Hiromi Kawakami: Strange Weather in Tokyo
Portobello Books, 2014
Fiction Review by Agnes Marton (Hungary/ Luxembourg)
Published in The Ofi Press issue 42
This beautifully written, tender and enigmatic novel is not for everyone. Not unlike films directed by Ozu, it is slow, sometimes almost unbearably so. Then suddenly it becomes breezy, yet possesses philosophical and literary depth.
Tsukiko is a lonely thirty-something. In a bar, she bumps into a former high-school teacher of hers, Harutsuna Matsumoto, decades her senior. She calls him ’Sensei’ (‘teacher’) just like ages ago when she found him boring and invisible. Time to time they meet again to share food and drink sake, and while the seasons pass like in an extended haiku, an awkward intimacy, even love develops between them. They find solace in each other’s company.
This tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance is quite similar to the popular story Kokoro in which Natsume Soseki meditates on how the Japanese culture and its attitudes to honour, relationships, love and death changed. Kokoro is spiralling around the friendship between the narrator and his former teacher – he calls him (guess what) ‘Sensei’. In spite of this and the dream-like, confessional tone in both novels, Kawakami’s story feels more loveable because of its gentle humour mixed with longing and sadness, not to mention the here and there sensual details of everyday weirdness familiar to readers of Haruki Murakami and Yoko Ogawa: a railway teapot collection; rubbing a Thermos as if it were Aladdin’s lamp; mushroom hunting.
The cover image – Today’s Levitation by Natsumi Hayashi – shows a much younger and cooler woman than Tsukiko, much brighter colours than those in the novel, nevertheless this red-dressed dream-floating in a mundane palace of consumption can symbolize well how Japanese attitudes have changed.