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Tokyo Ueno Station

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Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Emperor, Kazu’s life is tied by a series of coincidences to Japan’s Imperial family and to one particular spot in Tokyo; the park near Ueno Station – the same place his unquiet spirit now haunts in death. It is here that Kazu’s life in Tokyo began, as a labourer in the run up to the 1964 Olympics, and later where he ended his days, living in the park’s vast homeless ‘villages’, traumatised by the destruction of the 2011 tsunami and enraged by the announcement of the 2020 Olympics.

Akutagawa-award-winning author Yū Miri uses her outsider’s perspective as a Zainichi (Korean-Japanese) writer to craft a novel of utmost importance to this moment, a powerful rebuke to the Imperial system and a sensitive, deeply felt depiction of the lives of Japan’s most vulnerable people.

197 pages, Paperback

First published March 19, 2014

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About the author

Miri Yū

42 books251 followers
Yū Miri (Japanese, Chinese: 柳美里; Korean: 유미리) is a Zainichi Korean playwright, novelist, and essayist. Yu writes in Japanese, her native language, but is a citizen of South Korea.

Yū was born in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, to Korean parents. After dropping out of the Kanagawa Kyoritsu Gakuen high school, she joined the Tokyo Kid Brothers (東京キッドブラザース) theater troupe and worked as an actress and assistant director. In 1986, she formed a troupe called Seishun Gogetsutō (青春五月党), and the first of several plays written by her was published in 1991.

In the early 1990s, Yū switched to writing prose. Her novels include Furu Hausu (フルハウス, "Full House", 1996), which won the Noma literary prize for best work by a new author; Kazoku Shinema (家族シネマ, "Family Cinema," 1997), which won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize; Gōrudo Rasshu (ゴールドラッシュ, "Gold Rush" 1998), which was translated into English as Gold Rush (2002); and Hachi-gatsu no Hate (8月の果て, "The End of August," 2004). She has published a dozen books of essays and memoirs, and she was an editor of and contributor to the literary quarterly "en-taxi ". Her best-selling memoir Inochi (命, "Life") was made into a movie, also titled Inochi.

Yū's first novel, a semi-autobiographical work titled Ishi ni Oyogu Sakana (石に泳ぐ魚, "The Fish Swimming in the Stone") published in the September 1994 issue of the literary journal Shinchō, became the focus of a legal and ethical controversy. The model for one of the novel's main characters—and the person referred to indirectly by the title—objected to her depiction in the story. The publication of the novel in book form was blocked by court order, and some libraries restricted access to the magazine version. After a prolonged legal fight and widespread debate over the rights of authors, readers, and publishers versus individuals' rights to privacy, a revised version of the novel was published in 2002.

Yū has experienced racist backlash to her work because of her ethnic background, with some events at bookstores being canceled due to bomb threats. After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami Yū began to travel to the affected areas often, and from March 16, 2012, she hosted a weekly radio show called "Yū Miri no Futari to Hitori" (柳美里の二人と一人, "Yū Miri's Two People and One Person") on a temporary emergency broadcasting station called Minamisōma Hibari FM, based in Minamisōma, Fukushima.

Her book "Tokyo Ueno Station" reflects her engagement with historical memory and margins by incorporating themes of a migrant laborer from northeastern Japan and his work on Olympic construction sites in Tokyo, as well as the March 11, 2011 disaster.

Since April 2015, Yū has lived in Minamisōma, Fukushima. In 2018, she opened a bookstore called Full House and a theatre space called LaMaMa ODAKA at her home in Odaka District

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,257 reviews
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,076 followers
June 27, 2020
Each time I read a novel translated from Japanese to English I’m struck by its elegance. The best way I can describe it is a kind of stillness, no matter how much is going on in the story; a calming effect.

Tokyo Ueno Station is a very short, gentle, mournful book, following Kazu, a recently deceased homeless man whose spirit lingers in Ueno Park. Kazu reminisces on his life and the cruel twists of fate that first led him to sleep rough. That he is incorporeal has little impact on the events of the book—this is not a ghost story—but it serves to highlight an important point. To the everyday folk passing through the park, Kazu is no more or less visible than any of the homeless people still living there—all go unnoticed. He watches as the people pass by, catching snippets of their overheard conversations. For the reader it gives the feeling of being on a park bench, people-watching in Tokyo.

In addition to Kazu’s life story, there is also the story of Ueno Park, a significant site over much of Japan’s history, and a glimpse into cultural traditions, such as Buddhist funeral rites. The book’s final scenes shift away from realism into something more dreamlike. I don’t want to spoil anything but it was beautifully done and gave me chills.

If there is such a thing as ‘down-lit’, Tokyo Ueno Station might be it. Such a sad story, but we shouldn’t expect otherwise from a book about homelessness. In the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics this is a timely look at life on Japan’s margins.
Profile Image for Henk.
796 reviews
September 3, 2020
Sad, still and rather uneven. More interesting as a concept than as an executed novel
To be homeless is to be ignored when people walk past, while still being in full view of everyone

If I don’t exist I can’t disappear either.
We follow in a non-linear fashion Kazu, who appears to be a ghost based on the blurb on Tokyo Ueno Station. His ghost like status might be a symbol of how homeless people are not noticed by passing salarymen and “people with homes” in general.
His life story tells a tale of post-war hardship and the plight of one working away from home, sending money back, but missing the growing up of his children. His plight is told in a beautiful way by Miri Yū:
I never carried any photos with me, but I was always surrounded by people, places and times gone by. And as I retreated into the future, the only thing I could ever see was the past.
It was nothing as sweet as nostalgia or a longing for bygone days, just a constant absence from the present, an anger toward the future.

