintain healthy athletes.
Lost in my thoughts as I often am, I have found myself imagining a world where none of these variables were at play, and I would be able to attend the Tokyo Games. In the spirit of authenticity, I’ve created a reading list to assist me with my fantasy trip; a literary companion to draw from regarding the culture, tastes, sights, and sounds of the Japanese capital city I would scour from top to bottom. These carefully selected books would keep me company and help align me with my surroundings, as I soak them up whilst riding transit or waiting in the stands for an event to start! Hey, it’s 2021, all a gal can do is dream.
These are the 5 Books I’d Take To The Tokyo 2020 Olympics!
Keiko is an odd duck. Socially awkward, as she is, she could never quite fit in with her family or at school. At 18 years old she gets a job at a convenience store which opens her eyes to what is ‘normal.’
Through spending 18 years as an employee of Smile Mart, we observe this eccentric yet happy heroine, as she is educated in the ways of society and finds her place in a rigid world that presses upon her its idea of what a woman should want.
I had seen Convenience Store Woman bouncing around the blogosphere and was intrigued by the cover and premise, but it wasn’t until digging a little deeper when compiling this list that I decided to add it to my TBR mountain. Sayaka Murata offers us a gender-based perspective on the Japanese experience while tackling conventional wisdom that is common to us all.
No Japanese reading compendium worth its salt would be complete without a manga selection, and a trip to Tokyo would be ill-prepared without a lesson in the delicacies of Japanese Cuisine. The graphic novel Oishinbo: A la Carte: Volume 1, part of the highly acclaimed series by Tetsu Kariya, checks off both of these boxes.
Although I have never read any graphic novels, I have always been curious about them, so this plot-driven and informative manga series might be just the ticket for my inquiring mind. Our protagonist, a culinary journalist, Yamaoka Shiro, is assigned to discover the ‘ultimate menu’ in Japanese Cuisine. I’m hungry just thinking about reading this one!
One of Japan’s most celebrated contemporary Japanese writers, Haruki Murakami, has at least six books on my TBR list. I enjoy well-executed magical realism and have wanted to read one of his novels for a while now, but I have yet to take the plunge. Norweigan Wood, 1Q84, and Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World could all have been great additions to the Tokyo 2020 compilation, but I chose After Dark to get a sense of the nightlife in Tokyo.
Rainy Day Ramen and the Cosmic Pachinko by Gordon Vanstone gets an honourable mention here, as I was considering it as my window into the Japanese underworld but decided, for this list, to choose a book written by a native instead.
In After Dark we follow two sisters, a fashion model, and a student, as Murakami cleverly binds their lives and the various ‘night people,’ they encounter through space and time, memory, and perspective. This is the book I look forward to the most on this list.
I Live in Tokyo makes the cut as it’s an educational and cultural book I can share with my little one who, not unlike his mum, is always eager to learn about new (to him) places and customs.
Mari Takabayashi’s beautifully detailed illustrations coupled with seven-year-old Mimiko’s narration as she treats us to over a year’s worth of celebrations, food, and festivals offer the author’s first-hand perspective of this buzzing metropolis through the wide-eyes of a child.
As worldwide disasters would have it, Japan’s Olympics were not only postponed in 2020 but also, for the first time, in 1940 when they were delayed because of World War II. I came across Miri Yu’s Tokyo Ueno Station when searching for books written about the rescheduled Tokyo 1964 Olympics. Although this story isn’t necessarily about those Games, it bonds both the first and the second within its narrative.
Kazu was born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Emperor. Yu uses the art of magical realism to share with us this commoner’s life, so intertwined with the Imperial family as it is, and his connection to the park near Ueno Station. From labourer for the 1964 Games in Tokyo to someone traumatised by the devastation of the 2011 tsunami, being left homeless, Yu’s story provides us with two sides of the Olympic medal.
Are you excited for last year‘s Summer Games this year? Have you been to Japan; how did you enjoy it? Or maybe you know of another book that you think should be on this list? Let me know, let’s chat!