Tsukiko, thirty-eight, works in an office and lives alone. One night, she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, “Sensei” in a local bar. Tsukiko had only ever called him “Sensei” (“Teacher”). He is thirty years her senior, retired, and presumably a widower. Their relationship–traced by Kawakami’s gentle hints at the changing seasons–develops from a perfunctory acknowledgment of each other as they eat and drink alone at the bar, to an enjoyable sense of companionship, and finally into a deeply sentimental love affair.
As Tsukiko and Sensei grow to know and love one another, the passing of time is measured through the seasons and the food and beverages they consume together. From warm sake to chilled beer, from the buds on the trees to the blooming of the cherry blossoms, the reader is enveloped by a keen sense of pathos and both characters’ loneliness.
This is a lovely and enjoyable read. The prose resembles the falling of a cherry blossom petal, so subtly delicate and quietly romantic. It is not a plot-driven story but more of a chronicle of two lonely souls quietly coming together. The passage of time is lovingly depicted in beautiful details as are the food and alcohol they shared. The book is presently republished as Strange Weather in Tokyo, the powers that be probably realised The Briefcase wouldn’t sell as many books.