These days I find it a privilege to be able to finish reading a book. Convenience Store Woman is only 94 pages though, perfect for when you’ve got nothing to do but roll over your bed for the rest of the night.
At first, I thought this is going to be another plotless book, the kind I’ve learned to expect from Japanese stories like The Nakano Thrift Shop. But it gave me an extremely different kind of entertainment. I didn’t find it funny or humorous, unlike the rave reviews I’ve seen. In this book I got mad, I smiled a little, raised my brows, and exhaled quite a few times.
Maybe, I could relate to Keiko. Except that I wasn’t a troubled kid (okay, maybe just a little bit). And I could not see myself doing the same exact thing for eighteen years. Plus, I’d like to think I’ve successfully established my self-identity.
Keiko can’t define herself in any other way, except that she was born to be a convenience store woman. She felt the need to copy one of her colleague’s fashion, mimic the way a university girl speaks and join the bandwagon when everyone feels mad, upset, or celebrating. There was nothing distinctive about her, except that she’s been working at the convenience store for half of her life. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is the fact that Keiko isn’t too proud of it – she subconsciously restrains herself from telling people she loves what she does and that’s why she’s been there all her life and that it makes her happy and her life content.
The convenience store nostalgia
It must be fascinating to work in a convenience store. The smell of frying oil mixed with the smell of plastic packaging, steamed bao, and brewed coffee takes me back in time when everything else is normal and okay and that gives me ultimate comfort and maybe even a bit of nostalgia which makes me feel a whole lot better when I’m down. Yes, convenience stores are my time capsule. At least to the pre-pandemic era.
Convenience stores also provide refuge, especially when the afternoon is getting too stuffy and you need to get some fresh air and some ice cream for that little pick-me-up. Or when it’s raining in the evening and there’s nothing else better than a cup of seafood noodles with another friend after a long day at work. It’s cozy and warm and the raindrops are fascinating to watch and the next thing you know, it’s 11 pm and there’s no transportation available to take you home anymore. Good times. I miss those times.
What does it mean to be normal?
A part of this book talks about people who like to measure your success with your career stability and marital status. When you reach a certain age and you’re working, these people would wonder if you are earning more than enough, or if you have a respectable position in the organization you work for. If you are single by the time you turn 30, they’d wonder why you haven’t gotten married yet and would even go to the extent of finding you a partner (pakialamerang Marites!). If you’ve been married for 2 years, they’d be expecting you to have children and they’d also wonder if you’re even healthy to bear a child. For you to be deemed normal by society standards, you should either be married or have a stable job by the time you’re 30.
But normal is overrated. One can be a convenience store worker at 36 and single and can still be normal. What we should not normalize is to allow people to tell us what we should do, and think less of us as a person just because we do meet their criteria of being normal. We should not normalize people who think they can get away with their financial responsibilities by getting married to someone who has money (oh I didn’t see you there, Shiraha).
All in all, I enjoyed reading the book. Shihara might not be my favorite character but he taught me that there are people that should be shut off your life forever.