Title: Convenience Store Woman
Author: Sayaka Murata
Translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori
Publication Date: July 5, 2018
She found sanctuary in a supermarket. Now she’s about to lose it.
Keiko isn’t normal. At school and university, people find her odd, and her family worries she will never fit in. To make them happy, Keiko takes a job at a newly opened convenience store where she finds peace and purpose in simple daily tasks.
But in Keiko’s circle it just won’t do for an unmarried woman to spend her time stacking shelves and ordering green tea. As the pressure to find a new job – or worse, a husband – increases, Keiko is forced to take desperate actions.
Hello there allies, archenemies, and everyone in between! I’ve been reading a lot of Japanese contemporary recently and I was genuinely surprised by their quaint beauty. Convenience Store Woman skillfully tickles the laughter inside of you while also making you contemplative of its undertones.
EFFORTLESS AND HUMOROUS WRITING VOICE
Sayaka Murata effortlessly pulls you in with her humorous and unflinching storytelling. I obviously don’t know though if the translation accurately captured the spirit of Murata’s writing voice but it was truly captivating to read.
(Seriously though, we all have to thank these translators for giving us access to these masterpieces!)
Keiko is a socially inept woman who doesn’t understand and believe the rules of normalcy. There were a lot of laugh-out-loud moments that hinged on the comical disconnect between her thought process and actions. Keiko may be an oddball but her personality aptly fits the contrast needed to propel the social commentary present in the book.
EXPERTLY DIVULGES A COMMENTARY ON SOCIAL CONFORMITY IN THE ALLURING GUISE OF A CONVENIENCE STORE.
Sometimes Convenience Store Woman has this atmosphere that makes it borderline dystopic even if the actual timeline is rooted in the present. In a sense, this book reiterates what our world now really is like and even go so far as to relate it in the little pockets of society we have, in this case, however, it is the convenience store.
The convenience store culture in Japan is highlighted here and creates this sense of normalcy and solidarity between the customers, the clerks, and even the store. There is an unspoken rule of order and everyone has to play their role seamlessly or else you will be evicted from the premises. It’s a truthful metaphor for our society without having the need to glamorize it because it’s so painstakingly obvious. Additionally, I really love the little details captured in the convenience store’s atmosphere, here’s an excerpt of it:
“A convenience store is a world of sound. From the tinkle of the door chime to the voices of TV celebrities advertising new products over the in-store cable network, to the calls of the store workers, the beeps of the bar code scanner, the rustle of customers picking up items and placing them in baskets, and the clacking of heels walking around the store. It all blends into the convenience store sound that ceaselessly caresses my eardrums.
I hear the faint rattle of a new plastic bottle rolling into place as a customer takes one out of the refrigerator, and look up instantly. A cold drink is often the last item customers take before coming to the checkout till, and my body responds automatically to the sound. I see a woman holding a bottle of mineral water while perusing the desserts and look back down. As I arrange the display of newly delivered rice balls, my body picks up information from the multitude of sounds around the store.“
While our MC, Keiko is the odd one out in the societal bubble of the convenience store, she has now deliberately put on masks of conventionality taking cues from her coworkers and her schoolmates. She has now camouflaged her way to survival and yet her status as a worker in this store for 18 years is what makes her even more conspicuous.
When an unexpected arrival of a new employee tips the scales of the convenience store, Keiko acts in the scripted norms of the management and I find it quite ironic how she plays her role in the store so neatly while “failing” in the normalcy present outside of it. Keiko then manages to take on more masks as the people she meets and the expectations imposed on her age increases until she is overwhelmed.
DELVES ON THE PORTRAIT OF FEMALE CONVENTIONS AND EXPECTATIONS
Another discussion here is how age and gender roles hold significance in our lives. Women here, for example, are expected to marry, expected to have jobs in the corporate world and not just in the simple confines of a convenience store, expected to bear children, etc. etc. etc.
Keiko lacks agency and her lack of emotional needs makes her the perfect vessel to illustrate how this kind of conformity for women is also restrictive. She has this fascination with imitation and that she changes the way women around her change as well. From her clothes, her manner of speaking, and her cultivated interests are all just a veneer for her to “survive”.
This attitude of hers accurately represents how our sense of individuality is also flawed in so many ways yet we still have this sense of control on what we absorb and what we project; this leads me to my last point.
HIGHLIGHTS THE SAFETY NET OF PURPOSE
In the last parts of the book, Keiko’s masks became more muddled but were only “fixed” in a way when she realized her purpose. Keiko may lack a lot of things that constitute a socially acceptable person, but she also found something that makes her life fit the puzzle–purpose. Even if that purpose may not be what society expects her, it’s what makes her feel comfortable in her own skin. And this is probably the main takeaway I gleaned from reading this little masterpiece.
Japanese contemporary is slowly gaining a lot of my love and I’m so excited to read more from this!
- Have you read Convenience Store Woman as well? What did you think of it?
- Can you recommend some Japanese contemporary books?