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Yu Miri “Tokyo Ueno Station”

Yu Miri “Tokyo Ueno Station”

This is the first time for me to read Yu Miri’s work. Both her style and theme were unique. Her distinctive style can be partly attributed to the fact that she is a playwright as well as a novelist. This work was shortlisted for the National Book Awards for translated literature this year.

The story unfolds itself in Ueno, which used to be the black market after the Second World War. In the 1950s when Japan was starting to thrive economically, flocks of young people in the northern parts of Japan (the Tohoku region) went to Tokyo to get a job at works and factories. They were called “golden eggs”. The protagonist is among them and from Fukushima prefecture.

His life is “the working, the working, just the working life” for his family. When his son becomes 21, he suddenly dies. He is devastated by his death, which is followed by his wife’s death. The only remaining family member, his daughter tries to take care of him. However, he considers himself rather a burden for her and decides to become a tramp in Ueno.

The Ueno Park is filled with museums, some of which the Imperial family sometimes visits. When the Emperor or Empress visit the park, so called “mountain clearing” begins. All the vagabonds are driven away. Although the protagonist’s life overlaps that of the Emperor time-wise, their lives never cross each other, except one moment. He suddenly gets haunted by the idea of showing up in front of the Emperor to show his presence, which is supposed not to exist. However, the inexplicable power emanating from the Emperor paralyzes and dissuades him.

One scene turns into another with different sorts of dialogues of housewives, female high school students, office workers, and others. Their “registers” are accurately depicted, which makes readers feel as if they were the protagonist and listened to them.

This story depicts the stories of the dark side which were hidden and covered behind the shining high economic growth in the 1960s. On top of that, the juxtaposition of the life of the protagonist and that of the Emperor makes this story uncommon.

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