コンビニ人間: Week 11 Discussion

This was another frustrating fragment to read. I’m tempted to just quote&comment each sentence this week, but I’ll try to restrict myself, especially since Kindle app started screaming about copy limit when I was preparing my quotes. :stuck_out_tongue:

Spoilers

In the first part, it was heart-crushing to fully see that the perfect world of konbini is just Keiko’s illusion. The 100% professional relations she had with other workers and managers were only there because they thought she is too weird.
「今まで、お店の人にそんなこと言われたことないですよ」「それはね、あんたがおかしすぎたからですよ。」
Or at least, it’s Shiraha’s interpretation, but I agree with him on this one.

今までは、顔を合わせると、最近暑くなってチョコレート菓子の売り上げがいまいちだとか、近くに新しいマンションが出来たから夕方のお客さんが増えたとか、再来週の新商品はCMがすごく入るらしいから期待できるとか、そんな有意義な話を、コンビニ店員とコンビニ店長として真っ直ぐに交わしていたのに。
I was so sad reading this list of work topics gone for Keiko. Or at least diminished? They still have to talk with her about it, too, or else no work would be done?

今まで知らなかったが、どうやら皆、たまに飲み会をしているようで、子持ちの泉さんも夫が世話をしてくれる日は顔を出したりしているようだった。
And they were even going out for drinks without her. I’m wondering when exactly were they making these plans, since Keiko never heard anything for 18(!!!) years, just by coincidence, for example by walking into the wrong room at the wrong moment.
Until now, I really believed that konbini relations really were that shallow - it is a temporary/part-time job after all, so maybe people there just weren’t interested in making friends. But no, it was another of Keiko’s illusions :frowning_face:

一番怖かったのは、新人のトゥアンくんだった。彼はどんどん店を吸収していて、店の皆に似てきていた。
Nooooooo. Nooooooooooooo!!! :scream: Not トゥアンくん!!! :tired_face:
They’ve broken him, too :sob:


As for the second part, with the sister, she certainly was very annoying for a person who helped Keiko with excuses until now. I hated it when she said that she has to “我慢する” Keiko’s behavior. Whaaaat? If it’s bothering you so much, you could just meet less often… (it was the sister who was pressuring Keiko into meeting more before, when Keiko didn’t understand why seeing sister’s baby is more valuable that seeing any baby)
「え、我慢してるの?それなら、無理に私に会いに来なくてもいいんじゃない?」
…Oh, thank you Keiko.

Also, Keiko finally specifically asked her for instructions and sister just started crying.
ねえ、指示をくれればわたしはどうだっていいんだよ。
Just a continuation of “no I won’t explain to you what is the problem but will expect you to correct your actions anyway” from the childhood.

As for Shiraha’s help, I don’t think it was either “growth for him as a character” or “selfish manipulation”, but that’s because I don’t think he’s 100% rotten person. Of course he was protecting his calm, tranquil hideout, but I also think he was just feeling uneasy listening to the whole conversation.
This also again shows difference between Keiko’s and Shiraha’s capabilities.
Shiraha knew how to calm down Keiko’s sister and what lies would make her happy. He was able to hold down a “normal” conversation.
But he’s unable to hold down a job.

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Spoilers

I’m really worried about Keiko, now that everything seems to fall apart around her. Even more so because she doesn’t have an identity outside of being a 店員, and now that formerly perfect unchanging environment is crumbling. What got me especially worried is that she seems to have started to use some of Shiraha’s ムラ expressions when she got frustrated by the others at work. I hope she won’t simply replace her 店員 identity with Shiraha’s incel attitude.

I went from “I can’t read more than a page at a time, this is difficult” to “I genuinely don’t wanna put this book down” over the last 11 weeks. Hats off to the author.

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Jeez, this week wasn’t a rollercoaster, it was the whole fun park! (or rather not so fun park)
I don’t have much to add since @NyappyTiramisu and @Aislin basically said everything. Besides that, I hated, how even her sister couldn’t tell her what to do. Everyone in Keiko’s life said, that she needed to change or that she was/is weird, but up to now I thought, her sister was at least a bit helpful with her lies and she somewhat accepted Keiko as she was. But even she just couldn’t really “keep it up”, lo and behold, she also doesn’t really know, what’s “wrong” with Keiko, let alone know how to “cure” her.

I think it’s kinda funny, that this is mainly due to no one in her childhood ever telling her how society (?) works, so you could maybe explain her behaviour due to bad parenting (to some extent). But then again the whole point of the book is criticism against society’s standards :upside_down_face:

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While I don’t like Shiraha as a person, I do think he offers an incredibly valuable role in Keiko’s life by being the catalyst for self-actualization that she desperately needs. His constant challenging of social constructions was unrefined, uninformed, and generally unpleasant, but he offered a much-needed contrarian voice to get Keiko really thinking.

