コンビニ人間: Week 13 Discussion [END]

Finished the reading! And now I, too, have completed my first novel in Japanese. (Though, I still need to read the afterword…)

A happy ending! Though more resolution on Shiraha than just him going “you’ll regret this!” and storming away might have been nice. I admit to being a little perplexed as to why, when everyone told Keiko to find a full-time job, her first thought wasn’t to find a full-time job in the convenience store’s parent company. Like the staff member in this week’s reading thought she was.

Aye, I raised this during last week’s live reading. “Convenience Store Woman” sounds like it means “she’s a woman who works in a convenience store”, whereas I read コンビニ人間 as “she’s a human being only because she works in a convenience store”.

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Congratulations! :smiley: :tada:

One thing I was wondering about these last few days…does the cover of the book have any connection to the content of the book? I thought those little things poking out of that block would pop up over the course of the book but either I missed it or that didn’t happen.

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Well of course it does. You couldn’t see the connection? Perhaps it was a bit too intellectual. :stuck_out_tongue:

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Finished!

What an amazing book. It is so gratifying to be able to read a book that I love in its original language. It really feels like a life achievement.

As for the ending, for some reason I found it to be much more positive than I did on previous readings. Perhaps it came from reading it in Japanese or maybe it was just my state of mind at the time, but it felt like 恵子 had been completely liberated. Even when she was working at the store before, she told herself that she enjoyed it as a means to fit in properly in society. We get hints along the way that even at the store she doesn’t fit in quite as well as she thinks she does, so when she is finally able to drop the pretense and accept that she is not 人間 after-all, but rather 店員という動物, she can finally live for her own sake doing what she enjoys most.

I want to thank everybody so much for joining me on this endeavor. It seems like everybody got really into it, and I had as much fun reading impressions and analyses as I did reading the actual book. For those of you who (like me) were diving into an intermediate reading challenge for the first time, congratulations! I hope that reading コンビニ has helped you grow as a Japanese learner as well as a person (人間?). A special thanks to @Belthazar, @softlyraining, @yukinet and @debido for regularly putting up with me during live reading sessions.

I’m also open to all feedback positive and negative as this is my first time running a bookclub here. My main goals were to keep discussion lively and get people engaged, and I’m sure there are ways I could have done better on both fronts. Starting the club was mostly a means to share this book I love so much with others who might get as much out of it as I have. Thank you @Phryne for carrying the torch! I can’t wait to jump in to another one of 村田’s books, and I hope to see a lot of you there!

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In Dutch they went with ‘Buurtsupermens’, which is something like ‘corner shop human’ or ‘convenience store human’. It seems like a more satisfying title to me, exactly because it sounds weird.

I still need to read week 13 (getting on that right now), but I just wanted to thank @jhol613 for running things. Your prompts for discussion sure got the conversation started! :+1:t2:

Also this. I stumbled across the book because the Dutch translation had just been released and someone recommended it to me. The book really spoke to me on multiple levels, so to be able to enjoy it in the original language is amazing!

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I loved the weekly discussion questions! Both for helping me reflect on the reading as well as giving me some prompts for what to talk about on the forums

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So they went with it somewhere! (sending mental praises to Dutch translator/publisher)

In Polish, it was Girl from Konbini.
It was nice they left “konbini” in the original form (we don’t really have a good translation), but a girl?! Maybe Shiraha was being overly rude with repeatedly calling her old, but uh, I’m not sure about calling her a girl either.
I think publisher was trying to use the fact that books with “girl” in the title were popular then, like The Girl on the Train, but… :roll_eyes:

And you reminded me I didn’t thank @jhol613 yet! So jhol613, thank you for setting this book club up! :heart:
Also thank you for the bonus week, I was thinking about suggesting a separate thread, but was too undecided.

