The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami

the briefcase

The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami

Japanese fiction

Original title – Sensei no Kaban

Translator Alison Martin Powell

Source – personnel copy

Well the last of the Japanese books for this month and it is one from this years Man Asian prize shortlist .Tony asked us all to post at the end of the month thankfully my copy arrived yesterday ,so I managed to read it overnight .Hiromi Kawakami is a graduate of Ochanomizu women’s college ,she published her first book in 1980 ,with her previous books she has won a number of prizes .This book won the prestigious Tanizaki prize in 2001 previous winners include Ryu Murakami ,Yoko Ogawa and Kenzaburo Oe .

His full name was Mr Harutsuna Matsumoto ,but I called him “Sensei “not “Mr ” or “Sir ” just ” Sensei ”

He was my Japanese teacher in High school .He wasn’t my homeroom teacher ,and Japanese class didn’t interest me much ,so I didn’t really remember him .Since graduation ,I hadn’t seen him for quite a while

Tsukiko saying why she calls him Sensei at the start of the book

The Briefcase or bag of Sensei is a love story .It was published in its native Japan as a serial so its chapters are short and tend to leave you wanting to read the next chapter .The story is the story of The sensei (Japanese for teacher ) and Tsukiko a former pupil of the Sensei who is now in her thirties ,the sensei is retired .The pair meet in a traditional Japanese bar .As the relation ship develops you see them doing many things such as watching the cherry blossom falling of the trees ,picking mushrooms and visiting an Island for a weekend away .This being Japan this very unusual relationship isn’t all about your full-blown passion, no it is more two lonely souls in the sea that is Tokyo that have end up being drawn together ,The sensei is like you would expect a very quiet man but he has the air of some one deep in thought and serious with it .Tsukiko is hard to read but he admiration and love for this older man seems unwavering and maybe you feel she has had her heart-broken in the past by a younger man .

“Sensei ,your is the special ,right ? ”

“that’s what they call it ”

“how is it different from the regular ”

We both bent our heads and examined the two boxed lunches .

“There doesn’t seem to be much difference at all” the Sensei said Amiably

They have lunch and compare lunches a humorousness moment .


This is a book that has been made into a Japanese tv series and a stage show A quick search of the internet ,I found a clip showing pics from the stage show .I was reminded of a UK TV series called may to December that was shown in the uk when I was growing up it involved a couple of similar age gap to the couple in the briefcase and actually similar characters to this book .The action was the same on the surface we seem different cultures but as may to December showed it was all about the being together more than the sex and the way the relationship develop was so well done by Kawakami like a time elapse picture capture the relationship stage by stage .Some wonderful moments of humur Tsukiko buying a grater for sensei when it appeared they’d fallen out or compare her normal packed lunch brought from the shop to his special of the same dish and deciding they were actually the same .The fact it was as a serial works well for this story I felt and didn’t feel uneven as sometimes novels made up of serial parts can.

Have you read this book ?

33 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heather
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 17:58:26

    There is more to a relationship than sex, even though many popular tv shows don’ give that impression. This sounds like a good and thought provoking read. Thanks for sharing it.


  2. parrish lantern
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 19:10:09

    Seen a few posts on this book & it sounds good, may have to fork out for it.


  3. Lisa Hill
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 19:49:47

    I didn’t realise when I read it that it had been published as a serial, and now a TV series. It just shows you that there can be more in a slim little book than in pages and pages of a chunkster, eh?


    • winstonsdad
      Feb 06, 2013 @ 02:26:50

      Yes very well done for such a slim book I had wonder if it would make a good film so wasn’t surprised when saw it had been a tv show all the best stu


  4. Tony
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 21:29:06

    Yep, ‘May to December’ came to mind for me too 🙂

    Serialisation is common in Japan (as it was in Victorian England), and it works really well here. It allows the relationship to develop slowly, revealing the characters gradually as the story progresses.

    Good to hear from other people that ‘Manazuru’ is supposed to be even better 😉


    • winstonsdad
      Feb 06, 2013 @ 02:28:00

      It does gives it a slow feel and feels like a much thicker book than it is think this is one of my favourites from Japan in recent years all the best stu


  5. Travellin Penguin - Pam
    Feb 01, 2013 @ 00:00:35

    No I haven’t read it but it sounds lovely. Have been enjoying reading your Japanese posts. I must say I haven’t read many Japanese books.


  6. whisperinggums
    Feb 01, 2013 @ 10:25:27

    I like the sound of this book … it sounds like it has that slow mesmerising pace you often find in Japanese books, and that I enjoy reading. There is something very distinctive about Japanese writing (in general, anyhow).

    (BTW I am now reading Faces in the Crowd, Stu)


  7. Bina
    Feb 01, 2013 @ 10:50:49

    Sounds pretty good! And thanks for the video, it was a great glimpse into the story. Need to check if my library has it.


  8. Caroline
    Feb 01, 2013 @ 12:17:50

    I liked this one very much, pretty much loved all of her books. Manazuru a bit less but it’s still better than most things we get to read these days.


  9. Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp)
    Feb 01, 2013 @ 21:33:25

    This sounds really lovely, a nice and slow story with great characters. I will have to find a copy!


  10. Michael @ Literary Exploration
    Feb 02, 2013 @ 00:26:20

    Sounds great, I will have to check it out.


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January 2013


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