“There was no tranquility that did not contain cries of grief, no forgiveness without spilled blood, no acceptance that did not pass through acute loss. This was what truly lay at the root of harmony.”


cover art colorless tsukuru

From Matthew Carl Strecher’s The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami:

“One of the more diverting aspects of Murakami criticism has been the flurry of speculation about direct literary ‘influences’ and ‘antecedents’ that seem to attend each new work…

Tazaki Tsukuru has been no exception to this kind of interest, not for its title but because of the prominent color imagery that seems to demand a bit more than the usual attention. Works of fiction offered by Japanese critics as having possible connection with Tazaki Tsukuru include ‘The Pursuit of Mr. Blue’ in G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, Paul Auster’s Ghosts, and certain works on color by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Rudolf Steiner. These last two, suggested by Numano Mitsuyoshi, are not far off the mark, as we shall see. And while I customarily avoid these games, not wishing to become embroiled in yet another wild sheep chase, I would be ready to wager a small sum on the relevance, if not the definitive influence, of Aldous Huxley’s nonfiction work The Doors of Perception, for reasons that will be made clear below.

On the evening prior to Tazaki’s second dream, the topic of his discussion with Haida turns to the nature of death, a subject to which Tazaki has given quite a bit of thought, and this occasions Haida to share a peculiar story he claims to have heard from his father, but which he tells so expertly that Tazaki suspects it may actually be his own. During the 1960s, as the story goes, while still a university student, Haida’s father grows tired of the constant strife among the various radical student factions and leaves school to go on a one-year walking tour of Japan (resembling Rat’s journey in Pinball, 1973, and A Wild Sheep Chase), eventually landing at a secluded hot spring resort in the mountains of Oita Prefecture. There he meets a jazz pianist named Midorikawa (green river), a middle-aged man who has determinedly avoided unnecessary human contact while staying at the inn. He takes a liking to Haida’s father, however, particularly after the latter guides him to a nearby public school to use the piano in their music room. While performing a spellbinding rendition of Theolonius Monk’s ‘Round Midnight,’ Midorikawa keeps a small pouch on the piano. Asked what it is, he responds first that it is ‘a kind of talisman,’ then clarifies that ‘you might call it my other self.’

But Midorikawa has far more interesting secrets to tell. He confides that he is a carrier of something known as the ‘death token,’ and while we are never told clearly what this means, to be chosen as its carrier, one must first accept the responsibility of facing death willingly. In exchange for this, one is granted special powers of perception not given to ordinary people. In Midorikawa’s case, it is the ability to see the ‘lights and colors’ that surround all people like an aura. What this glow represents is open to interpretation, but I am inclined to agree with Numano’s contention, leaning on Goethe and Steiner, that these represent the actual ‘souls’ of the individuals he sees. For Midorikawa this ‘gift’ is very much a mixed blessing, however; it was because he was sick of seeing into men’s souls that he came to this isolated mountain retreat, where he now awaits his own death, due to arrive within the next two months. The carrier of the ‘death token’ is given but one chance to avoid his impending death; he must find someone – a person with the just right sort of color and glow, ‘maybe one in a thousand, or two thousand,’ as Midorikawa puts it – who will, in full knowledge of the consequences, take up the burden of the ‘death token’ for him. Asked what sort of person willingly accepts such a fate, Midorikawa says it might be ‘the sort of person who is unafraid of making a great leap.’

Presumably, Midorikawa has shared this tale with Haida’s father because he sees that special ‘light and color’ in him as well. He does not, however, invite the young man to take up the death token in his place; he merely offers him a few avuncular words of advice, simple, yet moving: Midorikawa tells him that he is different from most people, that he is not meant simply to live and then die ‘like a cat, alone, in some dark place.’ Rather, he must strive always to live fully. ‘Soon you will return to your life in Tokyo,’ I suppose,’ Midorikawa told him in a quiet voice. ‘Then you will go back to your real life. Live that life fully. Even if you meet with frivolity and monotony, there is value simply in living this life.’ The following day Midorikawa disappears for good, and Haida’s father never learns what became of him.

Why does Haida tell Tazaki this story? On the surface it is a chance to introduce his friend to the idea of a heightened, indeed transcendent, sense of perception and to give graphic narrative expression to his theory of free thought. In terms of driving the novel forward, it serves to highlight the existence of certain ‘gifted’ persons in the world, much as we saw in 1Q84, who possess extraordinary powers of perception. Midorikawa describes his own heightened perception as follows:

‘At the moment you have agreed to take up the burden of death, you possess an unusual quality. You could call it a special ability. The ability to read the various colors given off by people is only one of those functions. At the root of it, you are able to expand your perception. You push open that ‘door to perception’ that Aldous Huxley talked about. And then your perceptions are pure and genuine.’


If Midorikawa and Haida represent ‘the elect,’ so to speak, those who possess a special light and color that permits them heightened powers of perception, then it is Aka and Ao who represent and minister to the ‘ordinary people’ who do not have these powers. This is most explicitly expressed through Aka, whose business is educating new company employees and reeducating those in midcareer. Aka sees himself as a visionary – ‘I wasn’t made to be used by others,’ he rather smugly informs Tazaki – and believes that his company performs a noble service, training workers to think for themselves. This liberation of the mind, however, has its limitations. ‘We are trying to create a workforce that can say, ‘I can use my own head to think about things,’ while continuing to work within the expectations of the company,’ he tells Tazaki. Whether Aka’s goal is people who actually can use their own heads or simply people who can say that they do is a matter of some ambiguity; that their thinking must remain ‘within the expectations of the company’ is a not very subtle way of reminding us that whatever illusions of free thought they may have, such people are still pawns of the System.

This, of course, places some limits on what sorts of people are suitable for the kind of System-approved training Aka has to offer. As a matter of expediency he divides his potential clientele into three categories:

‘There are quite a lot of people who can’t accept our program. I divide them into two types: first is the antisocial person. The English term is ‘outcaste.’ These people reject established attitudes, they won’t accept them. Or else they won’t be bound by the collective rules. Working with them is a waste of time. We can only ask them to leave. The other type is the person who can truly use his head and think. WE can leave them alone. Better not to fiddle with them and screw them up. Every system needs a representative like that. If they can stay on the path, they eventually end up in charge. But in between these two groups, there is a layer of people who simply take orders and carry them through, and they occupy a large chunk of the population – I would estimate about 85% of it. Our business is built on the foundation of the 85%.’

Aka’s clientele, then, are the mediocre, the ordinary, and they are implicitly opposed to those like Midorikawa and Haida, both of whom are capable of looking and thinking beyond accepted boundaries. In contrast to the ‘expectations of the company,’ Haida’s philosophy requires a willingness to break out of those expectations, to reach escape velocity and shoot for unknown galaxies. ‘All things have a framework,’ he tells Tazaki. ‘Thought also has its limits. There is nothing to be feared in boundaries, but we also must not be afraid to smash those boundaries. In order for humankind to be free, this is more important than anything. Reverence and abhorrence for limits. Everything important in human life is grounded in this duality.’ Clearly Haida represents the ‘incorrigible’ group, for his refusal to ‘stay inside the lines.’ Aka, on the other hand, represents the cream of society’s mediocrity, creating not freethinkers but the illusion of freethinking, for he is still bound up by the rules. Ao, too, for all his expressed distaste for the kind of company Aka runs, is part of this great mediocrity. Ao sells the Lexus brand – Toyota’s luxury model, meant to tap into the middle class’s desire to enjoy the illusion of being upper-class. It is fitting that Ao’s mobile phone ringtone is ‘Viva Las Vegas,’ for if ever there was a city that embodied the façade, the false front, it surely must be Las Vegas. Ao harbors no illusions about this, admitting that the brand name Lexus ‘has no meaning at all. It’s just a made-up word. Something a New York advertising firm came up with in response to Toyota’s request for a name that sounded high class and meaningful, with a nice ring to it.’

And what of Tazaki Tsukuru? It would be safe to say that Tazaki begins the work, more or less by accident, in the same group as Aka and Ao, but that the traumatic experiences of his youth prove transformative for him, nudging him closer to his true destiny, which is to join the ‘elect.’ This, one suspects, is the message that Haida wishes so fervently to convey to Tazaki on the night of his second dream – the very reason, in fact, that he told Tazaki the story of Midorikawa in the first place. Tazaki, however, is not yet prepared to receive and decipher that message, so Haida finds another way of getting his attention, of demonstrating the separation of spirit and flesh…

Having come this far, let us now pause to reexamine some of the earlier Murakami characters who possess remarkable abilities and use those talents to assist others: the clairvoyant ear model Kiki from A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance; Naoko and her attunement to the world of the dead in Norwegian Wood; the clairvoyant girl Yuki in Dance Dance Dance; Okada Toru’s ability to divide flesh and spirit; Nakata and Saeki in Kafka on the Shore; Tengo, Aomame, Fukaeri, Ushikawa, and the Leader in 1Q84. It is not until 1Q84, however, that we begin to see an acute consciousness of these gifts on the part of the characters they adorn, as well as some inkling of the consequences that must attend those gifts – including the willingness to be sacrificed for the sake of the great good, as occurs with the Leader and Ushikawa, and very nearly with Aomame and Tengo as well.

In many of these instances, the ‘gifted’ person possesses some physical sign of his or her ability. The clairvoyant from A Wild Sheep Chase has ears so exquisite that those who see them are likely to experience spontaneous orgasms. Okada Toru bears a mark on his cheek. Tengo and the Leader have their extraordinary size; Aomame, the imbalance in the size of her breasts (and her frightening grimaces); and Ushikawa, his ugliness. Haida has the scar on his neck, while Midorikawa carries something in a pouch with him wherever he goes.

This motif remains largely intact in Tazaki Tsukuru as well. Among the characters, it is not difficult to identify the four who possess something special, beyond the abilities of ordinary people, as Shiro, Haida, Midorikawa, and, of course, Tazaki himself. All four of these characters have in common a connection with the world of death. Midorikawa, as a carrier of the ‘death token,’ stares that world in the face daily, awaiting its advent; Haida, as suggested previously, is probably dead already; Shiro, for an unspecified period of time – perhaps her whole life – has been communicating with the world of the dead, gradually moving closer to it; and Tazaki, following his expulsion from the group, carries a mental imprint of the abyss into which he stared for five long months. And while their ‘gifts’ are not as dramatic as those of Aomame, Tengo, or the Leader, they are nonetheless remarkable. For Shiro, the gift is musical; what she lacks in mechanical technique she makes up for in feeling and emotion as she plays the deceptively difficult Le Mar du Pays. Midorikawa possesses the ability to see the ‘light’ and ‘color’ that surrounds all people – in short, he can see their souls. Haida, like Okada Toru, is able to divide his flesh and spirit and thus to move beyond the boundaries of ordinary human thought. And what is Tazaki’s ‘gift’? It takes him the better part of the novel to realize it, but his gift is to be an empty container, a refuge for those who need a safe place to rest as they struggle through the world, the metaphysical sign for which is his sexual climax. This is why Tazaki has attracted, and been attracted to, women who were ‘on their way somewhere else,’ but also why Sara – and perhaps Tazaki’s previous sexual partners – can sense his emptiness when she holds him, for it is in this moment of intense physical and emotional release that his emptiness is most clearly revealed:

‘Maybe I am an empty human, with no content, Tsukuru thought. But it’s just because I don’t have anything inside me that I’ve had people come to stay with me, even just for a little while. Like a solitary, nocturnal bird needs the attic of some uninhabited house to rest in during the day. The birds probably appreciate that empty, gloomy, quiet space. If that were true, Tsukuru thought, he ought to rejoice in his emptiness.’

This is not easy, for Sara, a woman he truly loves, is not looking for a temporary refuge; she wants a permanent structure, a ‘station’ of her own, and she wants Tazaki to build it for her with his own hands.

But Tazaki’s gift cannot be case aside so lightly, for its true beneficiaries are not the living but the dead; his true function is to provide a refuge for the souls of Haida, Shiro, and even Midorikawa, whose physical vessels are gone. Giving himself to Sara will mean stepping away from these shadows of his past and moving boldly into the future. Returning to Haida’s duality, Tazaki must choose to respect the boundaries of thought, or, alternately, choose to break free of them. Either will require an act of courage and sacrifice.

It has become clear that Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage contains many of the same structures, themes, and motifs found in previous Murakami fiction, and while the ‘other world’ remains, as it does in Norwegian Wood, largely unexplored in this work, always lurking just ‘over there,’ that it nonetheless plays a key role in this narrative is beyond dispute. In its close juxtapositioning of ‘this side’ and ‘over there,’ its revival of the ‘nostalgic image’ (Haida –‘Mr. Gray’ – could be read as a rather unsubtle projection of Tazaki’s memories of ‘Miss White’ and ‘Miss Black’), its exploration of the tension between inner and outer ‘selves,’ this work does indeed, as Ando says, ‘show us where Murakami has been.’

But Tazaki Tsukuru also places a new emphasis on dreams and their function, not merely as flashes of our inner minds nor even messages from the gods, but as a powerful means to constitute new realities. In the pages that follow, then, we will explore some of the more prominent dreams, including the dream that Shiro is suspected to have had, that drive this narrative forward.

Dreams are not new to Murakami fiction, but they have developed, much like the metaphysical world itself, from a curiosity, somewhat peripheral to the primary structure of the work, into an essential part of the narrative as Murakami’s fiction has progressed. We see this clearly when contrasting Murakami’s early dream portrayals with his more recent work. A Wild Sheep Chase, for instance, includes a scene in which the protagonist falls asleep in the back of a limousine. He dreams of a cow carrying an electric fan, which the cow offers to trade to him for a pair of pliers. And while the protagonist philosophizes on the ‘symbolic’ content of dreams, readers are apt to conclude – rightly, I think – that this absurdist dream has no particular meaning or necessity in the story, unless it is symbolic of the protagonist’s equally absurd quest for the Sheep.

