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Posts Tagged ‘Hiromi Kawakami’

I read Hiromi Kawakami’sThe Nakano Thrift Shop‘ last year and I loved it so much that since then I have wanted to read another book by her. I got Kawakami’s ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo‘ recently and finished reading it today.

Tsukiko is a woman in her thirties. She is single, she works hard, she doesn’t have many friends and she enjoys lots of me-time. One day when she goes to Satoru’s bar for a drink, she bumps into her old high school teacher. It is a bar that she visits often and Tsukiko and her teacher bump into each other frequently and before long a beautiful friendship develops between them. This friendship becomes something more as time passes. What happens after that is told in the rest of the story.

Strange Weather in Tokyo‘ is vintage Kawakami. Kawakami doesn’t spend time on long descriptions and internal monologues but gets into the story in the first page, in the first sentence. There is no superfluous sentence, no wasted word. All the things that Kawakami fans expect and look forward to, are there in this book – showcasing of Japanese culture in the everyday world (I learnt about furoshiki and kotatsu through my previous book of hers) and gorgeous descriptions of Japanese food. I always look forward to Kawakami’s food descriptions – I learnt about edamame, grilled aubergine (probably Nasu Dengaku), yudofu, salted yakitori, Soka Senbei (rice crackers), Asakusa Nori (seaweed), konnyaku, different kinds of mushrooms, the difference between Sawanoi saké and Tochigi saké and other things through this book. There are also literary nods to Sei Shonagon, Basho, Seihaku Irako and The Tale of the Heike, which I loved. Towards the end of the book, there is an extra chapter called ‘Parade’ which was probably added later on to the original book, which describes a day in the life of the two main characters. They just sit and have a long conversation and it is very beautiful. There is a beautiful afterword by Hiromi Kawakami after that, in which she says that “the world that exists behind a story is never fully known, not even to the author.”

The only thing I found strange in ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’. was the title. I find it disappointing that British publishers frequently change the title of a translated book and put a city’s name in the title. For example, they took Hans Fallada’s  ‘Every Man Dies Alone‘, which is a beautiful, poignant title, and changed it to ‘Alone in Berlin‘, which doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes they go crazy and do that even to American books in English which are published in British editions. For example, they took the beautiful title of Matthew Crawford’s book ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft : An Inquiry into the Value of Work‘ and changed it to the unwieldy ‘The Case for Working with Your Hands : Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good‘. It is one of the worst changes of title I have ever seen. In Kawakami’s book, the story happens in Tokyo, but there is no strange weather there, just typical Tokyo weather. There is a passage in the middle of the book, which goes like this – “Thunder rumbled in the distance. After a little while, there was a flash among the clouds. It must have been lightning. A few seconds later, thunder could be heard again. “This strange weather must be a result of the strange thing you said…”” I don’t know whether this is an accurate translation or whether it was inserted here by the translator to justify the title of the book.

I loved ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo‘. The story is beautiful and charming – it is one of the most beautiful younger woman–older man love stories I have read. I can’t wait to read my next Hiromi Kawakami book.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Being with Kojima always brought to mind the word ‘grown-up’. What I mean is, when Kojima was in primary school, he was a child, of course. A suntanned kid with thin little shins. In secondary school, Kojima had seemed like a sprouting boy, on the verge of casting off his boyhood skin and becoming a young man. By the time he got to college, he must have been a fully-fledged young man, the epitome of youth. I can just imagine. Now, having reached his thirties, Kojima was a grown-up. No doubt about it.
      His behaviour was commensurate with his age. The passage of time has 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 adult. 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 the years passed, I turned into quite a childlike person. I suppose I just wasn’t able to ally myself with time.”

“The calligraphy was utter gibberish to me, but I found myself enjoying the time as I listened to Sensei’s murmured bursts of ‘Such a nice hand’ or ‘A bit prosaic’ ‘Now that’s what’s called a vigorous style.’ The same way as when you’re sitting at a pavement café, furtively passing judgement on people as you watch them go by, it was amusing to attach my own impressions to these calligraphed works from the Heian or Kamakura eras : ‘That’s nice’ or ‘This one’s not bad’ or ‘It reminds me of a guy I used to go out with’.”

