Tokyo Ueno Station
by Yu Miri
translated by Morgan Giles
published by Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House, New York
2019 (English translation – Japanese language original: 2014)
What a book to read on a stormy, autumn day!
This lyrical, sorrow-drenched book is narrated by a ghost who haunts the park near Ueno Station, where he lived once gave up on the idea of living.
Kazu Mori lived a hardscrabble life, working from an impoverished childhood through an insecure adulthood in an endless stream of physically taxing jobs, sending money home to his family while becoming a stranger to them. His reflections on his experiences raise images of hard seasonal harvests, dialect shame, inter-regional hostility, cultural bemusement over different sects of Buddhism, and grief. His choices created a deep alienation from those around him, an estrangement he recognized far too late.
Even as he drifts about, watching others live, he still notices and remembers blossoms blowing in the wind, the soft fabrics of wealthy museum goers, the sound of the rain on a tarp, the bright light at the end of a cigarette, the crunch of crisp leaves underfoot, and the sweet smells of foods… His world of overheard conversations, exposure to the full force of the seasons, and the sound of birds is beautiful, even though he may not have fully appreciated such things in life.
This beautifully written and translated book is a meditation on grief and the extremely transitory nature of life.