Dreams begin to play a much more significant role in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, as we have already seen, and to some extent they do reveal certain key points in the novel. Okada Toru’s erotic dreams about Kano Creta – in one dream she fellates him, while in another they have intercourse – demonstrate his own repressed desires, much as Tazaki Tsukru’s dreams do for him, but they also foreground his prudish refusal to engage in suggestive talk with the ‘telephone woman,’ who is actually Kumiko, trying desperately to reveal to him the raging sexual desire that lurks in her inner self. Toru’s mulish refusal to read these signs – to acknowledge her sexuality as well as his own – keeps Kumiko in the limbo of the unconscious hotel.


While dreams in Murakami fiction are not always sexual…the release of sexual energy does nonetheless prove a dominant theme in many cases. We have already seen this theme used to advantage in Kafka on the Shore, wherein Kafka’s dream of raping ‘Sakura,’ the girl he fantasizes to be his long-lost sister, leads on a metaphysical level to her taking on that role for him, much as his seduction of Saeki forces her to take on the role of his mother. Kafka’s dream is particularly significant in that it enacts the deliberate transgression of a sexual taboo – incest – thus revealing Kafka’s darker ‘inner self,’ fulfilling its depraved, hitherto suppressed libido.


For Jung, dreams are the result of psychic energy that rises to the surface when the compensatory content is too intense for the inner mind to handle…

This assessment agrees with my own contention that dreams, briefly stated, express the dreamer’s deepest desires as well as his or her worst fears, and in this sense they mirror, on the individual level, the nature and function of mythology…

And if dreams express (and in effect, reveal to us, the dreamers) our deepest fears and most powerful desires, taboo and otherwise, t must also be said that these are precisely what attract us within the dream world. Dreaming of a ‘forbidden’ sexual act we are apt, in our dreams, to feel the tug of our waking conscience, to fear waking social mechanisms (the concern about being seen, of ‘getting caught’), yet we are also inexorably drawn to that very act, precisely because it is forbidden. In a similar way, when pursued by terrifying demons, threatened by monsters, frightened of a dark and forbidding place, we feel the conflicting urges of flight and fascination; should we run, or should we stop and gaze upon what frightens us? In fact, we often bring what frightens us into being simply by imagining it, initiating a willing confrontation, an expression of our inner self’s fascination with those things that lurk in the pitch-black depths of our own mind. We peer into the dark mouth of the cave, down the stairs of the basement, around the next corner, knowing that something awful lurks there. Yet we cannot not look…

We see this fixation on desire and fear played out in the various dreams that drive the narrative of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage as well. There are three dreams in particular that relate to Tazaki himself, as well as the implied dream in which Shiro is raped, that not only carry the narrative forward but in fact create the new realities in which each new character must live. For Tazaki these are the dream of the flesh-spirit woman, his erotic dream involving Shiro-Kuro-Haida, and his dream of playing the piano at the end of the novel. We will close…by looking in detail at these ‘forbidden dreams’ from ‘over there’ in order to determine what they reveal to Tazaki about himself, and how they function to create him and the world around him.

The first dream, in which Tazaki meets a woman he does not know but for whom he feels uncontrollable desire, is important for two reasons: first, because it establishes the idea in his mind of separating flesh and spirit, a key concept throughout this novel; and second, because it introduces him to the sensation of jealousy, an emotion stemming from (unfulfilled) desire. These two issues are, of course, linked for him, since the very fact of separating flesh and spirit means that is possible for him to possess one without the other, and he senses the meaninglessness of such possession. The woman herself probably represents Shiro herself (rendered unrecognizable through Tazaki’s suppression of his desire for her), who is of course unavailable to Tazaki either in flesh or spirit owing to the unspoken rules of the group against pairing off, but also due to her powerful aversion to sexual contact. She can therefore only appear before him in the dreamscape. An alternative reading would be that the dream woman is both Shiro and Kuro, one an object of (suppressed) physical desire, the other a friend; one could even read the woman as Kuro alone, offering Tazaki either sex or friendship but not both. In the end, however, the identity of the woman is not the point of the dream; rather, its purpose is to show Tazaki the connection between desire and jealousy, both of which exist forcefully within his inner self.

This is why Tazaki’s claims of unfamiliarity with jealousy should catch our attention, for it would imply first that he has never consciously felt desire, and second, that he has never experienced the frustration of not being able to act upon or even express that desire. Given the utopian nature of that perfect, hermetically sealed circle in which the five friends exist, one may easily imagine the disruptions that would have resulted had jealousy been introduced into it. And yet, by forcing his true feelings deep underground, Tazaki in effect gives greater strength to the ‘compensatory contents’ of his inner world, which now reach an intensity so great that they are forced out not only into his dreams but into the waking world as well. Indeed, it is this intensity of emotion that finally brings about Tazaki’s transformation into an other – his own other – in the conscious world. His transformative experience of jealousy is his first act of rebellion against the rigid structures of the system – the circle of friends – that continues to govern him. Nevertheless, this dream is constructive rather than destructive, for although it destroys the old Tazaki, with his lavish adherence to social convention, at the same time it occasions his rebirth as a new and stronger individual. As noted earlier, this new and stronger individual is reflected physically as well as emotionally, as Tazaki himself can see when he looks into the mirror at a man rather than a boy. This is the new reality that has been brought into existence by his first dream.

The second dream is actually part of a series of recurring erotic dreams for Tazaki that, until the sudden intrusion of Haida, have featured Shiro and Kuro alone. Within this recurring dream we find certain constants that reveal much to Tazaki We note first that both girls appear in every dream; it is never just one or the other. This reflects the perfection of the utopian circle in which all are equally members. And yet, while both girls caress him, when the time comes for his climax, he always ejaculates into Shiro, never Kuro. This causes him some concern. ‘Why did it always have to be Shiro?’ he wonder. ‘The two of them ought to have been equal. The two of them should have been one existence.’ We read in this the rather unsubtle message from his inner mind that the two are not equal, but Tazaki’s conscious mind in these instances is no wider than Okada Toru’s, for he cannot see the most obvious things in front of him. It is not until he meets Kuro in Finland in fact, that Tazaki is able to admit openly to her – and to himself – that he had loved Shiro. By then it is, of course, too late, and Tazaki comes to believe that the net result of suppressing his true feelings was to unleash a far less dainty version of himself on the hapless Shiro in the dream world. It is a simple revelation but one that reminds Tazaki of the risks of sacrificing his true desires in order to conform to the rest of society. This is also the quintessential Murakami message.

If this is the case, what is the purpose of Haida’s sudden appearance at the end of the second dream? Here, too, we see Haida as an object of both fascination and discomfiture for Tazaki, a part of his inner self and an expression of his most deeply suppressed desire. Whether we choose to read that desire as a homoerotic one or merely as a nostalgic displacement of Kuro and Shiro, it proves useful to Tazaki, whose determined suppression of desire has led in his waking life very nearly to a literal mortification of the flesh, and in his dreamscape to homosexual fantasy. This is what prompts Tazaki to seek out his first sexual encounter with a woman, ‘not out of passion, nor because he especially liked her, nor even to relieve the daily loneliness he felt,’ but rather ‘in order to prove to himself that he was not homosexual, that he was capable of ejaculating into an actual, flesh-and-blood woman, not just in dreams.’ Tazaki’s anxiety over his sexual orientation is not particularly unusual considering his youth and the nature of the dream he has had, but in the end it will not matter where his sexual orientation lies; what does matter is that this second dream has driven him out of the world ‘over there,’ back to this side, where he begins to engage in actual relationships with real women instead of merely with his memories of the lost woman in his dreamscape. We see in this instance, too, an expression of the decision Tazaki must make as an ‘empty vessel’ whether to provide haven for living souls of the present of lost souls from the past. It is significant that once Tazaki begins a physical relationship in the waking world, his erotic dreams featuring Kuro and Shiro vanish.

Thus far, then, we have seen Tazaki’s first dream act as a means of rebirth for his character, as well as reveal to him emotions – desire, jealousy – that lurk deep within his inner self. It also demonstrates for him the possibility of separating spirit and flesh. The second dream, on the other hand, spurs Tazaki into sexual action, showing him once again the various objects of his desire but at the same time driving him out of the metaphysical realm to enact his desires on actual people. These two ‘forbidden dreams’ have largely positive effects on Tazaki, guiding him in the construction of both a new outer self and a new sexuality to go with that self. While he does nail down his elusive sexual orientation, however, he fails to find lasting fulfillment with the various women he encounters, for none of them fully displace the memories of the past that still lurk deep within his heart – until Sara comes along, that is.

Tazaki’s third dream once again connects him to Shiro, and in turn connects her to Midorikawa, and through him, to Haida. In this dream, Tazaki sits at a piano (an instrument he does not actually play in waking life), performing an impossibly complex piano sonata for an unappreciative audience. Seated beside him, turning the pages of the score for him, is a woman in a black dress, but though he is curious about who she might be, he cannot take his eyes from the score to look at her face. Just prior to awakening him from the dream he notices that she has six fingers on her hand, connecting her to his mental image of Midorikawa – and thus to Haida, who has ‘created’ Midorikawa for him through his narrative. The presence of Shiro is implied, first through the piano itself, and second through the evocation of Midorikawa/Haida, the latter of whom is linked to Shiro through the second dream. Whether Shiro actually had six fingers on each hand is of little consequence; the superfluous fingers are merely a symbol – not a literary one but a symbol within Tazaki’s own mind – of the ambiguous nature of being ‘gifted.’ One important message from this dream, then, is that Shiro, too, was ‘gifted.’

There is, however, a more important revelation here, one that carries the first and second dreams to their logical conclusion. If those dreams showed Tazaki the absurdity of suppressing his natural sexuality and emotional desires in the name of protecting an essentially fallacious utopian dream, then the third dream, at its most basic level, demonstrates the impossibility of perfect communication, of perfect human understanding, even under the most ideal conditions. Tazaki plays his part flawlessly, and yet his audience cannot understand the music, causing him later to reflect that ‘life was like a complicated musical score…even if you could get all then notes right and produce the correct sounds, there was no guarantee that listeners would get the right meanings and assign the correct values to them.’ And yet, in spite of the impossibility of conveying exactly what the music is supposed to communicate, of his audience’s rejection of his efforts, and of the countless distractions, in his dream Tazaki is determined to play this piece through to the end. Herein he expresses a new variation on Midorikawa’s final admonition to press on with the act of living, the search for meaning, even in the face of the mundane and the frivolous. This final dream suggests that Tazaki has finally ‘got it.’

But what, exactly has he understood? Through his various dreams and the self-reflection they engender, Tazaki discovers by novel’s end that meaning in life lies not in the perpetuation of perfection, the endless preservation of harmony and stasis (which is impossible in any case), but in the acceptance of imperfection and the celebration of hardship and discord as catalysts for growth and change:

‘At that moment he was at least able to accept it. In the deepest part of his soul, Tazaki Tsukuru understood. People’s hearts were not connected only by harmony. They were, rather, deeply bound together by injury. They were joined by pain, by their fragility. There was no tranquility that did not contain cries of grief, no forgiveness without spilled blood, no acceptance that did not pass through acute loss. This was what truly lay at the root of harmony.’

This passage is, in my opinion, one of the most important in the entire work and, indeed, in the overall body of Murakami fiction, for it clearly expresses an exceedingly simple idea that is found in almost every major Murakami work in one form or another: that imperfection is not only permissible but desirable. It is this imperfection that Rat seeks to protect when he destroys himself and the Sheep at the end of A Wild Sheep Chase, the same complication and turmoil from which Kizuki and Naoko flee directly into the arms of death in Norwegian Wood, the same conflicts that Okada Toru tries to restore in Kumiko at the end of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. And why is it desirable? Simply because it is our imperfections, our quirks and flaws, even our weakness and mediocrity, that makes us unique and uniquely human. It is through our attempts to solve the puzzles of our lives and the mysteries of our world that we grow and develop. Carried but a step further, it might be read as Murakami’s understanding of the purpose of reading/writing literature, recalling the first words of Hear the Wing Sing: ‘there is no such thing as a perfect text.’ Extended beyond the scope of this narrative, we might even find in it an allegorical comment on contemporary Japanese society and its continued efforts to project an image of tranquility and order, when in fact, these, too, are utopian.

Tazaki Tsukuru does indeed show us where Murakami has been and where he is headed. We see in this work yet another instance of the ‘other world’ exerting its influence on ‘this side,’ and at the same time we see how that influence has grown less destructive as Murakami’s heroes press forward with the process of redefining themselves independently of established convention. The same ‘dark inner self’ seen in works like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore remains a powerful force in that process, and while its purpose still seems to be domination of the outer self, that domination takes on a liberating aspect that began with Aomame’s rescue of Tengo at the conclusion of 1Q84, and reaches its most explicit expression in Tazaki Tsukuru. The target, as we have demonstrated, is the ‘same’ utopian delusion we saw in A Wild Sheep Chase, and yet not quite ‘the same,’ for it is a much more realistic portrayal of that illusion, one that is played out among countless groups of friends in countless schools throughout the world. As with Kafka, Aomame, and Tengo, the final goal for Tazaki Tsukuru is simply to grow up and, in so doing, to outgrow the childish notion that any dreams from ‘over there’ should ever truly be forbidden.”

And with that…our look at the works of Haruki Murakami comes to an end. I hope you all enjoyed the journey as much as I did.


“…maybe I have another face, one no one can imagine, lurking just beneath the surface. Like the far side of the moon, forever cloaked in darkness.”

