Title:Tokyo Ueno Station (original title: JR上野駅公園口)
Writer: Yū Miri (translated by Morgan Giles)
Publishing House: Tilted Axis Press
Date of Publication: March 4th 2019 (first published March 19th 2014)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’I used to think life was like a book: you turn the first page, and there’s the next, and as you go on turning page after page eventually you reach the last one. But life is nothing like a story in a book. There may be words, and the pages may be numbered, but there is no plot. There may be an ending, but there is no end.’’
Our journey starts in a park near Ueno Station as Tokyo is preparing to host the 2020 Olympics. A voice is heard above the buzzing streets of the metropolis, a voice whispering of misfortune, failed hopes, injustice and death. A voice from a ghost for Kazu is dead, one of the many hopeless residents of the park. Now, he becomes our guide to the stormy history of Japan through the ages, the social unrest, the changes and the expectation of an uncertain future.
‘’I was always lost at a point in the past which never could go anywhere now it had gone, but has time ended? Has it just stopped? Will it someday rewind and start again? Or will I be shut out from time for eternity? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.’’
Kazu is desperate for a sense of existence. He has been struggling with the ordeals that Fate and humans threw in his way and now he doesn’t know whether he even belongs with the dead. Eavesdropping the daily conversations of the visitors of the park, observing the homeless, he returns to the land of the living and his own life. Linked to the Imperial family through a series of random events, he comments on the futility of being a servant of the state and takes us on a journey within the disputes and changes that shaped the history of Japan. In a park where every tree has a plastic tag attached to its trunk, he is reminded of the fact that everything belongs to the Emperor. What a title, though, in a world where every ‘’empire’’ has fallen to pieces!
‘’One cannot tell when or where each rose is blooming, whether it is in a garden or a flowerpot; whether it is sunny, or cloudy, or raining; whether it is morning, or noon, or night, whether it is spring, or summer, or autumn.’’
Kazu has physically lost all sense of the world around him, yet his perception is more acute than ever. His memories are a tapestry of poverty and struggle in a country that has fallen apart due to its actions during the Second World War and the atrocities it has committed. Hit by the constant rain that reminds him of the ultimate nightmare, the loss of his son, the rituals of death performed in a society chocked by industrialization and the dark presence of nuclear power plants. The roses have lost their colours and their perfume and moments of cruelty are always present.
Hidden behind a beautiful, powerful front cover, lies a bitter observation of a society that has changed, a society that is supposed to have learnt from the past. But has it? To what result? And to what end?
‘’We all have an enormity of time, too big for one person to deal with, and we live, and we die.’’