CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN by Sayaka Murata

From the Back Cover

An international sensation that has sold more than a million copies in Japan and was named a Best Book of the Year by U.S. publications from Buzzfeed to the New Yorker, CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN is the charming and unforgettable story of Tokyo sales clerk Keiko Furukura.  Keiko is an unusual person, someone who has never fit in, but when she takes a job at a “Smile Mart” she finds peace and purpose in her daily tasks.  But there is a huge pressure on Keiko–to pursue a career, to find a husband–and she feels forced to take desperate action in order to please the people around her instead of herself.  Is there room in this “normal” world for someone as strange as Keiko?

My Thoughts

CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN by Sayaka Murata (trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori) is an odd little book which follows—surprisingly—a female convenience store worker in Japan.  At its heart, Murata’s novel is about the role of societal expectations in our lives and how they can affect our self image and our decision making processes.  I never expected a miniature Japanese novel to make me feel so strongly about Japanese society, but Murata really blew it out of the park.  Throughout my experience reading this novel, I felt both infuriated toward society and sympathy for Keiko, our main character.

“This society hasn’t changed one bit.  People who don’t fit into the village are expelled: men who don’t hunt, women who don’t give birth to children.  For all we talk about modern society and individualism, anyone who doesn’t try to fit in can expect to be meddled with, coerced, and ultimately banished from the village.”

In one of many interviews, Murata calls CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN a description of modern Japanese society rather than a critique, which is a great way to think about this book.  Through her writing, Murata never clearly states whether she approves or disproves of Keiko’s chosen lifestyle (though one can imagine she would be on her heroine’s side).  Murata intelligently describes the sexist Japanese society Keiko is part of, and how public opinion of her drastically changed for the better when she revealed she was living with a male “partner” for the first time.

CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN is a short and simple story that’s easy to get lost in given its length; I believe it would be best to read in one sitting to get the full effect, but certainly possible to stretch it out in little chunks if you find yourself pressed for time like I am.  Murata pulls off an impressive feat with such a short novel being so thought-provoking.  Charming and quirky, Sayaka Murata’s novel CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN is an inspirational think piece and a wonder of contemporary Japanese literature.

Further Reading

“Loitering in 7-11 with Sayaka Murata” by Fran Bigman, Literary Hub
“Talking to Sayaka Murata in Tokyo” by Aja Gabel, Catapult

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