Listening is what Sherman is best at. Her passage around Tokyo is a form of listening, as she traces the sound-ranges of the bells ... Sherman’s is a special book. Every sentence, every thought she has, every question she asks, every detail she notices, offers something. The Bells of Old Tokyo is a gift ... points us to the diversities and complexities of Tokyo, and of Japan’s histories and systems of belief. It is a masterpiece. Sherman’s Tokyo, populated by Japanese voices — authors, artists, museum stewards, people in bars, cafes, or on the street, the religious and unreligious — is mesmerising and brimming with life.
A lot of research backs the book, with around a third of the page count going to a bibliography and notes, often enjoyable reading in their own right. There’s clearly an academic mind at work here, but for all its sourcing and contextualising, the book rarely feels bogged down by it, and it’s a warm and engaging read. It makes a refreshing counterpart to quite a few books which fall into the 'gaijin gets into mishaps' model – this author isn’t here to tell us about culture shock clichés like coin locker hotel pods, for example ... Anyone with an interest in Japan will benefit from [Sherman's] inquisitive mind at work in this book.
... a lovely way to ring in the new with contemplation of the old ... A wistful sense of nostalgia and loss permeates this book ... References to the work of various writers, artists, critics and historians—including Nobel Prize-winner Yasunari Kawabata —enrich her narrative ... Tokyo’s past, although often physically erased by fires or constant demolition and construction in a nation that prizes change and modernization—is movingly excavated and evoked in this unusual book ... Ms. Sherman has a nose for interesting stories, and each district yields its own fascinating slice of Japanese history ... The decision to keep the focus on her lyrical prose is understandable. But although clearly not intended as a guidebook, the book begs for photographs and, at the minimum, endpaper maps.
... a beautiful debut of creative nonfiction that explores cultural interpretations of time ... Despite the fact that this work frequently jumps between time periods, it is an enjoyable read that is easy to follow ... Highly recommended for anyone who has visited or is planning to visit Tokyo. Readers will gain insight into the history, culture, and language of Japan as well as ideas on city hot spots.
... [an] absorbing blend of history, memoir, and travelogue ... Chapters are organized by neighborhood, giving the reader a sense of local and evocative texture ... An imaginative, well-researched introduction to Tokyo and its stunning complexity.
The author’s own layered process mirrors the city’s complexity, nonlinearity, and frozen beauty. The bells were not always easy to find, but Sherman was determined, and she successfully brings into focus their elusive stories, which point to an appealing past in a city that has moved rapidly into the future ... Sharp attention to detail and a deliberate pace give this singular narrative history the sense of a shimmery, vanished past.