Monday, March 7, 2022

Strange Weather in Tokyo: Hiromi Kawakami

In Strange Weather in Tokyo, Tsukiko Omachi runs into her high school Japanese teacher at a bar in Tokyo. She is 37, he is much older, around 70. He recognizes her, but she cannot remember his name, so she calls him "Sensei." They continue to see each other often at the bar and she always calls him Sensei, even after she knows his name and they are friends. For about the first half of the book, at least, I wasn't sure where the story was going. It seemed to be just a series of vignettes of their meetings over the next few years. 

Both Tsukiko and Sensei are loners. They don't see other people. Tsukiko has an office job, Sensei is retired. But as strange as their new friendship is, they clearly enjoy their time together. The relationship develops over time. At some point, there is a disagreement, and the two still go to their usual bar but don't speak at all. Eventually Tsukiko realizes how much she misses spending time with Sensei. Yet both of them seem to be afraid of taking the relationship any further. 

My thoughts: 

This book had some similarities to Convenience Store Woman. The story is narrated by Tsukiko. There are many conversations between her and Sensei, so we see the story of their relationship and learn bits about their background from her point of view and their talks. This story also provides an interesting perspective on life in Japan. I enjoyed reading about the bars that they frequented and other activities they shared. Both of them ate out for dinner frequently at bars in the evening. 

There is an interesting trip to a market place that sells foods at individual stalls plus other goods.

Stalls started to appear here and there on the street. There were stalls that only sold tabi boots. Stalls that sold collapsible umbrellas. Stalls for secondhand clothing. Stalls that sold used books mixed with new books.


After we passed a corner stall selling odds and ends, more and more of the stalls had grocery items for sale. Stalls selling only beans. Stalls with all different kinds of shellfish. There was a stall that had crates full of little shrimp or crabs.


The grocery stalls thinned and gave way to stalls selling larger items. Household appliances. Computers. Telephones. There were mini refrigerators lined up in different colors. An LP was playing on an old record player.  I could hear the low timbre of a violin. The music had an old-fashioned, simple charm. Sensei stood, listening intently, until the end of the piece.

Much of the book centers around the times that Tsukiko and Sensei eat a meal together. So there is a lot of discussion of Japanese foods. I was not familiar with much of the food, but it all sounded delicious, and I wished I could be there and they could tell me all about the food. 

Strange Weather in Tokyo gave me a lot to think about after the story was over. I loved the writing. It was simple, just telling what the two did together, how the relationship, whatever it is, progresses. The story was told in under 200 pages, and was a good length, not overdone. For me, the ending was unbearably sad, but in some ways it was a happy ending. 

This was my third book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15.


Publisher:   Counterpoint, 2017 (orig. pub. 2001)
Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell 
Length:       192 pages
Format:       eBook
Setting:       Tokyo, Japan
Genre:        Fiction
Source:       Purchased in 2021.


Cath said...

I'm not sure this is for me but utterly fascinating to read your review of a book about a culture so different to ours.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am definitely intrigued.

Margot Kinberg said...

This sounds like a really interesting look at the culture and at relationships, all at the same time, Tracy. I find that absolutely fascinating, and I can see how it would hold your attention, even if it's hard at first to get a sense of where the story is going.

TracyK said...

Cath, This was a fascinating read. Even when it moved slowly I had no problem with it. And I liked that it was so short.

TracyK said...

Patti, I found it interesting that the last two Japanese books I read were about women who did not fit in with society, although with Tsukiko she is fairly normal, just a loner who avoids relationships. The novel was very good. We must have gotten an ebook copy on sale, because now it is fairly expensive and we don't pay that much for ebooks.

TracyK said...

Margot, the style of the story did not bother me because I was so interested in what I was reading about, and it does pick up later.

CLM said...

Unrelated to Tokyo, what did you think of Watermelon? It is a long time since I have read it but I was thinking about it recently - I think I put a book by her into one of my Six Degrees. I also liked the Spies of Schilling Lane. I want to read her most recent book but have too many books out of the library at the moment.

My nephew is turning 17 on Saturday and lately I have been giving him nonfiction about WWII which he allegedly enjoys. But he is going on vacation and I have been trying to think of a very lively historical mystery he would like for the plane, sort of like Anthony Price but probably a little more accessible. I wish I had started thinking a week ago!

TracyK said...

Constance, I liked Watermelon by Marian Keyes quite a bit and I really did not expect to. That isn't the kind of book I usually read and in some ways it was hard to relate to her problems, but I certainly sympathize with and can understand the mood swings and pain that she went through. I loved reading about her family relationships and hope to keep reading the series about the Walsh family. I bought it originally because I had heard that the 5th book in the series, The Mystery of Mercy Close, was good. Have you read other books in the series? I enjoyed The Spies of Shilling Lane also. I liked the characters very much.

I hope you are able to think of a historical mystery for your nephew. If I think of one I will let you know. I love Anthony Price, but that is probably not a good one to start with.

I have a question for you? Are you going to review The Maid? I am trying to decide whether to get a copy.

Lark said...

Good writing always goes a long way for me with any book. :)

TracyK said...

Lark, That is so true. Good characterization and plot is important, but if the writing isn't good, they may not be enough. I used to think that general fiction often ignored plot and never went anywhere; of course, that is was an unwarranted assumption. But now, I can read books that take a while to get going or just have a lot of atmosphere, as long as the writer keeps me interested. I was very happy with this short novel.

col2910 said...

Sounds interesting and bit different from my normal reading. Probably no need to hunt it down, if I did, realistically I'd probably never read it.

TracyK said...

Col, you never know, but I would not see this a book you would enjoy. It is short though, and I don't have problems finishing short books.