While we’re talking about being undecided, thank you @Phryne for a 殺人出産, because I lacked courage to propose a next Murata book in a club form either. :heart:

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What an absolutely wonderful book in so many different ways. Murata-sensei has such a fantastically accessible, yet vivid way of writing. Going from 魔女の宅急便 to this was a bit of an intimidating jump, but it was honestly a much more fulfilling experience. Not that I don’t like Kiki and her shenanigans, but コンビニ人間 was a bit more thought-provoking!

Final thoughts on the book

The ending scene with Keiko staring into the glass and truly acknowledging herself on her own terms was such a liberating moment for her. Like the scene on the veranda, this is the first time Keiko is really getting a good look at herself free of social judgment.

After watching her struggle for most of the book, I’d agree that this definitely ended on a positive note. Having spent the past year or so in therapy, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that the journey to rehabilitation first involves painfully breaking down the world as you know it. For Keiko, this meant shattering the shaky scaffolding that was holding her up. No more pretending, no more appealing, no more concessions. Now that the false pretense of her life has been broken down, she can start to build it back up with the newfound perspective and self-determination she’s gained.

Like @NyappyTiramisu mentioned, there’s no such thing as “unskilled labor”, and Keiko demonstrates that extremely well. It’s funny how the konbini sounds have been portrayed as a sort of specter haunting Keiko. All it takes is a shift in perspective to realize that those sounds carry a far more different and positive implication than society would have her believe. What was initially a social crutch has since evolved into a sense of belonging and purpose. She’s good at this job and nobody can change that, despite what they may think.

I did a quick skim of the intro to the book and it’s taken on a bit more of a positive meaning. The idiosyncracies of the konbini give it life because that’s how Keiko views it. I had my own biases coming into the book because of my own negative experience with part-time work in retail, but that shouldn’t take away from others like Keiko for whom this line of work does carry value.

I hope the best for her and I honestly think she’ll be just fine.

Though I stumbled and skimmed in several places, it felt gratifying to make it all the way from beginning to end with a solid understanding of the book, its themes, and Murata-sensei’s intent. Much like @jhol613, this was my first time diving into deeper waters with my Japanese learning and I’ve come out all the better for it. Thanks so much for running the club and a huge thank you to everyone for the INSANELY helpful vocab sheet and fascinating discussions.

Two Japanese books down, hopefully many more to come!

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I thought this was an interesting point, because I read it differently. The feeling I got from the コンビニの音 throughout the book was that they signified ‘flow’. It made me kind of jealous, to be honest, that she had found something she could be so singularly devoted to (even if it is a retail job).

I came across this:

時計と、もうすぐ12なろうというころだった。

I figured it is something like ‘it was the moment when it was about to be 12 o’clock’. Why not just 12ごろだった?

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Saying “it’s about 12 o’clock” and saying “it’s approaching 12 o’clock” aren’t quite the same thing. I think it’s basically the same difference here.

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It seems like a really elaborate way of saying it, but that could just be because I am not really used to Japanese syntax. I wonder if this reads similarly to native Japanese readers, or if this is a bog standard way of saying ‘it’s nearly 12’?

I mean, it is a novel, so some things will be written more poetically. I have no idea if a random person on the street would say something like this.

I’m gonna be honest; I put off starting the last section until the middle of the week because I didn’t want the book to end… :sob: It’s been so much fun not only reading through the novel, but discussing it in such depth with everyone on the forum. I’m glad we’re getting a bonus week to discuss コンビニエンスストア様. Thank you so much @jhol613 for getting this repeat club together and running the read aloud sessions! And thank you to everyone here who pushed through to the end with this book! It definitely wasn’t always smooth sailing. Like several others, this is my first Japanese novel I’ve read beginning to end, and I don’t think I could have done it without everyone’s enthusiasm and participation.

Now, for my final thoughts (in which you KNOW I ramble at least a little).

