Convenience Store Woman won the accolade of Foyles Fiction Book of the Year for its warmth, wit and quirky charm. Keiko, the main character, has always seemed somewhat odd to her family and acquaintances, not least because she lacks ambition according to those closest to her. Her job at a convenience store doesn’t fulfil their expectations – but for Keiko the routine brings her contentment and purpose. Convenience Store Woman is a bestseller in Japan and won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize; it’s no surprise it’s finding an enthusiastic readership here in the UK too. We’ve an extract below from this endearing book.
I arrive at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart every morning at eight. My shift is from nine, but I come early to have breakfast before starting. I pick up a two-liter bottle of mineral water, select a sandwich or bun close to its sell-by date, pay for them, and take them into the back room to eat.
In the back room, the security camera in the store is relayed on a big screen. This morning Dat-kun, a Vietnamese guy new on the night shift, was frantically working the till, while the manager ran around keeping one eye on him. I gulped down my sandwich, ready to change into my uniform and rush out to help at any moment.
For breakfast I eat convenience store bread, for lunch I eat convenience store rice balls with something from the hot-food cabinet, and after work I’m often so tired I just buy something from the store and take it home for dinner. I drink about half the bottle of water while I’m at work, then put it in my ecobag and take it home with me to finish at night. When I think that my body is entirely made up of food from this store, I feel like I’m as much a part of the store as the magazine racks or the coffee machine.
After breakfast, I check the weather forecast and go over the store’s data. The weather forecast is a vital source of information for a convenience store. The difference in temperature from the previous day is an important factor. Today will have a high of 21°C and low of 14°C. It will be cloudy, with rain forecast in the evening, when it will feel cooler.
On hot days sandwiches sell briskly, whereas on cold days rice balls, meat dumplings, and buns are more popular. The sale of food from the counter cabinets also varies according to the temperature. In our branch, croquettes sell well on cold days. Today there also happened to be a sales promotion running on them, so we should make a lot of them, I noted to myself.
The other day-shift staff always start arriving about now, just after eight thirty, when the door opens and a husky voice calls out: “Morning!” It is Mrs. Izumi, our trusty supervisor. She’s a housewife, one year older than me at age thirty-seven, and rather stern, but she’s an efficient worker. She’s a rather flashy dresser and changes out of her high heels into sneakers by her locker.
“Early again today, Miss Furukura? Oh, that’s one of those new buns, isn’t it? What’s it like?” she asked, her eyes settling on the mango-chocolate bun in my hand.
“The cream tastes weird, and it smells a bit strong, which is quite off-putting. It’s not very nice, actually.”
“Really? Oh dear, the manager ordered a hundred of them. Well, let’s at least try to sell the ones that arrived today.”
By far most of the store workers are university students or job-hoppers, and it’s unusual for me to work with a woman my age.
Mrs. Izumi tied her hair back and put on a white shirt and light blue tie over her navy-blue jersey blouse. When the current owner took over, he made us all start wearing a shirt and tie under our uniforms, although it was never the rule before. She was checking her appearance in the mirror when Sugawara came flying in calling out: “Good morning!”
Sugawara is twenty-four, a loud and cheerful type. She’s a singer in a band and goes on about wanting to dye her short hair red. She’s a bit plump and not without a certain charm, but often used to be late and was frequently scolded by the manager for wearing earrings at work. Thanks to Mrs. Izumi’s forthright manner of scolding and educating her, however, she now takes her job much more seriously and is an enthusiastic member of staff.
Also on the day shift are Iwaki, a tall and lanky university student, and job-hopper Yukishita, who’s now found a proper job and will be leaving soon. Iwaki has also said he’ll be looking for a job and will have to take more days off, so the manager thinks he’ll either have to come back to the day shift or employ someone new if the store is to keep running smoothly.
My present self is formed almost completely of the people around me. I am currently made up of 30 percent Mrs. Izumi, 30 percent Sugawara, 20 percent the manager, and the rest absorbed from past colleagues such as Sasaki, who left six months ago, and Okasaki, who was our supervisor until a year ago.
One of the most celebrated of the new generation of Japanese writers, Sayaka Murata has won not only the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, but the Gunzo, Noma, and Mishima Yukio Prizes as well. Her story, 'A Clean Marriage', was featured in Granta 127 Japan. She is 36-years-old and works part-time in a convenience store.
Ginny Tapley Takemori has translated Ryu Murakami, Miyabe Miyuki, Akiyuki Nosaka, and Kyotaro Nishimura, among others. Her translation of Tomiko Inui's The Secret of the Blue Glass was shortlisted for the Marsh Award.
Photo credit: (c) Bungeishunju Ltd