Strange Weather in Tokyo (aka The Briefcase) Synopsis :
Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’, in a 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, and as the seasons pass – from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms – Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love. Perfectly constructed, funny, and moving, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance. (Book Depository)
Translated by Allison Markin Powell
I do not read a lot of Japanese literature, but whenever I make time for it I find the experience cathartic. I think it may have something to do with the intrinsic cultural paradigms being quite distinct from the western norms that underpin much of the fiction I read. I perhaps give greater thought to the meaning intending to be conveyed through symbolism and have an enhanced desire to understand the motivations of characters.
Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo is a quietly affecting little novel, with the spats between the unlikely pair quite charming. Sensei appears world weary and calm, Tsukiko frustrated and impatient yet wary of life and prone to self-sabotage.
Readers are slowly drawn into the tale, enthralled to the extent that before you realise it it is after midnight but you just have to keep reading.
Like much of the Japanese literature I have read, Strange Weather in Tokyo evokes a sense of detachment and being shrouded in almost an out of body dreamlike state – the sadness of isolation in a crowded space.
The story framework Kawakami employs, a series of vignettes that allows the audience to dip into narrator Tsukiko’s life over time, reinforces that sense of detachment. The reference to weather in the title (UK edition) and more specifically the way the narrative makes mention of the seasons’ impact on their daily lives as they come and go is symbolic of the inevitability of time passing. The title of the US edition of this translation is actually The Briefcase, although very different is also symbolic of a safety blanket and Sensei’s character trait of being prepared.
Although it contains greater humour than most Japanese lit, Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo is a story that lingers long in the memory and poses food for thought for all.
PS: This novel is a treat for lovers of Japanese food too.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
Genre: Drama, Literature, Translations, Romance
I have reviewed this title as part of Tony’s January in Japan initiative.
About the Author, Hiromi Kawakami
Born in 1958 in Tokyo, Hiromi Kawakami is one of Japan’s most popular contemporary novelists. She is the recipient of the Pascal Short Story Prize for New Writers and the Akutagawa Prize. Her novel Drowning won both the Ito Sei Literature Award and Joryu Bungaku Sho (Women Writers’ Prize) in 2000. Her novel Manazuru won the 2011 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize. Strange Weather in Tokyo (Sensei no kaban) won the Tanizaki prize in 2001, was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2013, and has been translated into thirteen languages.
About the Translator, Allison Markin Powell
Allison Markin Powell is a literary translator and editor in New York City. She has translated works by Osamu Dazai, Kaho Nakayama, and Motoyuki Shibata, and she was the guest editor for the first Japan issue of Words Without Borders.