All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

on February 21, 2020

Convenience Store Woman
Sayaca Murata (translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takamori)
Portobello Books
2018, 163p
Read from my local libary

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person.

However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?

Sayaka Murata brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. With some laugh-out-loud moments prompted by the disconnect between Keiko’s thoughts and those of the people around her, she provides a sharp look at Japanese society and the pressure to conform, as well as penetrating insights into the female mind.

I remember seeing quite a bit about this book when it first came out and seeing people I follow reading it. However I never got around to checking it out myself even though I really liked the cover – even just seeing a picture of it, I keep wanting to touch the clip for the badge and lift it up. When it was suggested as a title for a prompt in my Reading Women Challenge (read a book translated from an Asian language) I decided immediately it would be my choice, considering I’d been curious about it for a while.

Keiko works at a convenience store in Japan, which suits her very much. She as an unusual child, seeing things in the ways that others did not. Her attempts at problem solving often caused issues, issues that Keiko could not foresee (or even see afterward). The job however, means that she always knows the appropriate way to act. There’s a manual, which details specifically how workers should greet customers, how they should promote the specials. The store is always laid out in a way that is familiar and makes sense. Keiko has a sense of pride in working there, in being a cog in the machine that keeps the convenience store going. Many have come and gone since she got a job there as an 18yo. She’s now 36 and still there. But for her family and the few friends she has, Keiko’s life couldn’t possibly be satisfying. She isn’t conforming to the societal expectations – she doesn’t have a “real job”, she isn’t married, doesn’t have children. She’s never even had a boyfriend. Keiko feels the expectation to change her life and when the opportunity comes, she decides to try it and see. At first, it’s wonderful. People are pleased for her. But soon Keiko realises that everyone else’s happiness might just be coming at the cost of her own.

I really enjoyed this. Keiko is a very appealing main character. She leads a relatively stress free life – she works her shifts, she’s always early, she knows precisely how much sleep she needs at night in order to be at maximum health for her next shift. She often mimics the others around her and uses them to choose what clothes she should wear, what shoes she should buy, even how to speak and react to things. For Keiko doesn’t have these reactions herself naturally- things that concern other people often don’t bother her. But people notice when she acts different, so she does the best she can to fit in and woking at the store helps her with that. She seems satisfied with her life, it feels fulfilling for her. It’s everyone else that doesn’t seem to feel that Keiko should still be at the convenience store. That job is fine for those out of school or working through college or maybe even mothers who want to step back into the workforce in a small way after having children.

I’ve never been to Japan and can’t speak for how strong the pressure is there for advancement as an adult, only what I’ve heard or read etc. But this book does such a good job of showing how others project their own wants and desires onto other people without stopping to consider whether or not that would be beneficial for them. Keiko doesn’t think like a lot of other people, she doesn’t process things the same way. The job she has is one that suits her – I’m not sure if I’d say she enjoys it but she certainly seems to feel very positive about her role in the organisation she works for and it gives her a sense of purpose. She earns enough to live on and doesn’t seem to want for anything else. She refers to eating meals as “feeding” as one would a pet, something done out of responsibility and doesn’t appear to be interested in the way food tastes or is prepared as long as it meets simple nutritional requirements. The life she has seems to be the one she feels she was made for, but the life other people seem to want for her is something much different. And they don’t really seem to think about how Keiko might feel, having to change up everything she’s known for nearly 20 years. I think they mean well, as most people do when they want others to advance, or marry, or have children, or whatever but it’s more about what they want or what they think people should be doing, rather than what would make that person happy or what their true desires are. It’s a regimented social structure that doesn’t seem to leave much wiggle room for those who might want something different, whether that be more or less, than what society wants for them. Keiko had found a life that suited her, she was perfectly content, it was only others and their questions, comments and sniggers that made her feel as though she would have to do more, to satisfy them, make them pleased, make them stop asking her about getting a ‘real job’ and getting married, having children, etc.

Convenience Store Woman is a short but powerful story and I’m hoping I can find some of the author’s other work translated into English.


Book #25 of 2020

I read this book as part of my participation in the 2020 Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. This ticks off the prompt of ‘set in Japan/by a Japanese author’. Convenience Store Woman covers both parts of that. This is the 2nd book I’ve completed for the challenge.

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