Wayne Lionel Aponte, the author of the recently published The Year of No Money in Tokyo, sent me a copy of his book to read and review. This was my first casual summer vacation read, and it was an interesting ride. This book did not strike me as a masterpiece, but Wayne’s experience and personal transformation throughout his “year of no money” was indeed interesting…
Interesting in the way witnessing a train wreck would be… You’re glad you’re not on the train… You feel sorry for whoever *is* on the train… but you just can’t take your eyes off it. I guess it’s a train wreck with a twist, because some how this disaster manages to get itself back together and running smoothly again. And that is quite a feat.
From what I understand, Wayne is still based in Japan, and now has been there for some twenty years. I’m going to send Wayne some questions over email that I will put together and post later if I get answers. Let me know if you have any questions you would like me to ask Wayne in the comments! It might be tough for those who haven’t actually read the book, but give it a shot anyway.
The first half of “The Year of No Money in Tokyo” struck me as yet another bitter gaijin rant written by someone who had brought themselves to Japan, gotten into trouble, and was too proud to admit defeat and leave. Wayne gets caught up in everything and everyone wrong it seems. He’s mixed up in multiple relationships, seems to take everything that happens to foreigners in Japan personally, gets thrown in jail for fighting, and of course, completely runs out of money. Eventually he is surviving on cash handouts from his girlfriends. Let me emphasize the jail and no money part. I could never imagine myself in this position in Japan, or in any country for that matter. The chapter which includes the jail scene is aptly titled, “A Fifty-Two Week Low”. JapanNewbies, if you’re going to Japan, don’t do what Wayne did. Not a role model (not at this point in the book anyway).
The book connects Wayne’s personal year of no money with the Japanese recession (specifically 1995), but the connection is weak and doesn’t quite come through. This is mostly due to the author’s attitude at this point in the book. Far more attention is drawn to the discriminatory practices of Japanese employers, and the “system” working to hold him back. One restaurant refused to hire him because they only hire “foreigners married to natives”, and he relates stories of other people who were denied jobs because of their race. The book never directly address why or why not Wayne was unable to find work, but I felt that the narrative goes out of its way to illustrate that though he was working as hard as he could to try to get back on his feet, Japan was working against him and holding him down. In my opinion, its the author’s attitude that is really holding him back. I think that by the end of the book the author comes to realize this as well.
The entire tone of this first chunk of the book is so negative that I almost put the book down and quit reading. I suspect that Wayne must have actually been writing these chapters as it was happening. The book does in fact mention that Wayne is writing during this entire ordeal, and even alludes to the book:
I, too, need to “meet inspiration halfway,” I mumble to myself. Even when I’m tired and lethargic. I have to write these Tokyo adventures down. Maybe I can help someone avoid my mistakes. p.82
An interesting thing about this entire situation is that Wayne is no slouch. He went to college in Paris and at one point had money in Tokyo. He is a voracious reader and makes many references to relevant things that he has read throughout this book, including Japanese authors such as Kenzaburo Oe. Wayne first went to Japan after accepting a good job in the city. He decided to quit that job on his own volition, expecting that he would be able to easily find other work (whoops). Obviously things didn’t go according to plan. He has been published in The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Nation at various times before this book was published. Now he teaches English at a Japanese university and various domestic companies, and does some proofing at a translation company. Not to mention that he saw this book project through to completion… So as you can see, he is certainly a capable person, which is what makes the crazy mess he got himself into all the more interesting.
The redeeming aspect of this story is that Wayne manages to pull himself out of this whole mess before the end of the book. He literally comes out of doing time in a Japanese jail (just five days) and lands two jobs teaching English at the upper end of the English teaching salary curve. He makes a conscious effort to work extra hours when possible, and completely changes his outlook on life. He mends his broken relationships, giving back to those that helped him when he was poor, and quits his womanizing ways. He even gets religious, quoting scriptures from the Bible and using them as a base for his newfound values. The transformation is incredible.
“The Year of No Money in Tokyo” is a story that could have happened to anyone in any country. In my opinion there is little “Japan specific” about this story, though it is more interesting if you know something about Japan as it will give you something to relate to. The value of this book is in the personal transformation that Wayne undergoes. His determination really shines through, and by the end of the book he really seems to be a completely different person. Hopefully by hearing Wayne’s story other people will be able to skip the whole destitution and imprisonment thing and get right into leading productive and healthy lives wherever they may live.
And, one last thing before anyone asks… Here is one answer to the burning question. Why didn’t he just go home!? – from Readerviews.com
Tyler: Why did you remain in Japan? Did you consider returning to the United States?
Wayne: Well, I felt that I had a principle to prove. Returning to the U.S. poorer than I was before I had left wasn’t in line with how I perceived myself at the time. A return home would have been read as a failure and I wanted to regard my time abroad as a success story.
And there you have it.
– Harvey [post updated 05/12/2009 to fix some factual errors]
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