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Travel Book Club: Strange Weather In Tokyo Discussion

Eden Book Club: Strange Weather In Tokyo Discussion

Strange Weather In Tokyo is one of my new favorite books in translation. It’s a slow-burn age-gap romance. There’s a softness and sweetness to this story, which follows the interactions between Harutsuna Matsumoto (Sensei) and Tsukiko Omachi at an idyllic, gentle pace.

When I think of short romance books, I think insta-love. Strange Weather In Tokyo is short, but it’s also the antithesis of insta-love. Sensei and Tsukiko’s story takes its own leisurely pace. It’s awkward, yes (if awkwardness had a theme song, Strange Weather In Tokyo would be it). It’s also delicate and minimalistic and calm.

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this book!

P.S. I also wanted to share this fascinating interview featuring the wonderful translator Allison Markin Powell!

Book Club Discussion Guidelines

Discussion posts (like this one) will have a series of questions as starting points. But honestly, you can talk about whatever you want regarding the books (or questions). You don’t have to answer all (or any) of the questions. I’d still love to hear your thoughts!

You can join in regardless of whether you’ve read, not read, or DNF’d the book! I understand that not everyone has the time to read or finish the book so I try to include a general discussion question as well to make the discussions more inclusive.

Strange Weather In Tokyo Discussion Questions

  • What were your initial thoughts on this book? Did they change as you read the story?
  • How do you feel about Tsukiko calling Matsumoto Sensei? Why do you think she still calls him Sensei?
  • How would you describe Tsukiko and Sensei?
  • Do you think there were chances for Tsukiko and Sensei to come together earlier? If so, what opportunities did they miss?
  • Was Sensei and Tsukiko’s relationship believable? If so, when did you feel their relationship fell into place?
  • What songs (or soundtrack) would you pair with this book?
  • What was your favorite (or least favorite) aspect of this book?
  • This book was originally titled “The Briefcase”. What role does “a briefcase” play in this book?
  • How do you feel about the presence of quotation marks (or occassional lack thereof) in this book?
  • Did any quotes or passages stand out to you?
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sincerely anshula

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Of course, these are just starter questions. There are no right or wrong answers. Feel 100% free to discuss anything regarding the book (or otherwise). I’ll be jumping in and responding as well!

11 Comments

  • Anh
    February 26, 2022 at 2:23 PM

    So I’ve just written my “review” on this book for my blog and thought I would share it here since I was motivated to read this one because of your book club! Here it is:

    I found this quirky love story between Tsukiko and Sensi an okay read. The short, lightly chronological chapters carrying the two characters’ interactions were not enough for me to become fully invested in them because, while they did feel a bit cinematic through Kawakami’s straight-forward but descriptive prose, I couldn’t help feeling a slight detachment, specifically to Tsukiko. But I think this was purposeful on Kawakami’s part. There are a number of passages that give us a feeling of her lack of self and whimsical habit of having her thoughts elsewhere in any present moment. The evidence in these notions also lies in the author’s choice to sometimes leave dialogue without quotation marks, thus giving us a sense that perhaps Tsukiko isn’t completely present in her interactions with others. Even when she’s with Sensei there is some quotation-less dialogue despite her longing to spend time with him, which made me more curious about her as an individual character rather than the female protagonist of a love story. But sadly (and probably purposefully), that curiosity was never fulfilled.

    I think it simply came down to my personal preferences because there were aspects of the novel that I did find intriguing. Besides Tsukiko’s quaint nature there was one chapter in which she and Sensei meet in a “middle place” within her dreams. Here she learns more about his deceased wife as they look on in the distance at people picking shellfish on a tidal flat. At one point Sensei does a headstand while Tsukiko keeps drinking a cup of saké that instantly refills itself, and the whole scene was bizarre but so intriguing to me. Why did Kawakami include this “middle place” in a book seemingly set in ordinary Tokyo? Was this a turning point in the characters’ relationship? Why is it here that Sensei elaborates on a woman who had abandoned him so long ago? With all these questions in my head it became hard to occupy myself with just the love story.

