As a yonsei (4th generation) Japanese-American who grew up with The Princess Diaries books, majored in Japanese studies (among other things), and has been to Japan a handful of times, I was excited when I heard about Tokyo Ever After. Although YA romance is not generally my preferred genre these days, I genuinely enjoyed reading this book.
Published by: Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 18, 2021
Intended Audience: Young Adult
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Diversity/Representation: Japanese-American main character
Content Warnings: racism
Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.
In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.
Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?
The premise of this book is very familiar and nothing earth shattering happens in the story but sometimes you just need a feel-good rom-com read with a character you can relate to.
What I enjoyed
1) The discussions about Japanese-American identity
The thing I enjoyed most about this book was the way Izumi’s struggle with her identity as a Japanese-American was portrayed. Since I grew up in Hawaii where there is a large Japanese-American population, I never felt the same sense of isolation Izumi feels being the only Japanese girl and one of the only Asians at her school. Still, I have felt the same way about not being “American” enough many times, especially when visiting the mainland United States. Likewise, every time I visit Japan, it’s always a bit a jarring to be in a sea of people who look just like me without really belonging. I can also relate to the feeling that I don’t know enough about my Japanese heritage (although I have been actively trying to learn for many years now).
The discussion about Izumi’s name was important and something that will be very relatable to anyone who grew up in America with an Asian name. Although I don’t have Japanese first name, I know what it’s like to struggle with people constantly mispronouncing, misspelling, and commenting on my “unusual” last name (even though it’s one of the most common Japanese last names to the point that it’s often used in Japanese language textbooks).
2) The Characters
I liked that this book avoided the common stereotype of the Asian-American kid who is perfect student student but secretly wants to break free of the family pressure to be a doctor (or other prestigious profession) to follow their passion. Izumi is so relatable because she isn’t perfect. Her grades are average, she’s not particularly good at anything other than sarcastic banter, and she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. But she loves deeply and has a good heart and it was refreshing to read a story where that was enough.
3) The importance of family
Obviously family was going to play a huge role in this book due to the “lost princess” aspect, but I really enjoyed how it was handled here. Izumi’s close relationship with her mother was wonderful to see. I also loved the way her relationship with her father developed in a way that seemed very realistic and natural (Or, as realistic as it can be in such an unlikely scenario!) with many bumps along the way.
5) Strong friendships
Let’s talk about Izumi’s California friends – the Asian Girl Gang (or AGG for short). Even though I hated the name, I loved the idea of these four girls bonding over their shared experiences as Asian-Americans even though they belong to different ethnicities. Their dynamic, banter, and the way they support each other was lovely and I wish we got to spend more time getting to know them.
5) The romance
I am not a big fan of contemporary romance but I thoroughly enjoyed the way the relationship was developed. Was it predictable? Yes. But did I love their bickering and get way too invested in seeing a happy ending? Also yes. I really appreciated that Akio was not a “flat” love interest and that he got a solid backstory and had dreams and motivations of his own beyond the scope of their relationship.
7) Exploring Japan
I miss Japan so much. I was supposed to go for a visit again last year but…well, 2020 happened. So I enjoyed living vicariously through Izumi as she explored Japan and ate all my favorite Japanese food.
Things that didn’t work for me
1) Cousin conflicts
I didn’t enjoy the conflict Izumi had with her Japanese cousins. The girl-on-girl hate from the twins was unnecessary and I don’t think the thing that was revealed at the end made it any better. On the other hand, I would have liked to see more of a conflict between the traditional values/expectations of the older members of the imperial family and Izumi’s actions and opinions. While I liked that they accepted her, it seemed far too easy, especially given the emphasis on how much of an outsider Izumi was.
2) Overcorrection of stereotypes
Also, although I liked that Izumi contradicted the stereotype of the over-achiever Asian girl, I thought it sometimes went too far in the other direction, to the point that it was difficult to suspend my disbelief. From what we’re given to understand, she always wanted to learn about her family, but when she found out that she’s a princess, she made no effort read ANY of the information. Even for someone who is supposedly laid back and “go with the flow”, this seems highly unlikely.
3) Unrealistic Japanese language learning
The way Izumi was learning Japanese language baffled me. Kanji takes years to learn so I have no idea why we only saw her practicing calligraphy style Kanji, before even learning hiragana and katakana. I studied Japanese for three years in high school and four years in college and I still struggle with kanji. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’ve barely practiced since I finished undergrad several years ago but the point is, there is no logical reason why Izumi’s tutor would have her focus on writing kanji after only a few weeks. There is a very specific stroke order to write each character, some of which contain more than 10 strokes. Also, kanji characters have multiple ways to pronounce them depending on their combination, adding to the difficulty of learning.
4) Dorayaki does not contain nutella
Dorayaki is delicious and it is one of my favorite Japanese sweets. It is also filled with anko (red bean paste), NOT nutella. They are completely different. I’m not sure if that change was intended to make it more relatable to white readers but I thought it was unnecessary and was irrationally annoyed by it.
Tokyo Ever After was an enjoyable, fluffy story with sarcastic banter, strong family relationships, and a romance to root for. It’s super cheesy, dramatic, and generally predictable but in this case, it really works. And honestly, the world needs more books like this with diverse protagonists that are just fun to read.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Thank you to Flatiron Books for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.
About the Author
Emiko Jean is the author of Tokyo Ever After, Empress of all Seasons, and We’ll Never be Apart. When Emiko is not writing, she is reading. Most of her friends are imaginary. Before she became a writer she was an entomologist (fancy name for bug catcher), a candle maker, a florist, and most recently a teacher. She lives in Washington with her husband and children (unruly twins). She loves the rain.
Have you read (or are you planning to read) Tokyo Ever After? Let’s chat in the comments!