Convenience Store Woman

by Sayaka Murata

Cover of Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Represents real life in Japan: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Entertainment value: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
My recommendation:
Well worth reading

Convenience Store Woman is the story of middle-aged Keiko Furakura, who has worked in a convenience store all of her adult life, and finally dares to seek a future beyond her comfortable daily routine.

If this were a Western novel, that description would promise a tale of glitchy – yet ultimately rewarded – risk-taking, growing the late-blooming duckling into some sort of swan-hood. That, however, is not how this tale unspools, because Japanese novels seldom play by Western rules. 

Through Kurahara’s eyes, I enjoyed the weird details of working in a Japanese convenience store – the slavish devotion to every silly rule outlined in the company manual, the forced customer-greeting fanaticism, the surprising number of specialized tasks that have to be juggled by the staff 24/7.

As the story unfolds, Kurahara’s personal oddities become apparent and her methods of hiding them are both poignant and amusing. Ultimately, though, the cruel flip side of the convenience store’s cheerful, well-ordered microcosm of Japanese society is revealed, pointing a finger at a culture that pushes out those who don’t (or can’t) conform to the norm.

Overall, I found the book fascinating, and a beautifully detailed glimpse into how ordinary Japanese society functions. Where the book lost me is not in oddball Kurahara’s solution to her dilemma – she chooses, after all, a very common Japanese way out – but how it spirals into a story about characters who are far from typically Japanese, and would be somewhat unappealing in any culture. I found the ending believably Japanese, but rather unsatisfying, because I had ceased caring very much if things worked out for her or not.

It is, however well worth a read – author Sayaka Murata actually did work in a convenience store for years, and she does an amazing job of depicting that uniquely Japanese world. This book was shortlisted for a bunch of big prizes and was named among the Best Books of 2019 by publications like The New Yorker, Buzzfeed, and the Boston Globe – so sign up for Japanagram if you’re not already a member, and check the March issue to see if you won the giveaway!

All subscribers are automatically entered to win—if you’re not among them yet, click this button to subscribe, and be automatically signed up to enter.

How I pick the book giveaway winners: On the last day of each month, I load all the email addresses of Japanagram subscribers into a random name picker on the Web and ask it to choose subscribers to match however many books I’m giving away that month. Then I publish the emails in the next day’s Japanagram (all emails obscured in a way so only the subscriber will be able to recognize it as their own, of course!)

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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