The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami
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 ?