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage
Conclusion, Part Two
By Dennis Abrams

Illustration by Clifford Harper/Agraphia.co.uk

I’ll have some of my final thoughts, impressions, and favorite things about this book in my post next week (my last on Murakami!), but I do want to say that the more I think about it, the more moved I am by the book. I’m not sure that I’d say it’s my favorite, but it’s the on that has affected me the most personally.  But for today, I thought this was pretty great.

From Strecher:

“We now flash to the novel’s present. Much of the [early narrative], minus the parts about Haida, is related to Kimoto Sara, Tazaki’s new girlfriend and, significantly, the first woman Tazaki has seriously considered marrying. Sara listens to Tazaki’s narrative with great interest, then declares that he must then declares that he must confront this past, for clearly it has caused wounds that have not yet healed. Although Tazaki has, in the intervening years, largely suppressed his memories of the Nagoya incident, the matter becomes more urgent when Sara issues an ultimatum of sorts. She can sense that Tazaki is not wholly with her when they are in bed, that there remains something twisted inside him. Sounding very much like Tengo, explaining to Fukaeri the deeper meanings of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, she tells Tazaki that, ‘however well you’ve hidden your memories, however deeply you’ve buried them, you can’t erase that history.’ Sara looked straight into his eyes. ‘You should remember that. You can’t erase history, and you can’t change it. It would be the same thing as killing your own existence.’ This statement becomes a recurring mantra throughout the text.

As a result, Sara sends Tazaki out on a mission to confront his former friends, to determine what happened and why, and thus heal that ‘twisted’ part of himself. She does the preliminary research, learning that of the four friends, Ao and Aka are still in Nagoya. Ao is an award-winning Lexus salesman, while Aka runs a company that trains company workers to think more independently. Kuro, meanwhile, has married a Finnish man and moved to Helsinki; Shiro, however, has been dead for six years.

Tazaki initially travels to Nagoya, confronting Ao first at his Lexus dealership. Ao does not recognize him at first – a pattern that repeats itself with each of his friends – but after an initial period of awkwardness, the two men are able to discuss the past. The first thing Tazaki learns is that his expulsion from the group was the result of a serious allegation made against him by Shiro all those years ago:

‘Shiro said she had been raped by you,’ Ao said uncomfortably.
‘She said you had deliberately forced her to have sex with you.’
Tsukuru tried to say something, but no words would come out. He had just taken a sip of water, but his throat was painfully dry.
Ao spoke, ‘I couldn’t believe you would do something like that. The other two were the same, Kuro and Aka. No matter how we thought about it, you weren’t the type to force yourself on anyone, and even less the type who would use violence to do it. WE knew that. But Shiro was dead serious, and she was taking it really hard. She said you had two faces, one on the surface and another underneath. Shiro said you had an inner face that no one could ever imagine from the outer one. We couldn’t think of any way to respond to that.’

Ao claims – and later Aka will confirm this – that the question of his guilt and expulsion was largely determined by Kuro, who stood determinedly on Shiro’s side. Asked why they want along with his betrayal (Tazaki uses the verb kiru, ‘to cut’), both men answer that of the five friends Tazaki seemed like the one best equipped to handle the consequences of being cut from the group. As Ao puts it, ‘you lived with both your feet firmly on the ground, and that gave the group a sense of quiet stability. Like the anchor of a ship,’ while Aka describes him as ‘emotionally tougher than the rest of us. Remarkably so, more than you looked.’ Both of these comments, needless to say, come as a surprise to Tazaki.

Finally, Tazaki embarks on his greatest and most unnerving journey, a trek to Finland to confront Kuro, who was, according to Aka and Ao, the real driving force behind his expulsion from the group sixteen years earlier. When he arrives in Helsinki, however, he finds she has gone with her family to spend the summer at their country cottage in the woods surrounding the tiny town of Haemeenlinn, famous as the birthplace of composer Jean Sibelius. To reach this town, he must drive some distance, and in this journey, too, we find a kind of michiyuki, [MY NOTE: a passage – an essential part of classical Japanese theatre, particularly in love suicide plays – undertaken in order to prepare the traveler for death.] not quite as dramatic as those of Pinball, 1973, or A Wild Sheep Chase, to be sure, but nonetheless discernible. He drives through wooded areas of birch trees, great birds circling above them in search of prey on the ground. Finding the town of Haemeenlinn poses no particular difficulty, but on his arrival he realizes that locating this one cottage in the middle of a great forest will be no mean feat. Fortunately he meets an old man on a bicycle, who, asked for directions, without preamble or invitation climbs into Tazaki’s car and shows him the way. The old man’s fearsome appearance and demeanor are worth notice: ‘an old man of small stature…wearing an old hunting cap and long rubber boots. Great tufts of white hair emerged from his ears, and his eyes were red and bloodshot. Like he was filled with rage at something.’ The man’s language is confusing as well; he speaks a variety of languages all at once – English, German, Finnish, and at one point, ‘a language Tsukuru could not place. From its sounds it did not seem to be Finnish.’ Upon reaching the cottage, the old man turns around and storms off without a word and without looking back, ‘like the death god who guided the departed onto the path to the underworld.’ The old man bears certain similarities to the ‘Gatekeeper’ who removes Boku’s shadow at the outset of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but his function is more like the two soldiers who guide Kafka into the forest to meet Saeki in Kafka on the Shore. In both appearance and manner he is clearly marked as a guardian spirit of the forest and gives us our best indication that Tazaki has at last reached his destination ‘over there.’ This is not, however, the same ‘over there’ – the same metaphysical forest – as we have seen in previous Murakami fiction, for when Tazaki finally meets Kuro, he discovers her to be living, with her Finnish husband and her two daughters. This is not the underworld, per se. And yet, as Tazaki and Kuro face one another preparing to confront their shared past, Murakami offers a subtle clue to indicate that this is not entirely the world of the living either: Kuro, as a wife and mother, wears her hair pinned up, but just before they begin to talk in earnest, she removes the pins and lets her hair down so that ‘her bangs now covered her forehead. Now she looked more like the old Kuro.’ It is an updated version of the flickering back and forth between the teenage and the middle-aged Saeki confronted by Kafka at the end of HIS quest.

To Tazaki’s surprise, Kuro (who prefers now to be called by her adult name, ‘Eri,’ and suggests they refer to Shiro by the grown-up name of ‘Yuzu’ as well) confesses that, like Aka and Ao, she never truly believed that Tazaki had raped Shiro; she pursued his expulsion, rather, for the sake of Shiro, who was tottering on the brink of madness. But this was only one of the reasons. She confesses at length that she had always loved Tazaki, knowing all the while of his desire for Shiro. Partly out of awareness of Shiro’s beauty – ‘she was Snow White and I was the Seven Dwarfs,’ she quips – Kuro was simply afraid to confess her love. ‘I lacked confidence in myself as a woman. No matter how much I loved you, I figured you would never take someone like me as your partner. Your heart was set on Yuzu. That’s why I was able to cut you out so mercilessly. It was in order to cut out my feelings for you.’

In between catching up and Kuro’s confession to Tazaki, the two also discuss what had really happened to Shiro. Like Aka and Ao, Kuro notes that Shiro’s injuries were real; she truly had been sexually violated, but she hints that the incident may have occurred in the metaphysical world: ‘there is a certain kind of dream that is more real than reality itself,’ Kuro explains. ‘She had a dream like that.’ Somewhat later Kuro suggests that Shiro ‘had an evil spirit in her…it was always hovering at a slight distance behind her, breathing its icy breath on her neck, steadily pursuing her.’

Tazaki learns that Shiro had gone off to the mountains to hide out while awaiting the arrival of her child – she could not consider an abortion, because she was firmly against the practice – but had miscarried. After this, she drifted further and further from human contact, gradually cutting herself off from society. Like Tazaki, she starved herself to dangerous levels, until even her menstrual period stopped coming.

What Kuro describes is Shiro’s gradual but inexorable shift from flesh to pure spirit, a drive toward death that made it impossible for anyone to anchor her to this world. In the end Shiro moved to Hamamtsu to live by herself, but given her helpless state, Kuro interprets this as an act of suicide. When Shiro is murdered, found strangled to death on the floor of her kitchen, the circumstances are inexplicable; her room is locked from the inside, there is no sign of struggle or break-in, and nothing has been stolen. Tazaki is again assailed by the possibility that it was his own inner self that killed Shiro, perhaps in the ‘other world’:

‘Just as Shiro said, maybe I have another face, one no one can imagine, lurking just beneath the surface. Like the far side of the moon, forever cloaked in darkness. In some other place, without my ever knowing about it, in a totally different kind of time, maybe I really did rape Shiro, slicing deeply into her soul. Despicably, with all my strength. And maybe that dark inner side will eventually rise up, completely overwhelm the surface me, swallowing it whole.’

Tazaki cannot dismiss such fears, if only because his own past experiences – particularly with Haida – have convinced him that flesh-spirit separation is possible, and that he probably does carry within himself a darker self, capable of doing things his outer self would never consider. And yet, he also has a vague notion that this was what was supposed to happen all along:

‘Tsukuru had never in his life felt the urge to kill anyone. But maybe he had meant to kill Yuzu in the abstract. Tsukuru himself had no way of knowing what sort of dense darkness lurked within his soul. All he was sure of what that Yuzu had the same sort of dense darkness within herself. Perhaps their two darknesses had connected somewhere deep beneath the surface. And maybe being strangled by Tsukuru was exactly what Yuzu had wanted. Maybe he had heard her pleas through their connected darkness.’

He does not, however, tell all this to Kuro, opting instead for the more ambiguous statement that ‘I might actually have killed Shiro.’ The meeting between Tazaki and Turo ends shortly after this scene, marked by Kuro pinning her hair back up, signaling the return of the present and the recession of the ‘other world.’ At this moment Tazaki reflects that ‘the flow of time became just a little lighter.’

One important question that lingers here is why Shiro sought death. This is never recorded properly in the narrative, but Tazaki himself has a plausible answer: she simply could not face the idea of growing up. ‘In their high school days the five of them had lived in perfect, tightly knit harmony. They accepted each other as they were, and understood one another. Each of them felt a sense of profound happiness in that. But such happiness could not go on forever…Shiro’s spirit probably could not handle the pressure of what must come.’ This also helps us to understand Shiro’s determination not to become pregnant again – indeed, her general horror of sexuality – for these belong to the realm of the adult world in which, as Tazaki puts it, ‘each person must grow up at their own pace, and in their own direction.’ He concludes that Shiro’s urge toward death – using himself as a stepping stool – represented a flight from that inevitable destiny. From our vantage point, it may be added that Shiro’s drive toward the ‘other world’ is an attempt to escape the effects of time, of growth and change, and remain the young and innocent girl she has always been. This relates directly back to the ‘perfect, utopian circle’ that we have seen again in Murakami’s writing, most prominently in Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore, a perfect space in which nothing can disrupt the ideal happiness of Kizuki and Naoko, or Saeki and her boyfriend; yet we have also seen – in the village where the fifteen-year-old Saeki continues her unchanging existence – that this is a realm in which individual growth and development come to a halt. This realm represents perfect peace, but such peace is meaningless without the existence of conflict to define it.

The account above suggests that the ontological stance of this novel is closer to Norwegian Wood or South of the Border, West of the Sun than it is to some of [Murakami’s] more metaphysically imbued texts…in short, it is what might be termed a near-realistic text. Its narrative structure supports this, lacking the regular rhythm of alternating narratives that marks the works up through The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but also lacking clear-cut forays into the forbidding darkness of the ‘other world.’ Instead, much as we see in Norwegian Wood, Tazaki Tsukuru’s ventures into the ‘other world’ are symbolically portrayed in his visits to Nagoya, his imagining of Shiro’s final home in Hamamatsu, his internalization of Haida’s story about a hot spring resort in Oita, and, most obviously, his journey to the village of Haemeenlinn, not far from Helsinki, to meet Kuro at her summer home in Finland. None of these locations is truly representative of ‘over there’; rather, like Hokkaido (as opposed to Rat’s villa) in A Wild Sheep Chase, it is their status as being ‘other than Tokyo’ that marks them as likely settings for close encounters with ‘over there.’ And if we are denied the familiar explorations of the ‘other world’ that made works like A Wild Sheep Chase and Kafka on the Shore so intriguing, we are perhaps compensated by the unnerving, yet thrilling sensation that the ‘other world’ is constantly, unblinkingly, observing us.

Incursions of ‘over there’ are most prominently depicted in the early sequences of this novel, particularly those that detail Tazaki Tsukuru’s peculiar transformation, from a youthful, naïve idealist suddenly faced with expulsion from a group that, in many ways, defined who he was, into a detached loner, or what he finally describes, at novel’s end, as a ‘defector from his own life.’ This transformation is brought about, physiologically speaking, through five months of near starvation, as the traumatized Tazaki flirts with the idea of suicide and does not take the trouble of feeding himself. During this time, his perception of the world around him is about as close as we get to a description of ‘over there’ in this work:

‘As far as he could see, the ground was strewn with shattered boulders. There was not a drop of water, not a blade of grass growing. No color, no light. No sun, nor any moon or stars. Probably no direction either. The bizarre twilight and fathomless darkness traded places at regular intervals. It was the ultimate frontier of consciousness.’

