“Convenience Store Woman” Review

Sayaka Murata’s novel “Convenience Store Woman” is an unexpected and compelling feminist work that explores both gender constructs and their intersection with the human experiences of existential crisis and self-realization. 

One edition of the English cover of Sayaka Murata’s “Convenience Store Woman” displays a commonly used tamari fish. The short novel spanned around 160 pages (depending on the edition) and has no chapter breaks. (Photo Taken from BooksActually)

Originally published as “Konbini Ningen” (“Convenience Store Human”), the book became an instant hit in Japan and throughout the world following its 2016 publication.

The novel has sold 1.5 million copies in Japan and has been translated into 30 languages. In 2016, the short novel was awarded the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, a literary honor given to up-and-coming Japanese writers. It is considered to be Japan’s most prestigious literary award.

The story follows the life of 36-year-old Keiko Furukura, a witty and complex convenience store worker. Through Furukura’s experiences and interactions, the author presents an interesting view on both social normalities and gender roles. 

For the past 18 years, since Furukura first took a job at the convenience store near her home, she had structured her life around her job. The set order of her days and the clear and constant structure of the store offered her a ‘place in society’ that she feels she cannot find anywhere else. Furukura has never felt as though she fit into society’s expectations of her, and even her family cannot seem to understand her desire to stay in a low-paying job and refrain from any romantic or sexual relationships.

The inside of a typical convenience store in Japan is illuminated by fluorescent lights. Like the store in “Convenience Store Woman,” many of these stores are open 24/7 and offer both prepackaged and heated food. (Photo Taken From Live Japan)

Furukura is relatively detached from the judgments of society. Condescending experiences with men fascinate her, and she actively attempts to mimic voices and change her personality based on which coworkers she currently has.

Furukura’s life revolves around the convenience store and is almost a way of life. She goes to the store immediately after waking up, six days a week, and even eats most of her meals at the store. While she is content with this life, she begins to realize that she is not as far from social judgment as she previously believed. 

Hearing the confusion from her coworkers about how long she has stayed in one job, along with the judgments of the overtly misogynistic Shiraha makes her reconsider her previous beliefs in the security of her place in society.

Shiraha, a strange and lazy new worker at the store, admits that he only came to the convenience store to find a wife, but despite being single and older just like Furukura, he judges her for not conforming to what is expected of women. 

The novel ‘Convenience Store Woman’ is open to a page near the middle of the story. The contents of the novel is told from the point of view of Furukura and often dives into her frustrations and differences from those around her. (Photo by Lulu Horne)

He introduces the slightly antiquated but still relevant idea that men and women need to be married at a certain age but for different reasons. With many extended comparisons to the stone age, Shiraha argues that nothing has changed even though it’s been hundreds of years. Despite the apparent change in societal expectations, he believes that women are still expected to be childbearing home keepers while men are supposed to conform to the ‘alpha male’ mindset where they are providing for the family.  

Furukura decides to invite Shiraha to live with her in spite of his strange personality because if she pretends to be in a relationship, she believes her peers and family might finally stop pestering her to change her life and fit in. 

Shiraha presents many unique ideas and allows Furukura to test how her life will change when she tries to conform. However, in the end, he ultimately helps Furukura realize that the convenience store is the only place where she feels like she truly has a place. Even when she tries to conform, there is always another thing that society will try to make her do. 

“Convenience Store Woman” is compelling in the way that it presents a character most people would find strange, but through delving into her mind, the reader is able to see a new and unique perspective. 

Author Sayaka Murata answers questions about her novel at the Japan Foundation in Toronto. The author has gained fame worldwide, leading many to wonder if her novel was based on her own life as a convenience store worker. (Photo Taken From Japan in Canada)

Many readers and critics wonder how much of Furukura comes from Sayaka Murata’s own life, as she worked in a convenience store for 18 years and only quit after the success of her novel. These stipulations have not been confirmed, but either way, the novel offers a striking narration style and a look into an abnormal piece of human life. 

Furukura’s journey of self-realization and the slow presentation of differences between male and female expectations present a truthful look into social expectations through a distinctive perspective. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in everyday feminism or even just a fascinating look into humanity.