Tokyo Ueno Station is narrated by a dead man, Kazu, who died but his spirit wandered the park, where he had lived for the last 6 years of his life. He reflected on his hard life, from being a farm boy in Fukushima, to being a laborer working at construction sites in Tokyo when the city was gearing up for the Olympic Games in 1964, and during the economic growth after that.
His narratives switches back and forth between his past and the present, in which he recollected the poor living conditions of the homeless people in the park: the cold weather, the poorly constructed tents, the frequent disassembling of their tents whenever the Emperor or his family visited the museum or the exhibitions at the park, and the threats of being attacked by young people as a sport.
“But then what of me remains here?
A sense of tiredness.
I was always tired.
There was never a time I was not tired.
Not when life had its claws in me, and not when I escaped from it.
I did not live with intent, I only lived.
But that’s all over now.”
The fact that Kazu was born in the same year as the emperor, and his son was born on the same date as the emperor’s son but died young at the age of 21, were mentioned a few times in the book, contrasting totally two different lives. This is seemingly pacified by fate and the Pure Land Buddihism which Kazu and his families adhered to.
Tokyo Ueno Station is a touching and poignant story about homeless people in Japan. Miri Yu’s writing is poetic and the story is straightforward, but the short novel sends a powerful message about homeless people, countryside laborers being exploited while working in the metropolitan, and income inequality in society. Because of her works, she received threats from the right-wingers for “defaming the country”, per the Japan Times. I wonder if that is because of her ethnicity, since Miri Yu was born to Korean parents in Japan, and is currently living in Fukushima prefecture, but is a citizen of South Korea.