Just So Happens

A Japanese expat returns home to bury her father in this water-coloured journey of mourning and self-discovery


The death of a parent is a difficult time for anyone, but when you’ve moved your life to another country, going back home for the funeral can complicate things further. It’s a time to reflect upon your own life, the life your parents have made and nurtured you through, and to think about the decisions you’ve made and the ones you’ve still to make.

Yumiko is a Japanese woman who has chosen to make London her home. When she gets the call from her brother that her father has had a fatal accident while walking in the mountains, she has to put this new life on hold to fly back to Japan and say her final farewell.

just-so-03Starting with a numbness, then an outpouring of grief, Yumiko doesn’t really seem to know what to do or how to behave. The modern London woman is lost to the traditions and pageantry of Japanese culture, and she sees ghosts from her cultural past haunting her dreams. Her emotional stability is tied to her new life and barely seems able to cope with the old.

This leaves the story feeling a bit flat. Our lead character spends most of the book failing to emote, except during brief peeks into her memories of life in London. By consciously untangling the emotional strings that tied her to one place and rooting herself to another, the time she spends in Japan is full of thought and self-analysis, but is neither exciting nor engaging.

Perhaps an expat living in another country might feel a tug of empathy for Yumiko, and she is a likeable character. But as someone who’s lived in the same country all their life, I’m left with a feeling of “so what?”

The book is beautifully painted, with its watercolours evoking Japanese culture and capturing its striking natural and architectural landscape. But the art is let down by the story, which is too tightly focused on a particular set of circumstances, and features a main protagonist who is a little too closed to offer enough of an insight into her world.

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