The blurb of the Granta 2020 paperback edition of ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’ by Hiromi Kawakami reads: “One night when she is drinking alone in a local bar, Tsukiko finds herself sitting next to her former high school teacher. Over the coming months they share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass—from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms—Tsukiko and her teacher develop a hesitant intimacy that tilts awkwardly and poignantly towards love.”
I must confess I didn’t like how it sounded but I bought it nonetheless. I have been trying to be open to all kinds of stories, especially ones that make me uncomfortable. I’ve read and loved some writers whose works I wouldn’t have across had I only stuck to authors I knew and preferred. Japanese author Yogo Ogawa’s collection of short stories, ‘Revenge, was something I picked up to deviate from my usual reading choices. That book is now one of my absolute favorites.
So, I’m also trying to read more Asian authors and translated works of fiction, hoping to find others like Ogawa who can shake up my reading life. Also, if I can’t travel, then the next best thing I can do is read about people and places that are unknown to me.
Strange Weather in Tokyo is basically a love story, tinged with melancholy. Tsukiko, 37, meets her old high school Japanese teacher, 30 years her senior, whom she refers to only as ‘Sensei’, at a bar. From there on, the two come together, on and off, because of their shared love for sake, beer and traditional Japanese dishes. They have terse, awkward conversations but find they connect on an emotional level. However, neither knows how to describe or express what they are feeling. That leads to a series of bizarre dates, with Tsukiko and Sensei both trying to figure out how best to navigate the situation they are in.
The book is divided into short chapters, each of which could have been a short story in itself. Also, it’s character driven rather than story or narrative driven. Kawakami’s characters are charming, albeit a bit weird, and thus memorable. There are also mentions of many kinds of food, their descriptions so vivid it feels like an elaborate set up is right in front of you. The story is slow but the writing, which is crisp and clean, makes it worthwhile. You know much of what there is to know about the characters and how they think despite the book being so slim. The best part of Strange Weather in Tokyo is that it’s a different story convincingly told.
About the author
Born in 1958 in Tokyo, Hiromi Kawakami is one of Japan’s most popular contemporary novelists. She is famous for her offbeat literary fiction. Strange Weather in Tokyo won the Tanizaki Prize and was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Man Asian Literary Prize. Her other works include The Nakano Thrift Shop, The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino, and People From My Neighborhood.
Strange Weather in Tokyo
Translated by Allison Markin Powell
Publisher: Granta Publications
Pages: 217, Paperback