Summary and book reviews of Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

Tokyo Ueno Station

by Yu Miri

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri X
Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2020, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2021, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

A surreal, devastating story of a homeless ghost who haunts one of Tokyo's busiest train stations.

Kazu is dead. Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Japanese Emperor, his life is tied by a series of coincidences to the Imperial family and has been shaped at every turn by modern Japanese history. But his life story is also marked by bad luck, and now, in death, he is unable to rest, doomed to haunt the park near Ueno Station in Tokyo.

Kazu's life in the city began and ended in that park; he arrived there to work as a laborer in the preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and ended his days living in the vast homeless village in the park, traumatized by the destruction of the 2011 tsunami and shattered by the announcement of the 2020 Olympics.

Through Kazu's eyes, we see daily life in Tokyo buzz around him and learn the intimate details of his personal story, how loss and society's inequalities and constrictions spiraled towards this ghostly fate, with moments of beauty and grace just out of reach. A powerful masterwork from one of Japan's most brilliant outsider writers, Tokyo Ueno Station is a book for our times and a look into a marginalized existence in a shiny global megapolis.

Excerpt
Tokyo Ueno Station

There's that sound again.

That sound-

I hear it.

But I don't know if it's in my ears or in my mind.

I don't know if it's inside me or outside.

I don't know when it was or who it was either.

Is that important?

Was it?

Who was it?
-

I used to think life was like a book: you turn the first page, and there's the next, and as you go on turning page after page, eventually you reach the last one. But life is nothing like a story in a book. There may be words, and the pages may be numbered, but there is no plot. There may be an ending, but there is no end.

Left behind-

Like a sculpted tree on the vacant land where a rotted house has been torn down.

Like the water in a vase after wilted flowers have been removed.

Left behind.

But then what of me remains here?

A sense of tiredness.

I was always tired.

There was never a time I was not tired.

Not when life had its claws in me and not when I escaped from it.

I did not live with intent, I only lived.

But that's all over now. 
-

I watch ...

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  • award image

    National Book Awards
    2020

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The presiding tone throughout is one of nostalgia and melancholy. This, coupled with crystalline prose, preserves a lightness of touch that makes the book a pleasure to read despite its often-upsetting subject matter. While there is certainly a sense of pathos that looms over everything, it is handled with sensitivity and nuance. As such, each moment of heartbreak seems earned by the author's thematic groundwork, rather than gratuitous or emotionally manipulative. By framing the story as she does, through the eyes of a uniquely omniscient and otherworldly narrator, Yu is able to evoke the personal, familial and national toll of poverty with equal fervor...continued

Full Review (543 words).

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(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
Fate and coincidence are the book's true interests. Why do some live for decades and others perish in their youth? Why are some born to inherit a throne, others destined to inhabit a shack? Miri's novel is too fleet and elusive to offer an explanation, or maybe it's just clever enough to understand there's no real answer.

New York Times
[A] glorious modernist novel…Yu weaves her novel out of overheard conversations, radio and train announcements, intermittent memories of a life spent mostly away from family, glimpses of the park's history. Giles's translation is supple throughout.

NPR
[A] relatively slim novel that packs an enormous emotional punch, thanks to Yu's gorgeous, haunting writing and Morgan Giles' wonderful translation...Yu does a magnificent job exploring the effects of all kinds of loss on the human psyche. Tokyo Ueno Station is a stunning novel, and a harsh, uncompromising look at existential despair.

The Guardian (UK)
Poetic...How Kazu comes to be homeless, and then to haunt the park, is what keeps us reading, trying to understand the tragedy of this ghostly everyman. Deftly translated by Morgan Giles...It is an urgent reminder of the radical divide between rich and poor in postwar Japan.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] somber cross section of Japanese society, from the underclass to salarymen to the royal family to the homeless people subject to the whims of government...A gemlike, melancholy novel infused with personal and national history.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[C]oolly meditative, subtly spectral...This slim but sprawling tale finds a deeply sympathetic hero in a man who feels displaced and longs for connection after it's too late.

Booklist (starred review)
Yu, an ethnic Korean in Japan, is no stranger to modern society's traps driven by nationalism, capitalism, classism, sexism. Her anglophoned latest (gratitude to translator Giles for providing fluent accessibility) is a surreal fable of splintered families, disintegrating relationships, and the casual devaluation of humanity.

Author Blurb Bryan Washington, author of Lot and Memorial
Tokyo Ueno Station is a dream: a chronicle of hope, loss, where we've been and where we're going. That Yu Miri could conjure so many realities simultaneously is nothing short of marvelous. The novel astounds, terrifies, and make the unseen concrete—entirely tangible and perennially effervescent, right there on the page.

Author Blurb Elaine Castillo, author of America Is Not the Heart
A radical and deeply felt work of fiction, psychogeography and history all at once, tapping us straight into the lifeblood of a Tokyo we rarely see: Tokyo from the margins, rooted in the city's most vulnerable and least visible lives - and deaths.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Books Narrated from Beyond the Grave

Yu Miri's Tokyo Ueno Station is told from the viewpoint of Kazu, a ghost who wanders the grounds of the train station in which he lived out his final years. Though the book makes unique use of this framing device to explore its particular themes of poverty and homelessness, it is certainly not the only novel to feature a narrator who relays their story from beyond the grave.

There are many reasons why an author may choose to employ this particular technique. Incorporating an element of the supernatural into an otherwise realistic story can instantly lend it a quietly magical, otherworldly tone and be used to heighten its impact. A ghostly narrator is uniquely removed from the rest of the novel's action. This allows them to serve as an ...

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