Autism in ‘Convenience Store Woman’

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to talk about another autistic female character in the book ‘Convenience Store Woman‘ by Japanese author Sayaka Murata.

So what’s the book about?

The book tells the story of convenience store (or konbini) worker Keiko Furukura, a 36 year old woman who has worked part time in her local store for the last 18 years. She is content with her life in the store, happily set in routine as a functional cog in the “machine of society”. But as content as Keiko may be, the world is not content with her life. Keiko is considered somewhat of an anomaly in Japanese society, as convenience store jobs are considered stop gaps for students, job seekers, housewives etc. As she approaches her late thirties, her family and friends become increasingly invasive in their questioning of her lifestyle- why has she never moved on from the store? Why hasn’t she married? Why won’t she try to be like everyone else? Everyone wants to “fix” Keiko so that she will become a “normal”, functioning member of society. Things become so bad that Keiko goes so far as to adopt an obnoxious former employee at the store as a room mate/ “pet” to get the world off of her back and to let them assume that she is in a relationship and finally acting “normal”.

Author Sayaka Murata

So is Keiko autistic?

While autism is never mentioned in the book, many autistic women have felt a real connection with Keiko and her struggles. Keiko is socially awkward, and a constant worry to her family. She regularly says and does the wrong thing- like hitting a boy over the head with a shovel in school to break up a fight, or asking to eat a dead budgie in the park, struggling completely to understand why these things were unacceptable.

The book I felt contains one of the best descriptions of autistic masking that I have come across. When Keiko first joined the convenience store, it was like she finally felt like a real person, as the detailed employee trainee videos trained her on how to act in the store, how to speak, to smile, phrases to use- she remarked that it was the first time that anyone had ever shown her what normal speech and facial expressions looked like. She took to the organized monotony of store life like a duck to water, finally feeling like she had a purpose. Based on her experiences in the store, Keiko learned to mask the behaviours of others around her, studying them, taking on their facial expressions, turns of phrases, speech patterns, even looking up their clothes and buying them online so that she could pass for what she felt the world considered “normal.” Reading this I saw myself reflected in her actions- how often I mimic my friends speech patterns and phrases, discerned standard responses to common questions, to picking up their bad behaviours (I deliberately developed a bad habit of chewing pens when I started secondary school as I had gotten it into my head from watching those around me that I needed to exhibit a habit like this to fit in and be “normal”!)

The book is a nice short read (160 pages in the English translation) and whether intentional or not, paints a quirky portrait of an autistic woman at odds with the world, which so many of us can relate to, and I highly recommend it’s portrayal of masking 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

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