Convenience Store Woman & Japan’s Take on Single Women

Britney Tran, Writer

Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman highlights the societal pressure single Japanese women face and how Japan’s strict conventions is difficult for the different.

Keiko Furukura is a 36-year old Japanese woman who has been working at a convenience store for the past 18 years. She is single, never had a boyfriend, and has only a few friends. While her parents and sister pressure her to find a better job and a husband, she shows no interest in leaving her life’s passion: the Hiromachi Station Smile Mart. Outcasted by society for her entire life, she felt that her purpose was working in the convenience store. The store allowed her to don a mask of normality. At the Smile Mart, Keiko has instructions to follow in how to become the perfect worker. There, she can stop mimicking the mannerisms of the other Japanese women, all in attempts to get people to stop harassing her about her abnormalities. She is comfortable with working at the Smile Mart for the rest of her life, but her friends and family aren’t. No one understands how Keiko is content working at a dead end job, with no family of her own. Wanting to rid their concerns about her relationship, or lack of, and her obsession with her work, Keiko finds her solution in the form of a new coworker.

In comes Shiraha, a cynical young man who blames his troubles on the world, or more particularly, on women. Less than content with his new job (demeaning it “unfitting for a man”) he is quickly fired from the Smile Mart for his sloppy work. Shihara’s character demonstrates the prevalent number of shut-ins in Japan, who refuse to work and rather remain indoors all-day (mostly to play video games).

Keiko was frustrated by Shihara’s lack of dedication to his job, was relieved when he was gone. However, after her family raises their concern for her once more and after speaking to him, she realizes she could use him. Both of them are deemed failures by society for being single and unsuccessful (in terms of occupation). Keiko makes an offer to Shihara to house him and feed him if he agrees to become her husband. Shihara, who finds Keiko to be abnormal and unlike the girls he fantasizes about, was reluctant to accept the offer but quickly realizes that he could mooch off her freely.

Together, Keiko and Shihara put on a show of romance, despite neither of them showing attraction to the other. Keiko goes to work at the Smile Mart, whole Shihara lazes at home in the bathtub, lamenting the lack of luck he was given to be living this way.

The story focuses mainly on Keiko’s strange way of thinking and how the other characters see her. She only care enough to put on a mask of normality (only so she could be undisturbed) but in reality, she is content to merely work as another convenience store woman.

The story ends as it began. Keiko doesn’t succumb to societal expectations nor does her unique way of thinking ends. While it seems like a bleak life to live for the purpose of working, Keiko seems to have found happiness in it.

The ending calls into question the need for societal conventions – the need to belong. Keiko is a societal outcast but she doesn’t feel the need to fit in the same way others do. She only wants to fit in to be left alone by society’s judgement of her. She has found her own happiness.

Convenience Store Woman manages to capture the confining expectations that Japan pressures on its women, yet does it in a way that is charming and easy to understand. It is a demonstration of Japanese society through the eyes of a female outcast that leaves readers frustrated by Keiko’s easy acceptance of the misogynist expectations put upon her, but also lets the readers understand how difficult it is to resist against them. Keiko, as with many other workers in Japan, has come to adopt an obey-all attitude about their work – the focus is on becoming the perfect worker, the perfect citizen. Convenience Store Woman is a unique and comprehensible representation of Japanese society that details the struggles Japanese women face due to the conventions expected of them.