As we have seen…the lack of sun and moon, indeed, of light itself, suggests the timelessness of that realm, its dark and forbidding nature. His description, within the context of the novel’s structure, could be read as a metaphorical representation of the darkest despair, but I am more inclined to read this passage as a hint that Tazaki Tsukuru, facing the abyss of death and the unknown, actually exists more inside his mind than outside it during these five critical months. It is in this gloomy no-man’s land, on the border between the world of the living and that of the dead, that he loses his youthful idealism and becomes a new man. And when at least he does emerge, his appearance is altered significantly and appropriately for a man who has faced the brink of death and returned. It is not, to be sure, quite the same level of transformation one finds in the earliest texts – he has not become a talking pinball machine, for instance – but enough that people who know him are shocked by the change. Not only has his body wasted away, but ‘his face has also changed. Looking at himself in the mirror, no traces remained of the soft face of that mediocre, unfocused youth. The face looking back at him was that of a young man, whose protruding cheek bones were sharp, like they’d been carved with a garden-trowel.’ His body and face have at last transformed to match the change in his core self, so that Tasaki Tsukuru is an entirely new man, inside and out. And this new ‘him’ is wholly without regrets for the passing of the old; indeed, we even catch a hint of the dark determination that lurks beneath the surface of this sharply featured new man. Significantly, it is precisely at this moment that we catch another glimpse of that hidden forest that so many previous Murakami heroes have found, for better or worse:

‘Look at it how you may, the youth who had been Tazaki Tsukuru was dead. He had gasped out his last breath in desolate darkness, and as buried in some tiny forest clearing. Secretly, quietly, while everyone else slept. With no headstone. He who stood here breathing as a ‘new Tazaki Tsukuru,’ whose contents had been completely replaced. But no one besides himself knew this, nor did he have any intention of telling anyone the truth.’

Words such as ‘contents’ (naiyo) remind us yet again that the physical body in Murakami fiction is frequently little more than a container (yoki), housing a core identity – a soul, a kokoro – that is, by no means permanently fixed to that container. This was a prominent motif in Kafka on the shore, as we have seen, and casts into sharper perceptive the reason for Kafka’s loathing of his own body; while the ‘contents’ of that body may well be the ‘soul’ of Nakata, the vessel itself is the product of Johnny Walker, and as such is bears the physical curse of that origin. Clearly a similar operation goes on in 1Q84 with the construction of the dota (‘daughter’) characters, more empty vessels destined to receive the seeds of the Leader in the hopes that that material will be conveyed to yet another type of container: the womb. This last image strikes a resonant chord with Tazaki Tsukuru, for in his transformation, Tazaki himself is in a sense ‘reborn’ – a term Ando uses as well – from the dark and mysterious ‘womb’ of ‘over there.’ It is a function of the metaphysical world we have already seen employed with considerable effect in Kafka on the Shore, After Dark, and 1Q84, namely as a symbolic location for growth, gestation, and eventual reemergence into the light as something new. Beginning with Tamura Kafka and continuing through Tazaki Tsukuru, the hero who ventures into that dark and unsettling place has the potential to emerge stronger and better able to cope with the world than before.

But this is not always the case. Shiro, for her part, is the one other character in this novel who almost certainly encounters the world ‘over there,’ and she is destroyed by it. Of the five friends in this novel, clearly Shiro is the most fragile; a delicate, sensitive musician, Shiro struggles with a general tendency to withdraw from interaction with others. Perhaps due in part to her father’s profession as an obstetrician gynecologist, she has developed a basic fear of sexuality, which fits in well with Tazaki’s perception that their high school group avoids any romantic entanglements among the various parties. In any case, as Kuro tells Tazaki near the end of the novel, Shiro (now called ‘Yuzu’) never felt sexual attraction for anyone. ‘Yuzu had a powerful loathing for anything sexual that bordered on terror.’ This is why, following her rape and miscarriage, Shiro virtually starved herself. ‘It was because she wanted to stop her menstrual periods,’ Kuro explains. ‘When you drop below a certain weight, your period stop. That’s what she wanted. Not only did she want to ensure she would never get pregnant again, but she probably wanted to stop being female altogether. If it had been possible, she would have removed her uterus.’

These feelings are worth pursuing for just a moment, because if we observe Shiro’s situation dispassionately, we see certain similarities with Tamura Kafka. Recall that Kafka’s primary source of discomfort is the irrefutable fact of his genetic connection to his father, whom he considers to be evil; Shiro, too, is to some extent uncomfortable about her father’s chosen profession. Why, we might wonder, did Shiro never consult her father regarding her condition? Presumably it is because, as Kuro explains to Tazaki, she could never have considered terminating the pregnancy. ‘Whatever the circumstances, there was no way she could have killed anything…From way back she was highly critical of the fact that her father also performed abortions. We used to argue about that a lot.’ This fits the overall profile of Shiro’s character; particularly her abhorrence of sexual contact, and lends a certain pathos to the fact that the assault upon her was of a sexual nature.

There is, however, another important aspect to consider regarding Shiro, namely, that if Tazaki Tsukuru possesses a ‘darker inner self hidden by his outer mask,’ who is to say that Shiro herself does not have the same sort of ‘dark inner self,’ one that – like that of the ‘nine-figured girl,’ of Naoko, of Kumiko, of Aomame, indeed, of Tazaki himself – is grounded in bestial emotion and raw sexuality? If Tazaki’s inner self is grounded by this uncontrollable sexual desire – is, in fact, the very ‘evil spirit’ of whom Kuro spoke – then we have no reason to assume that Shiro did not possess an inner sexuality that drove her into the hands of that evil spirit, to the possibility that Shiro’s dreams were quite as erotic – as ‘forbidden’ – as Tazaki’s own.

If that is so, than Shiro’s absolutist stance against sexuality and its natural result speaks of a basic resistance to something within herself; thus, her gradual movement toward the world of death is finally an effort to resolve the dilemma within herself, which must end either in the restoration of her ‘innocence’ within the other world or in the triumph of her inner demon. Furthermore, it is not difficult to see that same struggle occupying Tazaki as well. We recall that Tazaki, prior to his expulsion from the group, fought to suppress his growing sexual desire for Shiro (which he did not feel for Kuro). ‘I always did my best not to be conscious of her as a member of the opposite sex. I was careful not to be alone with her,’ he tells Sara, an admission that may shed light on the fact that following his expulsion, Tazaki regularly dreamed about having sexual relations with both women yet – puzzling even to himself – when the climactic moment came, he inevitably ejaculated into Shiro’s body rather than into Kuro. On the unconscious – the metaphysical – level, Tazaki Tsukuru was equally a prisoner of his own ‘evil spirit,’ whose sexual desire for Shiro could no more be stopped than Shiro’s secret desires )for Tazaki? It is unclear) could be suppressed. Within the model of the ‘other world’ we have constructed throughout this text, then, it is quite plausible that Tazaki Tsukuru’s concerns about a dark inner self are correct, that he has acted out his inner fantasy, within the inner dreamscape, and caused irreparable to the woman he wanted more than any other. But was it all perhaps a dream?

By novel’s end Shiro’s pregnancy is left as one of the several unanswered riddles to which we are now accustomed in Murakami fiction. Did Shiro’s dark inner spirit really connect with that of Tazaki Tsukuru, leading to their sexual liaison? Did Tazaki really rape, and later murder, the woman he loved most/ Or was Shiro’s condition, as Ando suggests, just another ‘immaculate conception,’ the result of her own powerfully repressed sexual urges? All we can say with any certainty is that the fact of that conception forced Shiro to confront the ‘evil spirit’ that lurked within her, a confrontation she could not hope to win. And yet, not all has been lost, even for Shiro. In one of the more moving scenes in the novel, as Kuro and Tazaki reminiscence about Shiro at Kuro’s summerhouse in Haemeenlimn, they hold a sort of impromptu funeral for her – neither was able to attend her actual memorial service – by playing a recording of Liszt’s Le Mar du Pays. We can almost feel, as Tazaki and Kuro seem to do, Shiro’s presence joining them once more through this melody, and Kuro tells him that ‘in a lot of ways, she still goes on living.’ One of those ways, in spirit, at least, is through Kuro’s daughter, whom she has named ‘Yuzu’ in honor of their friend. Once again, the ‘other world’ functions symbolically as the womb, in conjunction with Kuro’s actual womb, to facilitate the ‘rebirth’ of Shiro.”

My next post, Tuesday, November 24th, final thoughts.

“You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage
Chapters 1-10
By Dennis Abrams

cover tazaki 1

Let me start by saying: I devoured this in one sitting. It hit home with me in very personal ways.

And let me quote from Patti Smith’s review (yes, that Patti Smith) from The New York Times:

“This is a book for both the new and experienced reader. It has a strange casualness, as if it unfolded as Murakami wrote it; at times, it seems like a prequel to a whole other narrative. The feel is uneven, the dialogue somewhat stilted, either by design or flawed in translation. Yet there are moments of epiphany gracefully expressed, especially in regard to how people affect one another. “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone,” Tsukuru comes to understand. “They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss.” The book reveals another side of Murakami, one not so easy to pin down. Incurably restive, ambiguous and valiantly struggling toward a new level of maturation. A shedding of Murakami skin. It is not “Blonde on Blonde,” it is “Blood on the Tracks.”

A quick summation of the plot so far:

Tsukuru Tazaki, whose life-long interest in train stations led to a career in train station design, experienced a serious and devastating depression the summer after his sophomore year in college at the age of twenty. At that time, he because obsessed with death, and spent his time thinking about suicide. This depression was preceded by a startling piece of news from one of his high school friends: Ao told him, flat-out, that his entire group of friends (totally close-knit, three boys/two girls) no longer wanted to be friends with him. But even more than that, not only did they no longer want his friendship, they refused to speak with, or even to explain why they were ending their relationship with him.

At the time, Tsukuru suffered from the complete shock of this rejection and could not begin to pursue the reason for his banishment from the group. When he talked to his “girlfriend” Sara, sixteen years later, she couldn’t believe that he had gone so long without knowing what had happened – she believed that he suffered from “emotional blockage” because of the way the closest friendships he’d ever had ended so abruptly.

We learn (as the book goes back and forth in time) that Tsukuru made only one friend in Tokyo after his break from his high school friends. He met Haida at the college swimming pool, and the two quickly became closed friends, spending must of their free time together listening to classical music, dining on food prepared by Haida, and having deep and long intellectual and philosophical conversations. After Tsukuru had a strange erotic dream involving his two female high school friends along with Haida, his friend disappeared for several days. When he returned, he claimed that he had had family issued to take care of. His return was short-lived though – and shortly thereafter he abruptly left again, never to return. And again, Tsukuru found himself wondering why people always wanted to get away from him.

Sara finally convinces Tsukuru to dig into his past and go see his only high school friends, but only after revealing what she had managed to learn about them – including the fact that one of the girls had died – and that she would not be able to pursue a relationship with him if he can’t clear up some of the emotional barriers from his past.

On his first visit to Ao, he learns that the fourth friend, Shiro, accused him of raping her and that was why he was so abruptly ejected from their circle. He also learned that Shiro was murdered, and that her assailant was never caught.

But of course there’s a lot more going on than that.

First, some of my favorite things:

“But as is so often the case with short people – he never grew past five food three – once he made up his mind about something, no matter how trivial it might be, he never backed down.”

“You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them…If nothing else you need to remember that. You can’t erase history, or change it. It would be like destroying yourself.”

“There are certain thoughts that, no matter what, you have to keep inside.”

“A sudden thought struck him – maybe I really did die. When the four of them rejected me, perhaps the young man named Tsukuru Tazaki really did pass away. Only his exterior remained, but just barely, and then over the course of the next half year, even that shell was replaced, as his body and face underwent a drastic change. The feeling of the wind, the sound of rushing water, the sense of sunlight breaking through the clouds, the colors of flowers as the seasons changed – everything around him felt changed, as if they had all been recast. The person here now, the one he saw in the mirror, might at first glance resemble Tsukuru Tazaki, but it wasn’t actually him. It was merely a container that, for the sake of convenience, was labeled with the same name – but its contents had been replaced. He was called by that name simply because there was, for the time being, no other name to call him.”

“Jealousy – at least a far as he understood it from his dream – was the most hopeless prison in the world. Jealousy was not a place he was forced into by someone else, but a jail in which the inmate entered voluntarily, locked the door, and threw away the key. And not another soul in the world knew he was locked inside. Of course he wanted to escape, he could do so. The prison was, after all, his own heart. But he couldn’t make that decision. His heart was as hard as a stone wall. This was the very essence of jealousy.”

I loved the entire scene with the elder Haido and Midorikawa – we’ll go into their conversation much deeper in a later post.

“The world isn’t that easily turned upside down, Haida replied. It’s people who are turned upside down.”

“Apart from whether I like it or not, I don’t reject thinking about things that aren’t logical. It’s not like I have some deep faith in logic. I think it’s important to find the intersection between what is logical and what is not.”

“You need to live [life] to the fullest. No matter how shallow and dull things might get, this life is worth living. I guarantee it. And I’m not being either ironic or paradoxical. It’s just that, for me, what’s worthwhile in life has become a burden, something I can’t shoulder anymore. Maybe I’m just not cut out for it. So, like a dying cat, I’ve crawled into a quiet, dark place, silently waiting for my time to come. It’s not so bad. But you’re different. You should be able to handle what life sends your way. You need to use the thread of logic, as best you can, to skillfully sew onto yourself everything that’s worth living for.”

The specificity of the French food Sara and Tsukuru had – and I’ll ponder this again – what would the significance be (or how would it be read) by a Japanese audience as opposed to us? And Sara always has dessert – he doesn’t.

Tsukuru “separate” from Sara when they had sex.

“The more he thought about the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious, the less certain he became of his own identity.”

Tsukuru’s dream with Haida – more on this later.

“And he couldn’t grasp the boundary between dream and imagination, between what was imaginary and what was real.”

“Unceasing crowds of people arrived out of nowhere, automatically formed lines, boarded the trains in order, and were carried off somewhere. Tsukuru was moved by how many people actually existed in the world.”

