Theater of Cruelty

A sense of living in a time when the world is dying

Convenience Store Woman
How can the story of a grocery store employee capture so many readers worldwide?


Before I went to Japan this summer, I was fully aware that the Japanese are an arid people who work from morning to evening. What surprised me, on the other hand, were the many idiot jobs: A man at the airport standing with a dishcloth and wiping tiles one at a time; a man holding a bag for the shoes that must not stand on the floor; the girl who smiles at the fall and says goodbye and goodbye; the man in the hat by the garden in the Imperial Palace who hands me a piece that will not be used for anything and which I give him again when I leave the garden. The examples of small forms of activity that actually make it look like a job seem endless. Something's wrong, or there's something I haven't figured out. That's why it was actually a bit of a scoop when I fell over Japanese writer Sayaka Murata's little novel Convenience Store Woman. At one time criticism of modern working life and painful dead pan humor à la Jim Jarmusch. A writer who works part-time in a grocery store himself!


The Japanese word for "welcome," "come in," is heard and said everywhere. As soon as you step over the threshold of a store, into an elevator. Also in Convenience Store Woman, yes, in fact in every chapter. Maybe one can even explain the entire Japanese community through this word that is pronounced with a robotic self-expression? The story of Furukara working in a so-called 7-hour grocery store, which is far more than just 7-Eleven, is a grotesque story of modern Japan. Her first job in the store should have just been a bee job while studying at university. But she couldn't finish the studies and was stuck. Anyone who works in a so-called convenience store is only there as a "hopper" (short time). If you get stuck you are a loser. As a child, she had difficulty relating to other people. Her old friends are upset that she still continues in the same bland job and perceives her as special. However, Furukara is neither insensitive nor more strange than others. Maybe in her blue collar job she has looked deeper than most? Maybe she's not just docile, like most Japanese, but a kind of Delusional anti-fascist in a Japanese XNUMX-Eleven?

Emptiness as criticism

In any case, she has a sense of living in a time when the world is dying. Therefore, she has decided that there is only this little spot that is the whole world. On the way to work she gets off the train a stop before so that by taking over the neighborhood and the immediate surroundings, she extends and expands the world of the store. Her breakfast, lunch and dinner come from the store, and in that way she feels like her whole body er the store. She masters all facets of her small job, smiles at customers, dreams of which goods are missing price tags, a better relocation of bargain goods. She immerses herself in even the most idiotic actions, finding power, joy and curiosity in it. Apparently hiding behind all this and playing the game all the way out in its extreme folly. Now she has endured for 18 years, surviving 8 leaders in shifts. Is she going crazy, or has she found a cunning survival strategy? Its own little refuge? Even her colleagues almost punk her to find another job, another life. "Are you not cured soon?", One jokes, to which Furukara replies, "I do not know what to cure for?" She has seen their faces, the customers, those out there, those with great content jobs and status, and read the writing on the wall. Who lives and who is normal in a society where you are perceived as an outcast if you do not work between 50 and 80 hours a week? When she finally breaks out and goes to a job interview somewhere else, she can not. She is fused with the world of the convenience store. She must return. She must listen to her body!

Madness and normalcy

The book has become a bestseller not only in Japan, but has also in a short time sold over a million copies in another Protestant work-focused society, namely Germany. And it is spreading. What's going on? How can the story of the employee in a grocery store captivate so many readers worldwide? Perhaps because the book with a humorous but low-key voice elegantly exhibits the falsehood and emptiness that characterize modern societies today that have made work an all-encompassing ideology? The place where we convulsively have to find a meaning that is often not there. Confirming the grocery store's absurd but concrete work tasks also exposes the pseudo-work that accompanies so much knowledge and consulting work today. The girl in the idiot job who really just wanted to be a normal girl has received many reactions from readers in Japan who no longer know what is normal and what is madness. The many suicides in Japan, for example in the suicide forest in Aokigaha at the foot of Mount Fuji-san, are, according to most sources, a result of the Japanese competition and discipline machinery in both the world of education and working life. The many readers outside of Japan are perhaps a reminder that we are here approaching Japanese conditions?

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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