Friday, August 19, 2022

Tokyo Ueno Station


Tokyo Ueno Station / Yu Miri
trans. from the Japanese by Morgan Giles
NY: Riverhead, 2021, c2014.
192 p.

Another short and thoughtful book for today's WIT Month read. This is a quiet and damning look at the treatment of homeless people in Japan. 

Kazu was born in 1933, the same year as the Emperor, and he traces his life until the time that he ends up living in a makeshift tent, in a park near Tokyo Ueno Station. He worked as a labourer in Tokyo, only seeing his family intermittently -- his wife lives with his parents, and they have two children, although he has barely seen them. He's too busy earning a pittance to send home. 

His son dies suddenly in his early twenties, though, and that seems to be an extension of what he considers his life of bad luck. This moment shifts the trajectory for him, and his life begins to head downward. Eventually he retires, to rediscover his wife whom he barely knows; they get along alright and he's starting to relax when she suddenly dies as well. And when his daughter moves home to take care of him, he feels that it's too much, that he's a burden and his daughter shouldn't also be weighed down by his misfortune. 

So he leaves, and becomes a homeless person, one who can't leave his encampment even after his death. His ghost travels the park, telling his story in retrospect, and sharing the stories of the others who also live there. All this in a compact narrative that holds a sympathetic and bittersweet tone. There is no cloying sentimentality, but then again there isn't really any redemption or positivity either. It's a straight-ahead trajectory of a life that was difficult and led to a conclusion that feels sadly inevitable. The style is plain and there's no attempt to gloss over the sadness of this life. It's a meaningful and sober story, one to read when you are ready for this kind of serious look at homelessness. 

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