And of course, to hear the “theme music” (If you will) of this book, Franz Liszt’s ‘Le mal du pays,” from Years of Pilgrimage, performed by Haida’s favorite, Lazar Berman, click here.
And second, from Strecher’s fascinating book, The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami:

“…I will end this volume with a close reading of Murakami’s most recent work, Shikiasi o motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, kare no junrei no toshi (2013), for which Murakami conveniently appends the English title, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage.’ As we will see, this work is structurally most similar to Norwegian Wood, in that the ‘other world’ never makes a full-blown appearance in the way it does in works like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84, and yet it particularly appropriate for a closing text for two reasons: first, it places front and center the role of dreams; and second, it seems – almost consciously at times – to revisit almost every major motif in Murakami fiction, from embedded narratives to the ‘nostalgic image.’ It also shows us, as Ando Reiji notes, ‘where Murakami is headed from here,’ and while he does not fully elaborate, we might note that new motifs include a depiction of the human core identity (the soul) in the form of light and colors, and a more explicit awareness of what I termed ‘divine’ characters in the previous chapters, but here might simply be called ‘the gifted.’ Murakami also writes his first homosexual sex scene.

…Structurally speaking, Tazaki Tsukuru is similar to much previous Murakami fiction in that it tells two stories: one current, the other in retrospect. The author makes liberal use of embedded narratives, much as he does in Pinball, 1973; A Wild Sheep Chase; and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and in one case he has a second long narrative embedded within the first. He also continues his contrastive opposition of Tokyo as an urban emblem of the contemporary, and Nagoya, Oita, and finally Finland as not-altogether-metaphysical expressions of ‘over there.’ In its most superficial terms, the work may be read as the story of a man traumatized by an accident at the age of twenty who, having suppressed his memories of that time for some sixteen years, must now embark on a journey to confront those who traumatized him. His goal is to discover the truth about what happened to him and why, and in so doing heal the inner part of himself that remains injured.

Tazaki Tsukuru grew up in Nagoya, and during his high school years belonged to a tightly knit group of five friends. The other four – two males and two females – all have colorful names: the women are Kurono (black field) and Shirane (white root), while the men are Akamatsu (red pine) and Omi (blue sea). In typical Japanese fashion, they are addressed by their respective colors: Kuro, Shiro, Aka, and Ao. Only Tazaki lacks any color imagery in his name and is thus jokingly referred to as ‘colorless Tazaki Tsukuru.’ Jokes aside, however, his lack of color actually troubles him, causes him to feel out of place in this colorful group, and irrational though it may be, he often wonders why the others accepted him as a member.

The group itself is significant, according to Tazaki’s own description, in that it operates under certain unspoken rules, first and foremost of which is that they must always do everything together. Explaining it to his girlfriend, Kimoto Sara, in the present narrative, Tazaki calls his group ‘an orderly, harmonious team,’ but it would be more accurate to describe it as a kind of hermetically sealed, utopian closed circle, and there is an implicit curse set against any who might disrupt its perfection.

Tazaki is the first to break this commandment when he elects, unlike the others, to leave Nagoya and attend college I Tokyo, the only place where he can obtain the specialized training he will need to design and construct railway stations. The other four show him support in his endeavor, but the unspoken curse has been invoked, and less than two years after leaving Tokyo, returning home during vacation, Tazaki discovers that he has been unilaterally expelled from the group. Asking Aka – who is tasked with informing Tazaki of his expulsion by telephone – why this has happened, he is told that he should ‘ask himself’ that question. Feeling that further inquiry is pointless, Tazaki returns to Tokyo.

For the next five months following this incident, Tazaki thinks chiefly of death. It is not unnatural that he should consider suicide, but in his case he goes beyond just thinking and seems to place himself precisely on the border between the worlds of the living and the dead. He does not, so far as we know, take the one final step that would cast him into the world of death, but this is a little ambiguous in the narrative, even to Tazaki himself. He has barely eaten in the five months of his confinement, and looking at his emaciated appearance in the mirror, he finds himself resembling a corpse more than a man. ‘In some sense, I might truly have been on the brink of death. Like the shell of an insect, still stuck to a tree branch, I could have been blown into oblivion by a good strong wind, just barely clinging to life in this world…Or maybe – the thought struck Tsukuru – maybe I really did die.’

What brings Tazaki out of his long reverie on death is a dream, in which a woman he does not know – yet desperately desires – offers him her body or her soul, but not both, for the other will be given to someone else. Assailed for the first time in his life by powerful jealousy – a fact that in itself should arouse our interest – Tazaki tries to tell the woman that he must have all of her or none of her, but she is unrelenting. As his frustration grows to rage, a pair of powerful hands grip him and squeeze, as though the marrow will be crushed out of his bones, until the anger is driven out. Tazaki then awakens, bathed in sweat. [MY NOTE: how often does this happen in Murakami?] From this point on he steps away from the brink of death, puts the Nagoya incident behind him, and begins to strengthen his weakened body through healthy meals and regular exercise taken at the university pool. He is, however, conscious that this ‘new’ Tazaki is not the same as the old. His five-month brush with death has transformed him into a new and more formidable man.

While swimming at the pool one day, Tazaki meets Haida, a fellow student two years his junior, who studies physics but whose true passion lies in philosophy. Haida, a handsome youth with what appears to be the scar of a deep knife wound at the nape of his neck, takes a liking to Tazaki, which once again surprises the latter, partly because they are very different but also out of his habitual assumption that he has nothing to offer the relationship, no ‘color’ (Haida’s name, which means ‘gray field,’ is also colorful, and more than once Tazaki mentally transposes his name as ‘Mister Gray’). In contrast with Tazaki, whose first name means ‘to make/create,’ and who is indeed adept at creating ‘things that have form,’ Haida’s true interest lies in the abstract, in the freedom that comes with leaving the world of the flesh behind. During one of his regular visits to Tazaki’s apartment, where the two young men talk, cook, and listen to classical music, he explains his philosophy on the separation of flesh and spirit (a theme given considerable development in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore, as noted previously), reminding us of the woman in Tazaki’s fateful dream:

‘To think freely about things is also to separate ourselves from the flesh we are crammed into. To escape from that limiting cage that is our flesh, to break free of our chains and take flight into pure reason. In reason lies the natural life. That’s what is at the core of freedom of thought.’

Haida’s implied ability to divide flesh and spirit is given graphic demonstration that very night. Awakened by what he thinks is a noise in the room, Tazaki finds himself immobilized (echoing the Leader and Tengo in 1Q84). And while the room is pitch dark, he somehow knows that Haida is in the room with him. The scene is quite similar to that in which Naoko visits Watanabe Toru in Norwegian Wood; unable even to turn his head to see the clock at his bedside, time is eliminated from this space between the worlds of ‘this side’ and ‘over there.’ Meanwhile, Tazaki concentrates on Haida, but he senses that this is not Haida’s physical form. Rather, ‘he could not tell whether the Haida who stood there was the real Haida. Maybe the real, physical Haida was still out there in the other room, sound asleep on the sofa, and this was only Haida’s alter ego, separated from his body.’ Tazaki is not afraid of Haida, only puzzled about his purpose and concerned about his sudden paralysis. But he senses that Haida is frustrated with him. ‘It seemed as though Haida had something he wanted to tell him. He had some message that he needed to convey at all costs. But for some reason that message could not be converted into real words. This was irritating his wise younger friend.’ At length Tazaki falls asleep and has a vivid erotic dream in which Kuro and Shiro, both still in their teens, make love to him, in turns and together. As he approaches climax, however, the two girls and suddenly disappear, replaced by Haida, who takes Tazaki’s penis into his mouth, whereupon Tazaki ejaculates violently. He awakens somewhat abashed the following morning and is surprised to discover no residue of the dream in his underwear or bedclothes, leading him to wonder whether this truly had been a dream at all. Either way, he has the uncomfortable sense that Haida is somehow aware of what has happened, ‘that perhaps Haida had, that night, with those sharp eyes of his, seen straight through him to something lurking at the bottom of his consciousness. Maybe he had felt the remnants of doubt within him…Haida had examined and dissected, one by one, all of the delusions and desires that Tsukuru had kept hidden away.’

Not long after his dream Haida disappears. Tazaki is left, not unnaturally, with questions about his own sexuality and is somewhat relieved to have his first sexual experience shortly thereafter in the waking world, with a real, flesh-and-blood woman. He brings the thing off successfully.

Haida’s role in the narrative, then, is to awaken in Tazaki an awareness of the nature of his inner sexual desire, but it is also to connect him more concretely to his memories and desire for Shiro. This is clear in his introduction to Tazaki of classical music, and one piece in particular: Franz Liszt’s La Mar du Pays, roughly translated into English as ‘Homesickness,’ but more fully explained by Haida as ‘a kind of reasonless melancholy that a pastoral scene calls forth into the soul.’

This also happens to be the piece, Tazaki realizes upon hearing it again, that Shiro always played when she wanted to get away from the world. It is an unusually obscure and challenging piece for a high school girl to play, but those melancholy strains come to represent Shiro, indeed, to contain her very soul, even after death.”

What do you all think so far?

My next post: Tuesday, November 18, the rest of the book. (I’ll have one last post on the 25th.)


“I’ll never let go of your hand again.”

By Dennis Abrams



Ushikawa continues staking out Tengo’s apartment while also returning to the playground to see if the two moons are still in the sky – they are. He has to accept that the two moons actually exist (he can see them) but doesn’t know what to do about it. Back in his apartment, Ushikawa sees a woman coming out of Tengo’s building that he has never seen before. She is wearing a black coat (who could it be?) and he takes some photos of her. As he falls asleep that night, he thinks he hears a knock on the door.

The next day, Ushikawa has his film developed: the pictures of Fuka-Eri unnerve him, and he decides that the mystery woman in black has to be Aomame. That night, he is awakened by a man standing next to his sleeping bag (Tamaru!) who chokes him until he passes out – he wonders if someone has been sent from Sakigake to kill him. When he regains consciousness, the man is still there. (This might be a good time to consider the Leader’s warning that individuals who cross over into the new world without being part of the Little People’s plans are in great danger.)

Ushikawa is in pain as Tamaru tells him what her knows about him – he knows who he is, that he’s a PI, and that he is trailing Aomame and Tengo for Sakigake – the one things he doesn’t know is why the interest in Tengo. Ushikawa lies and tells him that Sakigake wants to know the link between Tengo and Aomame, but Tamaru doesn’t believe him because Ushikawa is on his own and not with a team. Tamaru places a bag over Ushikawa’s head long enough to deprive him of air, forcing Ushikawa to confirm that Sakigake does not know that there is a connection between Tengo and Aomame.

He tells him what is at stake: since he had done the background check on Aomame, it was his fault that the Leader was killed – his job was to find out who and why. Ushikawa also admits that he does not know that Aomame is pregnant, and gives Tamaru a contact number for Sakigake. Tamaru tells Ushikawa about Carl Jung’s house at Lake Zurich in Germany with the inscription, “Cold or Not, God is Present.” and then suffocates Ushikawa, leaving him dead on the floor, apologizing all the while. Tamaru then collects Ushikawa’s notebook, papers, and one of his business cards.

He then calls Sakigake to tell them of Ushikawa’s death, warning them that they had better dispose of the body before the police find it and trace the New Japan Foundation to Sakigake. The man from Sakigake says that then need to talk to Aomame, and that Fuka-Eri’s mission is completed, adding that they know that the Leader wanted to die, so there is no need to harm Aomame. They also “need someone to hear the voice.” Tamaru tells the man that he will consider allowing Aomame to speak with someone at Sakigake – the man warns Tamaru that if not, no one will emerge unscathed.

Buzzcut and Ponytail are in Ushikawa’s room; earlier members of Sakigake had met there to discuss what to do with the body, knowing that Ushikawa had been murdered by a professional. They know that he had not been watching Aomame, and are determined to learn why he was watching Tengo – Buzzcut sends word for someone to track Tengo’s movements.

Ushikawa’s body is taken to the Sakigake compound. When the body is left alone, six Little People emerge from his mouth, pluck threads from the air, and begin weaving a new air chrysalis. (Although Ushikawa’s presence in 1Q84 has ended, the Little People are using his body as a passageway in order to create an air chrysalis, securing a part of his soul in the process.)

And now…Aomame.

She can’t sleep, gets up and makes tea, thinking about Bobblehead and the “Kawana” name card at Tengo’s building. She rereads “Air Chrysalis” and understands that it had cut off the power of the Little People. She thinks about where she is, and begins to understand that she wasn’t dragged into 1Q84 against her will, but that she was meant to be there, that she had some purpose there – that reason is to meet Tengo. As she reads the sections about the air chrysalis being created, she feels a strange warmth emanating from her stomach in response.

Aomame seems to believe that she and Tengo, like Fuka-Eri and Tengo, are a team and that she should be able to add to the story, or even to change it. She begins to imagine that she is the maza and her child is the dohta.

Tamaru calls Aomame and fills her in on the situation. He confirms that the Kawana in the apartment building is indeed Tengo, but advises her against going there since he is unsure just how much Sakigake really knows. He also asks her about the pregnancy, but she can’t explain how it happened, but he decides to trust her. At least for the time being.

He also explains that Sakigake has no intention of harming her, but only want to speak to her, that they need to “hear the voice.” They theorize that the child inside Aomame will hear the voice. Aomame believes that the Leader’s death somehow allowed Tengo to give Aomame a child. Aomame insists on meeting with Tengo but will not say why: she knows that the moons and the Little People are listening so she won’t say out loud what she plans to do when she sees Tengo.

