Strange Weather In Tokyo – Hiromi Kawakami
March 2, 2019 § 1 Comment
First published in Japanese in 2001
Translated to English by Allison Markin Powell in 2012
Tsukiko, our narrator, meets one of her old high-school teachers at a local sake bar one night. He greets her out of the blue, saying that he’s seen her a few times before at the same bar, and even went so far as to check the school yearbook from the past to check. Unfortunately for Tsukiko, she cannot seem to recall his name, so in order to not appear rude, she resorts to calling him Sensei (teacher).
From then on, they seem to cross paths at the same sake bar every once in a while, always by coincidence, or fate. Their conversations remain formal and slightly aloof, very much as though they are still teacher and student; Sensei lecturing her on her command of the Japanese language and various poets, and Tsukiko quietly listening and reacting to her teacher’s lessons.
As time goes by, they slowly grow closer to one another, though never in the obvious way that most romantic relationships start. In fact, sometimes it almost feels like there’s really nothing going on between them, the distance always respectable, yet the connection so strong. What is he thinking, we wonder with Tsukiko, as we ponder on his words and actions.
Tsukiko has become so good at being alone. She comes across as a lonely soul, but not particularly melancholy or depressed. In fact, she feels very much like an independent woman, having chosen this quiet, uneventful life for herself, content to spend time with herself. Perhaps that is also what draws her to Sensei: he, too, comes across as a lonely soul, and seemingly happy to remain just so.
So what really happens on the emotional level, when two such lonely souls meet each other? What expectations do they carry? Or is it precisely because of the lack of any expectations that they were even able to continue enjoying each other’s company as their connection grew and blossomed?
I fell in love with Tsukiko. There was a raw vulnerability in the way that she shared her feelings with us, her readers, and I couldn’t help but slow down to drink in her words, let them play in my heart and mind, turning them on their heads and back again so that I knew just how she felt, deep down in my own heart.
I had a habit of acting as though I were having a conversation with someone beside me – with the me who was not really there beside me – as if to validate these random effervescences.
It was almost painfully liberating to open my heart to embrace Tsukiko’s feelings. I know exactly how this feels, I found myself thinking. And almost against my own will, my mind wandered off to snippets of memory that I thought I had locked away.
As if there were an invisible wall between us. It might seem flexible and blurred, but when compressed it could withstand anything, nothing could get through. A wall made of air.
Tsukiko, and in extension, Kawakami, spared nothing, chipping away at all the masks and costumes that we put on until only the heart of the matter was left.
I must have been drunk. Even I could only half-follow what I was babbling on about. Although the truth was that I fully understood, my head seemed to be pretending I was only half-aware of my own words.
Tsukiko’s voice is clear, true, and very very touching.