This work was also published as Strange Weather in Tokyo in The Briefcase is a love story of the middle-aged woman Tsukiko and her former Japanese teacher Matsumoto Harutsana. They first meet in an izakaya , a typical small Japanese restaurant, sitting at the bar eating tuna with natto and fried lotus with sweet soya sauce and pearl onions. He is described as stiff and very polite. He is formal but with lovely crankiness, and his decision-making is wise as one will see later on in the story. Strange, that he is always carrying a leather briefcase with him!
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Sensei had always held an eraser in his hand when writing on the blackboard. And then, not five minutes later, he would erase it. Even when he turned to lecture to his students, he would still hold on to the eraser, as if it was attached to his sinewy left hand.
In spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful. As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint red and wisps of purplish cloud trail over them.
In summer the nights. Not only when the moon shines, but on dark nights too, as the fireflies flit to and fro, and even when it rains, how beautiful it is! In autumn, the evenings, when the glittering sun sinks close to the edge of the hills and the crows fly back to their nests in threes and fours and twos; more charming still is a file of wild geese, like specks in the distant sky.
In winter the early mornings. But as noon approaches and the cold wears off, no one bothers to keep the braziers alight, and soon nothing remains but piles of white ashes. The Briefcase would be a different story, indeed, if we were dealing with the pure fresh face of spring and the gentle age and wisdom of autumn.
No, both Tsukiko and Sensei have moved beyond such easy seasons. Thankfully so, because Kawakami is certainly not concerned with easy romance or standard complications—the story she tells has more abrupt curves and sharp angles than straight happy lines, it is more focused on the awkward movements toward understanding, the unexpected connections and careful revelations. On the surface this a book about a woman in her late thirties and a man in his seventies and the strange romance in which they find themselves engaged.
That word romance is a little misleading, because what happens between Tsukiko and Sensei is far more serious than what that simple word might lead one to believe. The Briefcase is less a study of an unconventional relationship and more a query of what happens when two resolutely lonely individuals find that when they are together, their loneliness is eased.
Contemporary Japanese fiction is fascinated with loneliness and what loneliness does to the psyche. In this sense, The Briefcase is a part of a larger genre of fiction. Kawakami, however, while not shying away from the darker aspects of loneliness and what it inflicts on a person, refrains from making her characters marginal.
Both Tsukiko and Sensei are functional, polite, and to some extent even social beings, and aside from rather impressive drinking abilities, their emotional isolation is nearly undetectable. Until they coincidentally order the same meal at a local izakaya and hazard a conversation—a profound and often wordless conversation that will continue in fits and starts, including some embarrassed or angry pauses, for quite some time.
The narrative style—which is an easy straightforward first person—in The Briefcase is worth mentioning mainly because this is a translation, and translations tend to invite certain comparisons and criticisms.
I think it is fair to say that readers of contemporary English-language fiction generally expect our first-person narrators to be polished storytellers, and if they are not, the reason for their lack of storytelling skill is an explicit part of the narrative.
In other words, she is a real person and she is not a writer. Here is Sensei poised to impart something beautiful, something profound, and just as quickly he is wiping it away, but as long as he grips that eraser it cannot vanish completely, it hovers about him and in the room. This vision really speaks to the kind of loneliness Kawakami is addressing in the novel and how fleetingly it may be soothed, how subtly it lingers.
Share This. Toggle navigation Necessary Fiction. Hiromi Kawakami is the author of several novels and short story collections. Her stories and essays are widely published in Japan, where she taught biology and is now a member of the Science Fiction Research Association. She lives in Japan. Allison Markin Powell is a literary translator and editor. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than a dozen years, and has translated works by Osamu Dazai, Hiromi Kawakami, and Motoyuki Shibata, among others.
She was the guest editor for the first Japan issue of Words Without Borders. Michelle Bailat-Jones is a writer and translator living in Switzerland. She is the Reviews Editor here at Necessary Fiction.
The Modern Novel
Sensei had always held an eraser in his hand when writing on the blackboard. And then, not five minutes later, he would erase it. Even when he turned to lecture to his students, he would still hold on to the eraser, as if it was attached to his sinewy left hand. In spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful.
Book Review: The Briefcase by Kawakami Hiromi
The story tells the life of Tsukiko Omachi, a woman who is almost 40 years old and who lives a lonely routine: works in an office, visits places alone, eats and drinks without company. From that moment and by chance the protagonists begin to find each other more and more, and, through the different encounters, the development of the relationship between both characters can be evidenced. From ecologic trips, visits to the market, trips to islands or picnics, Tsukiko and the teacher Harutsuna will develop a connection full of unrecognized feelings, but of long talks where the teacher will give great lessons to Tsukiko. In this love story you can probably reflect situations of real life, because in their development are two lonely people willing to love, to understand each other, but without rushing things and always ready for one to be comfortable with the other. Hiromi Kawakami is a Japanese writer born in Tokyo, Japan.
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The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami
Her work has been adapted for film, and has been translated into more than 15 languages. Kawakami was born in Tokyo in and grew up in the Takaido neighborhood of Suginami City. In , at the age of 36, Kawakami debuted as a writer of literary fiction with a collection of short stories entitled Kamisama God. Kawakami's work explores emotional ambiguity by describing the intimate details of everyday social interactions. Ballard as influences. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.