Tokyo Love Story

Con­ve­nienceS­toreWo­man is a Ja­panese lit­er­ary sen­sa­tion about an un­con­ven­tional woman who finds con­tent­ment in an un­ex­pected place

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Trend -

Con­ve­nience Store Woman by Sayaka Mu­rata just might be the most sur­pris­ing and un­ex­pected love story you’ll ever read. In­trigu­ingly, there’s no re­la­tion­ship in the novel be­tween two char­ac­ters in any con­ven­tional sense of a lov­ing nar­ra­tive; there are no mar­riages or di­vorces; there’s no mother/ fa­ther or son/daugh­ter tales of growth and parental/child love; and no­body dies.

Keiko Fu­rukura has never really fit in. At school and univer­sity, peo­ple find her odd due to her pen­chant for bizarre ac­tions — at the for­mer, she bashes a boy over the head with a shovel to stop him from fight­ing. At one point, she even asks her mother if she can cook a dead budgie she has found in the park. Her fam­ily, un­der­stand­ably, wor­ries she’ll never be nor­mal.

To ap­pease them, 18-year-old Keiko takes a job at a con­ve­nience store, Hi­iro­machi Sta­tion Smile Mart. Here, she finds peace and pur­pose in the daily tasks of shelf re­stock­ing, prod­uct pro­mo­tions and rou­tine in­ter­ac­tions with cus­tomers and staff. She comes to un­der­stand that she’s hap­pi­est in the mun­dane role at which she ex­cels, with its morn­ing cho­rus of Irasshaimase!, mean­ing “Wel­come!”

Mu­rata writes: “When I can’t sleep, I think about the trans­par­ent glass box that is still stir­ring with life, even in the dark­ness of the night. That pris­tine aquar­ium is still op­er­at­ing like clock­work… When morn­ing comes, once again I’m a con­ve­nience store worker, a cog in so­ci­ety. This is the only way I can be a nor­mal per­son.” Keiko’s re­sponse is sen­si­tive to the store’s aura, as she be­comes a “con­ve­nience store an­i­mal” who can “hear the store’s voice telling me what it wanted, how it wanted to be.”

At which point in lol­lops the char­ac­ter Shi­raha, an unusu­ally lanky, lazy and opin­ion­ated sort who thinks hu­man­ity hasn’t evolved from the Stone Age and whose tru­cu­lence soon gets him sacked, only for Keiko to take pity on him.

In the stan­dard nar­ra­tive, our two pro­tag­o­nists would over­come their id­iosyn­cra­cies or be drawn to them, and fall in love. But that has noth­ing to do with this story. With echoes of Kaori Ekuni’s Twin­kle Twin­kle, Keiko tells the mis­fit Shi­raha he can move in with her, where she will pro­vide and keep him “hid­den from so­ci­ety”. In re­turn, her fam­ily and friends will con­sider her nor­mal for hav­ing a man in the house. “If a man and a woman are alone in an apart­ment to­gether,” she tells him, “peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tions run wild and they’re sat­is­fied, re­gard­less of the re­al­ity.” Shi­raha con­curs, telling Keiko that on a func­tional level, “Ev­ery­one will as­sume you’re a sex­u­ally ac­tive, re­spectable hu­man be­ing. That’s the image of you that pleases them most. Isn’t it won­der­ful?”

A best­seller in Ja­pan and the win­ner of the pres­ti­gious Aku­ta­gawa Prize, Con­ve­nience Store Woman, Mu­rata’s eighth novel in Ja­panese, marks her English-lan­guage de­but and she’s been hailed as the most ex­cit­ing voice of her gen­er­a­tion. Re­mark­ably, the au­thor is also a con­ve­nience store worker and wrote her novella from 2 am un­til 8 am each night, af­ter which she would go to work at the con­ve­nience store, which she has cred­ited as be­ing an an­ti­dote to her for­mer shy­ness.

Blind­ingly good and strangely com­fort­ing from start to fin­ish, the novella is clever, terse, quirky, poignant, po­etic and funny, Keiko’s world of to­tal con­tent­ment — with nary a tweet, In­sta­gram or so­cial me­dia plat­form in sight — and its lu­mi­nous lin­ear­ity stays with you long af­ter read­ing it. And zen some.

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