    Reply
  • Anh
    February 26, 2022 at 5:51 PM

    So I was motivated to read this one after seeing it as one of your book club picks! I’ve written my thoughts on it and wanted to share them! Here it is:

    I found this quirky love story an okay read. The short, lightly chronological chapters carrying the two characters’ interactions were not enough for me to become fully invested in them because, while they did feel a bit cinematic through Kawakami’s straight-forward but descriptive prose, I couldn’t help feeling a slight detachment, specifically to Tsukiko. But I think this was purposeful on Kawakami’s part. There are a number of passages that give us a feeling of her lack of self and whimsical habit of having her thoughts elsewhere in any present moment. The evidence in these notions also lies in the author’s choice to sometimes leave dialogue without quotation marks, thus giving us a sense that perhaps Tsukiko isn’t completely present in her interactions with others. Even when she’s with Sensei there is some quotation-less dialogue despite her longing to spend time with him, which made me more curious about her as an individual character rather than the female protagonist of a love story. But sadly (and probably purposefully), that curiosity was never fulfilled.

    I think it simply came down to my personal preferences because there were aspects of the novel that I did find intriguing. Besides Tsukiko’s quaint nature there was one chapter in which she and Sensei meet in a “middle place” within her dreams. Here she learns more about his deceased wife as they look on in the distance at people picking shellfish on a tidal flat. At one point Sensei does a headstand while Tsukiko keeps drinking a cup of saké that instantly refills itself, and the whole scene was bizarre but so intriguing to me. Why did Kawakami include this “middle place” in a book seemingly set in ordinary Tokyo? Was this a turning point in the characters’ relationship? Why is it here that Sensei elaborates on a woman who had abandoned him so long ago? With all these questions in my head it became hard to occupy myself with just the love story.

    Reply
    • Anshula Varma
      February 27, 2022 at 5:00 AM

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts (love your blog and your reading wrap-ups by the way: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa is definitely on my to-read list now). Side Note: “Cinematic” is such a beautiful and apt description for Strange Weather In Tokyo. Some scenes felt like they were truly plucked out of a movie.

      I think that feeling a slight detachment is very valid. This is a book where I found myself not falling in love with the main characters but still rooting for them to find their own satisfying ending.

      “Even when she’s with Sensei there is some quotation-less dialogue despite her longing to spend time with him, which made me more curious about her as an individual character rather than the female protagonist of a love story.” – this is worded so brilliantly. 😊

      That’s an intriguing question. The Tidal Wave – Dream is an interesting point in Tsukiko and Sensei’s relationship (though it was a bit of an acid trip moment). I felt like in the Island chapter, Tsukiko’s investment and attachment to Sensei is evident (her fondness for Sensei was there all along but in the Island section, there’s a sharp contrast shown between Tsukiko’s expression of her feelings and Sensei’s). In the dream, I perceived Tsukiko as drunk and reckoning with Sensei’s past relationship. A Tidal Flat is usually a very muddy area so perhaps, the discussion of Sensei’s wife is something they need to trudge through (or perhaps, Tsukiko feels as though Sumiyo is a stain on the relationship). At this point in the relationship, I felt like Tsukiko knew how she felt about Sensei but wanted Sensei’s lingering attachment to his wife to wash away to ease their own relationship. In order to distance Sumiyo, the discussion was set in a “middle place”.

      I agree with the questions you posed! That particular chapter begs a lot more questions than it answers. 😊

      Reply
      • Anh
        March 2, 2022 at 10:40 AM

        (um thank you for checking out my tiny blog!!) I love your interpretation of The Tidal Wave – Dream chapter (definitely agree with it being an acid trip moment lol), especially the potential meaning(s) behind the tidal flat setting.

