Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
Published in 2013 by Portobello Books
My copy: Bought for my husband (I let him read it first!)
Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’, in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass – from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms – Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love. Perfectly constructed, funny, and moving, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance.
When we went on holiday in the summer, I bought a new book for each of us to take, and this is the one I bought for my husband. He read it on our trip and said he enjoyed it, and I have now got round to reading it myself.
This is a very short, simple novel that is based almost entirely around two main characters, our narrator Tsukiko and her former teacher Sensei. They slowly develop an unlikely yet touching friendship, and we follow them as they form a special bond despite their differences – not least their age.
What I found interesting about this novel is how we find out so little about our narrator until about halfway through – we know she works and lives alone, but that’s about it. But then the author subtly tells us more about her, and in this way we discover more about her relationship – or lack of – with her family, as well as a bit about her past relationships. The relationship between Tsukiko and Sensei is mainly uneventful – they tend to do everyday things like picking mushrooms, visiting a market and a lot of drinking – but through these simple activities they get to know each other better and their relationship grows in a sweet yet convincing way.
I really enjoyed this short novel. It isn’t action packed and there are no twists – it is just a touching story about two people who seem mis-matched but aren’t, and the story is told with humour and heart throughout. There is also lots of nice-sounding Japanese food thrown in for good measure!