Cover Image: Tokyo Ueno Station

Tokyo Ueno Station

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An extremely sad and short book about a homeless ghost who haunts an encampment. The writing was moving and descriptive. The subject matter was difficult to read, especially the sections in which he reflects on his life.
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This book would be a neat one for adventurous book clubs. At a short 180 pages, it brings a lot of things to discuss in its short pages. Ghosts of the 2011 tsunami is a little bit of a trending topic in my opinion.
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This is a strange book. Japanese novels typically provide a good sense of place. This was another side of Japan I had seldom visualized in my reading. I will be tracking down the author's other book.
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Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this work.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yū, translated by Morgan Giles is the 2020 winner of the National Book Award for Translated Fiction. The book observes the life and afterlife of Kuzu , A man who worked hard when he could find work, spending most of his time away from his family in his old district. Told in a nonlinear fashion Khan's life was not the easiest, work takes a toll on his body and soul, he was never around for his family, family members died, and things never seemed to go right. Even death could not release the burden of guilt he carries. A beautiful, sad novel of an aspect of Japanese life I've not read about.
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This was, as many others have said, an interesting concept. More of a contemplation of what it means to be homeless and poor in Japan, surrounded by salarymen, wealth, and the constant drumbeat of work-to-make-money-to-live-to-work, etc. Poverty equal invisibility in most places, and that contrast with wealth is never more striking and deeply troubling in large, bustling cities like Tokyo (or New York City), where people walk over you to get where they're going. The only kindnesses we see are homeless treating their found stray cats like indoor royalty, finding comfort from their loyalty and striving to care for something outside of themselves. This is clearly a commentary on society and what is considered important - men ultimately lose their families struggling to work to care for their families, sometimes being away from home more often than home. Is this really living? Is this really worth it? The most striking thing about this book for me, an American, is how universal this feels - capitalism and the money machine more important than all else. We've certainly moved a far way away from feeling the connection to land and home and place and family.

The book itself was a bit disjointed for me, and I suppose I felt a bit like a floating ghost myself, flitting here and there, tuning in to pieces of history, the past, the present, all in an ad hoc kind of way, and perhaps that was a purposeful representation of a ghostly existence?
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Tokyo Ueno Station is a short, sparse book which follows the life of Kazu, born in 1933, the same year as the Emperor.  Kazu's life (mostly characterized by tragedy and poverty) is thematically entwined with the Emperor's through a series of coincidences that tie their families together - and it's also closely connected to Ueno Park, a historically significant site in Tokyo that Kazu's spirit now haunts after his death.

This is a mournful, elegant book that ultimately didn't leave much of an impression on me.  In fact, I'm struggling to write this review because I finished this a few days ago and it's already slipped from my mind almost entirely.  I don't know what it was, because I didn't find a single thing about this book to be overtly objectionable; it just didn't fully come together for me.  I think the fragmented, vignette-style structure paired with its incredibly short length left me wanting more.

Also - in some ways this comparison seems absurd but I also can't get it out of my head - this reminded me so much of When All Is Said by Anne Griffin (a book I really didn't care for), which follows an elderly Irish man looking back on his life and the people who shaped him the most.  In both cases I felt like I was being spoon-fed these tragic stories on a very surface level without organically feeling any of it.  I do think Tokyo Ueno Station is the more accomplished book, but I guess 'old men mournfully looking back on their sad lives-lit' is not for me?

Thank you to Netgalley and Riverhead for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
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Published in Japan in 2014; published in translation in Great Britain in 2019 and in the US by Riverhead Books on June 23, 2020

Having a familiarity with Japanese history would probably help a reader dive into the full depth of Tokyo Ueno Station. I lack that familiarity, although some googling and consulting the SamuraiWiki (yes, there is such a thing) helped me understand references to the conflict between the Shōgitai and Imperial troops, leading to the Battle of Ueno. In addition, a student of Buddhism, or a reader who is familiar with each of the novel’s references to eastern religious rituals and beliefs, will likely have a more nuanced perspective on Tokyo Ueno Station than I did. Such are the difficulties and rewards of tackling Japanese fiction. The novel nevertheless conveys universal truths, regardless of and apart from history and religion, including the pain of loss and the search for meaning in an apparently random universe.

Kazu, the novel’s narrator, tells the story from his memories of being alive. Those memories are fading, as is his ability to distinguish colors and smells. At the age of 67, Kazu began living in Ueno Park in central Tokyo. By 2010, apparently the year of his death, he was 73. He collected cans for recycling to earn the pocket money that helped him survive. Kazu often wondered whether survival is worthwhile. His status as a ghost suggests that he decided his pain was unendurable. Yet he still wanders through the park and the train station, still listens to conversations, still watches when the emperor’s car drives past, the emperor waving at the people lining the sidewalks, probably without really noticing them. Death has not changed Kazu much; certainly, it has not removed the pain. Fading away is his best hope for peace.