Final Thoughts

A happy ending or a sad ending? To be honest, when we first started reading this book, the ending I had in mind (and that I was hoping for) was that Keiko would ultimately end up shirking off others’ expectations for her and do what she loves, which was working at the コンビニ. Despite getting what I wanted, I felt torn. Like others, that moment where she’s in her dress suit pretending to be from corporate and telling the girl at the store what needs to get done cemented the idea that she could really go far with her コンビニ skills. On the one hand, I could take that scene as a kind of foreshadowing; maybe that kind of work is in her future somewhere. It bothered me, then, when she told Shiraha that she was a コンビニ店員; at the very least, she should be a 店長 and get that coin. She mentions how much her savings had dwindled after quitting, and she never answered the sister-in-law’s question about insurance.

I mentioned this during the read aloud session, which led me to a realization: those desires for Keiko to be “more” are no different from those that others place upon Keiko in the book. Her job isn’t “enough,” and her desire to continue living the life she’s carved herself isn’t “enough”; she should be doing more. So, even though I think she’s capable of quite a bit within the realm of the コンビニ, if the work of a 店員 is what she most desires in life, then that’s what she should pursue. Besides, if she got a corporate job, that’d only mean less time in an actual store, which is the environment she feels most at home in.

Keiko’s use of the terms 人間 versus 動物 in her final remarks to Shiraha are interesting.
「私は人間である以上にコンビニ店員なんです」vs. 「私はコンビニ店員という動物なんです」
The way it’s phrased, it’s like being a 店員 for her is a higher calling, but one she thinks of on a very physical level, which she mentions not only in this section, but in last week’s reading when she was observing her wounds from working at the store, among other things. I can see how people might think it’s strange, but I think it’s actually, believe it or not, quite human to do this sort of thing. A lot of people might say they’re an artist, for example, and that makes them more than just a man or a woman. For whatever reason, it’s socially acceptable to think this way for certain careers over others, perhaps based on prestige/wealth. People would think it’s natural if someone identified themselves like this in terms of being a doctor or minister. Artist is probably more dependent on success, but there will still be a sizable number of people who wouldn’t try to invalidate you or give you strange looks. When people devote their lives to pursuits in these fields, people don’t really think that’s strange. Start telling people that everything inside of you is telling you to go into sanitation, for instance, and you’ll probably be met with some dubiousness, especially if you show the same level of devotion as a doctor to a hospital. If Keiko was a painter and lived and breathed her artwork like she did the コンビニ, would people think she was just as odd for pursuing that? I have my doubts.

Getting back to her phrasing, though, she goes from “more than human” to “animal,” and I don’t quite know what to make of it. I suppose that’s why it’s hard for me to completely see this as a “happy” or “sad” ending. She clearly has an almost psychic connection with the needs of a store, which signifies her level of skill (very much agree with @NyappyTiramisu that it could hardly be called unskilled labor). Does the change in word correspond to a level of separation? “Humans” being more distant, and “animals” less so? That’s almost like a humans vs. nature comparison, though the コンビニ is hardly nature. Still, she absorbs so much of it, and lives her life with it in mind throughout the book, that the change in word might be a reaffirmation of that level of dedication and purpose. (These thoughts aren’t going to end up being my “final” thoughts at all, are they?)

I don’t see the ending as things going back to the way they were. She did the job she wanted to back at the start of the book, but she wasn’t living a life that she truly wanted. A lot of those pieces were ones she incorporated into her life because she felt like she needed to fit in. With that baggage gone, she’s reborn into her life as a コンビニ店員, only this time she can live without the internalized judgment of others. (Sounds easier than that actually is, I know.)

Finally, I’m not going to lie, when she said 「あなたはまったく必要ないんです」to Shiraha, I shouted out loud, I was so happy. For all his wordy speeches, he very much is someone who knows of society’s BS, but is too afraid to do anything about it. Hence his desire to “hide.” However, his plan seemed to be to ultimately hide somewhat within the framework of the society he complained about. Sure, he wasn’t crafting a traditional setup where the man works and the woman raises the children (of which they probably wouldn’t ever have had, anyway), but from that conversation with Keiko’s “friends,” there was still a level of acceptability to it. Ugh, I greatly disliked him and how he spoke to Keiko, but on some level I enjoyed disliking him, even if it was only so I could relish the fact that even Keiko, who he says “isn’t human,” has no need for him in her life.

