コンビニ人間: Week 12 Discussion

I can’t believe we’re almost done with the book! For such a short novel, it feels like we’ve been on such a long whirlwind of a journey with Keiko.

Section Thoughts

When I started reading about her last day at the store, I was legitimately confused. I had no clue why she was quitting. Then, when she got back home, and Shiraha was looking at jobs, I was confused again. Was he getting a job?! And was he actually HAPPY about it?! Thankfully, the read aloud group helped me to realize that he was actually looking for a new job for Keiko, which honestly made a lot more sense. I assumed he was the one getting the job because it mentioned resumes being on the table, and for some reason I didn’t think about Keiko actually having one. I knew he did, since Izumi and 店長 were roasting his. In any case, it was clarified for me.

I think she ultimately quits because of what happened when her sister visited: as many people pointed out, she wanted someone to give her specific directions to follow. Where her sister was somewhat unable to, Shiraha’s sister-in-law was more than willing to do so. When I was reading that part, I honestly couldn’t help but see her point in some ways. Like, how were they living off her part-time salary? I guess food might be discounted, since she not only works there but buys dented cans and products that didn’t sell well. I really felt it when she brought up whether Keiko had insurance, too. This was the first time someone was bringing up practical reasons to be concerned about their lifestyle choices. Yes, she reiterates some of the points others in the book have made: it’s better to get married; it’s better to have a full-time job. But those extra things…they’re realities of living on your own and for yourself, extending past the themes of expectations in the social world to what’s expected of someone financially (and I suppose medically).

I also think it’s interesting when Keiko says that the sister-in-law seems like a better person than Shiraha’s been saying. I’m still thinking over what to make of that; is it because of how straight-to-the-point she is, whereas everyone else in her life has been harder to understand at some point or another?

This section is also why I still think Shiraha is manipulative. He, naturally, BS’s his way through the conversation with his sister-in-law. This time, though, he unwittingly gives Keiko a directive: quit your job ASAP and find a full-time position. At first, of course, I thought that he was just saying that. His celebratory remarks when the sister-in-law leaves, with him “escaping,” allude to as much. (I’ll leave others to contend with the nasty things he said about his sister-in-law in that moment…) Again, he tries to convince Keiko that up until now, she’s been a societal pariah of sorts, and she’s so lucky that he’s in her life. If you have to continually remind someone of that (or at least, feel the need to), you’re clearly trying to manipulate how they feel. Both he and the sister-in-law mention her “being left for dead.” Similar expressions from two very different people; would love others’ thoughts on that. And as he keeps talking while she showers, what is it that dies away? The sounds of the コンビニ that have been in her head for 18 years.

It’s possible something good for Keiko will come from all this, and if it leads to a better life for her, then I guess she would have Shiraha to thank, among others. The scene of her on the veranda was incredibly striking, with her looking at different parts of her physical form and naming the reasons behind their appearance. It’s very much a moment where the reader sees just how much she is (and I hate to do this) a コンビニ人間. The part about her hair made me think back to when she describes 菅原’s hair; certainly not professional, or even traditionally feminine. How would Keiko style her hair, if looking professional wasn’t a concern? Heck, what did Keiko study at college? What sorts of things interested her before the コンビニ? I hope she gets to (re)discover things about herself, and in that sense no longer be a コンビニ人間, but simply a 人間.

As usual, I got to rambling… :sweat_smile: I just love how much this book has gotten me to think about the writing, the characters, the themes, pretty much everything. It’s gonna be sad when this week’s reading brings it all to a close… :sob:

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Short stop here before finishing.

Plot talk

First of all, I’m fascinated about this tracking app. Why Shiraha didn’t notice it for so long?
Or maybe it’s just me who launches many apps from the list, not from shortcuts, so it’s easy to notice anything being moved.
And why the app work only when he went out shopping? Why not inside Keiko’s apartment? :thinking:

Hmm. I think it’s possible it’s because of that. Keiko was complaining before how everyone won’t talk clearly about their expectations, her sister didn’t want to give her straight advice… so she probably appreciated this straight-to-the-pointness.
But I also liked that, even if sister-in-law just repeated what everyone else was saying. For me the main difference was that she didn’t hesitate to call Keiko and Shiraha 社会不適合者 directly, without trying to dance around this. She’s the second person after Shiraha that was able to talk about the problem and analyze it without getting nervous.

This was weird. Shiraha complained about simplicity of food, but not about being hungry. Keiko was always so proper about taking care of her body. And she was able to freely buy whatever clothes she wanted to imitate coworkers.
If they were lacking money, shouldn’t they notice it themselves? And Shiraha is always ready to complain about everything, too.

Keiko was thinking about working extra days, though. But working extra days isn’t the same as lacking money. And actually I disagree with sister-in-law that it would be exhausting for Keiko:
“やってけるわけないじゃないですか!行き倒れになりますよ!”

