Title: Strange Weather in Tokyo
Author: Hiromi Kawakami
Translator: Allison Markin Powell
Date: 2020 (2001)
Summary: 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.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book but I also thought that it was very strange.
The plot was the oddest part of this book as it follows the developing relationship between Tsukiko and her former high-school teacher whom she mostly refers to as Sensei. Their relationship is strange, not only because of the age gap and former power imbalance but also because Tsukiko’s thought-process and approach to the relationship are rather strange. She doesn’t seem to know how she should act in this relationship – which is relatable – and we experience the relationship from her point of view so there’s always a little bit of simmering tension as she attempts to navigate her own thoughts and feelings. I loved Tsukiko’s narrative voice though because she was rather blunt and forceful.
The novel reads more like a set of connected incidents and events rather than novelistic. I loved that it was somewhat episodic because it felt like snapshots of Tsukiko’s life and her relationship with Sensei. This style really suited the type of story that Kawakami created.
I fell in love with Kawakami’s whimsical and intimate writing style. There’s a beautiful balance between poignancy and playfulness within the writing. It’s just fantastic and I’d really like to read more of Kawakami’s writing in the future. Kawakami also created some fantastic side characters. Everyone was so full of life, each with induvial personalities quirks, and I felt like I connected to the side characters as much as I did to Tsukiko.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I’d definitely recommend it. Tsukiko may be a little bit strange, but we’re all a little bit strange, and it was a joy to read about her developing relationship and friendships.
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Read as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge