The Nakano Thrift Shop:
By Hiromi Kawakami
Translated by Allison Markin Powell
In the ‘about me’ section of this website, I explain what my favourite quote is. For those of you who can’t be bothered to go to that page, do not fear. My favourite quote is this:
“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
― Alan Bennett, The History Boys
The Nakano Thrift Shop takes a while to get into. You have to really try to read it. Or at least I did. Because the characters and the narration are just so every day. It’s all very normal. There are no attempts at making things seem extraordinary, or ‘special’. While this starts off as difficult, eventually I found that it was this ‘every day-ness’ that was at the centre of this books charm.
There were so many instances where I was reading, where I had to pause and re-read the last paragraph or so, because I hadn’t fathomed that someone would be able to capture such fleeting, natural experiences and thoughts in such a clear and accurate way. I recognised myself in Hitomi, the narrator of the book, even though we don’t have that much in common (because I’m not a 30 something year old Japanese woman). I felt a sense of oneness with her, and recognised feelings which I had thought special and unique to me. The characters are offbeat and all have flawed personalities, and as they live, work and interact with each other, what we see is an accurate portrayal of human relationships.
The Nakano Thrift shop is full of objects for sale, as ordinary and un-extraordinary as the staff and customers that work with them. But each object, and each person, has a story. Whether fresh and trendy, awkward and not quite working properly, or old and falling apart, the reader is able to explore the significance of the initially insignificant. Mr Nakano frequently makes it clear that his shop isn’t for antiques, it’s just for stuff that people don’t want or need anymore. The objects aren’t of any obvious worth, and probably won’t create a significant profit. Each object in his shop holds many secrets; and you end up seeing the value in each of them if you provide a space to look for it.
One of my favourite parts of the book was where Hitomi, the young woman who works the register at Mr. Nakano’s thrift shop, and Takeo, her reserved co-worker, spend the night together. So, books these days try to show how important it is that the characters are having sex by describing it in such explicit detail and uses such erotic language that it creates the opposite effect. It loses its significance. Instead it become titillation, smut. Where often what the author was attempting was to describe the symbolic or emotional importance of the act of having sex. Whereas Kawakami chooses not to describe it. There are so many examples of purposefully noticed details throughout the book; The observance of someone’s posture, the movement of someone’s adam’s apple, the formation of ice on the ground. All of which gives an indication of how the character feels or what they are noticing. We see what is significant for them. Which is why, all that is said about Hitomi’s engagement with Takeo is this:
“We had sex, briefly.”
Which, in my opinion, was far more exciting and engaging as I paid so much more attention to the descriptions before and after this short sentence. I focused on how she described the process of them removing their clothes, and how she watched for his expression and response afterwards. It also left far more to the imagination, which is always a far more effective tool for writers to use than over-description.
Another worthwhile thing to note is that it is undoubtedly Japanese in its tone and style. It is quiet and self-contained; dialogue isn’t overly scripted and contrived, but rather takes an organically rambling path. I say rambling over flowing because it often isn’t a smooth path of conversation. There isn’t much “action” in the plot, however by the end, you feel that you and the characters have gone through a lot emotionally, even if in reality not much time or action has passed. It’s almost like an act of meditation. You focus so much on the little, repetitive actions that you find significance within them, as well as the occasional realisation.
In Japan, there is a word, omote, which refers to the public, formal, and conventional aspects of behavior – where and how one stands, how to greet one strangers or business partners etc. There is another word, ura, which refers to the private, informal, and unconventional aspects of culture. This mode of behavior is seen as more valuable and meaningful, however, one only acts this way with close friends or family members. The Japanese value outside appearances very much. This is not to say that they do not value what is private and hidden, but much importance is placed on one’s presentation and appearance. In The Nakano Thrift shop, we are given an opportunity to witness omote but experience ura.
This book is captivating because it tells a story. In fact within the story, there are many smaller stories. It’s a work of fiction which identifies and highlights the significant aspects of human relationships and how, to a stranger or after a great period of time, symbols of these relationships seem insignificant. But one can find importance in the unimportant. The beauty of this novel comes from the fact that it is all so refreshingly ordinary.
As I said before, it is difficult to get into at first. But as you grow accustomed to the routine of the workers and customers of The Nakano Thrift Shop, you fall into the same rhythm as them, you walk the same steps, and you find the beauty in the every day little things.
Let me know what you think in the comments! 당신의 의견을 저에게 알려주십시오. 코멘트해 주세요!
follow me on Instagram and Twitter @Connienkiga