Last Reviewed on January 29, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 906
Keiko doesn’t know how to behave in situations that weren’t covered by the Smile Mart employee training manual. It was the manual that taught her how to lift the sides of her cheeks to form a smile, how to attune herself to the people around her, and how to meet their needs appropriately.
She arrives at work an hour early every day, buys mineral water and a food item close to its expiration date, and prepares herself to help if she is needed. For lunch she eats a hot food item, and for dinner she often buys something to take home. “When I think that my body is entirely made up of food from this store,” Keiko thinks, “I feel like I’m as much a part of the store as the magazine racks or the coffee machine.”
Keiko is also made up of the people around her. Her speech is a mixture of Mrs. Izumi, her supervisor, and Sugawara, a cheerful twenty-four-year-old coworker. Mrs. Izumi, close in age at thirty-seven, is who Keiko mimics most in appearance. A “rather flashy” dresser outside of work, Mrs. Izumi is Keiko’s idea of how a normal woman in her mid-thirties is meant to look. Keiko rifles through Mrs. Izumi’s makeup bag, and examines the labels of her clothing and shoes, when no one is watching. Careful not to copy any one person too directly, she adds components gleaned from former coworkers and blog personalities. She relies on her catalog of stolen phrases, tones, and gestures in social situations.
Shiraha is a disgruntled part-time employee who is neither willing to work nor able to accept help without characterizing himself as the victim of an unjust world. Shiraha cannot stand to be told what to do by a “lowly convenience store manager.” Keiko notices the prejudice in his eyes and the roots of his blackened teeth as he complains about the housewives, losers, and foreigners who work pathetic convenience store jobs. He is kept distinct from society no less by his belligerence than by his appearance, which embodies it.
Shiraha represents the antithesis of his argument that men give women meaning. He is homeless before moving in with Keiko but maintains that it is he who is doing her a favor. He says that her womb is too old to be useful, and she is not pretty enough to be desirable, so this is the best arrangement she could hope for. In exchange for making a respectable woman out of her, he wants Keiko to hide him. He doesn’t want to work, have children, or be held to any obligations by a dysfunctional society.
Mrs. Izumi is a thirty-seven-year-old supervisor at Smile Mart. She is efficient always and stern when necessary, qualities Keiko admires in a convenience store worker. Mrs. Izumi is described as a housewife, a term based more on class than employment status. A married woman would not do the work Mrs. Izumi does if her husband were able to provide for her. A housewife’s income is therefore meant to supplement the household budget, not signify a career in its own right. Despite working part-time, Mrs. Izumi retains the respectability of a married woman.
Keiko’s younger sister, Mami, is a new mother to a frail son, Yutaro. Keiko shares a good relationship with her sister, who was endeared to her as a child by her ability to divert their mother from scolding Mami for silly transgressions. The appearance of...
(The entire section contains 906 words.)
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