        Reply
      • Vyas Nellutla
        March 3, 2022 at 11:13 PM

        “A Tidal Flat is usually a very muddy area so perhaps, the discussion of Sensei’s wife is something they need to trudge through”

        Thank you for the context, I was completely lost during this part of the book, but this makes it much easier to understand.

        “I felt like Tsukiko knew how she felt about Sensei but wanted Sensei’s lingering attachment to his wife to wash away to ease their own relationship.”

        Once again, I completely missed that from the scene when I was reading it. But this clears it up a ton! 😄

        Reply
    • Vyas Nellutla
      March 3, 2022 at 11:05 PM

      I’m a bit late, but I finally finished reading it. Thanks for pointing out the quotation marks, I listened to the audiobook, but I’ll make sure to check out the dialogue with a physical copy.

      I’m with you on the tidal flat scene. Especially with the monkey 🐒

      Reply
    • Maya
      March 4, 2022 at 10:05 PM

      I underestimated how long this book was going to take me to read. It took forever. I don’t think the slice of life style book is for me). I never became “fully invested” in the characters either.

      I liked Tsukiko at the start but I felt like she regressed emotionally. She became more and more childlike as the book progressed. I found this strange. Instead of becoming more mature from her experiences with Sensei, she became less mature. As I thought more about this, I wondered if this was because she was accustomed to loneliness before she met Sensei and she started to become dependent on him for companionship as the book moved forward and during that time, she lost her own sense of self and lost the ability to find companionship with herself.

      I didn’t really quite get why quotations marks were left out in certain places but your comment really gives a new perspective on that (I found this blog post, not sure if it’s okay to link it, https://snowwhitehatesapples.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/strange-weather-in-tokyo-by-hiromi-kawakami/ which describes the strange use and lack of use of quotations as “present” past tense which I found interesting).

      I reread some of those portions and Tsukiko is definitely not always in the present. The tidal wave chapter was insane. I’ve had strange dreams but this was bizarre. Thank you for bringing that up (I felt like I was alone in thinking that but this comment section is validating).

      Reply
  • Vyas Nellutla
    February 28, 2022 at 12:42 AM

    I wasn’t able to finish this book in time (really sorry about that), but this time I felt that I wasn’t able to get into the story. I think the age gap was hard for me to look past.

    > What were your initial thoughts on this book?
    I thought it was interesting to see a student meet their teacher after many years. I was interested to learn more about Tsukiko and Sensei and how their lives were in-between school and present-day.

    > How do you feel about Tsukiko calling Matsumoto Sensei?
    I found it very funny that she couldn’t remember Sensei’s name (neither can I, so I’m also referring to him as Sensei 😅). But as the story continued, it was almost like they picked up right where they left off as a student-teacher relationship.

    > What was your favorite aspect of this book?
    I liked how real the situations and interactions between Tsukiko and Sensei were. Instead of being a grand series of carefully orchestrated events, each page described a fairly standard day of meeting, eating and talking like regular people would. The slowness of it was refreshing to see. As each conversation and interaction slowly builds and reveals more about each of them. Like I’m having a daily conversation with the two of them.

    Reply
    • Anh
      March 2, 2022 at 10:38 AM

      My favorite novels are ones that have regular interactions rather than the “grand series of carefully orchestrated events” because of the “slowness” you described!

      Reply
      • Vyas Nellutla
        March 3, 2022 at 10:58 PM

        This was my first time seeing small interactions in a novel (I’ve only just started reading again since middle school).

        Are there any novels that you would recommend which takes a slower pace?

        Reply
        • Anh
          March 4, 2022 at 2:46 PM

          Welcome back to the world of reading, that’s exciting! Some “quiet, slow” book recommendations are:
          – The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa
          – any book by Emily St. John Mandel (Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun)
          – any book by Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day, A Pale View of Hills)
          – Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
          – In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano

          Reply

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