Strange Weather In Tokyo -Hiromi Kawakami – The JFL & Foyles Event

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hiromiInsightful & intimate. The event dotted the I`s and crossed the t`s in an event organised by the Japan Foundation and Foyles.

Fans of Kawakami were treated to a meet and greet with one of Japan`s most popular authors. Known for her off-beat fiction, Strange Weather In Tokyo certainly fits the Kawakami mold. It`s a  gently-unfolding love story between a woman in her thirties and a man in his seventies, notable in part  because it was also shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014 (now part of International Manbooker Prize) The novel revolves around its 70 year old Sensei and Tsukiko a woman in her thirties, who at first glance could not be anymore different but eventually  fall in love. Their  social awkwardness is marked by conversations about weather and food,  as a   convenient shorthand for masking Tsukiko`s deepening feelings for the Sensei.

I like writing about characters who have…

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Strange Weather In Tokyo -Hiromi Kawakami – The JFL & Foyles Event

Strange Weather in Tokyo By Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell

I read this in one sitting,” boasts Amy Sackville in a front flap blurb for the 2013 Portobello Books edition. The immortal words of Elle Woods sprung to mind as soon as I completed my own half-a-day-journey through Strange Weather in Tokyo: “What, like it’s hard?” A single sitting read of this book is hardly a chore, both due to the novel’s trim word count and to Hiromi Kawakami’s spare but affecting writing, as elegant as the changing of the seasons on which much of the musicality of this novel rests.

hiromi
Hiromi Kawakami

This is the second Kawakami book I’ve read and I am pleased to report that the experience has left a much better impression than the more recently translated The Nakano Thrift Shop. That first read drew me to Kawakami’s blend of humor and sadness and to her well-drawn lonely people, but never felt like the right fit for me.hiromi

Loneliness is at the core of Strange Weather in Tokyo as well. Tsukiko is a thoroughly modern big city woman who, having given up on love, works long days and downs adult beverages at the local bar after hours. That is where she runs into Sensei (still “Teacher” to her, his real name is only mentioned in passing), her retired high school teacher. There is no lingering bond from their previous world, Japanese wasn’t even her favorite subject, but grownup Tsukiko rediscovers Sensei as a fellow odd duck who does not seek companionship but values that rare connection once it’s made. Their relationship evolves from a bond over good food and even better sake to a stilted, often complicated romance between two people who have grown.

There is no creep factor despite the 30-year gap between the would-be lovers, and it’s not just due to Tsukiko being in her late thirties. The novel lacks the sort of power dynamics of the lingering gaze that Meg Elison skewered so well last year, and Kawakami builds a healthy dose of respect between Sensei and Tsukiko. They are allowed to maintain their individuality, sometimes keeping their distance from each other for months, and their budding romance is stripped of any flourishes, though no less moving for it.

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 just being nice to me.”

I was surprised to see Strange Weather in Tokyo referred to as a romantic novel. To me, it reads far more as a meditation on human connections and loneliness. It is also a dream book for foodies, particularly for those with a taste for Tokyo:

“It was sort of like an octopus version of shabu-shabu. Thin, almost-transparent slices of octopus were submerged in a gently boiling pot of water, and then immediately plucked out with chopsticks when they rose to the surface. Dipped in ponzu sauce, the sweetness of the octopus melted in your mouth with the ponzu’s citrus aroma, creating a flavour that was quite sublime.”

It’s this mix of familiarity and strangeness that makes the novel for me. In Japan, it’s been a flagship novel of an Akutagawa Prize winner since its publication in 2001 (where it is known as Sensei’s Briefcase) and I’m looking forward to more translations from past and future laureates of Japanese literary prizes. Between the Nakano not-quite-disappointment-but-almost and the whiff of manic pixie dreamgirl trope emanating from the cover (Tsukiko might not be the most grownup 37-year-old in Tokyo, but she is not the flying college girl you’re invited to picture in your head), Strange Weather in Tokyo had a steep hill to climb with me, but we made it.

 Sofia Fara is a foreign fiction blogger. Interested in blogging ? Get in touch on marketing@globooks.net. Get the latest news and events on www.globooks.net

Strange Weather in Tokyo By Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell

Strange Weather In Tokyo -Hiromi Kawakami – The JFL & Foyles Event

hiromiInsightful & intimate. The event dotted the I`s and crossed the t`s in an event organised by the Japan Foundation and Foyles.

Fans of Kawakami were treated to a meet and greet with one of Japan`s most popular authors. Known for her off-beat fiction, Strange Weather In Tokyo certainly fits the Kawakami mold. It`s a  gently-unfolding love story between a woman in her thirties and a man in his seventies, notable in part  because it was also shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014 (now part of International Manbooker Prize) The novel revolves around its 70 year old Sensei and Tsukiko a woman in her thirties, who at first glance could not be anymore different but eventually  fall in love. Their  social awkwardness is marked by conversations about weather and food,  as a   convenient shorthand for masking Tsukiko`s deepening feelings for the Sensei.

I like writing about characters who have failed in some way.  I don’t mean that they have gone to ruin. I mean that everybody fails , but everyone reacts differently. How you move on from failure and what you do next .”

It`ss certainly a love story which traverses age differences and brings two solitary souls together. “You get groups of generations forming and men and women being quite separate. but in this novel I think the generations get along quite well.”

hiromi
Author Hiromi Kawakami

 

The author was then asked whether the writer had a preoccupation with food since it often features heavily in her novels. Is she a foodie at heart ?  Is there some sort of literary symbolism here ? Not according to Kawakami. “Apparently I like writing about food. I love life. I think eating good food ties up with loving life.

Sensei and Tsukiko are mirror images of each other, yet with the obvious generation gap between them, their relationship sadly develops in fits and starts. There is a disconnect between the two in how they they say lots but in fact say nothing at all.

In Japan, in one class, more than 90% would be Japanese. You might think its strange to have that miscommunication when everyone is from that same group but its because everyone is from that same group and have that uniformity, that you get that miscommunication and that`s very interesting to write about”

Strange Weather In Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami  & Translated by Allison Markin Powell Published by Portobello Books.

The London based Books Without Borders Bookclub reviews the novel on April 23rd.  Love international fiction? Join now !

Strange Weather In Tokyo -Hiromi Kawakami – The JFL & Foyles Event