‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’ by Hiromi Kawakami (also known as ‘The Briefcase’ in the United States and Canada) tells the story of Tsukiko, an office worker in her late thirties who meets one of her old high school teachers by chance in a sake bar. His name is Harutsuna Matsumoto but she calls him Sensei. They strike up an unusual relationship and continue to meet from time to time without prior arrangements as the seasons pass.
Originally published in Japan in 2001, ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’ has only recently been translated into English by Allison Markin Powell and was shortlisted for this year’s Independent Prize for Foreign Fiction and the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012. The themes of melancholy and loneliness will draw inevitable comparisons to fellow Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. Tsukiko and Sensei’s relationship is both distant yet intimate and the more romantic element is a hesitant slow-burner.
Described by Portobello Books as “a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance”, the novel is as quirky and dreamlike as the cover photograph by Natsumi Hayashi. However, the story itself doesn’t feature levitation of any description or magical realism for that matter. Instead, there are lots and lots of mouthwatering descriptions of the meals that Tsukiko and Sensei eat together which foodies will love.
At just 176 pages long, ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’ is a short novel which can easily be read in one sitting. Kawakami’s style of writing and the atmosphere she creates are very sparse and minimalist and in some ways, the story is more of a collection of short episodes with little in the way of actual plot. Overall, ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’ is a quiet and understated novel which is often more about what is left unspoken than what is actually being said. Highly recommended for fans of quirky and contemporary translated fiction or Japanese culture.