Hidden within today was a past longer than the present.
Kazu his life is a mirror to the life of the wealthy and powerful. He is born on the same day as the Emperor and his son is born on the same day as the crown prince. However he is clearly out of luck and catastrophes befall him and his family consistently during the whole book. Even the tsunami in his hometown Fukushima comes back in the last few pages of the book. Due to the barrage like gloom of these events I in the end felt kind of numb in respect to the story of Kazu.
What did hit me on an emotional level as a reader is the cruelty of anti homeless measures, to keep them moving, to get rid of their sleeping places by beautifying parks, by forcing them away when the emperor visits a museum.
Do we as society see these people or are they just unsightly obstacles? This is a question the author brings up with incredible power and integrity.

Things like that always made me feel lonely when I was alive.
During the book we have a lot of focus on descriptions of nature, from the park wherein Kazu spend the last years of his life to a narration of a flower painting exhibition in one of the Ueno museums.
In general there are lots of monologues, some very mundane (about sardines or dried cuttlefish in relation to cats vitamine B1 deficits) to almost infodump like (about the Meiji restoration, Ueno park itself and roses oddly enough). Still an appendix with terminology might have helped in this translation, I’m very much into Japanese culture and literature but the specifics of a Buddhist Pureland funeral are a bit over my head.

Overall I found this slim novella more interesting in themes and topics than in the factual execution. The stage writing background of the author is clear in the way she enlivens scenes with sensory observations, but strangely enough convincing dialogues are very much lacking.
This book reminded me in a way of The Last Children of Tokyo; full of atmosphere and ideas, but in the end unsatisfyingly worked out.
Profile Image for Adina.
777 reviews2,945 followers
February 2, 2022
Translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles

Published by an interesting small press called Tilted Axis and winner of the National Book Award for Translated Literature (2020)

I finished the novel a month ago and I had the time to ponder over the rating and my feelings for Tokyo Ueno Station. I am settling for 3 stars because I started to forget some of the plot and it did not leave me with any residual emotions, which is what I expect from a good book.

The novel is narrated by the ghost of an old vagrant living around Tokio Ueno station. He recounts his sad life while inserting in his story bits of pieces of the daily life around the station and the adjacent park. I thought that this mix was interesting but at different points I thought the writing was too uneven in quality.
Profile Image for aly ☆彡 .
336 reviews888 followers
December 18, 2022
"I'm trying, I thought. Set me free from trying, I thought"

Tokyo Ueno Station is a social novel; told on the story of the suffering and death of a homeless man named Kazu, who had to leave home for work because of poverty, consequently, forfeiting both his family and home. This book provides a series of links with the imperial family, who reside in a much heavenly realm as opposed to Kazu's fate; depicting the great division between the wealthy and the poor in Japan that exists but is not evident to the world's eye.

Is this book sad? It sure is.
But does that make this equally good with the tone? No, it doesn't.

For once, I believe if I have in-depth knowledge of Japanese cultures, or if say I get to read and understand the book in Nihongo — reading this would be a different familiarity as it links to lots of history and beliefs. Although we uncover the park's heritage as a battleground, a disembarkation site for immigrant workers from its railway station, and so forth through Kazu's eyes; the story remained disjointed. There were lots of inconsequential and tedious information that makes it hardly to bypass the book.

"I thought what a thing of sin poverty was, that there could be nothing more sinful than forcing a small child to lie. The wages of that sin were poverty, a wage which one could not endure, leading one to sin again, and as long as one could not pull oneself out of poverty the cycle would repeat until death."

Do we sin because we are poor or are we poor because we sin? On the surface, it was a good message forth as Miri portrayed what she once experienced — the grief and society's injustices faced by the people who suffered greatly at the hands of its government, and those of mother nature with moments of beauty and grace just out of grasp. To an extent, this book speaks to you as this work has a universality that transcends the place and time.

It's undeniable that this book has so much potential, but unfortunately — apart from interesting historical curiosities, which created a great atmosphere; there was practically nothing else. As days pass, this book is already forgettable to me.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,133 followers
November 19, 2020
Now a deserved winner of National Book Award for Translated Fiction 2020

My review from April 2019, when it was originally published in the UK by Tilted Axis Press:

Tokyo Ueno Station is the latest book from the wonderful Tilted Axis Press, translated by Morgan Giles from Yu Miri (柳 美里 / 유미리)'s 2014 novel JR上野駅公園口 and a powerful exploration of the other side of economic development and prestigious projects.

The novel begins with a lament part of which reads:

Left behind—
Like a sculpted tree on the vacant land where a rotted house has been torn down.
Like the water in a vase from which 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, or when I escaped from it.
I did not live with intent, I only lived.
But that's over.

before our narrator locates us:

If you go out the ticket gates at JR Ueno Station’s Park exit, and look over the the thicket of ginkgo trees, you’ll always see homeless people there.  

For me, and most visitors to, or inhabitants of, Tokyo, one thinks of Ueno Park as the place one takes the Yamanote line to visit in cherry blossom season, or at any other time for the many museums or and the zoo. But situated right in prime Tokyo, is a large community of the homeless:

To be homeless is to be ignored when people walk past, while still being in full view of everyone.

Our narrator is Kazu, now (as becomes quickly clear) a ghost, relatively recently deceased, but a former inhabitant of the homeless community.

The novel, which he relates in a very non-linear fashion, takes us through his life and what bought him to living in the makeshift shelters in the park:

Before, we had families. We had houses. Nobody starts off life in a hovel made of cardboard and tarps, and nobody becomes homeless because they want to be. One thing happens, then another.

Born in Fukushima in 1933 - the same year as the Emperor Akihito - his son was born in 1960, the same year as Crown Prince Naruhito (who will in fact ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne in May 2019). But the life of Kazu is very different to that of the Emperor, who he sees one day in his motorcade: a life that had never known struggle, envy or aimlessness - one that had lived the same seventy-three years that I had.   

