Tokyo Ueno Station by Yū Miri
Published: 2019 by Tilted Axis Press
Genre(s): Asian Literature, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Mournful, tender and melancholic, Tokyo Ueno Station is a story that feels both dreamlike and real, of a man before and after he became homeless, struggling to attach meanings to his life even after death. Of, in many ways, what it’s like to be a part of a world where you are duty-bound to many things and at some point, have realized that your life has slipped past your fingers like sand. That the world has moved on without you, unfazed by neither you following along nor you having stopped somewhere behind. That despite the many others sharing the same physical space as you, what they’re going through, what they are feeling—everything can be vastly different from yours.
The story of Kazu is told through a stream of consciousness narrative, which is surprisingly easy to read but was a little difficult for me to understand, especially at the first read. Nevertheless, it felt very much like how an elderly person would when recounting their past. There is an ebb and flow of different times mixed with recollections of history, current news, overheard conversations and whatever that had just so happened to have caught Kazu’s attention. It might appear as though some of what is mentioned have no links to Kazu’s life, but there are.
For instance, the snippets of conversation which Kazu overhears and relates back to us, the reader, can be viewed as a juxtaposition of how a ‘normal’ life is like compared to a homeless person’s. They’re like potential paths that Kazu would’ve been on had he not chosen another one. Those dialogue can also be viewed as a demonstration of how invisible the homeless become in society—as though they’re flies on the wall. Ignored and forgotten until someone has to deal with them or points them out. Or, they can be viewed as background noise—as the world moving on while Kazu stagnated.
The imagery, metaphors and emotions woven into the story is haunting and heart-wrenching. Kazu is a man who gave up when the family he worked hard to support gradually left him. He has been a witness all his life: a bystander to the ongoings of his family, a citizen who watches the emperor’s family as they live in the pink of health and seemingly with no worries, a ghost forgotten by the world. The imagery of roses was tedious to go through, but it is also an important one as it is linked to Kazu’s thoughts and feelings. The way the women passed by the plaques describing painted roses reflects how people let things they deem as unimportant slip by them, but for someone who no longer has anything important, those plaques gain more meaning.
The focus on Ueno Park in the story despite the title being Tokyo Ueno Station is something I find interesting. Both are connected to each other in ways more than just being physically located within the same area. Some of Kazu’s strongest memories are tied to the station, and the station itself is a fitting and beautiful metaphor for the place where spirits go that’s neither heaven nor hell. The park, on the other hand, changes from a place for safety, for recreation and rest, to a graveyard depending on the events at the time. It’s a metaphor for life and death.
Everything considered, Tokyo Ueno Station is a deep and poignant book. I recommend reading this book in one sitting as pausing can make the story confusing (something I realized after doing so for the first time).