Pandemic Page-turners: Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

I discovered Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami after reading Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman. I loved that book and, as a huge fan of Haruki Murakami, I was already sold on the wistful and melancholic sensibilities that flow from Japanese authors. I decided to dig into some current Japanese writers to broaden my perspective. Hiromi Kawakami did not disappoint.

Strange Weather in Tokyo is a diaphanous, sweet and contemplative love story. It foregoes the surrealism of Murakami’s work and doesn’t have the nihilistic edge of Sayaka Murata’s books, but Kawakami has a delicacy and affection that provides her own distinction.

There is something magical about these writers. They are capable of infusing books with the bittersweet moment of parting. They possess a sense of yearning that is unique.

There are moments of loss, but these are contrasted by what is gained. The richness of an experience is that despite the pain you may endure one day when things change, it is worth it. That feeling is proof of significance. You can’t gain without loss – there is a price to be paid. To mourn the absence of something means that it was special. The presence of this philosophy in these books provides a strange sense of both pragmatism and romanticism.

Strange Weather in Tokyo is occupied with the personal transformation that takes place inside an interpersonal relationship. There is a balance between loneliness and isolation and company and companionship. I think this contrast is the key to one of the novel’s great successes. It’s firmly entrenched in the notion of loss and gain. The book is about a chance meeting rooted in the past and the profound effect that it has on two lives.

The book centres on Tsukiko and a random meeting with one of her teachers from primary school, referred to as Sensei. Despite the significant age gap between them, and his position as an old teacher of hers during her childhood, the two find themselves drawn together. They begin to bond through small similarities – tastes and appreciation of food and alcohol are significant, for example. The book weaves through small vignettes of their meetings and partings and the indelible marks each interaction leaves on them.

These fleeting moments are captured beautifully by Hiromi Kawakami. What begins as chance and casual encounters meanders into affection and then melds slowly into love. The book is short but the story is a memorable one. It shows just how fleeting and precious life is, how important it is to grasp onto the things that are important to you. Strange Weather in Tokyo is a book where you face this and the achingly melancholic truth that nothing lasts forever.

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