Kazu migrated to Tokyo in 1963, arriving in Ueno station, and working as a day labourer in the construction effort for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. His subsequent life was that of an itinerant labourer, helping to build the economic future of Japan while struggling to maintain his own, his wife and two children left in Fukushima, their lives barely known to him as he strives to provide for them, returning to his hometown only when tragedy strikes.

Kazu's narration covers not just his life, but intersperses the dark history of Ueno Park (bloody battles around the time of the Meiji Restoration, earthquakes, the firebombing of the City in WW2) as well as his observations of the homeless still in the park, snatches of conversation from more well-heeled visitors, Buddhist funeral rights and even a series of beautiful verbal images of roses based on the series by the 18th-19th century French botanical painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

That the author has her narrator hail from Fukushima, now known worldwide due to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, is no coincidence. The novel was written in response to both the Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid but also the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which overshadows Kazu's thoughts from the novel's very opening words:

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.

The novel, in terms of focusing on the downside of and loses from economic development, has similarities with the Man Booker International longlisted At Dusk, but this is a far superior novel. Crucially, unlike Hwang Sok-Yong who chose a narrator with which he had no sympathy, Yu's compassion and empathy is evident on every beautifully moving page. Yu Miri herself is a 'Zainichi' (조선계 일본인, Korean ancestry, born and living in Japan) giving her an outsider status in both countries. And following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, she moved to the Fukushima region to support the area.

I quoted Kuzu early that To be homeless is to be ignored when people walk past, while still being in full view of everyone but there are some days the homeless aren’t even allowed to be in full view and are forced, often at short notice, to tear down their shelters and move to another area, or vacate the park: when the Imperial family come to Ueno to visit the museums; or when the Olympic Committee are in town.

Although the 2020 Olympics is barely mentioned - indeed when the novel was set, Tokyo was bidding to win them - the author in an interview has made it clear that this is key to the novel.
Q: The Olympic Games are going to be held in Tokyo in 2020. Do you plan on writing anything to do with that?

A: My book “JR Ueno Eki Koenguchi” depicts the story of people from a very poor region of Tohoku who left their homes to work on preparing for the first Tokyo Olympics held just after the war, but who were used and discarded, ultimately becoming homeless. In the present day too, all the manual labourers on building sites across the entirety of Eastern Japan, including Tohoku, are being drawn away to the Olympic venue sites as the money is better there. Because of that there are no people working on the reconstruction and decontamination in Tohoku. Thus these sites are having to recruit from regions where wages are low, such as Nishinari in Osaka or from Okinawa, and that means that the people who do come are only one step away from homeless themselves; people who have no insurance, no family and who may already be ill. So in Minami Soma today you see these migrant labourers without insurance coming to the hospitals for consultations and then running away when the time comes to pay. There are also a lot of alcoholics and it is affecting public peace and safety. It is bad for the region but on the other hand I truly do feel sorry for the migrant workers themselves. Some of them even pass away while they are working, stung by wasps or having accidents on the building sites etc. When one of those people dies, nobody will come to collect their bones after cremation. There is a temple close to my home and you can see how the temples in Minami Soma have now become the final resting places for the bones of the poorest minimum wage migrant labourers from all across the nation. I want to write about this, a part of the reality of the Tokyo Olympics after all.
Morgan Giles does a wonderful job for her first full-length translation and, in addition to her undoubted linguistic skills, this is also a function of her personal passion for the novel's message. From an interview:
Q: The protagonist Kazu’s life began as a labourer ahead of the 1964 Olympics. With the 2020 Olympics around the corner, how do you feel Yu Miri’s work and your translation of Tokyo Ueno Station are contributing to the conversation by bringing to the centre of the page those on the peripheries of Japanese society?

A: I hope it’s the flaw in the jewel, as the phrase goes in Japanese. I hope people can’t watch the opening ceremonies without feeling physically sick that labour, time and money were diverted from recovery efforts in the North-Eastern coastal region to build Olympic facilities. That homeless people have been evicted from parks in Tokyo because their presence isn’t compatible with the Olympic dream. That homeless people from as far south as Okinawa are being hired to do construction in the North-Eastern coastal region because companies are that hard up for labourers, leading to a situation that Miri calls “a reverse Tokyo Ueno Station” – these homeless labourers are dying in Fukushima, names unknown and no relatives to be traced, with nowhere for their remains to go except a temple that has agreed to be the final resting place for these anonymous men who worked until they died to rebuild a country that doesn’t care about them.
Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Lucy Dacus.
87 reviews11.6k followers
April 24, 2022
Felt increasingly weary with the narrator. Each new tragedy comes as no surprise, it isn't dramatic, just meditatively devastating. I had the same one feeling of sadness the whole time, it only deepened.

I don't know if the following is a spoiler? ~~~

I didn't read the synopsis and couldn't tell if the narrator was a ghost or a homeless man for such a long time, that alone is so sad :(
Profile Image for Meike.
1,445 reviews2,179 followers
November 19, 2020
Now Winner of the National Book Award for Translated Fiction 2020
To be poor means to be invisible: "Tokyo Ueno Station" tells the story of a laborer who had to work hard all of his life in order to support his family only to end up homeless in Ueno Park near the title-giving railway station. Our protagonist Kazu Mori was born into a poor family in Fukushima and when he himself gets married and has children, he has to spend most of his time away from them, trying to earn enough money in far-away towns. A family tragedy brutally confronts him with the fact that he is alienated from the people he loves, that he has spent his life toiling away out of necessity while the "grandfather clock", which features again and again in the text, has mercilessly measured the time that has passed him by. Kazu starts falling apart.