I think that’s all I can muster for now. I’ll probably still be turning over different parts of the book for a while. This was one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a long time (though I wish the ending didn’t happen as quick as it did. Part of me did want to see her in that interview and maybe do another job. I do think that there isn’t really a test of whether the コンビニ is the place for her. It was the only job she ever had, then she was depressed when she quit. But because it’s her only work experience, would becoming adept at another type of job prove just as fruitful and purposeful to her? Then again, if you know what you love, why waste time doing something else? See, those weren’t my final thoughts!

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It feels like, we just started reading the book, but somehow it’s already over again… Nonetheless congratulations to everyone, who finished the book! A big thanks to @jhol613 for setting up this book club and to everyone, who contributed to the vocab sheet and everyone else, who participated in the discussions!

Although I rarely actively took part in the discussions, it was always really nice to read them. Obviously this book allows some big big discussions, that could go on for a pretty long time, but that’s just one of the many aspects I really enjoyed about this book. Since this was my first “real” novel, I was also more intrigued than with Kiki for example (no hate to Kiki tho😝).

In my opinion, the book definitely ended with a positive conclusion, since (like the other people already pointed out) Keiko tried alternatives, that everyone around her pressured her to do, but in the end the コンビニ really is the place, where she feels like she belongs (if even the voices in your head say so🤭)

I would’ve liked to see, what happened with 白羽, because he literally just ran off. Im guessing he doesn’t own a key to the appartment and considering he doesn’t like his family either, so maybe he returned to the place he was living before he moved into Keiko’s place?

You could really see Keiko’s コンビニ skills in the end, that she developed over the years, so one can hope/assume/guess, that she might be able to work in a higher position inside the コンビニ at some point (if she even wants to work in such a position), but that’s just a wild idea.

Final words:
I hope that many people join 殺人出産 and that it’s gonna be just as fun as this book!

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I’d say it’s both! Keiko’s precision and detail-oriented focus is an admirable trait and set of skills that unfortunately have been misconstrued by her peers as a simple character oddity. It’s heartbreaking that much of her life she’s been surrounded by those who reinforce that view, whereas people like Shiraha’s sister-in-law and the konbini employee contextualize her wants and needs in a much more positive light.

The lack of self-awareness and aimless mimicry of social expectations that define most of Keiko’s life downplay the inherent value of her talents. Murata-sensei makes an effort to place Keiko’s flow within the incredibly critical social standards of contemporary Japanese society. That single-minded focus of hers comes across as a nagging sensation that she doesn’t understand beyond it giving her peace of mind.

It’s no different than a kid who’s bullied for being different: like Keiko, they learn to not trust themselves or their feelings because it only gets them punished. Only after gaining that solid sense of self can someone truly begin to feed their talents and passions, and after the scenes on the veranda and in front of the window, Keiko is FINALLY taking the steps to get there.

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I finished the book at last. In the end it was like a marathon, I read 2 weeks worth reading in 4 days. When I think that the first two weeks took me 6 weeks to read (I started early) I am very happy with my progress. The only drawback is that in order to keep the pace I neglected new lessons and recently even reviews. It’s been very intense and now I would rather have a break. For that reason, I’m not going to join the next Murata book club.

It’s been a great experience and a great book. I have really enjoyed the book and all the comments. Thank you @jhol613 for running the book club and to all of you guys for your comments. I am really impressed by the depth of your reflections.

:heart:

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And thank you for your wonderfully helpful vocab sheet! Not only did you get through it yourself, but you helped several other people achieve what they otherwise might not have. The need for a break is totally understandable. You might have noticed that little circle next to my picture has also been stagnant as I indulge in my book club addiction. Hopefully I can manage to push through to the end soon.

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