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Strangers summary

Taichi Yamada

Uncover a Haunting World Amid Tokyo’s Mysterious Shadows

4.6 (38 ratings)
17 mins
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    Urban loneliness in central Tokyo

    Hideo Harata isn’t doing well. He’s nearing 50, and feeling aimless, if not exactly heartbroken, after his loveless marriage ended in divorce. The divorce also happens to have left his bank account empty and his house in the possession of his ex-wife. So he decides to live full-time at his office, a studio in an apartment-style block of studios that are all, as far as he can tell, used as workspaces. His is certainly the only light on late at night.

    And then one night, he notices another light, flickering in an apartment on the third floor. He eventually sees a woman in her mid-30s getting into the building elevator, and he realizes he isn’t exactly alone.

    One day there’s a buzz on his intercom. It’s an unscheduled visit from a producer Hideo has worked with often – Hideo himself is a television scriptwriter – called Mamiya. Hideo assumes this is a business call, but Mamiya asks a personal question – why doesn’t Hideo see his son more? Hideo has grown estranged from his college-aged son, Shigeki, after the divorce. Hideo brushes the question aside, but the conversation turns more personal still. Mamiya is dating Hideo’s ex, Ayako.

    Mamiya’s visit leaves Hideo in a foul mood. But it won’t be the only unannounced visit that day. At 10:24 p.m. that night, Hideo’s intercom buzzes again. He hears a woman’s voice on the line – it’s the woman from the third floor. She introduces herself as Kei. Kei has brought a half-drunk bottle of champagne and is already tipsy. She seems desperately lonely. She proposes a toast to the fact that they’re the only people who actually live in the building. Hideo isn’t sure what she wants. Company? Sex? A shoulder to cry on? He doesn’t really care to find out and rebuffs her.

    He sees her a few days later in the lobby. Feeling conciliatory, he apologizes for his brusque behavior and suggests they get together another time. Kei and Hideo continue bumping into each other, each time murmuring that they must get together soon, but as the invitation is never followed up, Hideo assumes it’s an empty pleasantry.

    Alone on his birthday, he buys an expensive silk tie from a department store, impulsively telling the sales assistant it’s a gift for someone else, then immediately regretting his lie. On his way home, he sees a train bound for Asakusa, his birthplace. He decides to board. We learn that his father was a sushi chef, and that, while his mother was pregnant with his younger sibling, his father, mother, and the unborn baby were all killed in a car accident.

    In Asakusa, Hideo wanders the streets, instinctively avoiding his childhood home. Instead, he takes in a show at the Variety Hall. In the crowd, he spots a man who looks uncannily like his father. The man is younger than he is now, by about ten years, but a connection sparks between them and the man invites Hideo back to his place. They stop to buy beer and the man mentions his wife waiting at home. Hideo instantly wants to turn back – he’s been enjoying the man’s resemblance to his memory of his father and he knows that seeing this man with a woman totally unlike his mother will shatter the pleasant illusion. But it would be rude to turn back now. The man leads him to a modest apartment – a kitchenette and an eight-tatami-mat room. The woman waiting inside is a mirror image of Hideo’s mother at age 35, the age she was when she died.


    Reflecting Hideo’s bleak outlook, the story’s initial scenes paint a bleak picture of urban life in central Tokyo. In this hyper-urban setting, residents can spend their days working, eating, and sleeping without ever coming into meaningful contact with anyone else. The interactions Hideo does have with others are framed either as unwelcome interruptions or empty small talk. This all changes when he meets the couple who resemble his parents – finally, the reader sees Hideo having warm, comfortable, and meaningful interactions with others.

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    What is Strangers about?

    Strangers (1987) is the story of a lonely Japanese script writer who returns to his childhood home and, by chance, meets a couple who are uncannily like his parents, who died in a car crash when he was 12. As he becomes increasingly involved with them, the narrative explores the boundaries between the living and the dead, past and present, and the deep longing for familial bonds.

    Strangers Review

    Strangers (2003) by Taichi Yamada dives into the mysterious underworld of spirits and the supernatural, making it a captivating read. Here's why this book is worth your time:

    • With its intriguing blend of ghostly encounters and contemporary urban life, the story offers a unique and refreshing perspective.
    • The exploration of loneliness and human connection adds depth to the narrative, making it relatable and thought-provoking.
    • Yamada's subtle storytelling keeps readers hooked, as they unravel the layers of the supernatural woven into the characters' lives.

    Who should read Strangers?

    • Lovers of literature in translation 
    • Japanophiles eager to learn more about one of the country’s most beloved novels
    • Movie buffs interested in the book that inspired 2023’s All of Us Strangers

    About the Author

    Taichi Yamada was a Japanese script writer who wrote several successful television series before turning his hand to novels. He published three novels including Strangers which won Japan’s Yamamoto Shugoro Prize.

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    Strangers FAQs 

    What is the main message of Strangers?

    In Strangers, the main message is that encounters with strangers can have a profound impact on our lives.

    How long does it take to read Strangers?

    The estimated reading time for Strangers would be several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Strangers a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Strangers is worth reading because it offers a unique perspective on the transformative power of unexpected connections.

    Who is the author of Strangers?

    The author of Strangers is Taichi Yamada.

    What to read after Strangers?

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