The narrative clue: Yes, the version of Kazu who tells us his story is now physically dead, a ghost roaming the park and the station, but was he ever alive to mainstream society? Kazu was born in 1933, the same year as Emperor Akihito, his son on the same day as Crown Prince Naruhito (the current Emperor of Japan), but while the Imperial family lives a carefree, "pure" life, Kazu's poverty amounts to a "sin", as it leads him to make decisions he himself disapproves of, which ultimately breaks him.

Yu Miri spoke to homeless people in Ueno Park to be able to properly convey their perspectives, and as they of course differ, the short novel also tells the stories of some other homeless people Kazu meets. On top of that, Kazu's life story, the monuments, sights and exhibitions in and near the park as well as Japanese history are steadily connected and contrasted, and Kazu frequently listens to passersby and absorbs their dialogues. The result is a fragmented text which is held together mainly by a mounting sense of doom.

The author of this book knows a thing or two about inequality: As the daughter of Korean immigrants, she is a so-called Zainichi, part of a discriminated minority (you can learn more about this in the novel Pachinko or the non-fiction book Three Tigers, One Mountain: A Journey Through the Bitter History and Current Conflicts of China, Korea, and Japan). The outsider is forced to live in-between, in a constant state of transit, and the question of belonging, of finding or losing a home is a constant theme throughout the novel.

While the structure of the book is ambitious and well thought out, the fragmented style does not develop a pull that would make the story truly immersive. Many explanatory passages about monuments or historical events seem a little excessive, some dialogues are contrived. Still, this is an interesting experiment, full of empathy and deeply sad.
Profile Image for Jr Bacdayan.
211 reviews1,635 followers
April 30, 2020
The mesmerizing glow of deep melancholia emanates from this little book. I felt its slow pull deep in my bones. This should come with a word of precaution for those of us that are fragile, those among us barely holding on.
Profile Image for Darryl Suite.
464 reviews322 followers
November 28, 2020
I read this twice. This is a beautiful and sad little book. It's a quiet character study exploring homelessness, poverty, and grief. And also manages to explore a bit of Japanese history, particularly tidbits about the Emporor's family. Even though the prose and vibe are understated, there are several moving moments that will punch you in the gut. Also, expect vivid imagery. There are a few images that will certainly stay with me for a long time. Oof.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,199 reviews2,225 followers
May 22, 2021

Really enjoyed this!! So well written, covered so many different topics and POVs, very disjointed but in an interesting/dreamlike way
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,846 reviews34.9k followers
December 21, 2020
Kasu was born in 1933 the same day as the emperor of Japan.
When he was in his 30s he left his wife and children in Fukushima for Tokyo to find work.
Poor and homeless—Kasu lived in the park near the Ueno Train Station.

There are numerous major museums nearby, and beautiful cherry trees. I found myself looking up the history and area on google...which was a pleasure in itself.

Each homeless group in the park had their own section, their own territory, but they looked out after each other.
Yu Miri’s writing is filled with descriptive-metaphoric-lyrical writing.... history & stories of his personal life and that of life all around him—in contrast.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to die, it was that I was tired of trying”.

“In life, there is no distinction between past, present, and future— we all have an enormity of time. Too big for one person to deal with. We live. We die”.

The only thing Kasu was guilty of was being able to adjust to his life.
He would’ve accepted any kind of work.

“It was the pain of life that he couldn’t get used to—pain or joy”.

We follow Kasu’s life story. with themes of poverty, loss, anger, sadness, and death....

This slim book packs a punch.
Learning how Kasu died at the end, was purposely explosively dramatic—

I was left contemplating whether or not communities can ever recover to a normal state — after a natural disaster?
And what are the silver linings from them?
Profile Image for Phoenix2.
768 reviews96 followers
July 11, 2020
Tokyo Ueno Station centered around the tragic figure of the male narrator, who takes the reader through the historical events that took place in Japan after WWII, and they were somehow related to his own life.
You never really had luck, his mother told him once and, truly, the hero seems to be running out of it till the very final pages of this novella. His life was full of struggles and tragedies, while correlating with the big events in the Emperor's shiny life. And yet the narrator doesn't seem to give up on life, he doesn't even take it upon the Emperor when he makes the comparison of his situation with the latter's. Life seems to go on all around him, as it is shown by the small incidents and stolen conversations at the Ueno Station, where the homeless man is usually passes by. The books main theme, actually, except from the historical events, is the motif of life and death. That duo plays a central role in the character's life, and, in the end, he comes it terms with it and gives a hopeful node to the reader to not give up.
However, even though the story was deep and thought-provoking, it tended to get stuck between repetition and the back and forth pattern of the narration. That resulted in some boring passages that put the smooth storyline on a standstill for a while.
So, overall, even though the writer did a great job with the portrayal of the character and the history of Japan, giving emotional punches here and there, the novella ended up tiring to read.

Profile Image for Elizabeth Cruikshank.
136 reviews17 followers
December 25, 2020
I preferred the concept of this book to its execution (though I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate everything the book accomplished). Yu Miri set out to shed light on the lives of unhoused people living in an encampment in the park outside the Tokyo Ueno Station, adopting the perspective of the ghost of a recently deceased construction worker who had lived in the park. The story is told through extended flashbacks to the narrator’s difficult life, depictions of other members of the encampment, snippets of overheard conversation among visitors to the park, train and radio announcements, and notices posted in Ueno Park periodically clearing out the encampment so it could be beautified for a visit by the imperial family or for Tokyo’s bid to host the Olympics.

