Strange Weather in Tokyo – Hiromi Kawakami (Translated by Allison Markin Powell)

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His full name was Mr Harutsuna Matsumoto, but I called him ‘Sensei’. Not ‘Mr’ or ‘Sir’, just ‘Sensei’.

He was my Japanese teacher at secondary school. He wasn’t my form teacher, and Japanese didn’t interest me so much, so I didn’t really remember him. Since I finished school, I hadn’t seen him for quite a while.

Several years ago, we sat beside each other at a crowded bar near the train station, and after that, our paths would cross every now and then. That night, he was sitting at the counter, his back so straight it was almost concave.

And so begins an oddly beautiful love story.

Tsukiko Omachi and the man she calls Sensei meet regularly – without arrangement – at a bar near the train station. She’s 37 and jaded; he’s in his late 60s, a retired widower. He considers her to be unladylike; she thinks he’s old-fashioned. But they drink together; they go on walks together; he recites to her fragments of the poetry he swears he taught her at school.

When the novel begins, the idea of a relationship between this odd pairing resides on the edge of stomach churning. A teacher and a former student? Ick. But the relationship progresses very slowly over a number of years and it is obvious that there is genuine affection between the pair.

Tsukiko does have several dates with a man her own age – Takashi Kojima, a former classmate, married and now divorced, who she meets at a cherry-blossom party. In contrast to Sensei, he wants things to move quickly and this is the catalyst Tsukiko needs to confront her feelings for Sensei.

The novel’s told in episodes with seemingly constant references to the moon and the weather, giving it a dreamlike quality. It often feels difficult to work out exactly how much time has passed and it gives the sense of Tsukiko and Sensei’s relationship existing out of time. Interestingly, this is brought to an abrupt end in the final chapter, a chapter that frames the whole book and the relationship beautifully.

Strange Weather in Tokyo is a lovely little book in which little seems to happen, but isn’t it those moments in which little seems to happen which make a relationship?

 

0 thoughts on “Strange Weather in Tokyo – Hiromi Kawakami (Translated by Allison Markin Powell)

  1. A beautiful book, one that most people seem to love (although there are a few dissenting voices). It definitely is one where you think you won’t like it, but it just manages to convince you.

  2. Great review, Naomi. I loved this one and completely agree with your comment on the dreamlike feel of the story. It’s interesting you mention a sense of Tsukiko and Sensei’s relationship existing out of time and I agree it’s difficult to know how much time slips by between their encounters. There are times too when Tsukiko seems much younger than her 37 years, almost as though she were an adolescent trying to find her way in this confusing world of relationships.
    I found the ending very powerful, one that will stay with me for some time…

  3. This one made my top 10 of last year – under its former title “the briefcase”. Like yourself a book that is haunting and dwells, thoroughly enjoyed. Although, I can’t understand why you’d change a title when it has been shortlisted for awards under “the briefcase” (Man Asia Literary Prize), surely people would be searching for it under its old title? My review at http://messybooker.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/2013-man-asian-literary-prize-shortlist.html

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