Like @Aislin said, I don’t think Shiraha has grown nor is he manipulating Keiko. Like Keiko, Shiraha simply exists in a way he sees fit. The key difference, however, is that Keiko has up to now chosen to inhabit a weird liminal space that hovers between fantasy and reality. Shiraha instead chooses to live in reality while wishing it were more like his fantasy.

His delusions don’t match up with Keiko’s, but their strong ties and stark opposition to the status quo force Keiko to really consider what the status quo actually is. She’s not weird or abnormal, people just think that. Her own acceptance of Shiraha is the first true decision she’s made for herself and, whether or not she fully realizes it, is one that holds an immense amount of truth for her. It’s only after discovering a “truth” for herself that Keiko sees how much of her life is a lie.

The tragedy of this book is that nobody in this book is bad (except maybe the BBQ husband). These problems are systemic, long-running, and pervasive in society at large, a realization that Keiko attains once she sees トゥアンくん molding himself into that rigidity.

(Sidenote, I haven’t been reading Japanese for that long, but I still think it’s neat how much nuance in dialect and mannerisms are exhibited through the use of hiragana/katakana)

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I’m already most of the way through Week 12’s reading, but I thought I’d still give my thoughts on Week 11. The reading from this week definitely gave me a lot to consider, as did everyone’s comments.

Thoughts

I’m going to defend her sister a little bit. After she brings up counseling to Keiko, her sister says:
「コンビニ始めてからますますおかしかったよ。喋り方も、家でもコンビニみたいに声を張り上げたりするし、表情も変だよ。お願いだから、普通になってよ。」
Unlike everyone else, her sister has known her since before she began working at the convenience store. To her, Keiko’s way of imitating how the women in her vicinity talk and how she uses her voice like she’s still in the コンビニ when she isn’t: those are the things that make her strange. We only get Keiko’s side of the story, of course, because she’s the one telling it. The dialogue and how she interprets her sister’s actions is all we have to get at her perspective. We don’t necessarily know if her sister was totally okay with how Keiko was before, but that was at least “normal Keiko” to her. Granted, 18 years have passed, so her sister might be seeing the time before that with somewhat nostalgic eyes. It’s possible that, when she says 普通になってよ, she means in a general sense of being normal; but I also think it’s possible that she wishes her sister would return to how she was before she began her アルバイト.

Having said that, her sister probably could’ve handled parts of their conversation better. The 我慢 section leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

The 白羽 portion. I’m still not convinced that he’s not manipulative; I think at the very least he tries to be, though it’s a separate argument about whether or not he’s successful. I think her sister seems happy to rail into someone because she doesn’t know what to do for Keiko. He made himself an easy target for her to vent against. How she feels afterward, we don’t know. I hope the book gives us another scene between her and Keiko, just because things seem unresolved between the two of them. I also think she understands that 白羽 lied, simply because she knows her sister and likely knows that 恵子 doesn’t get angry at really much of anything. The idea of her going crazy probably doesn’t sound right. Does she interpret the lies as 白羽 looking out for Keiko, in a way, and therefore thinks that maybe her being with him is a decent idea? Again, I’m not sure.

I agree with @mintyfresh that the problems touched upon in this novel are system and run deep within society. However, the characters themselves are responsible at least for their compassion (or lack thereof). As I said before, we view everyone through Keiko’s eyes; it’s possible they don’t necessarily mean as much harm as I’ve been interpreting. I definitely don’t think トゥアンくん meant any harm by trying to get to know Keiko (and using whatever Japanese he knows).

I really have developed complicated feelings over this book, which is great, honestly. There only ever seems to be more to unpack.

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Great points you brought up. I think because of the deliberate decisions made by Murata-sensei when it comes to framing and exploring relationships, we have enough information to understand the motivations behind everyone involved, including Keiko’s sister.

Thoughts on the nature of societal motivation

My point towards the issues being a pervasive systemic dilemma doesn’t necessarily absolve these characters of the toxic/negative decisions they make. Rather, it contextualizes them within the subtle but insidious framework of implicit social expectations. The important word here is “implicit”, as so many interpersonal problems arise from unspoken mental gymnastics that people willingly go through to adhere to an expected quality of life. It’s a defense mechanism that everyone in this book has relied on to fit in, survive, and cultivate their surroundings. Everyone does it, but Shiraha and now Keiko are the only ones to recognize the game and grow disdainful of it.