I think working in konbini has a energizing effect on Keiko :grin:

Last thing I want to say it that I really liked 門出 word. I know it was used as simple “starting a new life; starting life anew​”, but jisho also brings up the “leaving one’s own house (e.g. when going to war)” definition and this made me giggle.

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There’s a Find My Friends app which comes by default on the iPhone which is easy enough to not think about. You need to give permission for others to track your location, but you can set it up to share your location forever. If sister-in-law-san ever got a hold of Shiraha’s phone, she could potentially set it up without his knowledge.

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Maybe I am wrong but since Keiko lives in a mansion or apartment with many flats (I don’t remember which one, but I guess an アパート is cheaper), she couldn’t figure out where Shiraha exactly was. So she had to wait until he actually left the apartment to catch him.

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Ah, I get it! It wasn’t about the location, but the exact flat number. Makes sense.
But Shiraha seems quite reluctant to actually go shopping (as seen even this week), so now I’m imagining sister-in-law stalking the area for many hours/days.

What a choice word! Keiko has left the comfort of her “home base” (コンビニ) and is now out in the trenches of a war within herself over what to do with her life. So glad you brought this up; I wasn’t aware of the second definition.

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I really like this throwback:

義妹さんの目と鼻と口ががばっと一斉にあいたのを見て、あ、どこかで見たことがある顔だな、と思うと、妹さんが唖然とした様子で叫んだ。

Where did we see this face before? :thinking: O yeah, during dead-bird-gate!

良く聞こえなかったのだろうかと、はっきりとした発音で繰り返すと、母はぎょっとし、隣にいた他の子のお母さんも驚いたのか、目と鼻の穴と口が一斉にがばりと開いた

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Oh, thank you, I was struggling to remember which scene was that!

Finally got around to finishing this week and it’s such a nice, meditative close to this chapter of Keiko’s life. Murata-sensei has such a wonderful way of capturing the highs and lows of the mundane nature of pedestrian life. Her ability to distill the utterly anxiety-inducing stress of uncomfortable social situations is equally matched by the gentle deftness she has in cultivating somber, introspective ambience.

Story thoughts

Much of the veranda scene hearkens back to when Keiko first discovered the konbini and wandered the monolithic emptiness of the business district. However, in stark contrast to that moment 18 years ago, Keiko has gained a deeper understanding of herself and the nature of society as a whole. She’s not only developed a sense of self, both figuratively and literally, but she’s done so by placing it in the context of other people. Where she once sought meaning in barren city streets, she’s now finding solace in herself gazing out into the comforting chill of the night.

Her mind simmers with images of her former coworkers as they go about their business, each of their idiosyncrasies ingrained into her mind. But she’s not copying or studying, nor is she even observing. She’s understanding. Everyone has their own way they live life and now so does she. There’s a quiet satisfaction that comes with Keiko leaving her job, one that can lead the way to much-needed healing reflection.

And yes, agree with both @Aislin and @softlyraining that the sister-in-law really was one of the bigger factors in giving Keiko that push she needed. While Shiraha offered a (very loud and very wrong) contrarian voice, his sister-in-law tempered it with some much needed level-headedness. Keiko’s life has been filled with the two extremes of societal standards: complete obedience and utter rejection.

The sister-in-law was a wonderfully explosive presence that shows just how masterful of an author Murata-sensei is. She’s more than just a side character, she’s a reminder that life can be as quick and painless as it is long and painful. Far too often is it easy to get caught up on one’s own head that all it takes is a positive shift in perspective to better understand ourselves, our peers, and the world we live in. Her appearance in the story isn’t the whole reason Keiko left her job, but the spark that lit a fire 18 years in the making.

I’m definitely falling more into the camp that Shiraha is manipulative, but I don’t think he’s intentionally trying to exploit Keiko. I’d argue he’s just so used to giving people the runaround to get his needs met that he doesn’t know how to turn it off (which isn’t better, necessarily, it just gives a bit more nuance to him).

Oh jeez @Phryne good memory lol, that’s such a neat callback.

Onto the final stretch!

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I am sooo far behind! I have been more or less on time throughout the whole book and in the last two chapter I let myself fall behind. :sob:

I have a little question, if someone can help me. On page 139, after his sister in law left, what does he mean when he says 三重苦のあなたが. According to jisho 三重苦 means triple handicap (esp. blindness, deafness and mutism). Is he saying that she is handicapped in her face?

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Yes, he is. Of course “metaphorically” handicapped. But he was insulting her before, so it’s nothing new.
(I’m reading through 解説 now and Fuminori Nakamura (another Akutagawa prize winner btw) even notices how all Shiraha’s insults seem to be going over Keiko’s head.)

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Essentially, she’s old, unmarried, and unemployed.

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