Last Sunday was spent lazily in bed with my dog Basil, contemplating this very apt book by Kikuko Tsumura. A book that was kindly sent by Bloomsbury Publishing. After suffering burnout at her last copyediting job, a woman returns after some time out to work a series of “easy” jobs. On the surface these jobs are exactly what she’s asked for – futile. Requiring little effort. However, she finds that no job is without its little joys and disappointments. I think in a society that is so consumed (myself included) with productivity, this book is the perfect balm for that work stress one feels at both the end and beginning of the day.
I love Japanese literature, so, I was super excited to read this book. Exploring the rise of “burnouts” and overworking in the workplace, this Japanese translation feels very relevant to today’s work ethics. More than anything this book exemplifies how when someone is expected to work day in day out – until they’re old with age – it’s almost impossible not to look for meaning and purpose in the menial tasks that fill our days. Principally no matter what many of us do, we crave human connection and wish to help our peers. I LOVED that this book has its protagonist doing jobs I didn’t even know existed. She spends some time working at a rice crisp company and her role it to write the trivia on the back of the crisp packets. This book reassured me that though we are all cogs in a machine, each role has its purpose and is essential to overall performance. There are always ways to make a difference. The office politics she finds herself in during each job made me laugh. Tsumura comically narrates that while you could have the easiest job, you can’t always escape its colleagues. As such, the ending was quite nice and exemplified that sometimes even the most mundane job can set us on our destined path.
The pace is purposefully slow in this book, which made me a bit restless towards the end. There’s no core narrative as such, it is episodic by nature as each chapter dedicated to the job she is doing at the time. This is almost to mirror the futile nature of her jobs. I think, knowing how demanding Japanese work culture is and the toll it has taken on them generally, I’d have liked to have had this discussed in a lot more depth. We only see the after burnout narrative, not what actually lead her to that point. A 2016 government survey found that over 25% of all Japanese companies demand 80 hours of overtime each month. The work expectations in many companies is no secret; there is a reason that the vending machines on every corner stock so much chilled coffee. However, I respect that – as a translation – it’s primary audience will have likely had this shared understanding prior to coming to this title.