The volume contains two novellas portraying millennials making lives for themselves in contemporary Tokyo.
In the title story Mi, a young Vietnamese woman on government-supported overseas study in Japan, and a Japanese woman named Miwa operate a room sharing/vacation rental business together in a 14-story central-Tokyo apartment building, where they’ve rented five units on the top floor plus four on the 13th floor and “share” the seven units they don’t need for themselves on a short-term basis with travelers. Their occupancy rate of over 70 percent has made it a profitable venture for them, but although they make the beds and clean the rooms and are in effect a hospitality business, they are not registered as providers of hotel accommodations, so they are operating in a gray zone of the law.
Miwa was originally a software engineer who specialized in programming network servers. A moonlighting job she took on to help a friend of a friend with his new startup venture turned into a bigger deal than she expected when the company started to grow by leaps and bounds. A couple of years later she ended up marrying the founder, only to separate not long afterward and part company with the venture. That was roughly one year ago. As compensation, she received control of a server-management contract the company had in Vietnam, and she also sold a small amount of the privately held company stock her husband had given her earlier to generate capital for her room-sharing business. Mi is an aspiring IT engineer from a technical university in Hanoi who was working as an intern at Miwa’s husband’s firm before Miwa lured her away for her own venture. Miwa’s husband, long since relegated to “my ex” status in her mind in spite of their divorce not yet being final, is negotiating for an infusion of capital from an interested investor as a stepping stone to an IPO and wants to offer him Miwa’s shares, but she is balking at his terms for selling them back to the company.
The characterization of Mi, youthful and free-spirited but also highly intelligent and the possessor of a precise, logical mind, is particularly appealing. Although she has her sights set on landing a proper full-time position with an established Japanese firm, when she goes for job interviews she refuses to mince words about her current gray-market business, freely admitting to its questionable legality and declaring that you can’t do anything new if you’re always being a slave to rules. She believes in challenging the status quo to the hilt and is not about to sit around waiting for paths to open up of their own accord. Mi’s insatiable drive keeps Miwa constantly on her toes.
The accompanying Sabaibu (Survive) is the author’s debut work, for which he received the Bungakukai Prize for New Writers. Here the “sharing” premise involves three young men who are housemates. In an unusual but refreshing twist, two men with career-track jobs at a foreign bank and a foreign consulting firm hire a childhood friend with excellent household management skills to be their live-in “man-maid.”