Kazu’s life shared milestones with the emperor’s — they are the same age, their children were born on the same day, the park that became his home was a gift to Tokyo from the emperor — yet their lives are a study in contrast. Kazu worked as a laborer, traveling from one construction project to another. He was rarely home to visit his wife and child. His son died in the middle of life. Shortly after Kazu’s retirement, when he finally had time for his wife, she died sleeping next to him after he came home drunk. Kazu wondered whether his wife cried out in pain, whether he could have saved her if he had not fallen into a drunken sleep. He carried the weight of both deaths. After his granddaughter came to live with him, he decided a 21-year old woman should not be burdened by an old man, so he left her a note saying he was moving to Tokyo and that she should not look for him.

Kazu tells us that the homeless do not usually tell each other stories, but a couple of the men he encounters in the park tell him about their past lives. A sense of guilt and shame is their unifying feature. Many of the park’s homeless occupants come to a sad end, sometimes by being beaten to death for sport by Tokyo teens. Their stories are in sharp contrast to the snippets of conversation that Kazu overhears, the idle gossip or comparison of purchases at the mall, the chatterers oblivious to the lives around them.

Tokyo Ueno Station suggests the importance of noticing the unnoticed. “To be homeless is to be ignored when people walk past while still being in full view of everyone.” Watching a young man read the prayers for health or success at a temple reminds Kazu that, when he was a young man, he “had no interest in other people’s hopes or setbacks.” The experience of homelessness triggered an empathic awareness of the world that Kazu lacked when he lived a more fortunate life. It is an empathy that government lacks, as he learns when park management displaces the homeless and their cardboard huts so that the imperial family can enjoy the park and its museums without being troubled by reality.

Yet empathy cannot cure the sadness that Kazu feels. The sorrow of death has captured him. Whether he has imagined or witnessed his granddaughter’s fate is unclear, but he has seen enough death to consider whether the time has come to for him to die.

Tokyo Ueno Station might be read as a critique of the Japanese government, its post-war drive to become an economic superpower at the expense of family and a meaningful existence. On a more personal level, the novel stands as an examination of the choices (or lack of choices) that shape life and death. The novel tells a bleak story in spare prose that suits its subject matter, but it encourages readers to recognize the importance of the only life we have and the value of all that lives that we choose not to see.

RECOMMENDED
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A short heartbreaking story about a man that worked tirelessly taking care of his siblings, then his own family to only be forever homeless and starving. His ghost is homeless as well watching his life play out and where it really went downhill. The translation is a bit disjointed but still reads clear enough.
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Offering heartfelt insight into the lives of those pushed to the fringes of society, Tokyo Ueno Station evokes the personal, familial and national toll of poverty with equal fervor. Full review posted at BookBrowse: https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/reviews/index.cfm/ref/pr263232
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This story follows a father and husband and what leads him to homelessness in Tokyo. The story jumps between past and present and you get a look at the life of a man who is down on his luck. The book was a quick and intriguing read and I would definitely read more from Yu Miri.
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okyo Ueno Station is a story set in modern Japan. The narrator, Kazu, is a homeless ghost and takes readers through his story as he reflects on his past and his current surroundings at Ueno station.

This was a sad and heartbreaking book to read. Kazu has so many regrets and has suffered a lot in his life due to living in poverty. He has always struggled to make ends meet for his family and in doing so he didn’t get to spend much time with them (when he was alive). His life comes back full circle as he is still living a life of poverty even in his afterlife. Kazu also talks about the stereotypes of homeless people, social outcasts, and the working poor. The most important message (of the book) is that he shares is that everyone has a story.

"Before, we had families. We had houses. Nobody starts off life in a hovel made of cardboard and tarps, and nobody becomes homeless because they want to be. One thing happens, then another."

I felt that even though this is a quiet novel that it was still powerful. It’s a novel set in one location but through Kazu we are able to travel via his memories, reflection, and snippets of conversations he overhears. Overall I got the sense it was a novel about observations and bringing awareness to social issues. It also is a story about prejudice, taking small things for granted, and the process of grief.

This is such an emotional book. Its very short but the story moves slowly. I felt for me I needed more action to propel the story forward and most of that comes towards the end of the book. It does make you reflect on on how you treat others and cherishing the people in your life. I was a bit confused by the story at times but I appreciated the small details such as the variety of people the residing near Ueno Station, how the seasons changed, and how the five senses were expressed through the narrative.
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This is a ghost story. More specifically: this is the story of a homeless ghost who hasn’t left Tokyo Ueno Station, Tokyo’s busiest train station. At times heartbreaking and eye opening to the social injustices of society, piece by piece, we discover the life and fate of our storyteller. This edition of Tokyo Ueno Station, scheduled to Publish on June 23, is translated from its original Japanese masterpiece. I’m going to make a comparison here, but to each their own: Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I loved both of these books, and the style of writing that you just want to... inhale.
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Good in theory but this just didn't work out for me. Not sure if it was the translation or the story itself but everything seemed muddled and the ending just too ambiguous. 

