Author: Hiromi Kawakami

Publisher: Portobello Books

ISBN: 978-1-84627-510-4

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Allison Markin Powell) is a slim, poignant, big-city love story. Tsukiko Omachi, who narrates the book, is a single, unmarried woman in her late thirties. One evening when she is eating dinner alone, she is greeted by Mr. Harutuma Matsumoto, her Japanese language teacher in secondary school, now retired. He remembers her, has occasionally spotted her in the bar, and this evening greets her. She cannot recall his name and so calls him "Sensei" (teacher) throughout the book.

That first evening, they drink five flasks of saké between them and, she notes, Sensei pays. The next time they met at the bar, Tsukiko pays. The third time and from then on, they got separate checks. "We both seemed to be the type of person who liked to stop in every so often at the local bar . . . Despite the age difference of more than thirty years, I felt much more at ease with him than with friends my own age."

They begin a friendship that eventually, slowly. grows into something more. "We never made plans, but always happened to meet by chance. Weeks went by when our paths didn't cross, and there were stretches when we'd see each other every night." As the seasons change—and the menu at their favorite bar follows—Tukiko and Sensei gradually learn more about each other, but not with out fits and starts. Early on they have a disagreement about a baseball team and don't speak for weeks.

But without the occasional meetings with Sensei, Tsukiko realizes she has been lonely. "I took the bus alone, I walked around the city alone, I did my shopping alone, and I drank alone." She impulsively buys Sensei a vegetable grater and in thanking her he quotes a Basho haiku that mentions grated yam and they begin talking again. 

They go into the mountains to hunt mushrooms with the bar owner. Tsukiko spends the New Year with her mother and brother and his family.Tsukiko attracts a suitor and they go to a cherry blossom party. He kisses her but she fends him off. Ultimately, she realizes she loves Sensei.

It's an interesting love story. The couple have to adjust to the difference in their ages, in their status, and in their expectations. Sensei sounds as if he as a widower—he has an adult son—is as lonely and as afraid of intimacy as Tsukiko. Gradually, slowly, slowly, through one small incident after another, the two finally come together. 

It is also an interesting slice of what I suspect is not untypical Japanese life. While at one time the vast majority of Japanese marriages were arranged by families, today fewer than 30 percent are arranged. More and more young men and women want a love marriage. The down side of that trend is that Tokyo and other big cities are filled with lonely people like Tsukiko. All of which is to say that Strange Weather in Tokyo is a sweet, convincing novel of two mature adults finding an unlikely love.