Kawakami Hiromi 川上 弘美, born in 1958 is one of the most popular Japanese female author, who won the Tanizaki Jun’ ichirô Prize for her novel Sensei no kaban センセイの鞄 (The Briefcase) in 2001. This work was also published as Strange Weather in Tokyo in 2012.
The Briefcase is a love story of the middle-aged woman Tsukiko and her former Japanese teacher Matsumoto Harutsana. They first meet in an izakaya, a typical small Japanese restaurant, sitting at the bar eating tuna with natto and fried lotus with sweet soya sauce and pearl onions.
Descriptions of food become lovely parts of the reading experience, when the author explains delicious dishes as hot tofu, oden 御田, mountain vegetables, chicken, mushroom-soup, … it is as you were sitting at the bar yourself and Kawakami Hiromi is cooking for you.
The old-fashioned school teacher is called Sensei 先生 through the whole story. He is described as stiff and very polite. He is formal but with lovely crankiness, and his decision-making is wise as one will see later on in the story. Strange, that he is always carrying a leather briefcase with him! May it seems suitable or not for others, is irrelevant for him.
Tsukiko is lonely and so is the Sensei. Their meetings at the bar become a merry habit, that is sitting next to each other, chatting, sharing the same taste of food and also the delight of drinking hot sake. Sometimes a lot of sake.
Their friendship changes slowly into a delightful love-relationship. The reader gets to know the personal story of both characters as the story evolves: scenes of mushroom picking in the woods, going on a trip to a Japanese island and being on a cherry blossom party are only some of the scenes.
Although the story is told in a light tone, it is not shallow. Tsukiko and the Sensei are caring for each other respectfully, but with sense for fun and play, so they can open themselves up to each other, and so they overcome their difference of age.
川上 弘美. センセイの鞄, 2000. Kawakami Hiromi: The Briefcase, 2000.