Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Am I conveniently being the person everyone wants me to be?

Yong Yee Chong
Oct 13, 2020 · 4 min read
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Photography by Kentaro Takahashi on The New York Times

After observing my own patterns of reading, I came to the realization that I love reading Asian female authors’ work. From Yiyun Li to Mieko Kawakami and Sayaka Murata (the author of Convenience Store Woman), their characters represent boldness against a world that questions their nonconformity. “You are not normal,” they are told.

I stumbled upon the latest book from the list of suggestions by the Haruki Murakami Book Club. As I finished Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs about a month ago, the powerful aftertaste from reading that book in some way drew my attention to the Convenience Store Woman. From the picture on the cover of this book, it looks like the “woman” is a misfit.

You don’t have to be a Steve Jobs kind of misfit

From my limited understanding of Japanese culture and the life of a convenience store worker, I read the 200-page story and interpreted the idea behind this book through my own societal lens. The protagonist, Ms. Furukura, is a woman who is special and loves to live a simple life. She yearned for and eventually got a very meaningful life out of working in a convenience store. Now you might ask, “How can working in a convenience store be meaningful?” In the not-too-distant past, you might have come across this quote by Steve Jobs from a 1997 speech.

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

But hey everyone, come back. We need to look at the context we are in and avoid jumping onto the bandwagon that chases after some successful investor and wants to be like him. In the situation of Ms. Furukura, loving her job and functioning at her best in the convenience store is meaningful. It tells the tale of all of us, finding our ways to become cogs of society. If our workplace is a machine, every small part of the machine plays a different role in moving the engine. Perhaps what struck me most is her dedication to her work and the ceaseless respect for being a convenience store worker. Despite the fact that she is not the manager of the store, she continues to “do her thing” when she puts on her uniform.

Every job is noble

In Malaysia, we have had the most dreadful and unfruitful conversations on this topic for a long time. The reluctance to take on the 3D jobs (Dirty, Dangerous, and Difficult) are said to be the cause of unemployment in the younger generation or fresh graduates. I wonder if it is still the same in the era of coronavirus. After all, jobs are scarce. Many people lost their jobs and resorted to short-term food delivery gigs to pay their bills. We also have witnessed janitors and cleaners in hospitals do their best to assist the frontliners to keep our country safe. Every job is meaningful when you are changing something. It could be something in your own life or others’. That includes when you are able to pay for your own meals through your hard-earned part-time job under the hot sun. Just like every relationship is precious, every job is noble for someone or for reasons we cannot fathom.

The Permit

Some of us might live our entire lives with people who keep telling us what is good for us. “Doing this will help you get that.” It is a shame to think about why they do not ask if we want to get that. In Chinese society, the most daunting season is the Chinese New Year house-visiting. Friends and relatives who seem to care would ask questions about your jobs and your marital status. Did anyone ever ask if “you are happy with your job?” To be accustomed to fitting into societal expectations is a norm. When I graduate from college, I will get a job in Company A because most successful people do and my parents will be happy about it. My friends will be proud of me. It seems in order to proceed to the next stage of life, we need permission from our family and friends.

But have you thought about framing it differently?

It’s not a matter of whether they permit it or not.

It’s what I am.

I would love to hear from readers who have read this amazing little book. It definitely covers more than what I have reflected upon here. It is also a mirror for our capitalist and gender-biased society.

You can get the book from Bookshop. This is an affiliate link, which means I will earn a 10% commission from each sale from this link. Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores.

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Yong Yee Chong

Written by

I am a fellow at University of Malaya and I write about reflective learnings through the lenses of gender and sports.

Fourth Wave

Changing the world for the better, one story at a time, with a focus on women and other disempowered groups

Yong Yee Chong

Written by

I am a fellow at University of Malaya and I write about reflective learnings through the lenses of gender and sports.

Fourth Wave

Changing the world for the better, one story at a time, with a focus on women and other disempowered groups

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