Tamaru tells her that as long as the Dowager agrees, he will contact Tengo and give him a message to come to the slide after dark. The Dowager agrees and Tamaru delivers the message; she tells him that she and Tengo will look at the moon. (She knows now that the Sakigake people need the child insider her in order to be able to hear the voices, since the child was conceived specifically TO hear the voices. The child will fill the hole the Leader left, and if the child is not removed from 1Q84 will share the Leader’s fate.
The pair finally meet, and Aomame confirms to Tengo that they are both seeing two moons – a maza and a dohta. She tells him that they have to move on, but she can’t tell him where they’re going. The clouds cover the moon, and Tengo speaks for the first time saying that they will be leaving the cat town. Aomame understands that her 1Q84 is Tengo’s cat town, and tells him that they are the same thing, and that now they will never again be apart. (Is it symbolic that their childhood bond is rediscovered on a playground?)

And Tengo…

Tengo and Kumi Adachi wait at the crematorium for the body of Tengo’s father to be cremated. She talks about how when someone dies, a hold is opened up in the world, but that without proper respect and deference, that hole will never again be filled.

When Tengo returns home, he thinks about whether or not he should try speaking to his father – Kumi had advised against it, telling him he needs to look to the future, not the past. But Tengo understands that there is a secret he needs to know before he can go anywhere.

Tengo receives a call (from Tamaru obviously) asking if he would like to see Aomame. Tengo agrees (obviously) and Tamaru tell him to bring with him something he can’t leave behind but to keep both hands free – and that time is of the essence.

Tengo packs his manuscript, floppy disks (remember those?), notebook, and pens, and puts them in his shoulder bag. He also packs away his family photo and thinks about
what Kumi told him about leaving before the exit was blocked.

He arrives at the playground, sits on the slide, and…Aomame appears beside him. They hold hands, not speaking. But then Aomame speaks and tells him to open his eyes, and to look at the moon.

Tengo and Aomame hail a cab to head onto the highway, while Aomame explains to him that she is carrying his child. Tengo reflects on the strange sexual encounter he had with Fuka-Eri, and believes that the child is his. Aomame also tells Tengo that the Little People are real – that they were brought into the same world for a purpose and it has to do with having a baby. But…the Sakigake want the three of them – father, mother, and son – so that they can hear the voices again. Aomame believes that there is a pathway out of 1Q84 – and they need to find it to protect their baby’s life. But with the stairway seemingly gone…

And finally…Tengo AND Aomame

But Aomame finds the stairway she used to climb DOWN into 1Q84 and knows that they have to climb UP to get out. She and Tengo climb up and as they do, she notices the rubber plant she had seen on her way down the steps, which gives her some comfort.
They reach the top and make it onto the Expressway. The clouds are thick so they can’t see the moon – the only way they have of determining whether they’ve made it out of the cat town, out of 1Q84. But the clouds break, and there is only one moon. Aomame says a prayer – she might now whether they are back in 1984 or another world altogether, but at least they are not in 1Q84 any more. She and Tengo take another taxi to a hotel in Akasaka, where, at least, they make love. After, they watch the sunrise and see the same old single moon slowly fade in the daylight.

And a few thoughts and favorite things:

“I may well be just a cheerless, grubby little creature, a bug on the damp underside of a rock…” Is that why he started growing green moss on his tongue?

The moons “snuggled up close to each other in the freezing, cloudless sky.”
Aomame and Tengo sharing the same apartment number.

It’s nice to know that the stereotypical funeral director is skinny both here and in Japan.

The entire scene with Tamaru and Ushikawa was pretty horrific – it was hard not to feel bad for Ushikawa (do we really think he could have hurt either Tengo or Aomame) and brought to mind thought of Guantanamo.

“Cold or Not, God is Present.” – thoughts?

“Shakespeare said it best,” Tamaru said quietly as he gazed at that lumpish, misshapen head. “Something along these lines: if we die today, we do not have to die tomorrow, so let us look to the best in each other.”

But I did love Tamaru apologizing throughout.

Tamaru’s report to Aomame – “the inside of his fridge was very neat, no rotten cabbage or anything tucked away in the back.” No surprise there.

The “ho ho” from one of the Little People in response to Aomame; the “ho,ho’ from six others…

The whole silent meeting, the hand holding, with Tengo and Aomame…perfection.

“As the two of them hurried out of the park, the pair of moons remained hidden behind the slowly moving clouds. The eyes of the moon were covered. And the boy and the girl, hand in hand, made their way out of the forest.”

But that one doubt… “Aomame was struck by a sudden thought. Something was different, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She narrowed her eyes and focused, and then it hit her. the left side of the Esso tiger’s face was toward them. But in her memory it was his right side that had faced the world. The tiger had been reversed.”

So…where are they?

“She quietly stretched out a hand, and Tengo took it. The two of them stood there, side by side, wordlessly watching the moon over the buildings. Until the newly risen sun shone upon it, robbing it of its nighttime brilliance. Until it was nothing more than a gray paper moon, hanging in the sky.”

So a question…what happened to Fuka-Eri? And Tengo’s girlfriend for that matter, but…WHAT HAPPENED TO FUKA-ERI?????

And from Strecher, a look at Murakami’s use of “double exposure” – a mix of fiction and journalism…

“Murakami, too, succeeds in creating a kind of ‘double exposure’ in 1Q84, and while I do not suggest that we read this novel merely as a fictionalized retelling of the stories in Underground and Underground 2, it is possible to discern some of the issues Murakami unearthed in those two nonfictional works in 1Q84 as well, and thus I propose to read the work from the perspective of journalistic fiction to see whether any fresh insights become apparent. The working assumption of this section is that the cult portrayed in 1Q84 as ‘Sakigake’ is a fictional depiction of the Aum Shinrikyo, a cult very like it, in its earliest phases.

Unlike Kaiko Takeshi, Murakami is not particularly interested in redirecting any of this story back onto himself in 1Q84, chiefly because none of his protagonists actually represents him, but also because, like Kaiko, he was never directly involved in the events that become prominent in these narratives, that is, the formation of the cult itself and the rise to quasi-sacred status of the cult’s leader. For this reason, Murakami is able to remain focuses on the process by which these two phenomena develop, and offer an imaginative, highly revealing scenario for them.

In so doing, there can be little question that the voices of the various Aum Shinrikyo members Murakami interviewed for Underground 2 made their way, with or without the author’s awareness, into the narrative flow, along with some of the media and public attitudes that attended the Aum case. There were intellectuals and manual laborers, artists, schoolteachers, and engineers in Aum; some sought meaning in life; others, merely change from their everyday existence. Quite a number sought actual salivation and genuinely believed in the sacred powers of Asahara Shoko. Some of these people are shown in the novel by generalized descriptions – chiefly provided by Professor Ebisuno, Fukaeri’s guardian after she fled Sakigake – of the types of people who joined that organization in its early days. ‘People with farming skills, healthy people who could handle harsh physical labor were sought…There were also professionals with higher education. Doctors, engineers, educators, accountants – people like that were also welcomed into the collective since their skills were useful.’ Characters like ‘Ponytail’ and ‘the Monk,’ the Leader’s bodyguards, are probably typical: highly devout and spiritual committed but basically stupid, unimaginative, and amateurish. Finally, of course, there is the Leader himself, who bears little resemblance to Asahara Shoko, it is true, but whose charisma and power – including actual spiritual power – seems to represent the beliefs of Asahara’s followers. (Asahara’s widely touted ability to levitate is transformed in 1Q84 to the Leader making a stone clock float in midair before Aomame’s eyes.)

As noted, Murakami has expressed no interest in recuperating the image of the Aum Shinrikyo specifically, and least of all Asahara Shoko; what he does succeed in doing through 1Q84 is to suggest how the story might have turned out with an actual spiritualist as a leader, someone who truly could hear and interpret the voices from ‘over there.’ A second, but no less critical motivation for Murakami is to offer an alternative image to that provided in the Japanese mass media, if only to demonstrate that their simplistic ‘good versus evil’ construct is not the only way to conceptualize the cult and its members. Public opinion toward the Aum Shinrikyo was so uniformly negative in Japan following the media blitz (which, to be fair, was fed by public cries for vengeance) that former members could not find work or even apartments to rent for they were, in most people’s eyes, guilty by association. Murakami suggests through his narrative that merely belonging to a cult (a highly loaded term to begin with) does not make one a criminal, and (somewhat more riskily) that not all the members of Aum were bad. Most, like his characters ‘Ponytail’ and ‘the Mon,’ were simply unimaginative.

A reading such as this does carry with it certain risks, foremost of which is the suggestion that eavesdropping on the author’s thinking during the act of creation is advisable or even possible. This is particularly true when dealing with Murakami Haruki, who has always maintained that he does not plan out his narratives but allows them to flow organically from his imagination. But planning the narrative and selecting the subject matter are two different things. Murakami notes, for instance, that when he was preparing to write A Wild Sheep Chase, ‘I used ‘sheep’ as a key word, but the only thing I was sure of was that, at the end of the story, ‘Boku’ on this side and ‘Rat’ from the other side would be brought together.’ We can just as easily imagine him saying, ‘I need ‘cult’ as a key word, but the only thing I was sure of what that at the end of the story ‘Tengo’ and ‘Aomame’ would be brought together…’ Whereas the ‘Sheep’ in A Wild Sheep Chase has every appearance of a random image, the notion of the cult is anything but random, and the similarities between the formation of ‘Sakigake’ and Aum Shinrikyo are difficult to ignore.

More importantly, if we choose to read a work like 1Q84 for its quasi-journalistic qualities, then the very nature of journalistic fiction, as with historical fiction, fairly demands that we acknowledge the role of the writer as selector and organizer of the events to be presented, and it is necessary to assume that such writers – including Murakami – must make choices with regards to characters and descriptions, even in an ‘organically evolving’ narrative, if it is to accomplish its purpose. Why, for instance, does Murakami elect to depict the Leader as a man of such physical and spiritual size and power yet, ultimately, as a mere tool to be used by the cult? Why are ‘Ponytail’ and ‘the Monk’ [MY NOTE: I’m assuming this is a different translation of ‘Buzzcut’] shown to be bungling amateurs? And why, in fact, are all the characters, from Tengo and Aomame to Ayumi and Tamaru, presented as somehow ‘slightly off,’ standing just outside mainstream society? Is it not because so many of the people Murakami met from the Aum Shinrikyo actually fit that description in some manner or other? All were looking for something, just as everyone in 1Q84, whether actually or figuratively, is looking for something, including its two heroes; Tengo seeks his inner wellspring, his ‘narrative,’ and Aomame seeks him. Both Tengo and Aomame are somehow ‘outside’ the mainstream, and it is not difficult to imagine that even these two, given the right circumstances, might have been drawn to the Leader – a ‘true prophet’ – for their spiritual guidance. Where else, after all, are they to seek it?

Among those Murakami interviewed from the Aum cult for Underground 2, young Kanda Miyuki seems to have made a particularly strong impression on him. Reflecting that she was only sixteen when she joined the Aum cult, and apparently an actual mystic, Murakami not only understands why she joined a group like Aum but argues that Japanese society should make a place for her, and soon. ‘I can think of no reason why there should not be a few people in our world who think seriously about matters that are not directly useful to society. The problem is, besides the Aum Shinrikyo, there are few effective ‘nets’ in which to catch such people.’

It is only natural that Murakami should be drawn to someone like Kanda, who describes her dreams and her reality as being indistinguishable. Is this an expression of schizophrenia, or is she actually channeling the ‘other world’ directly into her conscious mind? Murakami himself does not presume to know, but he is clearly impressed with her apparently natural ability to attain what many seek through ascetic practice and he, as a novelist, must seek through daily toil, that is, direct communication with his inner mind – his dreamscape – while writing in a conscious state. If we attempt to connect her to 1Q84, Kanda reminds us of Fukaeri, whose direct link to the Little People – the gods themselves – makes her, as we saw earlier, an ideal oracular mouthpiece but also (like dreams themselves) an enigma in the ordinary, secular world. Put another way, Fukaeri, like Kanda, is problematic in a society that has no particular objection to fantasy fiction or virtual reality but is intolerant of anyone with the temerity to claim that her ‘visions’ might actually be real.

This returns us to an important thematic point from the previous chapter, wherein individual spiritual experience was contrasted with shared, inherited doctrine. Mirroring the inherent inability of industrialized societies to accept direct divine experience as valid, one of the central ironies present in 1Q84 is that many – maybe most – of the same people who pursue religious traditions that began with direct mystical experiences are nonetheless intensely mistrustful of – even hostile toward – living people who claim to have had similar experiences. There is no place in modern, ‘normal’ society for those who have left their bodies, visited other worlds, found enlightenment, conversed with God. Such events belong to ancient times, or to fiction; suggest otherwise and one is dismissed as a mental case. One of the deeper messages of 1Q84 is thus identical to one of the deeper messages of Underground 2, namely, that in a world where our choices are limited to the homogenizing consumerist System of Japan, Inc., or the likes of Asahara Shoko, in order to find meaning in life, we do ourselves a disservice indulging in oversimplified oppositions of ‘us versus them’; rather, there are benefits to be fond in the recognition that there may be shoe in our world who really do ‘hear the voices,’ who are not mental cases, and sometimes they should be listened to. And where, finally, are those ‘voices’ to be found in the actual world in which we live? I think we could substitute ‘inner narrative’ for ‘voices’ and have a clearer idea of what Murakami has been trying to accomplish as a writer all these years. From his most bizarrely magical realist fiction to his most realistically grounded non-fiction, he has tried again and again to demonstrate to his readers the importance of looking within themselves, engaging their own inner ‘voices,’ and using them to perceive and remake the world that surrounds them.

