The Nakano Thrift Shop Reviewed By Wally Wood Of
Wally Wood

Reviewer Wally Wood: Wally is an editor and writer, has published three novels, Getting Oriented:A Novel about Japan, The Girl in the Photo an  Death in a Family Business. He obtained his MA in creative writing in 2002 from the City University of New York and has worked with a number of authors as a ghostwriter and collaborator.

With an extensive background in a variety of business subjects, his credits include twenty-one nonfiction books. He spent twenty-five years as a trade magazine reporter and editor and has been a volunteer writing and business teacher in state and federal prisons for more than twenty years. He has finished his fourth novel and has translated a collection of Japanese short stories into English.

By Wally Wood
Published on March 14, 2018

Author: Hiromi Kawakami

Publisher: Europa Editions

ISBN: 978--=60945-399-2

Author: Hiromi Kawakami

Publisher: Europa Editions

ISBN: 978--=60945-399-2

A tradition in Japanese fiction is the "I-novel," sort of  a fictionalized autobiography or memoir. Hiromi Kawakami's The Nakano Thrift Shop reads like an I-novel. The narrator, Hitomi Suganuma tells her story of working in the shop, her attraction to a younger co-worker Takeo, the advice she receives from her boss's older sister Masayo, the idiosyncrasies of the boss/owner Mr. Nakano, and the stories of certain of the shop's customers.

Mr. Nakano is a wheeler-dealer. He buys used items—not antiques—and sells them from the shop in a western Tokyo suburb where there are a lot of students. A man in his early fifties, he's on his third wife. He has a college-student son by the first wife, an elementary-school daughter by the second, and a six-month-old son by the third. Plus he has a mistress. When he says he's going to the bank in the afternoon, he's as likely to be meeting his mistress at a love hotel.

Hitomi, who seems to have no parents, no siblings, no friends, is attracted to Takeo, who is Mr. Reticent. At one point Hitomi asks Masayo for advice. Masayo is a woman in her early 50s, single, with a regular lover. 

      "How does one go about having a carefree conversation with a boy?" I decided to ask Masayo one afternoon when Takeo wasn't around. Masayo was in the process of going over the receipt book, but she looked up and thought about it for a moment. 

     "If you can get them into bed, they tend to relax a bit."

     I see, I said in response.

Hitomi manages to invite Takeo to her apartment for pizza and beer. After they chatted about the shop, eaten the pizza, and drank the beer Takeo smoked a cigarette:

     I didn't know you smoked, I said. Every once in a while, he replied. Without saying much to say, we just sat facing each other. We esch drank another can of beer. Takeo looked at the clock twice. I looked three times.

     Well, then, Takeo said and stood up. At the front door, he brought his lips near my ear. I thought he was going to kiss me, but I was wrong. With his lips close, he said, "I, uh, I'm not one for sex and all. Sorry."

     While I was standing there astonished, Takeo closed the door behind him as he left. After a few moments I snapped out of it. Thinking about it while I washed the glasses and plates, it occurred to me that Takeo had chosen to eat the pieces with the least amount of anchovies on them. I couldn't decide whether I should be angry or sad about it, or just laugh.

These two citations give you a sense of Allison Markin Powell's translation (with I presume the original's use or lack of quotation marks) and the tenor of the text. The Nakano Thrift Shop is a novel in which nothing very dramatic happens. Rather, individual Japanese act and interact on one another. One has a sense that the author has not attempted to heighten the reality to engage the reader but to use the minutia of daily life to convey the reality of these individuals. It is a love story, but it's not a romance. It's the story of ordinary people trying to make their way in the world, and in this case the world is contemporary Tokyo and a shop filled with used goods.