I enjoyed the descriptive text about the station area but that's about it.
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Of all the Japanese novels translated to English, I don't think I've ever read one from the point of view of a homeless person, or a person who somehow missed out on the rise of Japan's bubble economy only to fall through the cracks of society. A lot of this book is about the main character and what he sees and hears during his daily life with his personal history presented in short segments throughout the book. Not the most uplifting of my quarantine reading but it's definitely a unique perspective that also serves as an example of how capitalism still fails people.
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Tokyo Ueno Station
Book Review | 📚📚📚📚 4/5
Yu Miri | Penguin Random House

A ghost inhabits a train station in Japan and listens in on the stories of the living.

Publisher’s blurb for Tokyo Ueno Station can be found here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/623504/tokyo-ueno-station-by-yu-miri/9780593088029

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Why I was interested in this book:
I love books that explore the human condition in unique ways. And I have been enjoying learning more and more about Japanese culture and storytelling over the past dozen years. And eavesdropping ghosts? Sold.

My assessment:
What a beautiful and haunting story, written by Yu Miri. It took a little getting used to the style, but once that was embraced, this book became a treasure of surprises about people and the main character. The one challenge I had was this looming feeling that the book would have made so much more sense and flowed even better had I been able to read it in its original language. The translation, as far as I can tell, was good, but I feel like something got lost or is missing. In doing some research, I came across an interview with the translator, Morgan Giles that I am sharing in hopes that someone might find it helpful (https://scroll.in/article/917580/why-is-everyone-suddenly-reading-this-japanese-novel-the-translator-tries-to-explain).

I would be interested in reading more by Yu Miri.

Stories of the human condition:
Learning about the main character and all of the subsequent transient characters provided meaningful and personal stories. A voyeuristic approach to the human condition, a la The Invisible Man.

Full disclosure:
I received an advance copy of this book through NetGalley(dot)com in exchange for an honest review. I would not have selected this book had I not been interested in it based on the description.

Read more of my reviews at https://tugglegrassblues.wordpress.com/.

TAGS:
#TokyoUenoStation #Tokyo Uneno Station #review-book #book review #PenguinRandomHouse #YuMiri Yu Miri #TuggleGrassBlues #Tuggle Grass Reviews #TuggleGrassReviews #NetGalley
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Very interesting book. It was well written and gave a real insight into the lifetime of an individual. The expectation was that it was a sci-fi/fantasy book about a ghost, but instead, it was an intriguing story of a life. I was not disappointed and would recommend this book!
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A heart wrenching story a ghost haunting Ueno station a ghost who lived a life of pain.Lyrically written a beautiful translation.A haunting life that stays with you.#netgalley#riverheadbooks.
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Toyko Ueno Station is a translated tale of a ghost haunting Ueno Park. He recounts the trials and tribulations of his life as a laborer experiencing homelessness in order to provide for is family. This book is quietly political and haunting.
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Miri's Tokyo Ueno Station follows the spirit of Kazu, a man experiencing homelessness who spends his final days in the park outside of the popular commuter station of Ueno. Kazu reflects on his life, his luck, and his destiny while revisiting moments of Japan's recent history. Miri's use of space as both a character and a connector between Japan's powerful and the powerless makes for a thoughtful look into modern day Japan.
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The treatment of Japan’s working poor and destitute homeless is severely critiqued via a lingering ghost’s first-person reflections of the pathos of his life, beginning with his lowly birth in 1933 (ironically, on the same day as the country’s then-Crown Prince—the future Emperor Akihito) to his gruesome suicide at the book’s eponymous train station near an imperial park sometimes available to the hapless homeless, which had become his residence. My review is based on the English translation by Morgan Giles of the book by Korean-Japanese author, Yu Miri, whose condemnation is linked to ongoing issues culminating in Japan’s Tokyo successful 2020 bid to host the Olympics and the natural disasters of 2011.

Lyrically metaphorical and fluid in some parts while overly didactic and tedious in others, Kazu’s depiction of episodes of his life demonstrates his sadness at being as ignored as a human being as he is as a now-disembodied, torn spirit that cannot hear or smell and no one can see as he seemingly floats over and around people and places from his youth, early jobs near and far from home, his marriage and children, and his ultimate lonely and desperate homeless life in Ueno Park.

As a world traveler who has been fortunate to enjoy the loveliness of Japan’s places and people, I was touched by this book’s reminder of the human costs of progress and pleasure that many of us too often ignore. Through the story of one unfortunate person and those whose lives are interwoven with his, I was touched, saddened, and motivated to learn more—and to do more.

It must be acknowledged that this book is depressing—and although the lilting language is often beautiful and moving, the book unfortunately too often (and too abruptly) departs from Kazu’s very personal tale (the details of which are effective at humanizing the larger story) by intruding with pages and pages of clinical recitations of turgid textbook historical commentary (much of which readers might feel compelled to skim over because the humans become statistics). Therefore, I regret that I cannot give this book more than a 3-star rating, with the proviso that it is definitely worth reading and contemplating.

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group/Riverhead Books for providing a free Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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