The Bells of Old Tokyo – Anna Sherman

The Bells of Old Tokyo tells the story of Tokyo with the city’s old bells and hence its time. This is Anna Sherman’s first book, and it is a part personal memoir, part cultural history. Right from the opening sentences, it will take you to the streets of Tokyo.


Time flows and flows, constantly. It never stops, not even for a second. Sometimes we may think back ‘I should have done this, I should have done that…’ And it is those regrets, those reflections, that we move forward…

The Bells of Old Tokyo - Anna Sherman

The Bells of Old Tokyo tells the story of Anna Sherman’s years in Tokyo, the friendships she built, and the city’s overall feel. While looking for the bells of old Tokyo, it also touches upon the history of the city and how it measures time. (You may have guessed the relationship between time and the bells.) The narrative of the author is so pleasant that every character she encounters comes alive and enters your life. I especially wondered about Daibo and his coffee shop and after a little search; I saw that Daibo and his shop was exactly as the author described.

Even if Tokyo is not a city you want to see, I am sure you’d still enjoy the book because she sheds a different light on the city with her excellent narration.

It’s because we last only for a blink that our lives matter so much.

About the book: The Bells of Old Tokyo

‘The best book I have read about Tokyo written this century’ David Peace

For over 300 years, Japan closed itself to outsiders, developing a remarkable and unique culture. During its period of isolation, the inhabitants of the city of Edo, later known as Tokyo, relied on its public bells to tell the time. In her remarkable book, Anna Sherman tells of her search for the bells of Edo, exploring the city of Tokyo and its inhabitants and the individual and particular relationship of Japanese culture – and the Japanese language – to time, tradition, memory, impermanence and history.

Through Sherman’s journeys around the city and her friendship with the owner of a small, exquisite cafe, who elevates the making and drinking of coffee to an art-form, The Bells of Old Tokyo presents a series of hauntingly memorable voices in the labyrinth that is the metropolis of the Japanese capital: An aristocrat plays in the sea of ashes left by the Allied firebombing of 1945. A scientist builds the most accurate clock in the world, a clock that will not lose a second in five billion years. A sculptor eats his father’s ashes while the head of the house of Tokugawa reflects on the destruction of his grandfather’s city (`A lost thing is lost. To chase it leads to darkness’).

The result is a book that not only engages with the striking otherness of Japanese culture like no other, but that also marks the arrival of a dazzling new writer as she presents an absorbing and alluring meditation on life through an exploration of a great city and its people.

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About the author: Anna Sherman

Anna Sherman was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. She studied Greek and Latin at Wellesley College and at Lincoln College, Oxford. Anna worked as an editor at Millennium Journal of International Studies, Financial Times Energy, and then, after moving to Asia in 2001, for Hong Kong University Press and other imprints in Hong Kong and Tokyo.

The Bells of Old Tokyo - Anna Sherman

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Japanese Literature – A Literary Journey

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