Book Review

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

a bleak, beautiful, japanese novel[la]

I’ve read a lot of novels by Ryu Murakami and a recurring setting in his work is the homeless camps of major Tokyo public parks.

Naively, I’d always presumed these encampments were fictional.

In my ignorant, provincial, absence of knowledge I couldn’t conceive of the idea of so many people in such a situation. But these things happen.

They have happened for a long time and probably they were always happening in the parks of the cities I’ve lived in, and it was only COVID that increased the unhoused population so much that these tent cities became unignorable.

This novel, written in 2014 by Yu Miri and translated by Morgan Giles in 2019, is also set in a Tokyo homeless encampment, this time the one adjacent to Tokyo Ueno Station.

This novel is about haunting, and uses as its central metaphor a literal haunting.

A homeless man is dying alone, surrounded by other people who are also dying alone and anonymous;

They live in shacks and tents made from discarded objects;

he is not only haunting the city when alive through his reminder of the human cost of capitalism (i.e. its inherent and vile inequality), he is haunting it when he is dead because now he is a ghost;

he drifts through the city and the countryside, exploring the places he misses, which were the places he missed while he was alive; he visits, too, the people who he ran away from so he could spend his dotage alone in a camp in the city, rather than feeling like a “burden” to his extant descendants.

It’s very very sad, though very beautiful.


It reminded me of A Ghost Story, an earlier film by The Green Knight director David Lowery; there the haunting is similar, mellow yet melancholic, hurting due to its impassivity but it is an impassivity that has been passed on from the previously lived life.


The lead character of Tokyo Ueno Station died in 2006, aged 73, after five years living homeless in Tokyo.

He reminisces about his life as a labourer, working very long hours in construction and sending all of his earnings back to his wife and kids living in Fukushima prefecture.

He would sleep in dormitories and work weekends, rarely seeing his family; he was surprised and devastated by his son’s young death, and he doesn’t return to live with his family until he retires, then, when his wife dies unexpectedly, too, he chooses to return to the city and homelessness rather than live with his daughter or granddaughter.

I think I mentioned that above.


The novel is wavelike, almost, weaving throughout memories of life and post-life from the park and its adjacent station, almost Proustian.

It is episodic, sliding from present to past, from old age to youth, stuck in this regret-filled, lonely, life;

lamenting the failures to find joy and pleasure in life;

the failure to feel secure enough in familial love to choose dying under a scavenged tarpaulin instead of under a relative’s roof…

It’s very good, very sad, very short.

I don’t have much else to say on this. Very busy atm. Too busy. Running out of time. is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

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