Strange Weather in Tokyo

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Title: Strange Weather In Tokyo (original title: センセイの鞄)

Writer: Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Allison Markin Powell)

Publishing House: Granta

Date of Publication: August 6th 2020 (first published 2001)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’In the autumn there are dead leaves all over the place and in winter the bare branches are bleak and dreary.’’

A woman and a man meet at their favourite bar. She was one of his students many years ago. Intimacy and understanding can come suddenly and unexplainably. The vibes of a gigantic metropolis hide the solitude of two people who have found themselves adrift in the sounds and melodies of Tokyo. As their relationship develops in a union that may seem strange, its depth and poignancy make Tsukiko question her choices, And, possibly, the power of Kawakami’s story may ‘force’ us to do the same… As the seasons change, our life chooses its own way and sometimes, all we can do is follow. Take a leap of faith and follow…

‘’It seemed that the only living things in Tokyo were big like us. But of course, if I really paid attention, there were plenty of other living things surrounding me in the city as well. It was never just the two of us, Sensei and me. Even when we were at the bar, I tended to only take notice of Sensei. But Satoru was always there, along with the usual crowd of familiar faces. And I never really acknowledged that any of them were alive in any way. I never gave any thought to the fact that they were leading the same kind of complicated life as I was.’’

Under the cherry blossoms, as moonlight paints the world in silver and blue, as the summer sun gives its way to the winter cold, as summer turns to autumn, as time leaves its traces, conversations and confessions are shared over sake. Japanese cuisine and poetry lend their flavour and sound to the course of two people who have loved and lost, who have chosen solitude because life is easier and safer this way.  But as the tender melancholy of the approaching evening starts creeping through the silent walls, the conversations with your heart become more and more often, more and more demanding. Needless to say, I connected with Tsukiko at an almost alarming level. I saw myself in many of her choices and convictions and started seeing things in a different light in a rather peculiar stage of my life. But it is Kawakami’s writing that sings into our soul, turning daily moments into poetry, into sources of real beauty.

When you fall in love, you are bound to feel that you and your beloved are the only people in the city, in the world even. I promise you, this book will never make you feel alone.

*The companion story, Parade, is exquisite. It pays tribute to Japanese folklore and the presence of the tengu while giving voice to the victims of school bullying and discrimination. Kawakami’s Afterword is moving, ethereal, unique. Lyrical, sensitive translation by Allison Markin Powell. *

‘’Light filters while across the river

through the willows.

From Ono on the other bank.

From Ono on the other bank

a flute makes its faint way through the mist,

touching the traveller’s heart.’’

            Seihaku Irako