Next to Apartment 3 Is 5

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Next to Apartment 3 Is 5
Author: Yu Nagashima
Specifications: ISBN  978-4120048555
220 pages
13.9 x 19.7 cm / 5.5 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Chuo Koron Shinsha Inc.
Tokyo, 2016
Awards: Tanizaki Jun'ichiro Prize, 2016
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The place is the Daiichi Fujioka apartment house, located in an unremarkable residential neighborhood on the western outskirts of Yokohama. More specifically, it is Apartment 5, the middle unit on the second floor. The story follows the 13 different tenants who live there in turn over the five decades between when the building was constructed in 1966, two years after the historic Tokyo Olympics, and 2016. In effect, Apartment 5 itself becomes the main character of the story as author Yū Nagashima trains his acute eye on the parade of occupants who pass through it, recounting their stories without regard to chronological order. The title refers to the fact that the units on the second floor are numbered Apartments 3, 5, and 6, skipping over Apartment 4 because “four” is homophonous with the word for “death” in Japanese.

With 4½-mat and 6-mat tatami rooms, kitchen, toilet, and bath in an unconventional arrangement, and fitted throughout with elegant shoji screens as well as the latest fire-alarm system, the place is considered a modern apartment suitable for a family when the building first goes up. But as the years go by, the kitchen and bathroom furnishings grow outdated, and renters begin to expect built-in heating and cooling. As the Japanese economy prospers, ferro-concrete structures become the norm and the Daiichi Fujioka comes to be perceived as old and run-down.

First to occupy No. 5 is the owner’s college-aged son, Ippei Fujioka, who lives there from 1966 to 1970 while commuting to a university in central Tokyo. After him come a newlywed couple, Toshio and Fumiko Nihei, who are soon blessed with a son, Kanta, and stay until 1982. The given name “Ippei" contains the kanji for “one,” the surname “Nihei” contains the kanji for “two,” and in the same way, the names of the subsequent characters contain numeric kanji that denote their place in the sequence of residents. The last occupant of the apartment we meet is Jūzō (written with the kanji for “13”) Moroki, a limo driver who lives there from 2012 to 2016.

The occupants include singles, couples, families, and foreign nationals, and much of the interest of the novel resides in the different ways they alter and make use of the apartment to fit their particular needs, adding improvements from time to time. The five-decade history of the place is filled with richly textured stories that reflect a changing Japan.

In the final chapter, limo driver Moroki, who lives alone, is approaching retirement. A letter arrives from one of the earlier residents of No. 5, addressed to the current occupant. Having inherited the apartment house from his parents, Ippei is now the owner, and he and other residents wax nostalgic about times gone by. But Moroki himself can’t help dwelling on the thought that the previous residents’ sojourns there could not have been all roses. He ultimately meets a lonely death in the apartment, without anyone to watch over his passing.

The work of a seasoned author in top form, the collection comes together like a glorious bouquet, each of the residents’ individual stories radiating its own unique glow.