Book Review: Convenience Store Woman By Sayaka Murata

Woman convenience store is a Japanese novel by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. The story, a stellar tale of womanhood, success, and society, revolves around Keiko Furukura, a thirty-six-year-old woman who works at a convenience store, a job she has been doing for eighteen years. Being a single, unmarried, childless woman, she is constantly criticized for being a burden on society.

This book completely reshapes the definition of success and what it means to be “Ordinary”. It is, simultaneously, a subtle but strong commentary on gender double standards and femininity. Keiko, the main protagonist, is extremely eccentric and naive. Since childhood, she fails to understand social cues and relays symptoms of developmental difficulties, which remain unconfirmed and undiagnosed throughout the novel. Her family is ashamed of her, repeatedly saying she needs to be “cured” to be normal.

Woman convenience store is a Japanese novel by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. The story, a stellar tale of womanhood, success, and society, revolves around Keiko Furukura, a thirty-six-year-old woman who works at a convenience store, a job she has been doing for eighteen years. Being a single, unmarried, childless woman, she is constantly criticized for being a burden on society.

Unable to be accepted for who she is, she deduces that the only way to satisfy those around her is to become a robotic cog in society. As a result, she lands on a job at the convenience store.

Although Keiko is reprimanded for not having a lover, the most beautiful love story in the novel is between her and the convenience store. She talks about the store like you talk about your partner, describing it as the “world of sound” this “constantly caresses my eardrums”. The work brings him a salary that allows him to feed and house himself. Thus, she is very happy with the simplicity of her life. However, people are still not happy with her.

Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, the majority of the world expects only three things from women: to get married, to have children and to spend their whole life looking after them. When Keiko goes to meet her friend Miho, she has a shock of reality.

Being one of two single women in a crowd of fifteen, she is told how they are “the only ones here who can’t stand [their] heads up “. She remains confused, wondering why she shouldn’t be allowed to live as she is now.

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However, constancy does not equal stagnation. To be truly happy with yourself is to be successful. Therefore, Keiko decides that even though she is judged by society, she prefers it to be for who she is – a Female convenience store.

Keiko’s honesty is one of her most endearing qualities. She doesn’t gossip and isn’t affected by what others around her are doing. Consequently, she is unable to understand why others cannot do the same, especially when her lifestyle does not affect anyone.

Keiko’s life changes when Shiraha, another store employee, comes into her life. Just like Keiko, he is also rejected by society because he is unemployed. The two decide to live together to get rid of society. Shiraha compares modern society to the Stone Age, saying people still respect the gender roles of ancient times where men were supposed to be hunters and women cooked for them. While he appears to be more in touch with reality, he treats women as lesser beings and property. His misogynistic ego feels entitled that any woman he sees and loves belongs to him.

Also, when living with Keiko, he orders her to cook and clean for him in his own house, making no contribution himself.

Keiko’s honesty is one of her most endearing qualities. She doesn’t gossip and isn’t affected by what others around her are doing. Consequently, she is unable to understand why others cannot do the same, especially when her lifestyle does not affect anyone.

The double standards are further highlighted when Shiraha begins to compare the struggles of men with those of women. He mentions that men’s lives are more difficult because “the testicles are the property of the village”, while wombs are useless. These statements are regressive and trans-exclusive, and the irony is that the pressure of motherhood and motherhood falls on the woman. Yet men take all the credit for it. Shiraha complains relentlessly about her problems; he is unable to find a job due to his lack of professionalism, repay his loans, and he is still a virgin.

On the contrary, Keiko remains silent despite being perpetually nagged to get married, have children, and quit the only job she is truly happy about. The differences in their problems, as well as their reactions to them, say enough about the gender disparity that prevails in the world.

This particular case shows that women’s happiness will always be secondary to their preconceived role in society. It also highlights people’s disregard for mental health. They refuse to understand Keiko, and the only reason they try to get her help is for her to be what the world expects of her.

Despite this, Keiko has never let gender stereotypes interfere with the way she leads her life. The only reason she cooks and cleans for Shiraha is because they have a cohabitation agreement, not because she is a woman. Also, when Shiraha says working in a convenience store is “more suited to the way women’s brains are organized”, she retaliates by saying, “We are in the 21st century! Here at the convenience store, we are not men and women. We are all store employees”. Therefore, although it seems that Keiko does not have her own voice, she transmits the most through her way of existing.

The saddest part of the novel is when Keiko has a conversation with her sister, Mami, about living with a man. She decides to be honest and tells him about the living arrangement with Shiraha, which ends up infuriating him. She starts crying and begs Keiko to “Try to be normal”. Shiraha overhears this and covers for her, stating that the only reason Keiko is saying all this is because they had a falling out because of her infidelity. Mami is visibly relieved by this, making Keiko realize that “she is much happier thinking her sister is normal, even though she has a lot of problems, than having an abnormal sister who is fine”.

This particular case shows that women’s happiness will always be secondary to their preconceived role in society. It also highlights people’s disregard for mental health. They refuse to understand Keiko, and the only reason they try to get her help is for her to be what the world expects of her.

Near the end of the book, Keiko is forced to quit her job, which causes her to sink into depression. Shiraha, as well as her family, do not see this. They make her fill out applications and go to interviews, unaware that her definition of success was the life she used to lead. On her way to the job interview, she comes across a convenience store and notices inaccuracies in the configuration and layout of the products.

Keiko walks into the store and starts putting things in order. Shiraha angrily tells him to quit working as a convenience store woman, because people will. “never give up”. She stands firm, claiming that “It’s not a question of whether they allow it or not. That’s who I am”.

By returning Keiko’s agency to her, Murata breaks down gender bias. As Shiraha continues her quest to fit into society, she realizes how satisfied she is with her life. This book explains that the word “success” is extremely nuanced. In a rapidly changing world, we are told that if we don’t move forward one way or another, we fail.

Read also : What it’s like to be a single mom raising a daughter

However, constancy does not equal stagnation. To be truly happy with yourself is to be successful. Therefore, Keiko decides that even though she is judged by society, she prefers it to be for who she is – a Female convenience store.

Read also : All single mothers, now put your hands up!


Suditi is currently a second year student pursuing a degree in English. A budding writer, she always hopes to bring a unique and refreshing take on topics. Besides writing, her interests include reading, acting and discovering underrated gems of world cinema. She can be found on Instagram.

Featured image source: The Independent

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