This chapter – indeed, this book – began with the assertion that concepts like ‘truth,’ ‘fact,’ and even ‘reality,’ grounded as they are in the snares of individual perception, filtered through the imperfect tool of language and culture are to be viewed with skepticism. I have not sought to suggest that the world around us does not exist, so much as to suggest that it cannot exist meaningfully without first passing through the various filters of our perception apparatuses. If this is true, then it becomes ever more important for each individual to examine and explore the unique apparatus with which he or she perceives and reconstructs the world and its various events. This is why genres like literary journalism and journalistic fiction are so useful, for they acknowledge the constitutive role of language, of our internal narrative, in the production of the external narratives we project into and share with the rest of the world. It is Kanda Miyuki’s acute awareness of and connection to a strong internal narrative that Murakami responds to so powerfully; it is the lack of such narratives that seems to link so many other Aum Shinrikyo members with whom he spoke as he compiled Underground 2. A great many of these people admired Asahara Shoko and his upper echelon – particularly Joyu Fumihiro – for their ability to respond with great precision and certainty to their questions; yet, one can hear Murakami asking implicitly – and at times, almost explicitly – how can anyone answer questions about the ‘other world,’ about our purpose and place in the world, about existence itself, with precision or certainty? Are these not the very things every individual must discover for himself? The greatest flaw Murakami identifies in the Aum Shinrikyo, then, is that it gives its members answers to intensely personal questions that can only truly be approached from the inside, through our own individual narrative. Ultimately, cults like the Aum Shinrikyo behave much as the homogenizing state or ‘System’: they supply an overarching narrative of the world, how it works, what its values are, what it means to be successful, happy, enlightened, and they present that narrative to their members, fait accompli, as an unalienable truth. Rat expresses their central theme at the outset of Hear the Wind Sing when he complains that ‘thinking your way through fifty years, truth be told, is a lot more tiring than spacing out for five thousand years.’ Today, more than three decades after writing that line, Murakami continues to pit the empty bliss of blind conformity against the greater challenges – but also greater rewards – of maintaining an individual stance toward the world, accepting our imperfections, thinking for ourselves, connecting with our inner narrative, and finally deciding on our own what the world is, what it means for us, and what our role in it should be.

Connecting 1Q84 to the actual development of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, then, exposes more clearly how this novel brings Murakami’s most important original theme up to date, a theme whose mode of expression has changed a great deal in three decades but whose essential message has not. What we have seen in 1Q84 but a plea from the author to make up or own minds? To think for ourselves? Tengo and Aomame both emerge as heroes in this novel, but only after they determine of their own free will to break away from the tasks that have been set them, tasks that, they are told, are morally right and correct; it is only when both strike out on their own and choose for themselves that they are able to shake off the delusion of predetermined fate and begin to fulfill a destiny that, both actually and figuratively, they are in the process of writing themselves. At the same time, Murakami presents the Sakigake cult to us not as a monolith of ‘evil’ but as individuals seeking answers to life’s questions. Some of them have the gifts required to ‘hear the voices,’ to gain the wisdom of the gods, but most can only await that wisdom, perhaps never realizing that the means to discovering it already exists within themselves, in their own narrative. In the context of our discussion of journalistic fiction, Murakami’s voice seems to urge us as readers to take each character as he or she appears, to judge for ourselves their guilt or innocence, their guilt or evil, based not on loaded terms like cult but on what we see occurring in the story. And finally, if we listen carefully, we may even hear Murakami’s own ‘voice,’ whispering to us, reminding us that the realities we find in the novel are not, finally, so different from the realities we find in the real world. The most important thing is to judge for ourselves, against the inner narrative we carry, for only in this manner can we truly grasp what radio journalist Paul Harvey (1918-2009) used to call ‘the rest of the story.’”

Any final thoughts/impressions/questions about 1Q84?

My next post: Tuesday November 10, Chapters 1-10, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.


“What a strange world. With each passing day, it’s getting harder to know how much is just hypothetical and how much is real.”

Book Three, Chapters 13-21
By Dennis Abrams


To Ushikawa:

While we have known that Ushikawa is not, by any means, an attractive man, we learn that to compensate for it, he has delved into learning and knowledge. We also learned that he has a wife and two daughters, although he and his wife have separated and he hasn’t seen his children in four years.

He begins his stakeout of Tengo’s building, taking an apartment on the ground floor and photographing everybody going in and out of the building. (He is also proving to be a liability to all concerned, although he is not yet aware of the danger. Given this, the Leader’s statement that sometimes individuals appear in 1Q84 who were never to appear there takes on a darker meaning – is Ushikawa such an unintended guest?

I love how Murakami is making us feel almost sorry for Ushikawa and his move back to “square one.”

And his playing with everyone’s time frame.

Ushikawa’s photos – the sadness on everyone’s face.

“Even if I left this world, I doubt anyone would notice. I would shout out from the dark, but no one would hear me. Still, I have to keep soldering on until I die, the only way I know how. Not a laudable sort of life, but the only life I know how to life.”

Ushikawa watches Fuka-Eri, What is she looking at/for above the electric pole? Her KNOWING that he is inside taking photos. The pain of her gaze.

The collector for the NDK shows up at Ushikawa’s door. Why isn’t he seen leaving the building?

Ushikawa sees Fuka-Eri leave Tengo’s apartment, and she looks him in the eyes as she leaves, unnerving him while at the same time moving him spiritually. He returns to the window in his apartment, watching Tengo’s building through a camera lens. As he watches people coming and going, he begins to question whether or not what he is seeing is real, AND, if it is real, does anything that goes on matter?

When Tengo returns, Ushikawa follows him to a bar and then around the neighborhood. He follows him to the playground, watches Tengo sitting on the slide and looking up and then, after he leaves, Ushikawa climbs up on to the slide to see what Tengo was looking at and, lo and behold, sees that there are two moons. He suddenly knows that something has gone very wrong, and thinks of “Air Chrysalis.”

Ushikawa watches Fuka-Eri as she once again takes her stuff and leaves Tengo’s apartment. Once again, she watches him, and once again, he is deeply affected by her. “When that girl left, she left behind this void. No, maybe not. Maybe she just showed me something that was already there, inside me.” Is he in love with her? How does she know he’s watching?

At the playground, he climbs the slide and sees the two moons. “It’s the world around me that’s gone crazy. And I have to find out why.”

And Aomame:

Aomame now understands that reason and logic do not exist in 1Q84. By December, she is clearly pregnant, and is more and more certain that the baby is Tengo’s child. “If I’m pregnant without having had sex, who could the man possibly be other than Tengo?”
She also comes to realize that she believes in God. She isn’t just praying like she was when she was younger, she actually believes. People get in the way of finding God, she understands, and realizes that to protect the baby she has to recognize that she believes in God.

Her dream of the room guarded by Buzzcut and Ponytail, her fear that they were after her baby. “If need be, she would have no problem pumping all the 9mm bullets she had into Ponytail and Buzzcut. The God that protected her was also, at times, a bloody God.”

The NDK fee collector returns, once again pounding on the door and calling out to her, but Aomame does not answer. She speaks by phone to the dowager and watches the playground.

The fee collector comes back but Aomame still does not answer. Eventually, the man leaves. She speaks by phone to the dowager, who warns her about the man who had been watching Willow House (Ushikawa) and raises the question of why such an “unusual looking man, “he sounds like a colorful circus clown” would be sent to do such a job. The Dowager tells Aomame that on the night of the thunderstorm, she lost her anger – just as Aomame had.

Aomame listens to Janacek’s “Sinfonietta” and watches the news twice a day. She also begins looking at herself in the mirror, and for the first time in her life, thinks of herself as pretty.

She sees a man sitting on the slide in the playground, and believes it to be Tengo. But she sees on closer inspection that it is not. She nicknames him Bobblehead (we know it’s Ushikawa), puts on a jacket and hat, and decides to follow him. She discovers the apartment building he goes near and sees Tengo’s surname on one of the buzzer charts.

Aomame returns to her own apartment and calls Tamaru, who is unhappy she has gone out of the apartment. She tells Tamaru about Bobblehead, and about Fuka-Eri’s father being the Leader. She requests that Tamaru find out if the Kawana in the apartment is Tengo, and to see how close Bobblehead is to figuring out what is going on. Aomame also says that if any harm should come to Tengo, she wants to take his place.

Her lack of progress in Proust. “It feels like I’m experiencing someone else’s dream. Like we’re simultaneously sharing feelings…”

And Tengo:
Tengo ends up at the playground. He sees both moons, and considers the idea that perhaps they are a special message for him and him alone. He gets up and leaves and goes back to his apartment to read the letter Fuka-Eri had written him. The letter explains that she left because she knew they were being watched, but by whom or why was not explained. How she knew this is also not explained. The crow that Fuka-Eri described comes back and to the balcony. She also describes being able to talk to the crow.

The next day, Tengo talks to Komatsu on the phone. Komatsu has much to tell Tengo, and they agree to meet that night at seven. They meet that night and Komatsu asks about Tengo’s novel. Komatsu also reveals Fuka-Eri is now home with the Professor, and the missing persons report has been withdrawn. Komatsu assures Tengo his name will not be made public. Komatsu also reveals that he had been kidnapped by Buzzcut and Ponytail, which is why he was missing for seventeen days. To get released, he agreed to stop any further publication of “Air Chrysalis”

“What a strange world. With each passing day, it’s getting harder to know how much is just hypothetical and how much is real.”

Kumi Adachi, the nurse from the sanatorium, calls Tengo late at night. Tengo’s father has died. Early the next morning, Tengo travels to the sanatorium to discover his father has apparently died of heart failure brought on by the coma. Tengo’s father had previously arranged for a simple funeral and cremation for himself. Tengo then meets with a lawyer to go over the papers his father left behind. This includes money and a single photograph. The photograph is of the family, when Tengo was a year or two old.

Tengo also discovers that his father wants to be cremated in his television fee collection uniform. Kumi tells Tengo that sometimes, his father used to tap on the bed railing, like he was knocking on a door.


I was intrigued and slightly puzzled by the sudden shift of focus at the end of Chapter 17, the section starting “Of course, it wasn’t a child that Aomame saw…”  It’s like a film that has been in close-up, but then the camera pulled back to show the big picture, a number of “ifs” — interesting choice.

From Strecher:

“If the metaphysical world is as real as the physical one (at least within the context of Murakami’s fictional world), so too the ‘sacred’ realm, as part of that metaphysical world, must be regarded as real. Ordinarily such a point would not need to be made with respect to Murakami, except that there is a natural inclination, particularly in ‘modern’ societies, to regard people who hear voices as mad. (It is an interesting point of irony that there is a greater tendency among people – especially those living in advanced industrialized societies – to place their faith in religious leaders whose faith is grounded in sacred writings rather than in direct sacred experience.) Perhaps this is because most organized religions exist at a comfortable distance from the direct experience of the ancient seer on whose teachings their belief system is founded. Then, too, it may be inevitable that industrialized people should be more comfortable with the sense of order that comes with organization and tradition.

But all religions must start somewhere, and if we think about the growth of some of the major ones – Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, for instance – we note that they generally began with a charismatic leader who claims direct experience and contact with a deity or deities. Certainly this was true of Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed. Even assuming that their experiences and instructions were preserved for a generation or two by disciples, fellow mystics or seers, eventually those teachings were codified, written down, and maintained by a priesthood whose ordained have little or no direct contact or experience with the deity/deities, but whose faith is grounded in the codified teachings themselves. This process it not confined only to the ancient religions; new religions and cults spring up regularly even into the present era, many of them offshoots of established religions (many Japanese cults, for instance, are variants of Buddhism, founded by leaders who claim direct mystical experiences). Invariably, tension is born between the established, textually based religions and the ‘new,’ experience- based derivatives, and religious history is filled with stories of burning or banishing as madmen or ‘heretics’ those who claim to have had a direct encounter with the deity. Joseph Campbell usefully describes these two phases of religious experience as those of the ‘shaman’ and the ‘priest.’:

‘The figure now in the primary role is the priest, who is an ordained official of the tribal or village deities; these are not of his personal experience. He is in the service of the society and its deities, for the priestly society. The shaman is an archaic danger. He represents the early mystic, one who has had the individual mystic experience and is supported by his familiars – his own special deities – whereas the priest is supported by and is in turn the supporter of the cultural deities. The two systems are inherently in conflict. The priest is the man of the book; the shaman is the man of the experience.’

What Campbell describes can also be expressed as the conflict between collective thought/experience and individual thought/experience. In the case of 1Q84, we see this best exemplified, sometimes explicitly, other times more subtly, in the conflict that comes to exist between what we will term true prophets, that is, those genuinely touched by the divine spark, and false prophets, who champion the sort of ‘myths’ of which Roland Barthes wrote, artificial constructs such as ‘morality’ and ‘justice,’ as well as religious and political ideological systems quite as though they represented absolute truth.

In fact, the structure of 1Q84 sets up those oppositions quite plainly, for divinely inspired characters are clearly marked with exceptional physical or mental qualities. Fukaeri, for instance, is marked physically; she is beautiful yet somehow lacks ‘balance’; physically she is small, but her breasts are unusually large and draw a great deal of attention. But most of all she seems simply artificial. ‘Her expression was devoid of the scent of life,’ Tengo reflects the first time he sees her. Other areas of her body, as we saw in the previous chapter, actually look as though they are not real. But Fukaeri is also ‘marked’ by her inability to communicate in the ordinary way, speaking in extremely short sentence, with virtually no intonation (difficult words are written in the text phonetically in katakana as a signal to the reader that they are more sounds to her than pictorial images or concepts). It is a point of humor that she always asks questions of Tengo ‘without the question mark’ (gimonfu o tsukezu ni).

