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197 pages, Paperback
First published March 19, 2014
"I'm trying, I thought. Set me free from trying, I thought"
"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."
Q: The Olympic Games are going to be held in Tokyo in 2020. Do you plan on writing anything to do with that?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:
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.
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?Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.
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.
"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.
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.
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."
"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."
"To be homeless is to be ignored when people walk past, while still being in full view of everyone."
"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.”