Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto

Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda

Yoshie lives on her own in the Shimokitazawa neighbourhood. She works at a local bistro called Les Liens. She moved there a year after the death of her father. He died in a “love murder suicide in a forest in Ibaraki with a woman who’d apparently been a distant relative”.

Her mother soon moves in with her, saying that she can’t live in their family home. Yoshie is at first hesitant, wanting her independence and own space. But as she watches her mother, looking like a young girl, staring out the window at the street below, a thought comes to her mind: 

“What must it be like for your life to suddenly be a blank page, at her age? I wondered. No young children who needed her energy, no need to scramble to make ends meet. Only the dark, heavy shadow of regret that clung constantly to us both.”

The neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa is actually more important than I expected. The Japanese title of the book is “Moshi Moshi Shimokitazawa”. And the story opens with Yoshie talking about a movie called “Zawa Zawa Shimokitazawa” which moved her to tears the first time she watched it. She felt that it managed to put into words something she had been on the verge of grasping. 

“I longed to have the same kind of effect, in my own way – to cast such a wonderful spell over people.”

I was struck by how there’s a lightness in this book, despite it being one dealing with grief and death. A very unusual death at that. But Yoshimoto has this way of talking about small everyday details, like the neighbourhood and Yoshie’s work at the bistro. Life goes on even after the death of a loved one. 

“Our bodies forgot, left things behind, without our hearts meaning to.”