Convenience Store Woman: What is ‘Normal’?

When I had the chance to hear writer Sayaka Murata speak at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I was very excited. I’d spotted the memorable, yellow cover of Convenience Store Woman,「コンビニ人間」at the Japan Centre and on the tube a few times and was really keen to read it.

Convenience Store Woman is a heartwarming look at identity, societal expectations and pressures on women. It shares the story of a woman called Keiko who works at a convenience store in Japan – or, as most people in Japan know them, the conbini (the Japanese title actually means ‘conbini human’). Unlike most convenience store employees though, she has been working there for 18 years – since she left University in 1998. Keiko has seen seven managers pass by and her career there has outlived all of them.

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Kids Need to See Themselves in Books – #ReadtheOnePercent

In research funded by Arts Council England, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education published a report which showed that only 1% of children’s books feature protagonists who are BAME. This statistic really grabbed people’s attention on Twitter and became a national headline, but for those who were already familiar with this problem, the research did not come as a surprise.

Enter Knights Of, a publishing company founded by Aimée Felone and David Stevens. They have spent the past year championing change within children’s publishing, focusing on books which are diverse and inclusive. To celebrate their 1st birthday they set up a pop-up shop in Brixton, using the hashtag #ReadTheOnePercent on social media. It was a small space which they filled with books, books and more books. And what a shop it was. The white furniture and walls allowed the colourful book covers to pop. When I walked in, I didn’t know where to look first. Continue reading “Kids Need to See Themselves in Books – #ReadtheOnePercent”

Remembering Summer: London Matsuri

Before Winter finally settles, I’m keen to remember summer one last time. (At least the memories will keep me warm!) My strongest association with a Japanese summer is the matsuri festivals. On summer evenings, in the humidity of a thirty-degree-heat, communities gather, dressed in yukata, and enjoy the festival. It usually consists of a procession and a gathering in a local square. Crowds form around the taiko drums which are often on a stage in the centre of the square and they dance, encircling the taiko drummers. Young children who dance for the first time are taught by their parents and grandparents, who push them along gently if they forget to keep moving round. The dancing is entrancing. The beat of the taiko drums is something which still enraptures me and raises the hair on my arms with excitement.

Not to mention the food! The smokey yakitori with the most delicious sauce, the ice-cold, bright, blue kakigori which gives you brain-freeze, the warming takoyaki. I was having bubble tea at matsuri festivals way before it was hipster and cool. These memories of the sounds and smells of my childhood nourish me when I am feeling homesick. Continue reading “Remembering Summer: London Matsuri”