Book Review – Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

books, reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m really happy with how all of my reading at the moment. I don’t know whether it’s just that I’m coming out of a very recent slump or that I’m just reading better books. Whatever it is, I’m very pleased with how it’s all going. I’m not necessarily as fast as I normally am but I’m definitely inspired by the novels I’m finishing. The latest one was a book club pick but also a book that I’ve wanted to read for ages. Longer than I actually realised. When I was about halfway through the paperback version, I realised that I had bought a Kindle copy of this book in 2016. So, I’ve been meaning to read this for 5 years and had forgotten all about it. My Kindle is full of books like that. Ones that I buy when they cost 99p but forget about moments later. At least I can finally cross one off the my list of unread ebooks.

Strange Weather in Tokyo is one of those quirky love stories that would stand alongside any of the independent rom-coms that were made in the early 2000s. Except that the book definitely has a very distinct Japanese identity to it. Each chapter is a short story in its own right that come together to form the wide narrative. There are times when this reads like poetry and it evokes all of the senses. This is a novel that is crammed with sights, sounds, smells and tastes (oh, so many tastes) of Tokyo. You really get a feel for these characters and the lives that they lead. An impressive feat given that you don’t get to know an awful lot about them.

The book’s narrator is Tsukiko. She’s a woman in her late 30s who works in an office. She doesn’t have friends or much of a life outside of work. She spends her nights drinking and eating alone. She’s not necessarily happy but she doesn’t really think much about her existence. At least, not until she meets up with her former teacher. The man, who she only refers to as Sensei, is retired and in his late 70s. Like Tsukiko, he spends his time drinking and eating alone. So, the pair start drinking and eating together. They find that they rather enjoy spending time together and begin to do more together. This odd friendship slowly grows into something deeper and Tsukiko realises that she can’t imagine her life without Sensei. But given the large age gap between them, will she ever find happiness?

This is a really quick read thanks to its neat structure. The self-contained chapters feel very neat and quick. Together, they build quite the timeline for the central relationship. A lot of time passes between Tsukiko’s first meeting with Sensei and the end of the book even though it will feel as though the novel flew by. I can’t speak much about the translation but it felt very clear. There’s a lot of fantastic imagery and description in the novel but it never really moves into flights of fancy. I guess what I’m basically saying is that it feels very Japanese. It’s not overflowing with emotion and the romance isn’t exactly sweeping. It’s a sweet and slow narrative that is wonderful to experience. It’s a very charming love story that feels quite natural despite the differences between the two parties.

It helps that both of them are very pleasant to spend time with. Sensei is one of the straight-talking old guys who have no time for nonsense. I loved the way he talked about his ex-wife’s love of trees and his matter-of-fact approach to everything. He does not attempt to hide his opinion on some of Tsukiko’s actions and I adore him. Even though we only spend a short amount of time with him, it’s pretty easy to see why she cares for him. Not that Tsukiko isn’t also full of charm. She is more naive and less worldly than Sensei but she is brimming with hope. You really do get the sense that these two belong together. Both of them find themselves on the outside and, though they weren’t looking for companionship, they manage to settle into a lovely pairing.

Really, there isn’t much to the novel as a whole. We don’t learn an awful lot about the pair’s backstory or what lead them to that point. We do find out a little about Sensei’s ex-wife but little else. All we know about Tsukiko is that she works in an office. This isn’t exactly a character study but the study of how two people fit together. It’s about communication and connection. These two aren’t connected by their pasts but by what they do together. That’s why the book focuses so much on their food and drink. They indulge themselves together. Their friendship becomes part of their ritual. They both eat to survive and they eventually realise that they similarly need each other. It’s beautiful.

Strange Weather In Tokyo won’t be a book for people who need a lot of plot. There isn’t an awful lot going on. There is a smattering of a love triangle but it isn’t exactly a YA level problem. Instead, we get little vignettes that come together to create their relationship. Brief moments of humanity and life. Moments of connection. The pair are connecting to each other, to their food and the natural world. It’s about finding whatever happiness you can in life. It’s about little moments of pleasure and getting everything you can from them. This is a whimsical book and a very enjoyable read. The direct language mixed with more fantastical or poetic moments makes for an exciting experience. If we’re talking little moments of pleasure, it doesn’t get much better than this book.

5 thoughts on “Book Review – Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

  1. I also loved all the imagery in this book. I wasn’t a fan of Sensei though, especially he kept on berating Tsukiko for not being ladylike but other than that, I agree I thought it was a charming read.

    Liked by 1 person

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