Being born in Macedonia, I grew up reading books that were mostly translated. Because of that, I always appreciate the amazing job that translators do and have always cherished translated copies of my books. Strange Weather in Tokyo is no different, and Allison Markin Powell did an amazing job translating this book.
I read this book in August as part of the Tandem and Granta Books Instagram readalong – to celebrate #Kawakamimonth as well as Women in Translation month – and I am so glad I was able to join.
One night when she is drinking alone in a local bar, Tsukiko finds herself sitting next to her former high school teacher. Over the coming months they share food and drink sake, and as seasons pass – from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms – Tsukiko and her teacher develop a hesitant intimacy that tilts awkwardly and poignantly towards love.
From the very first chapter, we travel to Japan and the whole mood changes. I could grasp the culture, taste the food and feel the weather changing through the seasons. The writing is brief and concise, yet full of emotion and wisdom. Both the characters and the scene had something very special about their description – they appeared so close, so real, as if you could just reach out your hand and touch them, feel them, taste them. This feeling stayed with me and I will cling on to it, because it happens so rarely these days.
Even though I am not a fan of student-teacher relationships, this relationship in particular kept me intrigued, simply because it was so much different than anything I have encountered before.
Tsukiko is young and tries to live in the modern world, while Sensei is much older and very traditional. They meet in the bar and talk. There are no dates, nor arranged meetings. They may see each other, and they may not. Sometimes it could be months before they bump into each other again. And that’s the beauty of their relationship. They live their own lives independently, and having each other as company is an added bonus.
A few plot twists lingered in the way of their love. Tsukiko’s potential boyfriend, who is the same age as her, Sensei’s old age and what that might mean, and the numerous arguments that seem bizarre, but test their relationship on deeper levels. It was very refreshing to see the brutally honest issue that is age between couples. Sensei knows he doesn’t have too long to live, and he is honest with Tsukiko, as he wants her to truly understand what this means, and once she understands it, he wants to ensure she is okay to proceed the relationship, given those circumstances.
I have mixed feelings about the ending of Strange Weather in Tokyo.
I was surprised at how it ended, but then I understood why. Perhaps I wanted a complete closure, but I learned that life doesn’t do closures. There is no perfect or right time to do something. We only have the “now” and we should enjoy every moment while we can.