The book is an indictment of the treatment of Japan’s working poor and of a capitalistic system that thinks nothing of destroying lives in pursuit of progress. The writing is understated and melancholy, and there were some beautiful descriptive and reflective passages. But that style of writing is interspersed with jarring multi-page lessons about the narrator’s family’s religious practices and funeral rites, the imperial family, and the history and monuments of the park, as well as an extended scene in a museum where the narrator described an array of rose varieties in detail. Those passages dragged, and they took me out of the story in a way that felt counterproductive; the most powerful parts of the book to me were the portrayal of the tragedy and mundanity of the narrator’s life, and I thought the long informational sections undermined the author’s goals in telling the narrator’s story with such care. I also found Yu’s explanation of how the narrator ultimately came to be unhoused to be somewhat lacking, which in turn diluted any message about the precarity of poverty and how close so many people are to a disaster that could leave them homeless. There were also some pronouncements about homelessness and the invisibility of the unhoused that seemed intended to be profound but instead came across as obvious and didactic: “To be homeless is to be ignored when people walk past, while still being in full view of everyone.”

I do wonder how much I missed having read the book in translation, but my sense is that my issues with the book were less about language and more about content.

Tw for suicide, child death.
Profile Image for L.S. Popovich.
Author 2 books306 followers
March 2, 2021
I'm always interested in trying new Japanese novelists. This book had a cool cover. I admit to sometimes being seduced by cover designs.

It takes the outsider perspective of a homeless person, and follows them in modern-day Tokyo. The effect of the narrative was less traditional than the careful style led me to suspect. The characters were difficult to distinguish from one another and the scenes blended together with memory and time skips, making for a jumbled lack of flow.

While its message had real-world applications, I don't think the story was communicated in the most effective way. That being said, it was not bad, simply a little bland. And there were stylistic flourishes, a mixture of advertisements, dreams, stories within the story, and encounters. The main character is haunted by lost family members, and is often overcome with sadness. There was an aimless quality to the protagonist's life, which was obviously intentional. A constant tension from the demands of life on the edge, the dissolution of exiled yearning, but also a recapitulation toward the destructive tendencies these people display. Their human flaws were revealed in their strained interactions and desperate struggle amid a cold society. But the cobbled-together quality and lack of a grounded argument caused my interest to waver.

Comparing it to one of the books on a similar topic by William Vollmann, I realized how simple and lackadaisical M. Y.'s approach was. The author takes a much safer route to her arguments than did Vollmann, who immersed himself in the subculture. In Tokyo Ueno Station we only get a glimpse, and a fairly safe and clinical one, of the mess these people are in. This book won't startle you, and as Vollmann believes, I think you need to be shocked to be moved, at least when the whole point is exposing the underbelly of our world.
Profile Image for JimZ.
972 reviews424 followers
November 26, 2019
Was mostly boring…she went on about description of roses or cherry blossoms. But it was sad/interesting to read about what it was like to be homeless. I could picture it. People ignoring you, although you had a life. You were a human being but you were not treated like one. More like a dog, a mangy dog...a stray.
Profile Image for Tanya.
466 reviews263 followers
June 29, 2022
This short novella on cultural memory narrated by a homeless man whose spirit lingers on in Ueno Park after his death was the first translated work where I was struck by the simple and fluid elegance of the language, something I had all but given up on based on the other translations of Japanese works I'd sampled so far.

"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."

The protagonist's life is intertwined with that of his Emperor by a series of coincidences; they were born the same year, both of their sons were born on the same day, and they are often tied to the same spots. Kazu is a hard-working family man who labored in the capital during the run up to the 1964 Olympics, and was then one of the many migrant workers forming the backbone of Japan's economic rise. The novel recounts the twists of fate and circumstance that led to him becoming one of the unfortunate souls in the vast homeless tarp tent camps in one of Tokyo's most famous public parks.

"Before, we had families. We had houses. Nobody starts off life in a hovel made of cardboard and tarps, and nobody becomes homeless because they want to be. One thing happens, then another."

His often stream-of-consciousness reminiscences are woven together with snippets of overheard conversations of passersby, as well as with bits and pieces forming a picture of Ueno's long history: Once the site of a bloody battle during the Civil war which resulted in the Meiji Restoration, it suffered earthquakes and firebombings, is now famous for its museums, temples and shrines, the zoo, and as a prime cherry blossom viewing spot... and where the presence of homeless squatters is accepted, or at least somewhat tolerated (until the Imperial family comes through to visit an exhibition, or the Olympic committee pays a visit, and they are forced to vacate the park at short notice, with all they own).

"To be homeless is to be ignored when people walk past, while still being in full view of everyone."

Tokyo Ueno Station combines personal tragedies with wider social problems in a gentle, compassionate, and poignant critique of economic development, showcasing the working class it leaves behind in their struggle. As we near the 2020 Olympics in Japan, it's a timely (and very much intended) reminder that the unsavory sides of an event of such magnitude need to be addressed instead of swept under the rug, so that the already underappreciated aren't further taken advantage of, only to be discarded and pushed to the margins of society even more, as has happened before.
Profile Image for Kusaimamekirai.
640 reviews214 followers
July 20, 2019
My first instinct after reading Yu Miri’s “Tokyo Ueno Station” is to ask why horribly random and tragic things happen to good people.
How does somebody become homeless, subject to the whims of weather, police always moving you around, or random violence?
Why do our loved ones die sudden, occasionally painful, deaths?
Why do the majority of people you encounter look at you but never really see you?
Our narrator experiences all of these things and more and yet to answer the fort part part of the question, is he a good person?
He admittedly abandoned his family for years, has no memories or photos of his children growing up, and while he justifies it by saying he needed to work far away in Tokyo to support them, it feels like the actions of a man not willing to accept the responsibilities of a life he chose.
After several tragedies he reconnects with his granddaughter only to disappear again without telling her why. He claims he doesn’t want to be a burden on her young life but this also feels like an excuse. Like a man who has run away his whole life.
Maybe I am not as sympathetic as some to this particular character but I can’t deny that Yu Miri’s depiction of his world is anything short of heartbreakingly beautiful.
The story is peppered with random conversations in the park about mundane things like dinner, family photos, or marital problems that our narrator hears but is not a part of. It is in many ways a metaphor for his existence. He is in the world but in now way a part of it. Life happens around him but he has long since given up taking any active part in it. He just goes on because there is simply nothing else to be done.
While I never thought a book would depress me as much as the author’s previous work “Gold Rush”, ���Tokyo Ueno Station” does so. While this book lacks the violence of her previous work, it shares the sense of life as something occasionally cruel, often random and senseless, and always difficult to navigate.

