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Tsukiko, thirty-eight, works in an office and lives alone. One night, she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, “Sensei” in a local bar. Tsukiko had only ever called him “Sensei” (“Teacher”). He is thirty years her senior, retired, and presumably a widower. Their relationship– traced by Kawakami’s gentle hints at the changing seasons– develops from a perfunctory acknowledgment of each other as they eat and drink alone at the bar, to an enjoyable sense of companionship, and finally into a deeply sentimental love affair.
As Tsukiko and Sensei grow to know and love one another, time’s passing comes across through the seasons and the food and beverages they consume together. From warm sake to chilled beer, from the buds on the trees to the blooming of the cherry blossoms, the reader is enveloped by a keen sense of pathos and both characters’ keen loneliness. (Overview from Barnes and Noble)
This novel is a love story as only the Japanese can tell. It is lovely, and tender, and ultimately ephemerel, and it stays with the reader long after the book is finished. As always, upon finishing such a work, I am deeply moved.
I only have one question.
Why is it named The Briefcase? Why is the Sensei’s briefcase empty when Tsukikio finally peers inside? For me, it is because once someone leaves this world there is so much emptiness left behind…
I’m looking forward to reading the thoughts of others, and I’m glad that I read this with Tony for the conclusion of January in Japan. As well as for the Japanese Literature Challenge 6.

Find other thoughts from Tanabata, Tony, Stu, and Caroline.

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