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 Izumi 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, Izumi 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.
Izumi 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 fairy tale, happily ever after?
- Title: Tokyo Ever After
- Author: Emiko Jean
- Publisher: Flatiron Books
- Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
- Targeted Age Range: Young Adult
- Trigger Warnings: Family estrangement
- Rating: ★★★★☆
Growing up, I’ve always been drawn to princesses and fairy tales, so it’s no surprise that my reading preferences reflect that. When I found out about Tokyo Ever After, with comparative titles to The Princess Diaries and Crazy Rich Asians, I instantly added it to my Most Anticipated Reads of 2021 list. Like many others, The Princess Diaries was fundamental in my childhood; a series that I found myself revisiting over and over again. In fact, I had just finished a buddy reread of The Princess Diaries prior to starting Tokyo Ever After, which put me in the perfect mood for diving into Tokyo Ever After.
In a year where most of us have been confined to our homes, our work, and the grocery store, I’ve noticed that I’ve read more books set internationally than ever. Tokyo Ever After is a delight in itself; the setting so lush and vivid that I felt like I was transported out of my bedroom, and into Tokyo and Kyoto. Emiko Jean’s imagery was so descriptive and stunning that I truly felt immersed. I could so easily picture myself there with Izumi, looking at cherry blossoms and eating some of the most decadent food.
Izumi’s journey to self-discovery, and her identity was one that really resonated with me. While I’m not Japanese, I know all too well the feeling of not being enough, and the fear of not living up to expectations. Izumi’s quest to figure out “What does Japanese American mean, what does it mean to be too Westernized, what does it mean to be Japanese?” really hit home. In addition to grappling with all that, Izumi also has the added pressure of being royalty and in the spotlight. My heart felt for Izumi – I can’t imagine having your life overturned like that one day, going from a regular high school student to finding out that you’re royalty the next.
One of my favorite things about Tokyo Ever After was the Asian Girl Gang (AGG for short), which consisted of Izumi’s friends back home. They clearly all knew and understood each other, and always had each other’s best interests at heart. There’s a special bond that the few people of color, the few Asians, in a predominantly White area have, and I wish I’d gotten to see more of them and their dynamics. I also loved reading about Akio and the rest of the cast of characters — The brooding bodyguard, cunning, and conniving cousins were a real treat!
Perhaps I am simply too Type A for my own good, but one of my biggest gripes with Tokyo Ever After was Izumi’s laid back personality. Simply put, if I was suddenly told that I was a princess and was visiting my family for the first time, and was given a binder on my family’s history, my trip itinerary, and the customs and expectations, I wouldn’t put it off until the last minute, and I definitely wouldn’t be rewatching Downton Abbey over it. I also wouldn’t use being overdue as an excuse for my perpetual lateness. Given how nervous and desperate she was to make a good impression on her family, I was honestly quite shocked that she didn’t really make an effort to do so. I also didn’t feel like the Imperial Family’s actions matched their descriptions. For how traditional and concerned with their image and reputation they seemed, they accepted Izumi into their lives and their monarchy awfully fast.
Tokyo Ever After left me wanting more. Although there was a big happily ever after moment that made my heart warm, I had so many unanswered questions — What was going to happen next to Izumi? Where did this leave her and Akio? What about her parents? Her education? Her friends back home, the AGG? Which is why I’m so glad that there’ll be a sequel! I can’t wait to see what’s next in store for Izumi!
I was also incredibly lucky to interview Emiko Jean! Check out her answers below!
For much of the book, our heroine, Izumi, feels stuck between two worlds. In her small, mostly white hometown in northern California, she has always felt like she’s “not American enough.” Now, when she travels to Tokyo, Izzy suddenly feels like she’s “too American” and “not Japanese enough.” Why was it important to you to explore these themes of identity and belonging, and what do you hope readers will take away from Izzy’s experience?
I like the idea of stories being windows and mirrors, allowing the reader to glimpse through to a side of life they have never experienced or see their reflection in the text. Most of all, I hope that readers will take away a sense of empathy and understanding for the Asian-American experience. Right now, I am writing these answers during a wave of anti-Asian sentiment in the United States. A by-product discussion has started on how Asians are portrayed in the media, which is often stereotypical and narrowly focused. I’d like for readers to see that we are whole people with rich lives.
Tokyo Ever After is such a transporting, escapist read that will make people want to hop on a plane to Japan as soon as quarantine is over. Which places in Japan—from the glitzy palaces in Tokyo to the temples and bamboo groves in Kyoto—were the most fun to write about, and what are you most excited for readers to experience while following Izumi’s escapades?
While I enjoyed writing about Japan in general, I adored writing about Kyoto. It is such a special city and in many ways, the heart of Japan. And I think, or at least hope, that shows through the text.
A compelling thread in the book is Izumi’s relationship with her mother, who has always been her rock, and her father, who she is only just getting to know. Can you tell us a little about how Izzy’s evolving relationships with her mom and dad shape her sense of family and who she is throughout the book?
In the book, Izumi and her mom have really relied on each other. Having a secure and safe relationship with her mother allowed Izumi to seek out an unknown relationship with her father and an extension of that, her relationship with Japan. Both act as anchors for her and allow her to explore her identity and where she belongs.
Without giving away any spoilers, what was one of your favorite scenes in the book to write?
I loved drafting the second half of the book where Izumi travels through Japan. There is a scene where she visits a bamboo grove and has a meaningful albeit short conversation with the farmer. I loved how the scene unfolded, and I couldn’t help feeling fully transported while writing it.
What was one of the most challenging scenes to write?
The most challenging scenes were ones revolving around court manners or that required specific details. The two that come immediately to mind is Izumi’s arrival in Japan when she walks through the airport and drives through Tokyo. Both these scenes required a lot of research to capture Izumi’s first glimpse of Japan—not only as a newcomer but also as a princess.
Lastly, we have to ask – what are you working on next? (We heard that a sequel to Tokyo Ever After might already be in the works!) Without giving too much away, can you give readers any hints as to what they can expect from your next book?
I don’t think I can say too much other than there will be a second Tokyo Ever After book. I promise more romance, more kissing, and more royal romps!
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.