Review of Strange Weather in Tokyo (2001)


Kawakami Hiromi (writer).

Read in 2023.

Read in Lars Vargö’s translation to Swedish.

Middle-aged Tsukiko becomes drinking buddies with one of her teachers from high school, who is now retired.

The age-gapped romance in this novel is a fruitful metaphor for reserve, but not a great one. That romance is important to the larger symbolism of the novel, but I think the wedding scene is the novel’s true heart. In it, the age gap is positioned as an emblem of the cluster of social difficulties that has led to the decline of marriage in Japan, and along with marriage, childbirth and the population. The age gap, then, is not individual, but a gap between two literal generations.

Tsukiko’s particular version of these difficulties appear to stem from a lack of self-knowledge and self-direction that lead into a version of the Japanese “moratorium”. Tsukiko actually works for a living, but she puts all the other big things off, like a NEET. This is not blamed on the largest factors that cause such delays in real life: The precariousness of a woman’s career in the late “OL” era and of her larger situation in a sexist society with a stagnant national economy. Rather, Tsukiko takes a long time to understand what she wants and she does not pursue it effectively. In the literary analogy of her relationship with “Sensei”, she needs about 25 years of oblivious non-commitment. Even at the far end of that relationship, she’s so closely attached to her narrow and familiar view of events—so “selfish”—that she dislikes hearing the man’s real name.

Loneliness is indeed a likely outcome from such a mentality and I appreciate how, even in her detachment from convention, Tsukiko is still able to find some happiness in seasonal yudōfu and other simple pleasures. She’s also able to bridge the gap. The novel, with its gentle pace, episodes of magical realism, and characteristically Japanese distrust of untextured perfection, is a pleasant read, but its implicit social analysis is thin.

References here: Convenience Store Woman (2016).

text Japanese production fiction