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Posts tagged haruki murakami

Thirsty Dragon

thirsty dragon buddhist temple water purification koenji tokyo suginami ku

I have been reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 for the past week. The setting for some of the book is Koenji, just west of central Tokyo in Suginami-Ku. I lived in Suginami-Ku in 1989, almost the same time period as Murakami’s book. Today’s photo is from 2010 though (when 1Q84 was first published in Japanese). I took this pic at Myohoji (妙法寺), which is a bit south of Koenji but still walking distance.

Japanese cat

cat japan

If one had to sum up Japan in three words, all three could come from this photo: beauty (the roof tiles), cement, and pets.

By request, this could be a scene out of Kafka on the Shore as well.

Tokyo tram

“Three old women were the only passengers on the Sunday morning tram [from the end of the line at Waseda]. They all looked at me and my flowers. One of them gave me a smile. I smiled back. I sat in the last seat and watched the ancient houses passing close to the window. The tram almost touched the overhanging eaves. The laundry deck of one house had ten potted tomato plants, next to which a big black cat lay stretched out in the sun. In the garden of another house, a little girl was blowing soap bubbles. I heard an Ayumi Ishida song coming from somewhere, and could even catch the smell of curry cooking. The tram snaked its way through this private back-alley world. A few more passengers got on at stops along the way, but the three old women went on talking intently about something, huddled together face-to-face.

I got off near Otsuka Station… None of the shops along the way seemed to be doing very well, housed as they were in old buildings with gloomy-looking interiors and faded writing on some of the signs. Judging from the age and style of the buildings, this area had been spared the wartime air raids, leaving whole blocks intact. A few of the places had been entirely rebuilt, but just about all had been enlarged or repaired in places, and it was these additions that tended to look shabbier than the old buildings themselves.” Norwegian Wood p. 84

Waseda University cafeteria view

“I went to the [Waseda University] cafeteria afterwards and ate a cold, tasteless lunch alone. Then I sat in the sun and observed the campus scene.” Norwegian Wood p. 103

Norwegian Wood

I loved this book. I could picture each scene so clearly; it was more like a movie than a book. I frequently read Norwegian Wood while on the train in Tokyo and happened to be at the exact location Murakami was describing on more than one occasion. I read the part in which the narrator (Watanabe) visit’s Midori’s father in the hospital on my way back from Ochanomizu. I walked past the same hospital he describes from the late 1960s just 10 minutes before. On another day I read about him meeting Midori at Iidabashi at the same moment the train I was on stopped at Iidabashi.

Norwegian Wood has some similarities to Murakami’s other works, but the super strange and supernatural elements are missing. I rather like the super strange in his works, but I also like the omission of the supernatural.

The college scenes at Waseda University always brought a smile to my face as well. Things haven’t changed much, except the students don’t shut down the campus for five months like they did in 1969. Actually, much of this book is timeless. Murakami wrote it in the 1980s, although the setting is the late 1960s. He wouldn’t have to change much to make it fit in fine in 2010 though. Tokyo has changed much in the past forty years, but at the same time, on another level, it hasn’t changed at all.

Here are some quotes I copied while reading. I’ll have a few more in entries over the next month or so.

“Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene I hardly paid it any attention. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that 18 years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself… Scenery was the last thing on my mind.” pp. 2-3

“I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.” p. 4

“I can’t leave anything out. I’ve been doing the same thing every day for ten years, and once I start I do the whole routine unconsciously. If I left something out, I wouldn’t be able to do any of it.” p. 20

“‘What possible use is stuff like that for everyday life?’

‘None at all,’ I said. ‘It may not serve any concrete purpose, but it does give you some kind of training to help you grasp things in general more systematically.'” p. 232


I checked out ふしぎな図書館 (The Strange Library) from my local library without even opening it. Murakami’s name on the spine was good enough for me. I brought it with me on my first attempt to go to China, and ended up reading the whole thing on the train on the way to and from the airport.

The book hasn’t been translated into English so I don’t feel bad divulging portions of the plot since few of you will likely be reading it. A boy goes into a library, is sent down to the basement to ask an old librarian for help, is tricked by the librarian, and ends up spending a great deal of time locked up in a cell of sorts deep beneath the library.

Some of Murakami’s common themes show up here, even though this book is somewhat different than normal for him. Like his other works, the symbolism makes the reader think. Beyond those aspects, I found Fushigi Na Toshokan rather entertaining just because the setting is so much like the library at Waseda University. Perhaps that is where Murakami got the idea (as he was a student at Waseda many years ago).

At the Waseda University library you enter on the second floor. When you go down a floor you are forced to remove all of your belongings and put them in a locker (which wouldn’t be so strange were it not for the fact that you don’t have to do that on other floors where there are plenty of books one could possibly steal as well). You then show your ID to obtain a pass to go into the basement. The basement includes a huge collection of books. Below the basement is yet another basement with another huge collection of books. This basement below the basement is where I normally go as some of the books are in English. The ordering is rather bizarre for the non-Japanese books. They aren’t grouped by language, so on a single shelf you will find a book in English next to a book written in Russian next to a book written in Spanish, etc. Nor do they use anything like the Dewey Decimal System, although they are numbered. For instance, I found Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World on a shelf and proceeded to explore the books around it, hoping there would be other guidebooks or books about Japan. Instead, there were marketing textbooks and other books with the word “market” in the title.

Anyway, under the second basement of the Waseda University library is yet another basement. This third basement is roped off. I suppose this third, unreachable basement could have been fodder for Murakami’s imagination, resulting in this book.

One other strange thing about the Waseda University library is that many books must be “ordered” online while you are in the library. The ordered books mysteriously appear at the first floor desk 10 minutes later. I always want to look on the shelves around the ordered book I know I want to see what else may be of interest. This is especially true of works in English since there are so few English titles available at other libraries. I’d like to browse the shelves where these books came from, but that isn’t allowed. This is similar to what happens in ふしぎな図書館 as the boy can’t look for his own books. Instead, the librarian retrieves them for him.

I like how Murakami shows how quickly us humans can turn the craziest of situations into “normal” in a short period of time. It doesn’t take long for the boy in the story to get settled in to a life of bondage on the one hand and having a cook who is half boy and half sheep on the other. The initial shock wears off quickly, and it doesn’t seem so strange that someone can be part boy and part sheep. I ponder this, by the way, as I sit in a Japanese restaurant next to Waseda University on a cushion on a tatami floor, slurping soba, while Frank Sinatra plays in the background. Someone who has never been to Japan before would find this scene extremely odd, perhaps even Twilight Zoneish. I now find it “normal.”

ふしぎな図書館 by 村上春樹 is actually a picture book (絵本) of sorts as every few pages is a picture. I’m not sure who ふしぎな図書館 is aimed at, as it is pretty creepy to be a little kids’ book, but there are furigana next to many kanji, even some that aren’t that difficult. Murakami is fairly easy to read in Japanese to begin with. This book, with the pictures and furigana, is an excellent choice if you are looking to improve your Japanese and can read a few hundred kanji.

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