Monday, April 6, 2009

The Year of No Money in Tokyo

Wayne Lionel Aponte
Watkins and McKay, LLC (2009)
ISBN 9780982055007
Reviewed by Ron Standerfer for Reader Views (12/08)

As an American who once lived and worked in Tokyo during the go-go years of the 1980s, I've often wondered what life was like in the 1990s when the bottom fell out of the economy and Japan endured the worst recession since World War II. Surely, I thought, the financial, emotional, and psychological effects of this decade-long experience would cause profound changes in a society who once considered a downturn in their previously robust economy as unthinkable as an invasion of aliens from outer space. But after reading Wayne Lionel Aponte's intimate and powerful book, "The Year of No Money in Tokyo," I am convinced that such changes never occurred, or if they did, they were scarcely evident to the outside world.  Instead, while enduring the grinding persistence of a stagnant economy, it was business as usual for the Japanese people, at least as far as their mores and social values were concerned.

As the story begins Aponte is out of work, a condition he endures during most of the narrative.  Unemployment was at a record high during the Japanese recession of course, but Aponte is not Japanese, he is a foreigner. Worse yet, he is not just a foreigner, but an American, a class of aliens traditionally subject to special scrutiny and criticism in Japan for reasons that are not always clear.  Last but not least, he is black and this in itself put him in emotional harm's way in ways only blacks can understand.

Like most intimate, first-person, true stories, "The Year of No Money in Tokyo" comes across as being written straight from the heart.  In particular, the descriptions of Aponte's life in Tokyo ring true and I can visualize the cramped, closet-like rooms he lived in, hear the noisy chatter of inconsiderate neighbors, and smell the collage of scents in the streets.  The narrative had its share of bittersweet and touching moments as well, especially when describing the complex relationships he formed with the various women in his life, especially those upon whose largesse he was forced to depend to get him through those times when money was in short supply.

The cover of "The Year of No Money in Tokyo" asserts that the story highlights an aspect of what it is like to be black and simultaneously American in Japan, and in many respects that is certainly true.  But I think that the book rises to a much higher level by describing how one man, through endless and dogged determination, managed to reinvent himself, and by doing so, triumphed over the adversity of living under some of the most difficult financial conditions imaginable.  Consequently, the book is an inspiration to us all.

So how is Wayne Lionel Aponte doing these days?  I cannot say for sure, but his biography states that he lives and works in Tokyo, Japan.  That means he is still fighting the good fight.  Good for him!  "The Year of No Money in Tokyo" is an excellent book and is well worth reading; especially by those of us who need an extra jolt of inspiration because we don't think life is treating us fairly.

Listen to interview on Inside Scoop Live
Read interview with Wayne Lionel Aponte