Tokyo Ueno Station is an English translation from the acclaimed Zainichi-Korean author Yu Miri. Focusing on the narrator, Kazu, the novel provides a scenic snapshot of Ueno Park and its surrounding area, both from the time the novel is set along with previous historical events. Kazu reveals, little by little, scenes from his life and his connection to the park, interweaving his own personal stories with events occurring in the proximity. We learn that Kazu once worked as a construction worker in the lead-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, often putting in extra hours to support his family who were close to the poverty line. Furthermore, he discusses how working away from home affected his relationship with his family and is forthcoming with tragic events that he had to endure.
Noteworthy for the significant issues that the book touches and the innovative writing style, events blend into one as little distinction is made between them, this can cause confusion but there is also a poetic beauty to it. The premise of the novel is not a joyful one, the overall plot is bleak and although emotive and powerful, the novel will not meld with readers who are seeking an uplifting pick. The visual descriptions and personality imbued into the novel make it a success and a goliath feat given the short length of the text. Although some will find this novel a great read, others may be put off by the unconventional structure and the way it meanders into random encounters that the narrator is witnessing.
Overall, this book is well-recommended for those who want to try something unique and who want to be immersed in a different culture. There will likely be points of reference that the reader is unfamiliar with; however, this doesn’t hinder the plot.
Why do you think the author Yu Miri chose to entitle the work Tokyo Ueno Station rather than Tokyo Ueno Park. Arguably more of the novel is centred around the park, so why was this the case?
What are the main historical events that the novel covers? Does it portray these events in a positive way?
How does Yu Miri give the character of Kazu personality?
How did you feel about the style of writing? Did you find it confusing at any point or did you like the flow?
During the second half of the novel there are passages that refer to flowers in a poetic style. What effect do these have on the text and what meaning do you think they have?
The ending of the novel reflects on events past Kazu’s death. How does this fit with the novel and what impact does it have?
During the novel there is mention of a homeless man throwing himself off a bridge into a train. How does this correspond with Kazu’s death and why do you think the author chose to include it? Was it a foreshadowing technique or do you think that the author was trying to make a statement about the commonality of suicide?
Kazu appears to have experienced a lot of grief in his life. What effect does the loss of his son seem to have on him?
Elements of the novel seem patriotic. What does Kazu’s feelings towards the royal family suggest about the population of Japan? Tokyo-Ueno-Station-Discussion-Questions.pdf
In the ending of Tokyo Ueno Station, Kazu reminisces about the announcement made by the Emperor opening the Tokyo Olympic Games and the announcement that came at the birth of a prince which coincided with his own son’s birth. After briefly mentioning more about his time as a homeless man, Kazu talks us through the event of his death, an act of suicide which saw him jump in front of a train. He then describes his visions in the afterlife before bitterly ending with a passage referring to the 2011 Japanese tsunami. He mentions that his granddaughter Mari was driving at the time and both her and the two dogs she had in the car, drowned.
Yu Miri was born in Yokohama, Japan, to Korean parents. She is often referred to as being a ‘Zainichi’, a term used to refer to those of ethnic Korean descent who have long residence in Japan. She has received criticism and threatening remarks from the conservative sect of Japan due to her ethnic background.
In 1997, Yu Miri won the prestigious Akutagawa prize for her work Kazoku Shinema (Family Cinema).