Profile Image for Elena Sala.
450 reviews75 followers
December 21, 2020
"Before, we had families. We had houses. Nobody starts off life in a hovel made of cardboard and tarps, and nobody becomes homeless because they want to be. One thing happens, then another.” These are Kazu's words, who ended his days as a homeless, migrant worker. He is a ghost now, a ghost who haunts Ueno Park, one of Tokyo's busiest train stations.

TOKYO UENO STATION describes the experience of being homeless in a modern megalopolis, but at the core of the novel lies Kazu's story of loss and grief.

Kazu was born poor in Fukushima in 1933, the same year the Emperor of Japan was born, while his son, Koichi, is born on the same day as the Crown Prince. These coincidences make him feel tenuously connected to the imperial family, however, the contrast between the two men’s circumstances could not be more marked.

Kazu moved to Tokyo to work as a laborer in the preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. His whole life will be scarred by hard labor, disappointment and grief. The narrator mentions a series of heartbreaks in a rather elliptical way, but at a certain point we are hit by the devastating story: Kazu's separation from his family for work, the death of his son, the financial desperation that led to his homelessness.

TOKYO UENO STATION (first published in 2014; translated by Morgan Giles and published in 2020) won the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature. It is an unforgettable, piercing novel about Japanese society, from the underclass to salarymen to the royal family. It is a story about the experience of homelessness, despair and being invisible, about how the homeless are subject to the whims of government, about exclusion in our societies and the need for empathy and humanity.

If you wish to know more about this outstanding writer, you can read her article written for Lit Hub: https://lithub.com/fukushima-during-c...
Profile Image for Coos Burton.
742 reviews1,261 followers
February 1, 2023
"El tiempo se deslizaba tan lentamente que ni siquiera me daba cuenta de que transcurría. A lo mejor la muerte era eso, quedarse atrapado y solo en un tiempo que se ha detenido. O a lo mejor era el espacio lo que desaparecía y uno era eliminado y ya solo quedaba el tiempo, fluyendo y fluyendo"

"No me asustaba que se me aparecieran los espíritus de los muertos, ni tampoco que me llegara el momento a mí. Lo que me daba miedo era seguir viviendo una vida que no sabía cuándo iba a acabar. No me veía capaz de soportar aquel peso que oprimía mi cuerpo"

"Pasó el tiempo y pasó la vida, y en vez de alejarme del pasado y desaparecer, me quedé ahí, estancado, atrapado, arrastrándolo todo hasta hoy..."

"A cada uno de nosotros nos toca cargar con una cantidad inconmensurable de tiempo, casi insostenible, y con ese peso vivimos, y con ese peso morimos"

No puedo agregar mucho luego de estas citas que seleccioné, porque creo que hablan por sí solas. Una lectura llena de dolor y realidad, hermosamente narrada.
Profile Image for mrs.skywalker.
271 reviews31 followers
October 31, 2022
„Każdy odwraca wzrok, kiedy ich mija, ale tak naprawdę bezdomni są obserwowani przez wielu.”

znowu o tym jak zawodzi system
Profile Image for Paula.
389 reviews238 followers
February 26, 2022
Este no es un libro bonito. Cuando llegas a la librería y lees “Tokio, estación de Ueno", escrito por la autora Yū Miri, lo primero en que pensamos es que Ueno es ese parque precioso que sale en los programas de viajes, de gente que vive en Tokio, documentales sobre la ciudad. Es un parque enorme al que todo el mundo acude a hacer el hanami durante la floración del cerezo (el hanami consiste en contemplar dicha floración con amigos o familiares). Es una postal preciosa y muy icónica de la capital japonesa. Pero como he dicho, este no es un libro bonito, luego hay una parte del parque Ueno que, no es que no se vea, pero no se muestra. Nadie quiere ver esa parte del parque y las autoridades Tokiotas intentan ocultarla por todos los medios, especialmente al emperador y a los extranjeros que ven los documentales mencionados antes. En Ueno hay chabolas, casetas, gente sin techo, marginados, que sobreviven recogiendo latas para reciclar, periódicos viejos… y que tienen que recoger sus cosas y desalojar el lugar cada vez que su presencia ponga en duda la integridad del gobierno de la ciudad, es decir, que pone en evidencia la inactividad de los servicios sociales de la ciudad.

Ahora bien, este no es un tema exclusivo de Tokio. Todas las ciudades del mundo desarrollado, casi sin excepción, especialmente después de que la burbuja económica reventó, tienen problemas de esta índole. Problemas que no se resuelve ni hay interés en resolver. Y todos conocemos casos. Los desalojos, la precariedad, el paro juvenil, el paro de gente mayor de 45 años, la subida de la luz, las enfermedades mentales, el alcoholismo y muchísimos otros temas pueden ser causa o caldo de cultivo para acabar viviendo en la calle. Y Tokio con su imagen de capital ordenada y limpia pese a su masificación, no es una excepción, solo finge y lo hace muy bien.

