Strange Weather in Tokyo, written by Hiromi Kawakami, is a tale of a woman in her thirties who develops an affection for an old school teacher of hers. This affection, as the book progresses, turns into a full “official relationship,” as the male in the relationship would say.
Omachi Tsukiko is young, free-thinking, and a bit lonely. She likes to spend time in her own company; she lives alone. This loneliness does not seem to be of particular concern: she does not suffer any particular setbacks by staying alone. But, she is unable to resist the company of one person: Sensei. Sensei, whose full name is Mr Harutsuna Matsumoto, taught Japanese to Tsukiko when she was in secondary school. This man, who is a stickler for formalities and personal responsibility, bumps into Tsukiko often, but they never arrange to meet.
At the start of the book, the two main characters meet each other in a bar. This bar, Satoru’s, is mentioned throughout the book as the two characters build their relationship. They would always pay their bill separately; Sensei was quite hesitant to have Tsukiko pour his drink, saying that he preferred his own pours. They would sit together, converse, but not under any romantic pretenses. I think Tsukiko liked it this way: the relationship was low-maintenance.
Tsukiko could go weeks without seeing Sensei, acceptable because they were not in a relationship. When they did meet, it was often at Satoru’s, the bar they both frequented. This behaviour reminds me of the distance between the two characters in The Nakano Thrift Shop, also authored by Kawakami. The main characters grew close but had some distance in The Nakano Thrift Shop, just like they do in Strange Weather in Tokyo. Although, a fight did not cause this distance; Sensei and Tsukiko were just not interested in a full relationship.
The characters slowly got to know each other through a series of adventures. Early in the book, Sensei and Tsukiko go mushroom hunting with the owner of Satoru’s bar. Sensei knew a bit about mushrooms. Tsukiko became somewhat scared as they travelled to go mushroom hunting on account of Saturo’s driving and how far they had travelled to go mushroom hunting. In this section of the book, I found out about Sensei’s past wife, who was often selfish and who eventually ran off, leaving Sensei to take care of their kid.hi
Sensei and Tsukiko were not in any danger: they both had a good time hunting mushrooms, even if Sensei was scaring Tsukiko with his knowledge about how some poisonous mushrooms are almost indistinguishable from mushrooms that were safe to consume. This was part of Sensei’s character: he was serious, often adopting the tone of a schoolteacher. This is reasonable given the time he spent as a teacher which involves instructing a class and maintaining a sense of authority throughout lessons.
The pair end up attending a cherry blossom party at the school where Sensei taught and Tsukiko attended. At this party, Tsukiko met someone with whom she started to talk more often. But, she always felt like the person with whom she was speaking was not like Sensei. This man did not make her feel as comfortable as she was with Sensei. After this chapter, Tsukiko is invited to an island, although the trip was odd. Sensei visited his wife’s grave on the island and Tsukiko had no idea that island was where Sensei’s wife was buried. Nonetheless, after a small seperation, the two characters grew closer, bonding in the night by talking and writing poetry.
One chapter stood out to me whose title contained the word “Dream”: “The Tidal Flat.” This chapter was unlike any other and seemed to be set in one of Tsukiko’s dreams. I was somewhat confused throughout this chapter, failing to comprehend whether Tsukiko was indeed dreaming until later when this fact became clearer.
After this chapter, it is revealed Tsukiko had changed her routine to avoid Sensei, perhaps as a result of what happened on the island. Her goal was to change her routines so that she would not be reminded of him whenever he showed up. This did not last long, however, as Tsukiko was still thinking about Sensei. The pair got together and did indeed grow closer, eventually getting to the point where a discussion ensued about forming an “official relationship.” Sensei maintained his character of seriousness and kindness but started to show his affection a bit more toward Tsukiko.
This book explores the theme of love through the relationship of Tsukiko and Sensei. The age gap between the two characters brought to mind how strange life can be: once you have found something you know makes you feel comfortabe, you do not want to let it go. This was the case with Tsukiko and Sensei. There was no concern about the age gap, rather the special connection these two characters had. Tsukiko felt comfortable drinking with Sensei and came to find that being with Sensei made her feel happy. The relationship was strained at points, like any relationship, but eventually the two came together.
While I did not see much value in the chapter on the tidal flat, nor the companion story “Parade” at the end of the book, I nonetheless enjoyed seeing the relationship between these two characters blossom. This was the second work I’ve read by Kawakami, both books providing both entertainment and an opportunity to reflect on the role of other people in one’s life.