Convenience Store Human (コンビニ人間)

The Japanese convenience store. It’s a magical place. The second you walk into it, you realize this isn’t your convenience store back in your home country. The sights. The sounds. The smells. The large assortment of foods you have probably never seen before in your life. And that giant welcoming いらっしゃいませ!The Japanese convenience store is a marvel of the modern world.

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I’ll never forget my first Japanese convenience store experience (everyone has one). I had just arrived in Japan, it was late at night, and this was the first thing that really let me know I was actually in Japan.

So I was excited to hear about the Japanese best seller book, コンビニ人間 (Convenience Store Human). I had first heard about it on アメトーーク, through an episode called 読書芸人 (Reader Entertainers). The show was about popular entertainers in Japan who loved reading novels. Who am I to pass up a recommendation from them?

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The book was awarded the 芥川賞, the Akutagawa Award for literature. People in Japan joke about this, because it is often a sign the book is boring. Maybe it is literary worthy, but it’s probably not fun to read. But the reviews on Amazon were great, and people were specifically pointing out not to be misguided by its award.

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I bought it on Kindle and was excited to dig right in and get in a good amount of convenience store reading.

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Story Summary

Keiko Furukura, 36 years old, has worked at the same convenience store since she was 18 years old. She’s never been married, never had a boyfriend, and never bothered trying to find a career after graduating college. She eats every meal from the convenience store, all her dreams are about the convenience store, and her entire world revolves around it. The world may criticize her and question the meaning of the life she’s chosen, but she’s happy and fulfilled. Will her life ever change or is this her “true path?”

Level

The Japanese is simple. There is no fancy vocabulary and no wild scenarios. It’s a daily life type of story. Since most of it takes place in the convenience store, the words are fairly common. There is a little convenience store specialty vocabulary, but it is fun to pick those up.

Thoughts

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コンビニ人間 has a strange appeal. It starts off taking you through the life of Furukura, and her daily routine working at her 天職 (heavenly profession). How thrilling could this possibly be? For some reason, the writing is almost hypnotic as you become a part of her world. Most people have never thought that much in depth what it is to work at a convenience store. It’s just a simple job after all, right?

The book continues into her weird past, and how she ended up where she is. You discover her warped, but relatable way of thinking. She is pure, and so happy. It doesn’t matter to her whether the world or accepts her. She has the convenience store… Why change when you don’t feel you need to?

While action is minimal for the first half of the book, eventually a new part-time worker joins the convenience store, and threatens to mess up everything she has built up for herself.

Recommendation

A lot doesn’t actually happen in this book. But it makes you think. About someone with a life completely different than your own. Not everyone has to think like you do. It’s a pleasant ride to the end.

Maybe one day you might even become a Japanese Convenience Human? (probably not…) Until then, you can enjoy the hundreds of comedy sketches that revolve around convenience stores.



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

Convenience Store Human (コンビニ人間) — 13 Comments

    • Second sketch is by Jinnai Tomonori (陣内智則), most of them use the same format more or less (lots of props, a big screen and him commenting it).

    • If you mean more コンビニ sketches, in YouTube try typing in コンビニ コント and you’ll get a lot similar to this.

  1. This book has been on my wishlist since the prize was announced. Unfortunately I haven’t read a book since June (have barely managed to read a few volumes of manga) as my reading as taken a backseat to other Japan priorities. But yeah, it’s been getting lots of great reviews so I’m really looking forward to this one when I eventually add it to my TBR pile and then my actually reading pile.

    For more conbini shenanigans I highly highly highly recommend the one-shot manga コンビニの清水. All my real life life friends who I have made read it have really loved it and have wanted a sequel. Still working on getting JALUPers and other internet peeps to read it.

    • It’s a really quick read (maybe a day or so), so it’s worth checking out!

      Thanks for the recommendation. Will check that out.

    • I don’t know if that was sarcasm or not, but yes, you have to try it :)

      I only recommend books here that I have enjoyed reading and think others will too.

  2. I saw that you hinted about reading this one in a post a few days ago. I was wondering if that counted as a recommendation.

    It seems like a good book for getting in touch with what people in Japan are reading right now as well as learning about what goes on behind the scenes in a convenience store. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I think I’ll have to check this one out.

    • That’s the great thing about reading a popular book that everyone else in Japan is currently reading. It’s a perfect conversation topic. Definitely give it a try!

  3. I just finished this book yesterday! Which, now that I’m looking, was the date of this post. Crazy coincidence!

    Anyway, I second Adam’s recommendation — I really enjoyed this book, and it was a relatively quick read even for me. (Probably could have finished it in a few sittings if I had really put my mind to it.)

    It’s also nice in that it can easily be enjoyed on a purely surface level (i.e. “ha, Furukura’s nuts!”) or as a deeper, if somewhat sideways look at (especially Japanese) societal norms, how they shape our lives, etc. etc. etc.

    Check it out!

    • I think it’s fun to look at it from both the surface and societal level. It’s definitely a crazy (but sometimes rational) viewpoint to take a look at.

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