Author: Sayaka Murata
Publisher: Grove Press
First Published: June 12, 2018
Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction―many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual―and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…
Keiko is a convenience store worker and, to the people around her, a bit of an oddball. She has worked part-time at the same store for her entire adult life with no aspirations to pursue a full-time career, she has no interest in romantic relationships or starting a family, she struggles with everyday social interactions, and most of all–she’s satisfied with her life.
“When morning comes, once again I’m a convenience store worker, a cog in society. This is the only way I can be a normal person.”
Keiko often feels out of place, like she has to put on a mask while interacting with others. She has difficulty understanding people’s motivations and feelings, she struggles to hold conversations and to navigate social norms, she has no interest in marriage, and she feels most comfortable ordering her life according to a strict routine. While it is not stated explicitly, I got the impression that Keiko is both asexual as well as being on the spectrum.
To Keiko, her life is perfect, she’s happy, she belongs to society, that should be what matters right? However, to the people around her, she just doesn’t make any sense. Convenience Store Woman is a story about alienation, about the pressure that society puts on people to conform to the social standards of adulthood. Keiko doesn’t feel that she belongs though she tries, she constantly worries about becoming an outsider and adjusts her behavior to fit in.
Convenience Store Woman pulls the reader into Keiko’s world, it is both charming and as it is a crushing portrayal of modern Japanese society. Keiko’s asexual tendencies are not so unusual in modern-day Japan, a country in the midst of a population crisis as marriage and birth rates plummet. More and more people are beginning to look like Keiko and Shiraha, a single woman and a hikikomori with no real interest in marriage or childrearing.