Tokyo Days, Bangkok Nights made me uncomfortable—mostly because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to think of it. Often, when reading a story that takes place in (say) Seoul, I’ll have to ask myself, “Wow, can Koreans really be like that?
Having only traveled internationally a handful of times—and always to Eastern Europe—and being left to rely on scattered reports from friends atop the untrustworthy testimony of pop culture for my understanding of various Asian cultures, it can be difficult to tell when a portrayal is capitalizing on pop fantasy and stereotype.
So when reading a narrative set in foreign lands that presents a picture of a people that sits far from my own normative experience, I struggle between my distaste for stereotype and my own tendency toward ethnocentrism.
And so we arrive at Jonathan Vankin’s two stories collected in Tokyo Days, Bangkok Nights.
It shouldn’t be hard for me to believe other people are so different.
But simultaneously, I’m well aware that people are prone to stereotype—especially cultural practices they do not quite understand.
Of course it’s possible that Koreans could actually, as a culture, become so distinct through hundreds of years of not being me that they, as a culture, might do all kinds of things I could never imagine.
I mean, the picture doesn’t comport to anything I’ve seen in manga or anime, anything I’ve read in Murakami or Miyabe, or anything I can imagine my Japanese-exported friends could have engaged in before moving to California. I’ve never been to Portland so who’s to say for sure, but it just doesn’t seem plausible to believe the show accurately represents any viable experience in the city.) The second story, far darker in tone, capitalizes on the stereotypes of Thailand we learn from reading stories on their icky sex trade. How Western “tourists” make the country their destination in order to have cheap sex with thirteen-year-old girls.The first half, fantastically illustrated by the late Seth Fisher, is a story that follows an American Nipponophile around Tokyo in a thoroughly madcap adventure.Vankin turns the pop sensibilities of the Japanese metropolitan society to blistering levels and gives the reader an eye into nothing but the most overblown Western fantasies of what Tokyo life must really be like. It seems impossible that even a fraction of the things, people, and events represented could come even close to reality, but (!” Being naturally and unfairly skeptical that anyone could be unlike myself, I generally just think: No, of course not.
An obviously ethnocentric (and perhaps egocentric) conclusion.
How prostitutes would rather get abused by men than live as nobodies back at home.