Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
Based on the title, the book cover, and the long wait time for the ebook, I expected this to be Murakami-lite. It turned out to be quite different. Even though there’s a bit of the magic realism, this book is mostly a slow burn love story where we go on “dates” – official and unofficial – with the two main protagonists. A quarter of the way in, I was getting slightly annoyed by the lack of plot, but as the story went on, it became obvious that the pacing was a real reflection of their relationship over time. Beyond the story, I especially liked how the author put everyday senses front and center. The detailed descriptions of food made me feel like I was eating with the characters and really highlighted the experience of solo dining at Japanese restaurants.
1) “Taking my seat at the counter, I ordered ‘Tuna with fermented soybeans, fried lotus root, and salted shallots,’ while the old man next to me requested ‘Salted shallots, lotus root fries, and tuna with fermented soybeans’ almost simultaneously.”
Kudos to the translator.
2) “‘I feel pity for these batteries that worked so hard for my benefit, and I can’t throw them away. It seems a shame to get rid of them the moment they die, after these batteries have illuminated my lights, signaled my sounds, and run my motors.'” – Sensei
I also feel bad throwing away batteries, probably because of the “thud” sound they make when they hit the trash can. That said, the real problem here is that we shouldn’t have batteries in the first place.
3) “Sensei arrived at the bus stop just after I did. I had gotten there fifteen minutes early, and he got there ten minutes early. It was a beautiful Sunday.”
Any day when everyone shows up early is a beautiful day.
4) “‘Tsukiko, this is not what one calls mountain climbing.'” – Sensei
Basically all the “hikes” I do.
5) “It felt as if I had ordered a bunch of clothes that I had every reason to think would fit perfectly, but when I went to try them on, some were too short, while others the hem dragged on the floor. Surprised, I would take the clothes off and hold them up against my body, only to find that they were all, in fact, the right length. Or something like that.”
This describes almost all my clothes shopping experiences, but she is making an analogy for family visits.
6) “I just wanted plain, regular water, but when I ordered ‘Water,’ they brought out mineral water. I was so parched and hoping to quench my thirst, but the moment I swallowed it down, I choked and nearly threw up.”
Here I am writing this while drinking a Phocus, but it’s undeniable that normal water (cold) is superior to mineral/sparkling water.
7) “I tried to ask, Why would you think to bring me here? But the seagulls were wild with excitement. My words were drowned out by their cries and Sensei didn’t hear me.”
Another example of the author portraying everyday senses.
8) “‘It’s good warm. It’s good chilled. It’s good boiled. It’s good fried. It’s versatile.'” – Sensei
9) “It grows because you plant it.”
Is this a subtle reference to Le Petit Prince?
10) “‘Would you consider a relationship with me, based on a premise of love?'” – Sensei
The whole book leads up to this awkward question, and it really ties up the entire story.
Footnote: there is a chapter called “The Cricket.”