Life is nothing like a story in a book

tokyo ueno station book coverTokyo Ueno Station
by Yu Miri
translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles

This is an astonishing novella, packing so much insight and commentary and humanity into so few pages. And it taught me snippets of history as well. I’m really not sure how Yu managed it.

The tale is narrated by Kazu, an old man who has spent the last few years homeless, living in Ueno Park in central Tokyo. He tells his life story, but not linearly. An overheard conversation will remind him of his son. A piece of rubbish will remind him of a friend who died. A rain storm will remind him of a certain day in the past. And so on.

Kazu is an ordinary man, which is of course the whole point. He didn’t become homeless because he’s a junkie or had been in prison. Yu doesn’t spell out the reason he ended up in Ueno Park, but as we see his long lonely life getting sadder and lonelier, we can fill in some of the gaps.

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