Hitomi, the main character in The Nakano Thrift Shop, found love in an odd place: working at a Japanese thrift shop.
Inspired by my recent readings of the Before the coffee gets cold series, I decided to look for other Japanese works of fiction to read. I found The Nakano Thrift Shop on Amazon, whose name quickly intrigued me. Reading further about this book, I grew more interested. Set in the thrift shop after which the book is named, this book was to tell the story of an unlikely romance. Since I am broadening my reading horizons, I decided to purchase this book.
The book is centred around the life of Hitomi, a young girl who works at Mr Nakano’s thrift shop. She usually works the till while Mr Nakano and the third employee at the shop, Takeo, go out on pickups to collect goods to sell in the store. Hitomi is managed by Mr Nakano, an odd man but also an astute businessman. In one early scene, Mr Nakano asks Hitomi to visit his sister’s house to investigate the man he suspected her sister was seeing, giving Hitomi 5,000 yen for her troubles. She spent the money quickly, a recurring theme throughout the start of the book.
Each chapter takes the name of an object in that chapter, fitting because most of the book is set in the thrift shop. The chapter on gin, for instance, concerns an interesting bottle on which Mr Nakano becomes fixated. Later, Mr Nakano finds out this bottle is used to store gin. The chapter on apples concerns the tale of the letter opener. There are usually breaks between each chapter, sometimes months long, which lends to the author’s ability to show how the characters develop with experience and age.
Hitomi slowly develops an interest for Takeo with whom she works. Takeo is a man of few words, choosing to speak carefully. He is good at his job and has the ability to fix things. He usually goes out to pick up goods and sometimes goes to markets with Mr Nakano where they source goods to sell in the shop. Takeo speaks often with Hitomi, albeit using few words. Hitomi slowly learns more about Takeo, such as why he is missing half of one of his fingers.
This relationship develops throughout the early chapters of the book alongside the stories from the shop. In the letter opener chapter, Mr Nakano is stabbed by a woman who called him to sharpen his letter opener. I could not help but laugh at the irony of this story. I found myself laughing a few times throughout this book, especially as Hitomi shares what she learns about the relationships between Mr Nakano and his lovers. For instance, Mr Nakano used the term “going to the bank” as an excuse for going out to meet women at a so-called “love hotel.”
Hitomi, Takeo, and Mr Nakano are the main characters but other people do join the book. In many chapters, customers or people wishing to sell a product to Mr Nakano come into the book. This is the case when one customer wants Mr Nakano to hold onto an object because he thinks that object is bringing him bad luck. The other recurring characters are Sakiko, a lover of Mr Nakano, who arrives later in the book, and Masayo. Masayo is the sister of Mr Nakano. She is very open, caring, and has a gift for convincing customers to make a purchase. But, her main focus is her art.
Hitomi and Takeo enter into something of a relationship in the book although it is not described as this. They meet up with each other but later something changes and the relationship becomes more complicated. Takeo has been unable to trust people properly from a young age and so he struggles to get close to Hitomi. He then gets angry with Hitomi, causing their relationship to rupture. Hitomi, struggling to figure out why Takeo no longer wanted to speak with her, was still interested in Takeo. Hitomi spent months thinking about what she could have done wrong.
While Mr Nakano was never one to save a lot of money, he did not stay in the same place forever. Later in the book, his interests changed from selling second-hand goods to selling Western antiques. He was responsible enough to make the change. The last chapter of the book shows all of the characters as they have grown up after the store changed. I shall not spoil how the book turns out.
Inspired by the three excellent Japanese fiction books I’ve read, including this one, I have decided to purchase another title by the author of The Nakano Thrift Shop, Hiromi Kawakami. The book is called Strange Weather in Tokyo. I appreciated Hiromi’s ability to express emotion and depth throughout this book and I am excited to read another title of his. Indeed, Hiromi illustrated well the themes of conflict, love, and day-to-day living, leaving me, like I felt with Before the coffee gets cold, with the feeling that another book should follow. Unfortunately, I just checked and there is not another book.
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