I don’t think we need her perspective to know how Keiko’s sister feels or why she does what she does. Given the themes of the book, I’d argue that she’s willfully accepting of Shiraha’s lies because it’s far more palatable to accepting that Keiko is different (abnormal, per her standards). Her sister clearly cares for her but doesn’t know how to help her (especially since her own way of living is squarely within the society that Keiko mimics and Shiraha detests).

There’s got to be an insane amount of guilt in thinking that, shouldering responsibility, and feeling utterly inept at helping someone you love. Not just guilt, but pain and resentment, both of which feed deeply into each other. Keiko’s sister feels like she’s reached her limit, when in fact that “limit” was created by adhering to these implicit social standards. It’s an intensely deadly mental trap to get stuck in that few people can get out of on their own, if at all.

Judged in a vacuum by her sister’s standards, Keiko is an aberrant anomaly that needs to be fixed. Shiraha’s meddling fills in the gaps and turns an uncomfortable truth into a comfortable lie. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in spending all this time in SmileMart, there’s solace in artifice.

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Are you a literature major or something? :eyes:

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lol I was in fact a humanities major in college

Media analysis is something I naturally spend a lot of time on, both personally and professionally. My brother and I talk shop like this all the time, I love studying history and video game development, and I work in PR/Marketing, so this is just the kind of stuff that captures 100% of my interest (especially when it’s something as compelling as コンビニ人間).

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I’m a week behind and was originally planning on just ploughing through week 11 without posting in order to catch up… but this week’s reading was so good I just have to post!

First, my favourite passage:

店の「音」には雑音が混じるになった。皆で同じ音楽を奏でていたのに、急に皆がバラバラの楽器をポケットから取り出して演奏を始めたような、不愉快な不協和音だった。

This part just broke my heart: earlier, we see her self-soothing by imagining the sounds of the convenience store, and to have that ruined for her is so heartbreaking. Often those who are neurodivergent are very sensitive to sensory input, so I really felt her pain hear, especially with how well the writing did with setting the scene with the sounds in the opening of this book.

More plot thoughts
  • I was amused by the fact that earlier, her coworkers were commenting on how useless Shiroha was, and now all they want to go out for drinks with him.
  • Her sister’s reaction was poor but as I am also the sister of someone who is high-functioning but definitely neurodivergent… I get it. You can love someone, and accept who they are but sometimes, it can be overwhelming. You become the “good” child who is supposed to always take the high road, always know what to do and say and sometimes that can feel like burden. It doesn’t mean that what she said was the right thing… but it felt very human to me. So I appreciated that. I also appreciated @softlyraining thoughts on the subject, especially pointing out that the sister notices how she is always acting as if she at the convenience store.
  • Shiroha coming to the rescue was… interesting. While Keiko and he are similar in a lots of ways, this scene really showed how they are different. Keiko has trouble fitting in because she doesn’t know how. Shiroha know the rules of interactions but has become disillusioned with the expectations of society so doesn’t play around.

For the most part, I was able to understand everything, but I’m not sure If I’ve got this passage right:

妹は温和で優しい子なのだが、「お姉ちゃんのために、一言言ってあげないと」とやけに張り切って、どうしてもと押し切られたのだ

妹は温和で優しい子なのだが、= My younger sister is a mild and kind girl but
お姉ちゃんのために、= For my older sister
一言言ってあげないと」= I have to say something
とやけに張り切って = she say in extremely high spirits
どうしてもと = No matter what (or maybe no matter what I said? Because of the と?)
押し切られたのだ = was pushed passed

My sister was is a mild and calm door, but “For your sake, I have to say something” she said in extremely high and no matter what, she pushed pass???

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I think some of your sentences end too soon here. (end of first and second paragraph)

It’s an interesting perspective, thanks for sharing!
But my first thought was “no, you don’t have to be a “good” child”. There is absolutely no reason to “make up” for a sibling.
Keiko doesn’t owe society anything, but “healthy” siblings also don’t. Everyone should get less pressure. :blush:

(I for example am the only child, so I was just supposed to be a perfect child model, no backup copies.)

Attempt at answering

I think your translation is mostly correct. I’m not that good at nitpicking at grammar details, but since nobody responded yet…
The main point of this sentence is that her sister was usually very mild/calm/gentle, but now she’s being pushy, because she feels she needs to “say something” for Keiko’s sake.

This translation makes it seem like she’s being happy. :thinking: I think it’s more about being forceful. I think the closest jisho’s definition is “to be full of vigor”.

There’s also this on weblio:
knw

It also means “to overcome (opposition)”, “to force one’s way​”…

knw2

Again, I think the main point here is to emphasize how her sister is determined to get her point through.

It’s directly after the sentence where we get the info that she came to “criticize” Shiraha, so maybe Keiko was objecting to this visit, saying she doesn’t have to come, but the sister came anyway?

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