“With Sensei, his benevolent nature seemed to originate from his sense of fair-mindedness. It wasn’t about being kind to me; rather, it was born from a teacherly attitude of being willing to listen to my opinion without prejudice. I found this considerably more wonderful than him just being nice to me. That was quite a discovery for me, the fact that arbitrary kindness makes me uncomfortable, but that being treated fairly feels good.”

Have you read ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo‘? What do you think about it?

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I got Hiromi Kawakami’sThe Nakano Thrift Shop‘ as a Christmas present from one of my favourite friends. I picked it up a couple of days back and couldn’t stop till I finished reading it.

Mr. Nakano owns a thrift shop which sells all kinds of things which others have given away, things like old furniture, a rice cooker from the ’70s, used clothes, old photographs, old plates, kitchenware, cigarette lighters, stuff like that. Nakano’s shop has a dedicated customer base, who like these things and buy them. Sometimes new customers come looking for specific things – like a plate with a particular design from the ’70s. People who are moving house or throwing away their old stuff call Mr.Nakano, and sell their stuff to him for throwaway prices, or give it to him for free, because it is cheaper than disposing them away properly, because they have to pay more if they did that. Our narrator Hitomi works in Nakano’s shop alongwith Takeo. Sometimes Nakano’s sister Masayo comes to help out. These four people are almost like family. The book follows the thrift shop adventures of these four, the interesting people they meet during the course of the day, their lives, their loves, their heartbreaks, their affairs, and everything in between. I won’t tell you more, you should read the book and discover their stories.

The Nakano Thrift Shop‘ is a charming book. I loved most of the characters in the book, especially our narrator Hitomi, Nakano’s sister Masayo, Nakano’s lover the fascinating Sakiko, Takeo who works in Nakano’s shop, and Hagiwara, a young man who tries to give an expensive, ancient bowl to the thrift shop. Hiromi Kawakami’s prose flows serenely like a river and once I started reading the book, I was taken away by this serene flow and couldn’t stop reading till I finished it. It was tranquil and serene and calming. It was like meeting your favourite person and listening to them talk.

One of the things that I loved about the book was the way it showcased Japanese culture. I love it when authors do that. I learnt many fascinating things through the book – for example, the different kinds of Japanese noodles, ramen, soba, tanmen, yakisoba, other Japanese food like katsudon, bento lunch, mochi rice cakes, something called the kotatsu (a table type thing with an attached heater – check it out in Wikipedia, it is fascinating), the Chinchirorin game, the furoshiki wrapping, Japanese actresses Kaoru Yumi and Seiko Matsuda, kazahana snow (the description in the book goes like this – “It had been snowing on and off since the morning. It’s called kazahana, when the snow is so fine like this, it seems as if it drifted in on the wind, Masayo said.“) It was fascinating reading about all this and doing research and learning more about Japanese culture.

I loved ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop‘. I look forward to reading more books by Hiromi Kawakami, especially ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo‘.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Over the course of an hour, three customers came in; one of them bought a pair of old glasses. I wondered why anyone wanted to buy glasses that weren’t the right prescription, but it turned out that old glasses were a sleeper bestseller at Mr.Nakano’s shop.
“People buy things exactly because they’re of no use,” Mr.Nakano liked to say. Is that how it is? I said.
“Hitomi, do you like useful things?” Mr.Nakano asked with a grin.”

“The thing is, there is always the chance that this person – the one you accused – might be dying.
When I was young, I didn’t think about people dying. But when you get to be my age, people can drop dead, just like that. In an accident. From an illness. By their own hand. By someone else’s hand. Or just naturally. People die much more easily at this age than when they are young.
They might drop dead right at the moment when you blamed them for something. They might die the very next day. Or a month later. Or smack in the middle of the following season. In any case, you never know when people of ripe age will just croak. It keeps you up at night.
Having to worry about whether someone is healthy enough to tolerate my fierce hatred or criticism before I decide to blame them – that’s what I call getting old.”

“…in contrast to the creepiness around him, Tadokoro gave off a pleasant smell. Rather than any particular cologne, the aroma seemed to have more of a warm presence, something like fragrant tea or freshly roasted rice cakes. The scent was completely different from the impression Tadokoro himself emanated.”

Have you read ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop‘? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Hiromi Kawakami book?

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