Tokyo Ueno Station

Yu Miri

translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles
Tilted Axis 2019
A book review by Danny Yee © 2021
Told from the point of view of Kazu, one of the homeless people living in Ueno Park, Tokyo Ueno Station weaves his memories and history with his experience of a day in the park.

The foreground narrative revolves around the homeless people being cleared out of the park for a visit by one of the imperial family, a prince who was born on the same day as Kazu's son. Flashbacks tell Kazu's life story: he was born in Fukushima in 1933, in a Pure Land Buddhist community transplanted there in the nineteenth century; he worked as an itinerant labourer to provide for a family he rarely saw, building for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics among other jobs; and after family deaths and bad luck he ended up in Ueno Park. Mixed in with this are the stories of others among the homeless, explanations of how their community works, and overheard fragments of conversations among visitors to the park.

This story is never hard to follow, despite the different strands, and it is also surprisingly upbeat and engaging, despite its bleak storyline. The central protagonist is, perhaps because of his Buddhist background, almost completely accepting of the world. Although his perspective is not at all political, however, his story is all the more biting for that, a revelation of the dark side of the Japanese climb to prosperity and wealth. And in an author's afterword Yu lambasts the failure of government to look after itinerant workers and the homeless, most notably around Fukushima and during typhoon Hagebis, and describes her own history of involvement with discrimination.

June 2021

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%T Tokyo Ueno Station
%A Yu Miri
%M Japanese
%F Giles, Morgan
%I Tilted Axis
%D 2019 [2014]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781911284161
%P 197pp