Convenience Store Woman

“When you work in a convenience store, people often look down on you for working there. I find this fascinating, 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.”

 Sayaka Murata, Convenience Store Woman

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

About the Book

Convenience Store Woman is a 2016 novel by Japanese writer Sayaka Murata. It’s a story about a part-time convenience store worker, named Keiko Furukura, who has been working in the same store for eighteen years. The novel won the Akutagawa Prize in 2016. Aside from working as a writer, Murata worked at a convenience store three times a week, basing her novel on her experiences. It was first published in the June 2016 issue of Bungakukai. It was published as a book in July 2016 by Bungeishunju.

The book has sold over 1.5 million copies in Japan. It is the first of Murata’s novels to be translated into English. The translation, by Ginny Tapley Takemori, was released by Grove Press (US) and Portobello Books (UK) in 2018. It has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Summary

Synopsis

Keiko Furukura, 36-year-old Tokyo resident, works at a convenience store, named ‘Smile Mart’, outside Hiiromachi Station. She has been working there since the store first opened. Now she has been working there for eighteen years. She has never fit in, neither in her family nor in school. But ever since she started working at the convenience store, she finds peace and purpose in her life.

What it means to be “normal”

Working at the store allows her to maintain an identity acceptable to those around her. She does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and even speech patterns on those of her co-workers. So that others would perceive her as a so-called normal person. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. Keiko is fine with her life. But the people around Keiko seem to express one universal opinion, which is that finding a stable full-time job, getting married, and having children are the only way to social success. In the end, these societal pressures lead her to take somewhat desperate action…

Social pressures

Keiko did conform to social norms as much as she could. She even tried to have a fake relationship with a man, named Shiraha, to get away from social pressures. While they have no affection for each other, Shiraha eventually moves in with Keiko. According to their plan, by pretending to be a couple, they can avoid problems with families and a society that expects them to have romantic relationships, children, and stable jobs.

Self-actualization

As part of the plan, Keiko eventually quits her job in the convenience store. Though she immediately feels that her life has lost purpose. She stays home doing nothing except applying for another job only at Shiraha’s insistence.

On the way to the first job interview, Keiko and Shiraha stop at a convenience store. She sees that the store is not as regulated and immediately begins rearranging the merchandise and assisting the staff. When Shiraha confronts her, she explains that her purpose in life is to be a convenience store employee. She then walks away from an enraged Shiraha, cancels the interview, and resolves to find herself a new convenience store to work.

About the Author

Sayaka Murata

Sayaka Murata’s first novel, Jyunyu (Breastfeeding), won the 2003 Gunzo Prize for New Writers. In 2013 she won the Mishima Yukio Prize for Shiro-iro no machi no, Sono Hone no Taion no (Of Bones, Of Body Heat, Of Whitening City), and in 2014 the Special Prize of the Sense of Gender Award. In 2016, her 10th novel, Konbini Ningen (Convenience Store Person), won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, and she was named one of Vogue Japan’s Women of the Year. Konibini Ningen has sold over 1.5 million copies in Japan and in 2018, it became her first book to be translated into English (by Ginny Tapley Takemori), under the title Convenience Store Woman. It has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Murata worked part-time as a convenience store clerk in Tokyo for eighteen years until 2017, which gave her inspiration to write Convenience Store Woman (Konbini Ningen).

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