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.
Perfectly constructed, funny, and moving, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance.
I’m a huge fan of Japanese literature and Strange Weather in Tokyo didn’t disappoint. I just loved its quirkiness. Hiromi Kawakami’s writing style has a strange, earthiness, that quietly draws us in. The writing is stark and simplistic portraying Tsuikiko’s loneliness and the growing emotions that slowly develop between the pair of main characters.
Lonely Tsukiko, a woman fast approaching forty, lives alone. One evening she meets a former high school teacher, ‘Sensei’, at a bar. The pair begin an unusual friendship, meeting by chance at a local bar. He is an elderly, retired gentleman, who is full of vigour. She assumes that he is a widower. Delicate details of his character keep us guessing. He carries a briefcase around with him, wears a tweed suit, and leather shoes, even when he goes hiking!
The odd couple continues to meet up, and share food and drink sake. The plentiful Japanese food references will keep foodies like me in rapture.
Sensei’s thoughts on tofu: “Tofu is quite special…it’s good warm. It’s good chilled. It’s good boiled. It’s good fried. It’s versatile.”
“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 them 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. ”
You can just taste the octopus!
We discover little snippets of information about Sensei’s past, his wife’s abandonment of him and their son. In time, Tsukiko realises that when she’s not with him, she misses him, and wonders how she managed to be happy before. This slow developing almost dream-like sense of their growing feelings for each other slowly develops into love, despite the difficulties associated with a large age gap. The author depicts Tsukiko, in a child like fashion. So in a sense the teacher, student aspect of their relationship still remains. Though Sensei, seems fitter than her! This is amusingly related in the mushroom hunting chapters. The novel is interlaced with a delicate humour, and a sweet sense of sadness, as the couple come to terms with the inevitability of life.
“At some point, sitting beside Sensei, I began to notice the heat that radiated from his body. Through his starched shirt, there came a sense of Sensei. A feeling of nostalgia. This sense of Sensei retained the shape of him. It was dignified, yet tender, like Sensei. Even now, I could never quite get a hold on it – I would try to capture it, but the sense escaped me. Just when I thought it was gone, though, it would sneak back up on me…Wasn’t a sensation just that kind of indistinct notion that slips away, no matter how you try to contain it?”
About the author
Kawakamki is one of Japan’s most popular contemporary novelists. Strange Weather in Toyko won the Taniziki prize in 2001, and was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2013.
Strange Weather in Tokyo
By Hiromi Kawakami, 2013
Translated by Allison Markin Powell
Portobello Books www.portobellobooks.com
This is one of the summer reads suggested by the Writers’ Centre Norwich, and the Library Services in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, UK. www.summerreads.org.uk
Amazing cover art deserves a mention: http://yowayowacamera.com/
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