“This is Amiko, Do You Copy?” by Natsuko Imamura

This is Amiko, Do You Copy?, Natsuko Imamura, Hitomi Yoshio (tr) (Pushkin, October 2023) This is Amiko, Do You Copy?, Natsuko Imamura, Hitomi Yoshio (tr) (Pushkin, October 2023)

The toy walkie-talkie set Amiko receives on her tenth birthday, one that she bounces with excitement to use with her yet-to-be-born brother or sister, is never successfully played with; there always fails to be a coherent response from the other end. Through flashbacks and snappy dialogue, Natsuko Imamura’s novella This is Amiko, Do You Copy? conveys the significance of communication in the building and breaking down of relationships. Adapted into a Japanese film in 2022 and now translated by Hitomi Yoshio, Imamura’s short yet engaging narrative, covering just over 120 pages, follows its protagonist Amiko from age ten through fifteen.

A third-person narrator introduces Amiko’s family in the first chapter: “a father, a mother, and an older brother.” Being a nuclear family, one would assume the Tanaka household lives an ordinary life. Yet, Imamura communicates from the get-go that something will disrupt the idyllic world that surrounds Amiko by stating that her brother Kota “became a juvenile delinquent.”

Also in the first chapter, Amiko’s mother tells her to learn to “behave”, to not walk around barefoot at school, sing in the middle of class and eat curry rice with her hands. She is an outcast at home and especially at school, where kids see her as somewhat of a spectacle as they exclaim “Whoa, it’s the sister,” or “You’re the one who eats lunch with your hands!” when they see her. For this reason, Amiko can’t wait to meet her soon-to-be-born younger sibling to have at least one person she could play with. However, the baby never arrives. This loss causes the Tanaka family to crumble; Amiko’s mother becomes distant, her brother starts smoking at age twelve and her father is rarely at home whilst Amiko is awake, leaving Amiko to navigate her life on her own.

This fast-paced and elegantly-structured story can be read in one sitting, but is sure to linger in the mind for much longer.

Originally titled Atarashii musume, which translates to “new daughter”, and later changed to Kochira Amiko, translating to “This is Amiko”, the addition of the phrase “do you copy?” in Yoshio’s translation is clever. As the title suggests, Amiko’s abortive attempts to communicate with others are central to the narrative. When Amiko tries to talk to her classmate and romantic interest Nori, she rapidly states what she got for her birthday:


“Guess what? It was a gray one!”
“Wanna see it?”
“It stretches at the top.”
“Oh, and a camera too.”
“I took a picture of Mom.”
“The flash and everything.”
“Let’s play with the walkie-talkies, okay?”


Nori doesn’t say a word in response. It’s almost as if Amiko is talking into a walkie-talkie, awaiting an answer from the receiver. Even when she tries to tell her mother about the “weird noises” she starts hearing—strange “Cluck, cluck, grrr, ssh ssh ssh ssh ssh, brrr brrr” sounds coming from outside her window—she’s ignored. Although the noises should cause some concern, Amiko’s father also brushes it off with quick, indifferent responses when she approaches him for help instead:


“There’s all these weird noises coming from the balcony outside my room.”
“Oh, yeah”
“It could be a spirit. I saw something on TV about that the other day.”
“Oh, yeah? That sounds scary.”
“Yeah, they showed a guy who was possessed.”
“Scary. Very scary.”


Amiko’s older brother is perhaps the only person who talks to her, up until he joins a local motorcycle gang and starts stealing money from their parents. After Kota “transformed from a normal boy into a delinquent,” the narrator only refers to him as Tanaka-senpai. “Senpai” is a Japanese term used to refer to one’s superior and is a common way to communicate respect, or at times fear, towards that individual. Names are significant in Imamura’s story, also evident in how the narrator refers to Amiko’s parents as “Mother” and “Father” but never by their first names. Uttering someone’s name conjures a reaction; students often shout “It’s Amiko!” or whisper “Shhh, it’s Tanaka-senpai’s…” when Amiko is around, as if to announce that she should be avoided. Many constantly blurt Amiko’s name but rarely speak to her directly, making the title of the book all the more incisive—saying “this is Amiko” results in the absence of a person on the other side to declare that they “copy”.


The fast-paced and elegantly-structured story that details the trajectory of Am-ko moving out at the age of fifteen can be read in one sitting, but is sure to linger in the mind for much longer.

The novella This is Amiko, Do You Copy? is a notable entry in Imamura’s oeuvre, not only because it was the first story she ever wrote, but also because it showcases her exemplary literary skills; driving the narrative and constructing its characters through their verbal exchanges (or lack thereof) with one another. Many things are left unsaid; it is never explicitly stated that Amiko is in fact neurodivergent, but hinted at through her struggles with social interactions, and the cause of the “grrr grrr, psssss” that she hears is never plainly explained, but suggested to be from a bird’s nest on her balcony. Imamura’s lack of definite clarity results in a fascinating narrative, one where questions outweigh the answers.

Moe Yonezawa is an editorial assistant at Extra Extra Magazine and holds an MA in English and Comparative Literature from Utrecht University.