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Fiction

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Strange Weather in Tokyo jacket

Tsukiko is 37, living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’ (teacher in Japanese, real name: Mr. Harutsuna Matsumoto), in a Satora bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower.

After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake, always without prior appointments. As the seasons pass – from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms – Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which I myself didn’t quite sure which way it would go.

I haven’t read similar sensitive and slow burning relationship building novel since Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and The Professor, so I am so glad to stumble into Hiromi Kawakami. What I said about The Housekeeper and The Professor was “There is no big action, big bang or dramatic plot. But a quiet reflection and awakenings of things that are left unsaid.” and this holds true for Strange Weather as well.

Standing on the street right then, I felt very far away from Sensei. I was keenly aware of the distance between us. Not only the difference in our ages in years, nor even the space between where each of us was at that moment, but rather the sheer distance that existed between us. – page 86

His (Kojima) behaviour was commensurate with his age. The passage of time had been evenly distributed for Kojima, and both his body and mind had developed proportionately.

I, on the other hand, still might not be considered a proper grown-up. I had been very grown-up when I was in primary school. But as I continued through secondary school, I in fact became less grown-up. And then as years passed, I turned into quite a childlike person. I suppose I just wasn’t able to ally myself with time. – page 104

There is a lot of mention about Japanese food and dishes here. Tsukiko and Sensei also went mushroom hunting one day. I have no idea there are so many types of mushrooms in Japanese cuisine. From left to right, these are Shiitake, Matsutake and Kaki Shimeji mushrooms.

Shiitake-mushroom-dried matsutake-mushroom kaki shimeji mushroom

Towards the middle of the novel, a younger man Kojima appears. Kojima was interested with Tsukiko. The contrast of Tsukiko’s relationship with an older man and a younger man became apparent. I found Tsukiko’s relationship with the similar age Kojima was a notion that I am comfortable with, whereas Tsukiko’s relationship with Sensei who is 30 years her senior, seems out of sort, at the beginning at least. I am keenly aware of my prejudice when I make this comparison.

The thing about reading a Japanese novel is its beautiful and simple prose. Readers of different cultures would find some of the courtship approaches a little hesitant and strange. This is a traditional and not melodramatic romance. The plot is perfectly paced, at times hilarious and quirky, other times moving and sad. Strange Weather in Tokyo is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance of two people from different generations. I am not into romance but this one I can take.

Jap Lit 7If you can ignore that silly UK cover of a woman floating in the air in the middle of the restaurant (I didn’t even think the restaurant is Japanese) and the funny title (I prefer The Briefcase), I think this make a very refreshing, haunting and a good heartwarming read.

Rating: four stars

I am reading this for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 7.

Paperback. Print length: 176 pages. Publisher: Portobello Book 2013. Source: Reading Library. Setting: Japan. Finished reading at: 17 August 2013. Translated brilliantly from Japanese by Allison Markin Powell.

The book was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2012.

Other views (Many people who read the USA edition have read this in January 2013):

Tony’s Reading List Tony writes a more in-depth review and questioned Tsukiko’s feeling for Sensei.

In Spring it is the dawn: “In the end, this is the story of two people whose lives crossed, and touched each other’s, for a short time. The ending was rather poignant and tied up the story beautifully while leaving the reader with a final image that lingers long after having closed the book.”

Beauty is a sleeping cat: “What I liked is how the book reads as if it had been painted with one of those very precise and fine calligraphy brushes. Kawakami can evoke an atmosphere and emotions in a few lines, and artfully captures how they are changing constantly. The story takes up almost a year and the change of seasons is captured as well as the change of emotions.”

Winston’s Dad: “This being Japan this very unusual relationship isn’t all about your full-blown passion, no it is more two lonely souls in the sea that is Tokyo that have end up being drawn together.”

About the Writer:

Hiromi Kawakami

Hiromi Kawakami is born in Tokyo, Kawakami graduated from Ochanomizu Women’s College in 1980. She made her debut as “Yamada Hiromi” in NW-SF #16, edited by Yamano Koichi and Yamada Kazuko, in 1980 with the story So-shimoku (“Diptera”), and also helped edit some early issues of NW-SF in the 1970s.

She reinvented herself as a writer and made her second debut in mainstream literature with her first book, a collection of short stories entitled God (Kamisama) published in 1994. Her novel The Teacher’s Briefcase, also called Strange Weather in Tokyo in the UK (Sensei no kaban) is a love story between a woman in her thirties and a man in his seventies. She is also known as a literary critic and a provocative essayist.

Awards and honors

1996 Akutagawa Prize for Tread On A Snake (Hebi wo fumu)
2000 Itō Sei Literature Prize for Oboreru
2000 Woman Writer’s Prize for Oboreru
2001 Tanizaki Prize for The Teacher’s Briefcase (Sensei no kaban)
2007 Honored by the Ministry of Education for her novel Manazuru
2012 Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist for The Briefcase

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

  1. looks interesting, I will take a look in the bookstore next time :) plus I find that cover really charming, even thought place looks more Chinese than Japanese to me :) PS thank you for your email! I will try to find something similar, I’m only worried about smoke/smell :)

    Posted by myhongkonghusband | August 20, 2013, 10:06 pm
  2. Great review! You made me really want to read this book!

    Posted by lmjapan | August 22, 2013, 12:33 am
  3. I think we had quite similar reactions to the book including the translated title of the UK edition! I did enjoy this book and loved her writing style but the huge age gap between Tsukiko and Sensei kind of bothered me. Not sure whether it was the age gap itself as I never really noticed such things before but maybe I’ve been influenced visually by watching too any Japanese dramas!

    Posted by sakura | September 27, 2013, 12:07 pm
    • Sakura,
      Thanks for dropping by my blog. I think due to the age gap, the dialogue was awkward and the mentalities were at odd. I too have been watching Japanese cinema but I do love them though. It is so different from anything I ever watched!

      Posted by JoV | September 29, 2013, 5:31 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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