Book of the Week: Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean


This is what romance is all about. This is why I read Romance. Awash in tenderness, with limitless care, Emiko Jean leads with her heart. Tokyo Ever After is a story that is American and Japanese and neither and both. Like the delicate sakura, the protagonists’ love is essential to them, the very air they breathe; whether like the blossoms it will be impermanent or endure is for the future to know.

This is the story of Izumi Tanaka becoming…

A senior at Mount Shasta High School, Izumi often feels like an outsider in the place of her birth. A minor minority, she makes friends with other minority girls, and together, they form an unshakeable bond against everything life throws at them. As a single child of a single parent, she has often felt lonely, but her questions about her father have gotten instantly shut down. Naturally, she has wondered if he even knows she was born; would he accept her if he knew she existed; does he care — these are questions that circle her mind obsessively. A chance glance at a book reveals a name, expert Googling later there is a contact, a letter is sent…and highly polished Japanese officials shows up in her kitchen with its cracked yellow linoleum floor. Her Imperial Highness Princess Izumi, they call her. She’s the illegitimate daughter of the Crown Prince of Japan and he wants her to visit him at his residence, Tōgū Palace, in Tokyo.

Izumi shows up at Narita airport in leggings and a faded sweatshirt and is greeted by Akio Kobayashi, a gorgeous Imperial Guard with a stick up his backside. For ten hours, he had watched her binge-watch television and not read her critical information binder. Not quite the impression she had hoped to make. 

But first impressions have a way of dissolving under the weight of new experiences and attuned consciousness. Heightened awareness and charged connections have a way of bridging culture and backgrounds. The romance is highly nuanced where subtle shades of meaning are layered one on top of each other in gossamer threads.

Japan, as Jean describes it, has woven its way into my heart and mind. Through words, she has spun a picture of the country that I may never see in this life but will always be an indelible part of my memory. If for nothing else, read the book for this experience.

Izumi’s relationships with Japan and with her father are fraught and complex. When she steps off that airplane in Tokyo, she steps into an emotional minefield of protocol, duty, kinship, love, backstabbing, intrigue, and all the myriad ways of life for a newcomer to a country, to a paternal relationship, and to the imperial way of life.

Humor comes naturally to Jean’s pen and to Izumi’s mind. Even as Izumi is adopting Japanese ways and becoming a part of her new life, she reaches for humor that is the American part of her. I loved this careful crafting of her new persona with intrusions of her old persona peeking through the gaps in unguarded moment of truthfulness. Izumi can write kana in an elegant calligraphy hand; she can also wisecrack like the breezy teenager she is. She knows imperial court protocol, and she can talk shit with her childhood friends. She is wise beyond her years sometimes, and in others, she is as awkward as a newborn foal. All these warring parts of her are like a Tetris game. How to fit them together? How to make a new life for herself? A new Izumi?  

And above all, where does she belong? 

There’s a German word “Gemütlichkeit,” which means a state of friendliness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging springing from social acceptance. Izumi has been forever seeking Gemütlichkeit in her life.

Sometimes, it is in Mount Shasta that she belongs, sometimes in Japan. Did the primarily Caucasian American town accept a minority Asian? Is she forever to be gaijin, or will Japan accept her as one of their own? And what is it that she wants? Does she want to be Imperial Princess hence forwards or does she want to return to Mount Shasta and go to the state university for college?

A wise Shintō saying: “To be fully alive is to have an aesthetic perception of life because a major part of the world’s goodness lies in its often unspeakable beauty.”  Like the saying, Izumi ultimately perceives that her role in life is to be fully present and appreciative of all that is around her and within her. 

Izumi, you are a world unto yourself. Build your own space. One meant uniquely for you.

Ah!   ::chef’s kiss::

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