I started reading Convenience Store Woman in Japanese at the beginning of the month. It is slow going but I can say this, now that I have devoured the copy of the English translation that I had been hiding from myself like a selkie’s coat, the Japanese version is better. Not that the translation is untrue or incorrect; I just think that English fails to capture the nature of life in Japan. It is too, I don’t know, just too everything.
Here is another thing about the book: I am the convenience store woman. I am the one who mimics in order to pass. That is the word I use in my head, I am passing. I am passing for normal, for human, for a woman, for a mother. I am passing, as if some test is constantly being administered and I have borrowed my classmates’ notes without understanding what to do with them.
“Now, too, I felt reassured by the expression on Mrs. Izumi and Sugawara’s faces: Good, I pulled off being a “person”.” (Murata, p. 29)
Just like Keiko, I am ambivalent about sex, about clothes, about everything. I study people so they will not be suspicious of me, worried about me. That is why I study Japanese, why I carry my brown leather purse like all the other ladies in my office have, the wool coat with the hood, everything obtained second-hand but that makes it better, somehow, since I know that it was deemed acceptable once before.
I am blending in, unrecognizable in a crowd because I am short and have dark hair and the same fashion and mannerisms as everyone else. I am proud of this: it means my studying has paid off.
I do have an aim to my conformity though: I want to be seen as a natural fit for a potential promotion at my work. I also want the immigration officials to deem me acceptable when I request permanent residency. I am reading Japanese history books and studying the language, the culture as well. Trying to understand all levels of this place I call home so that I can go beyond mimicking, beyond passing.
It is harder to be in love with a place than a person. With a person, you have expectations of being loved in return, of being valued. With a place, there are no such expectations. You just want to be permitted to remain. My devotion means that I can sacrifice the trappings of my self, the details that previously defined me. It is my form of incantation, a love spell.