There are some books like this I get to read where I can see parts of myself in the characters and end up feeling much better about life. So I ended up really enjoying this one.
Convenience Store Woman is a novel (originally in Japanese) about a 36-year-old woman who is considered unusual, and a “foreign object” by society’s standards. She loves working in a convenience store.
She doesn’t fit in anywhere, and the store is the only place where she feels like she can act as an ordinary productive member of society and play her part without being rejected and ostracised by everyone.
Unlike other people, she knows the store and its sales trends inside out and loves working there so much that she spends 18+ years there. Her whole life revolves around the store and she doesn’t consider dating or getting married either as she doesn’t feel there is a need to do so. However, these things are not considered socially acceptable.
If you’ve ever felt like you just could not fit in somewhere, had to act in a certain way unnatural to yourself to not be seen as weird or awkward, or just not vibed with some social norms and expectations, you might end up liking this book.
My favourite things about the book:
⭐Short length (168 pages only!!)
⭐Characters that were not considered ordinary people but still well-written and realistic sounding instead of being too awkwardly exaggerated
⭐It’s a book that makes you feel okay about not being able to fit in with the often strange normalcies of society, even with the people close to you sometimes
⭐It’s a page-turner
Alright, let’s look at some details directly from the book now.
Some things that stood out to me:
1. As the book starts, it becomes clear that Miss Furukura really loves the store and working there. You could say that working there is what gets her in the state of flow.
When I was reading how she was noticing and appreciating the very small details of the store, it reminded me how one of the main characters in the animated film called Flavors of Youth reminisces about the ramen his grandma used to make for him. It makes you want to taste that ramen yourself because he makes it sound and look so good! Miss Furukara almost made me want to work in a store like that myself 😊
2. Even as a child she is unusual. She seems to have trouble feeling emotions, and thereby, strong emotional empathy for things and people around her. Although that gets her in trouble as a child, her family is loving, and she learns to keep to herself as she grows up. Though her family tries, they never end up finding a “cure” for her.
This could be seen as a metaphor for when one person does not really fit into their family because of some character traits. Maybe like an extreme introvert who has to live with their extroverted family for example.
3. Miss Furukara has a thing for noticing how people around her work. She makes an observation that the speech patterns of the people around her are infected by the people they hang out with. She makes a note of this many times in the novel.
Infecting each other like this is how we maintain ourselves as human is what I think.
4. She tries to figure out how other people work and how to fit in with them without standing out for being different or “weird”
I’d noticed soon after starting the job that whenever I got angry at the same things as everyone else, they all seemed happy.
I’ve definitely had moments where I realized that the reason I messed up was that people wanted me to gloss over things instead of being straightforward and in “problem-solving mode” with them. 😅😅
This also reminds me of how sometimes when we are trying to straddle the expectations between two cultures, you might end up accidentally offending some people because your approach is considered disrespectful by their standards that you had no idea about. Things like that can really make social interactions cumbersome sometimes.
Now, too, I felt reassured by the expression on Mrs. Izumi and Sugawara’s faces: Good, I pulled off being a “person.”
Aha. ha. ha. 😅
5. She does seem quite detached emotionally from life
The sensation that the world is slowly dying feels good.
Wow. I wonder what that feels like… 🥀
6. About 1/3rd way into the book, this really… interesting character Shiraha is introduced. This guy just keeps going on and on about how he shouldn’t have to work at the store because it’s a woman’s job since the Stone Age time. It’s clear in the book that his logic is circular, he just doesn’t want to work and complains all the time. Somehow, instead of getting emotional and frustrated with him, Miss. Furukura just deals with him curiously.
7. If you ever thought new-borns weren’t too good looking, you’re not alone 👶:
When I first saw my nephew through the glass window at the hospital, he looked like an alien creature. But now he’d grown into something more humanlike, complete with hair.
I quite enjoyed the sense of humour of this book.
8. This commentary she has on how society reacts towards some people 🔍🕵️♂️:
When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure our why. I found that arrogant and infuriating, not to mention a pain in the neck.
Reading that made me realize I’ve been on both sides of this. Both the receiving and pushing ends. Gotta be more mindful because it really can be annoying.
9. She’s quite analytical and observant 👀:
When you work in a conveniece store, people often look down on you for working there. I find this fascintaing, and I like to look them in the face when they do this to me. And as I do so I always think: that’s what a human is.
I find the shape of people’s eyes particularly interesting when they are being condenscending. I see a wariness or a fear of being contradicted or sometimes a belligerent spark ready to jump on any attack.
If there’s one benefit of not fitting in with a group of people, it’s being able to observe them from an outside perspective while being among them.
10. When she’s hanging out with a group of people she knows, at one point they start to push her to find a partner without her agreement.
The next thing I knew, just like that time in elementary school, they all turned their backs on me and started edging away, staring curiously at me over their shoulders as though contemplating some ghastly life form.
Ever been the new quiet kid to a school with a certain “culture”? Because that’s what it feels like lol.
The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quitely eliminates foreign objections.
11. When Shiraha is using degrading words for her to show her she’s not normal just like him, and therefore unworthy, she makes this observation:
Maybe people who thought they were being violated felt a bit better when they attacked the other people in the same way.
12. Shiraha is a professional wasteman 🗑️.
I want to spend my whole life doing nothing. For my whole life, until I die, I want to just breathe without anyone interferring in my life. That’s all I wish for.
He moves in with Miss. F. for cover from societal expectations. He tells her it would shut people up from bothering them about being single. Then Furukura realizes people now keep talking about the two of them, coming up with stories that aren’t true.
I believe this is a commentary on how people end up projecting their own expectations onto another without giving others the space of acceptance to share their authentic life experiences. It can lead people to stay silent and go on with their lives on their own. Just not a great way to live imo. 🚫
In the rest of the book, she grows frustrated with the lack of professionalism from her colleagues when they keep talking about how she finally has a man now. Though she didn’t fit in before, not it sucks to relate to them because they won’t leave her alone.
Then when Shiraha convinces her to leave the convenience store to work at a respectable-considered job, she loses her sense of purpose without it and decides to go back to work at a convenience store.
I think this whole book is an insightful commentary on the smallest ways in which social expectations can become a burden on our daily lives, how much work we sometimes have to put in to be considered acceptable, and how what society expects from us can be terrible for us as individuals.
Though not getting ostracised may be important so you can move through society more easily, it’s also important to sometimes take a stand for yourself and go against the flow if you know that’s a better way for you to live life.
Overall, I’m glad I came across this book. Through its metaphor it made me feel seen in a lot of ways I didn’t think was possible before. 5/5