Yū Miri habla a traves de su personaje Kazu, el espíritu anclado a la tierra de un sintecho que vivió y murió en la salida por el parque de la estación de Ueno, quien en primera persona señala estas desigualdades y pone el dedo en la llaga cuando habla de las cazas y los desalojos. De la oscuridad que tiene ese parque tan luminoso, del peligro, el frío, la invisibilidad… pero también cuenta pequeñas anécdotas de los habitantes del parque, a la par que hace un recorrido por su propia vida que te hace comprender cómo Kazu acabó vagando por el parque. La razón por la que este entrañable personaje no ha abandonado su entorno es, sencillamente, que nació el mismo año que Naruhito, el emperador de la era Heisei (Naruhito sucedió a Hirohito, emperador de la era Shōwa, al que sucedió después de su muerte y en 2019 abdicó en su hijo Akihito, dando lugar a la era Reiwa, que es la actual) en 1933 estando ligados ambos destinos por una extraña conexión que en realidad es un paralelismo de contraste. Naruhito, de quien no se habla en realidad en el libro, nació dentro de la familia más privilegiada de Japón, mientras que la familia de Kazu era muy pobre aunque muy trabajadora.

Por tanto Kazu, al rememorar su vida, está haciendo un recuento de los últimos 90 años de la historia de Japón: la guerra y la posguerra de su infancia, los tsunamis, los terremotos, los primeros juegos olímpicos… y teniendo que sacrificar incluso a su familia (en el sentido de que ellos vivían en Kitamiguita, Fukushima) para matarse a trabajar y enviarles todo lo que ganaba. Igual que se mataban a trabajar sus padres, su hermana y su abnegada esposa. Una muestra de la resiliencia del pueblo japonés y de cómo siguió adelante sin perder de vista sus tradiciones y su identidad.

Y lo más asombroso de todo es que no es un libro excesivamente dramático ni tiene una carga emocional pesada. Lo que se está contado es durísimo, pero Yū Miri en ningún momento recurre a la romantización, ni al morbo, ni a exposición excesiva de momentos dramáticos, en realidad es un estilo tan natural y tan luminoso a pesar del pragmatismo con que hace ese retrato de esa parte de la población que no se ve. Es una autora cuya intención no es ir a hacer daño, sino a que abramos los ojos y veamos la fotografía completa.
Profile Image for Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm).
650 reviews193 followers
August 10, 2021
"I thought what a thing of sin poverty was, that there could be nothing more sinful than forcing a small child to lie. The wages of that sin were poverty, a wage that one could not endure, leading one to sin again, and as long as one could not pull oneself out of poverty, the cycle would repeat until death.”

Yu Miri tackles a subject not often seen in "quintessential" Japanese Lit even though in terms of writing, it does carry that distinct feel. As a Zainichi Korean writer, she occupies a space that perhaps makes it easier for her to write from the margins, give necessary agency to those denied a voice in the mainstream. Presenting quite a different picture of Japan, she uses Kazu to portray a sharp divide. A manual labourer, born on the same day as the emperor and his son on the same day as the prince, their fates and lives are very different. It's a life of scarcity, hand to mouth, full of trials & tribulations. In the end, he is homeless and alone, resigned.

For Kazu, time doesn't pass or end but gets "scattered here and there like spilled drawing pins". As a lingering ghost, he is free from all restraints. Events happen all at once for him, linearity stops being important. He thinks of his old life, his family & children, the abruptness of fate. He also reports on what he witnesses walking around Ueno Imperial Gift Park as a ghost, the place where he ended up. Yu isn't interested in clarity, employing ambiguity and haziness to render the invisibilized. Kazu always hovers/haunts in the wings, as in life so in death. Yu's spare prose heightens an already rich, sensitive, empathetic novel, suffused with grief and grace.

Yu mentions in her afterword that she is working on a new book, sort of like a companion piece, which looks at another homeless man, who was a decontamination worker in Fukushima who is treated as disposable & kills himself. I wonder if the pandemic will play a part in it. Yu herself has been living in Fukushima for the last few years. She runs a bookstore there and stages plays about the region and its people, focusing on the disaster trying to articulate that associated trauma. She can relate to the residents as she's basically in exile too. I hope more of her get translated in the near future as she's amazing. I must applaud Morgan Giles for her brilliant work as a translator here.
Profile Image for Rachel.
549 reviews847 followers
October 2, 2020
Tokyo Ueno Station is a short, sparse book which follows the life of Kazu, born in 1933, the same year as the Emperor.  Kazu's life (mostly characterized by tragedy and poverty) is thematically entwined with the Emperor's through a series of coincidences that tie their families together - and it's also closely connected to Ueno Park, a historically significant site in Tokyo that Kazu's spirit now haunts after his death.

This is a mournful, elegant book that ultimately didn't leave much of an impression on me.  In fact, I'm struggling to write this review because I finished this a few days ago and it's already slipped from my mind almost entirely.  I don't know what it was, because I didn't find a single thing about this book to be overtly objectionable; it just didn't fully come together for me.  I think the fragmented, vignette-style structure paired with its incredibly short length left me wanting more.

Also - in some ways this comparison seems absurd but I also can't get it out of my head - this reminded me so much of When All Is Said by Anne Griffin (a book I really didn't care for), which follows an elderly Irish man looking back on his life and the people who shaped him the most.  In both cases I felt like I was being spoon-fed these tragic stories on a very surface level without organically feeling any of it.  I do think Tokyo Ueno Station is the more accomplished book, but I guess 'old men mournfully looking back on their sad lives-lit' is not for me?

