/ |

Vibrator

by Andrew Lee

Staff Writer

Modern Japan can be a lonely place. Especially in Tokyo, where sometimes it seems everyone is walking around in cones of silence and is too shy or afraid to talk to strangers. You can see it in the statistics too, which say that 32 percent of households in Japan are single-occupant and that many people (30 percent of men and 23 percent of women by 2030) will never marry. It’s sad but true.

Vibrator, by Mari Akasaka Translated by Michael Emmerich.
Faber & Faber, Fiction.

With this in mind, “Vibrator” by Mari Akasaka explores how the stress of such a lonely culture could affect the psyche of a single and emotionally fragile woman. The book opens with Rei Hayakawa, a 31-year-old freelance journalist, late at night in a convenience store, wondering what wine to buy. Her rambling thoughts of loneliness, hunger and of her need for alcohol flow in a stream of consciousness that for the reader can be confusing at first. Akasaka, however, handles Rei’s internal monologue beautifully and it is through the voices in her head that Rei’s situation is revealed.

The reason she drinks is to make the voices shut up; she’s bulimic because throwing up helps her sleep; and she is desperate for the touch of another human being. So, when a trucker named Okabe, walks past her in the store, brushing her hand with his, her desire leads her outside to his truck where they are soon having passionate, sensual sex. On the road trip that follows, Rei rediscovers herself and the pressures she feels being a single woman in today’s Japan evaporate into the vibrations of the truck.

Each week “Essentials” introduces a work of fiction that should be on the bookshelf of any Japanophile.