Hiromi Kawakami

The Briefcase, 2012 Shortlist

Translated by Allison Markin Powell

Photo Credit: Tomohiro Muta

Born in Tokyo, Hiromi Kawakami graduated from Ochanomizu Women’s College in 1980. Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled God (Kamisama) was published in 1994. In 1996, she was awarded the Akutagawa Prize for Tread On A Snake (Hebi wo fumu). In 2000 she won the Itō Sei Literature Prize and the Woman Writer’s Prize for Oboreru. In 2001, she went on to win the Tanizaki Prize for The Teacher’s Briefcase (Sensei no kaban). In 2007 she was honored by the Ministry of Education for her novel Manazuru. She is also known as a literary critic and a provocative essayist.

The Briefcase is a love story between a woman in her thirties and a man in his seventies. 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, time’s passing comes across 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’ keen loneliness.


Counterpoint Press

Buy The Briefcase online