Thank you to Netgalley and Riverhead for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Books on Asia.
228 reviews51 followers
January 13, 2019
Although one can tire of translated Japanese books that dwell in pathos, we welcomed this story because of its point of view: that of a homeless person. "Tokyo: Ueno Station" is the life story of Kazu, who after a life of hard work and living away from his wife and two children, becomes homeless at an advanced age and ends up living in Ueno Park in a tent city. He lives in a cardboard structure with a blue tarp on top that he is required to disassemble before important events—such as when the Emperor and Empress visit the surrounding galleries or museums—and then can put back up again after the event. We learn many things about this group of permanent yet temporary residents of the park, a population that at one point reached over 500 inhabitants. We learn that during typhoons and the aforementioned park clean-ups, that the homeless head to the library, a public bath, a capsule hotel or a porno theater for the day. The saddest moment in the story is when, on a rainy day when he is soaked to the bone and shivering from the cold, Kazu relates that he was so miserable, he forgot that he was ever part of a family. Kazu recollects times of war, the Emperor, the Olympics (he was a construction worker for the 1964 Tokyo Games) and natural disasters as well as telling the intriguing history of Ueno Park, its monuments and the surrounding neighborhood. Many living in Japan will remember some of the newsworthy events (Imperial visits, Olympic bids and park clean-ups) which were also covered in the local media. But now we can gain a sense of how these events affect these marginalized residents of Japan. This is an important book because of its point of view.
Profile Image for Lucia Nieto Navarro .
671 reviews128 followers
May 27, 2022

Una primera toma con este tipo de historias y con esta autora, y la verdad ha sido un descubrimiento agradable, sobretodo por el estilo y por la pluma que tiene.
Una novela corta, que podría considerarse un "ensayo" o un "relato" sobre la vida de los vagabundos en Tokio. una crítica al trato que reciben estas personas en la sociedad japonesa ( y que perfectamente puede extrapolarse a otras sociedades).
Es una historia que se muestra desde diferentes puntos de la sociedad, no solo a traves de nuestro protagonista, con sus pensamientos o con su voz, sino también con actos de la gente que lo rodea, haciendo reflexionar al lector muchas cosas, por todos los temas que plantea.
No des la espalda al dolor de alguien como si no tuviera derecho a sentirlo , ni juzgues lo que hace una persona ante una desgracia porque nunca sabes lo que puede pasarte a ti.

"No todo lo que reluce es oro"
Profile Image for Alan.
481 reviews23 followers
January 5, 2020
‘I was always lost at a point in the past that would never go anywhere now that it had gone, but has time ended? Has it just stopped? Will it someday rewind and start again? Or will I be shut out from time for eternity? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.’

This is a hauntingly beautiful, desperately elegiac, and quietly angry novel from Yu Miri. The pervading sense of melancholy and the stark lyricism of the prose makes her story of Kazu a sweeping study of a nation and its history. Here, Kazu - who we discover quite soon in to the book is a spirit or ghost – watches those among whom he used to mix, the busy crowds of shoppers and residents, and the homeless, gathered together in the park in their make-shift shelters. As the book travels forwards and back in time we learn Kazu’s personal story as it becomes intertwined with the development of Japan, and Tokyo in particular, after World War 2. He had travelled to the city for work, leaving his wife and family, and then personal tragedies leave him homeless and rootless in Tokyo. The very heart of the book, literally and metaphorically, is the loss of his son Koichi and how this impacts on his life. Their lives are superimposed on the lives of the Imperial family; Kazu was born in the same year as Emperor Akihito, and his son on the very same day as his successor, Naruhito. As the homeless are periodically cleared out of the park, sometimes when the Imperial family are visiting nearby, later as the Olympic committees visit to choose Tokyo as host city for 2020, the difference in status could not be clearer.

Kazu’s spiritual existence seems to be some sort of limbo and, as the novel concludes, we are left with a strong suggestion for his cause of death, and hence a reason why he has been left this way. He drifts in and out of conversations, hearing snatches of talk between people as they go about their daily business. The general air of melancholy is matched by the weather, where it always seems to be raining, and the gentle falling of the cherry blossom, suggestive of so much in Japanese culture. The prose itself is simple, with oftentimes a haiku-like compactness of imagery from the very beginning:
‘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.’

The park itself becomes a focus of our attention, being the place where so much of its history is the history of the city, from the fire-bombing in 1945 to previous earthquakes and disasters. It is a place of refuge, but also the place of death, and the tide of people and the transient homeless population are the modern inheritors of the place. Kazu’s life is the story of modern Tokyo and Japan; from the 1964 Olympics to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Kazu is some sort of everyman figure leading us as he tries to find some sort of redemption. His journey, our journey, is his way of working back through his life to the moment of his death, in an effort to find some meaning and a conclusion.

Profound and haunting, this is a book that will stay with me for some time, I think. It’s not exactly a laugh a minute, but bear with it and it will reward you. A personal journey that becomes a wider, cultural exploration, this is an important work that gives a voice to the unheard in a quietly devastating way. 5 stars.
Profile Image for Hulyacln.
765 reviews355 followers
September 14, 2022
Bir evsiz gördüğünüzde sizin de aklınıza 'o kişinin başına ne geldi de evsiz kaldı acaba' sorusu geliyor mu? 
Belki çok zengindi ve bir gecede her şeyini kaybetti?
Belki de bebekken terk edildi ve sokaklar evi oldu?
İşte Tokyo Ueno İstasyonu'ndaki Kazu biz sormadan anlatıyor yer yer boğazda bir yumru bırakan hikayesini. Neler kaybettiğini, pişmanlıklarını..
Koreli ancak Japonca yazan-üreten Miri Yu, Tokyo Ueno ��stasyonu'nda sadece bir karakterin öyküsünü yazmıyor; aynı zamanda herkesin gözü önünde olup da görünmeyen şeylerden de bahsediyor. Köyden kente göçün, ucuzlaştırılan iş gücünün, bireye yüklenen acımasız sorumlulukların da izlerini taşıyor. 
Kısacık, içine girmesi zorlayabilen ancak bittiğinde akılda kalıcı bu kitabın çevirisi Barış Bayıksel'e ait, kapak tasarımı ise Hamdi Akçay çalışması ~
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