In the context of our mythological analysis, we may associate Fukaeri’s difficulty in communicating through normal human channels as a sign that she is a direct receiver – the mouthpiece – of oracles, the first to hear the ‘voices’ of the gods (or of the Little People in this case) and to pass along what they have said. As with many oracles, however, these messages arrive in jumbled form – as riddles, as parables, in code – and are not intelligible to the uninitiated. Thus, the messages that emerge from Fukaeri must be interpreted by those with the gift of transposing the sublime into the everyday. Initially, Fukaeri’s ‘oracle’ is interpreted and transmitted in a primitive form by the teenage daughter of Professor Ebisuno, who provides refuge to Fukaeri after she has run away from the cult. The real task of interpreting and transmitting the contents of this oracle to the masses, however, falls to the Leader and, later, to his son Tengo.

Both Tengo and the Leader (who certainly is Tengo’s spiritual father, if not his actual, biological one) are marked as divine by their extraordinary physical size and strength, as well as their more intellectual gifts in language and reasoning. We recall that Tengo, upon reading Fukaeri’s story (as transposed by Ebiusno’s daughter), is taking by it in a way that he cannot ignore; the narrative has awakened something inside him, and when directed to rework the piece for publication, despite strong ethical misgivings, he finds that he cannot resist. Like Yoshiya [from the short story All God’s Children Can Dance], Tengo cannot deny the divine spark that he carries, nor can he escape his sacred task as a prophet, intermediary between humans and the gods. His editor Komatsu says much the same thing when he tells Tengo, ‘You’ll be the mediator, you’ll connect Fukaeri’s world with the real world.’ From the start, then, Tengo has been marked to replace the Leader, whose ability to interpret the words – the Will – of the gods (the Little People) through Fukaeri wanes as his physical body deteriorates. In the tradition of ancient animistic religions – including Shinto – the Leader performs the function of shaman, his experiences with the spirit world immediate and personal. As a holy man he intercedes between the earthly masses and the spirit world, interpreting the raw data transmitted through Fukaeri and transposing it into intelligible Law. And Tengo, in rewriting Fukaeri’s narrative for wider dissemination, has unwittingly already begun to take over the family business.

In mythological terms, if Tengo and the Leader are prophets and Fukaeri functions as oracular messenger of the gods, then Aomame fulfills the dual role of bringer and taker of life. Aomame at times strikes us as a series of paradoxes: she can be friendly and appealing, yet her grimace can cause children to soil themselves; she is a fitness instructor and nutrition expert who moonlights as a serial killer and whose best friend is a police officer; she detests the religion in which she was raised yet unconsciously appeals to that very same god when faced with sudden uncertainty. Aomame’s lack of consistency is physically marked by her breasts, which are of different size, symbolizing the two sides to her personality and her dual roles. She is a force of nature itself, monster and angel, bringer of death and (as mother to Tengo’s unborn child) giver of life. Even as Aomame uses her ice pick-like instrument to turn off the ‘life switch’ at the base of her victim’s brains, she zealously nurtures and protects the fragile and defenseless life that grows inside her. In fact, it is precisely for control of her womb – and thus control of her body itself – that the final conflict in this story will be fought out.

This leaves Ushikawa, the last of the characters I would identify as divinely marked, though readers may wish it were not so. Ushikawa, whose name means ‘bull river,’ is actually more of a doglike character, marked by his small stature and misshapen head. His appearance is particularly striking that he comes from a family of tall, well-proportioned, good-looking people. He alone is hideous, but is our best indication that he has been marked by the gods. Blessed with extraordinary instincts, a keen intellect, and a talent for finding things that are unfindable, Ushikawa enters the narrative as a temporary retainer for the Sakigake cult, which sends him to approach Tengo in order to rediscover the whereabouts of Fukaeri; later, in book 3, he is sent out to locate Aomame following the death of the Leader. However, while Ushikawa works for Sakigake, from a narratological point of view his role more closely resembles that of Nakata, whose task is to open the Gateway Stone and restore a sense of balance between the two sides. [SPOILER ALERT FOR THE REST OF THE PARAGRAPH!] Despite his unpleasant appearance, Ushikawa’s position is neither benevolent nor malevolent. This, however, is also why he must die; the balance must, temporary at least, be upset in order to break the stalemate and bring the conflict to a resolution. Like the Leader, Ushikawa is a necessary sacrifice.

The stakes in bringing about this reunification are considerable; they involve the establishment of the next generation of divinely sparked humans – beginning with Aomame and Tengo’s child – who have struggled their whole lives. Their task, which they must perform together or not at all, is to show the way by breaking free of the various ready-made narratives that have bound them until now.

As we have already seen, both Aomame and Tengo spent their childhoods under the care of parents who zealously adhered to rigid belief syste4ms. In Aomame’s case this took the form of evangelical Christianity, and she, too, was forced to follow these customs and rituals without question. Tengo was left in the hands of an equally zealous worshipper of the Japanese State – represented through NHK. His father’s loyalty to NHK is understandable; having returned to Japan from mainland Asia following World War II, with neither education nor family, Tengo’s father survived because he found employment – an actual home – with NHK.

Sincere as their parents may have been in their devotion to these belief systems, however, those systems ultimately prove unsuited to Aomame’s and Tengo’s needs, precisely because even as children their inner selves were intact; ready-made narratives such as organized religion and State ideology can only stunt their spiritual and emotional development. Their only hope of meaningful existence is thus to break free and continue to develop their own inner voices. As children, both Tengo and Aomame were pawns for their parents; as adults, it’s imperative that they live for themselves.

But do they? Herein, I think, Murakami sets a subtle trap for his readers, for while Aomame and Tengo may appear to have shaken off the shackles of their childhood restrictions and come into their own as adults, I would argue that, quite the contrary, in the process of escaping the evangelical roots in which they were brought up, both have run directly into the arms of a new manifestation of the same sort of ready-made narratives, in the form of the zealotry represented in the old woman and Komatsu. Aomame is still a pawn, an enforcer of the old woman’s campaign of vengeance against abusive men, meting out justice, to be sure, but whose justice and on whose terms? Tengo, similarly, is drawn into Komatsu’s game of revenge and humiliation against the pretensions of the literary and artistic community. Like Aomame, he got into the game for compelling reasons of his own, but in the end he serves as a mere tool advancing the agenda of Komatsu himself. Komatsu and the old woman, then, within the quasi-religious context of this discussion, represent merely one more pair of ‘false prophets,’ exploiting the gifts Tengo and Aomame possess to further their own schemes. Neither Komatsu nor the old woman are presented as evil per se; they are simply a new variation on an old theme.”

So what do you all think? Share your thoughts/comments/questions with the group!

My next post, Tuesday, November 4, the conclusion of 1Q84

“But in the end you won’t be able to escape. Someone will come and open this door.”

Book Three, Chapters 4-12
By Dennis Abrams


So…let’s begin with Ushikawa.

Ushikawa, trying to understand how the elderly dowager could be involved with the killing of the Leader, learns that she is a retired businesswoman who inherited the company from her husband, and then sold off its stock. Although he continues to dig around, the Dowager (real name Mrs. Ogata) is very private, and connecting Sakigake to Willow House is difficult.

So instead, he starts trying to find information about Aomame’s parents, as well as details about her job at the sports club. He asks a contact, whom he calls “Bat,” to look into those things. Ushikawa also discovers that Aomame is probably living in a safe house.

Bat breaks into the sports club and steals Witness Society information as well as information that links the Dowager and Aomame through a self-defense class, leading Ushikawa to surmise that they were both victims of domestic violence. He also learns that Tengo and Aomame attended the same elementary school.

Continuing his investigation, Ushikawa goes to the town of Ichikawa, where Tengo and Aomame both lived as children. Under the guise of working for the New Japan Foundation for the Advancement of Scholarship and the Arts, he learns that in some way, both Tengo and Aomame have made attacks on Sakigake, and that they have similar pasts, ranging from unhappy childhoods to escaping from home on athletic scholarships.

He also speaks to Mrs. Ota, the woman who taught Tengo and Aomame. She remembers Tengo as bright but burdened by his father’s strict nature, as well as Aomame’s depression from her parent’s strict religious practices.

And then there’s Aomame:

She reads and watched the playground until she goes to sleep, waiting for Tengo to come back. One day there’s a knock on the door, asking for the person whose fake name is on the nameplate. Aomame takes out her pistol, and the person knocking explains that he is a television fee collector. Eventually the man leaves, but Aomame feels wary about the situation.

Aomame begins learning Spanish – just in case. She dreams about thunder, about being nude on the Metropolitan Expressway, and of being in motion.

Tamaru calls and tells her that since the television fees are up to date, no one should be knocking on the door – is it a clerical error? Aomame asks Tamaru for a pregnancy test along with a book on pregnancy and menstruation; even though she thinks she’s pregnant (her period is three weeks late) she doesn’t know how it could have happened. The Dowager promises her that she will do everything in her power to protect her.

The television fee collector returns; he knocks and yells through the door, telling her that she won’t be able to escape paying her fees forever. Eventually, though, he leaves. Aomame sits outside after he goes, knowing that there is something inside her – perhaps a dohta, perhaps a maza.

Tuesday, before her suppliers return, Aomame writes to Tamaru to let him know the television fee collector has returned. She received her pregnancy test and learns that she is indeed pregnant. Believing that by killing the Leader life was formed inside her, she prays to God for help.

She wonders if Tengo might be the father, but can’t imagine how that could be the case. Tamaru calls to tell her that the television fee agent assigned to her area does not remember knocking on her door; therefore the man who has been knocking at her door is an imposter. Aomame tells him that she is pregnant. She falls asleep and when she wakes up, knows that she will safely bring the child into the world.

And finally…Tengo.

Nurse Omura thinks that it is kind that Tengo is reading to his father, and asks if she can sit in and listen. Tengo agrees, and continues with Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa” (WHY?)

Every evening, Tengo calls Fuka-Eri to check up on her. The fee collector continues to visit, and Fuka-Eri continues not to answer. (Same collector as the one visiting Aomame?) Tengo tries calling Komatsu, but he still cannot be reached. Finally, he comes back to his office, seeming different and more withdrawn. Tengo is invited out to dinner with Nurse Omura, Nurse Adachi, and Nurse Tamura. The three mildly berate him about his previous relationship with the older woman, telling him that someone like that normally doesn’t just cut off contact, which leaves an ominous feeling in Tengo.

Nurse Kumi Adachi and Tengo are drunk after their dinner – she invites him back to her place to smoke pot. While he is high, he sees a girl who asks Tengo to find her.

When he wakes up, he and Kumi are in bed together. She tells him that she has been reincarnated, and also tells him, before he goes back to sleep, that he needs to leave before the exit is blocked. Tengo now knows he is in a cat town, and that there is something there that he needs to find.

Tengo packs up to go back home and returns to the sanitarium to say goodbye to his father. He speaks to him, telling him about the summer and, convinced that it his father knocking on his door collecting television fees, tells him that it is no longer his job and he needs to stop.

On the train home, he realizes he will never see the “cat town” again. At home, Tengo finds that Fuka-Eri is gone, leaving the apartment immaculately clean and tidy. There’s no note, but he learns she left one with the friend who has been subbing for him at cram school. Tengo thinks about Fuka-Eri’s words, that Aomame is nearby. As he walks around, he decides he wants to go somewhere where he can see the two moons.

Some thoughts/favorite things:

So many “twos.” Two fathers, a father-son duo, Aomame/Tengo, two worlds, two moons, mazas and dohtas…

I’m still uncertain as to why Ushikawa has his own chapters now, unless it’s purely a technical thing to allow Murakami to tell us more about Aomame and Tengo.

Nice touch from Ushikawa using Occam’s razor to figure things out.

The dissipation of hate/anger from Aomame: “The anger she had felt before, like a hide tide rising within her – the overwrought emotions that sometimes made her want to smack her fists against the closest wall – had vanished before she’d realized it. She wasn’t sure why, but those feelings were entirely gone. She was grateful for this. As much as possible, she wanted never to hurt anyone, ever again. Just as she didn’t want to hurt herself.”

“This is what it means to live on. When granted hope, a person uses it as fuel, as a guidepost to life. It is impossible to live without hope.”

Is the NHK bill collector Tengo’s father? What does he really want?

Why Isak Dinesen? Is it linked to his reading of Chekhov?

The Macbeth reference. The three witches. Something wicked this way comes. Open, locks. Whoever knocks! – Why are those the only lines he remembers?

Ushikawa’s line “As long as I have these talents, no matter what sort of weird world I find myself in, I’ll survive.” – does that link him with Aomame and Tengo?


“Now much I can do about it,” she told herself. “I’m not even sure if this world with two moons in the sky is the real reality or not, So it shouldn’t be so strange, should it? That in a world like this, if I fall asleep and dream, I find it hard to distinguish dream from reality? And let’s not forget I’ve killed a few men with my own hands. I’m being chased by fanatics who aren’t about to give up, and I’m hiding out. How could I not be tense, and afraid? I can still feel the sensation, in my hands, of having murdered somebody. Maybe I’ll never be able to sleep soundly the rest of my life. Maybe that’s the responsibility I have to bear, the price I have to pay.”

The dreams: Thunder (the night she killed Leader/got pregnant?), the expressway (the transition between the two worlds) and the rambling incoherent one…

“There are a lot of doors in the world, and this one is not bad at all.”

“But in the end you won’t be able to escape. Someone will come and open this door.”

“She brought her hand down to her abdomen, shut her eyes, and listened carefully, trying to pick up the voice. Something was definitely alive inside her. A small, living something. She knew it.
Dohta, she whispered.
Maza, something replied.”

The whole hashish scene with Tengo and Kumi was pretty great. As is her having read Air Chrysalis.

Kumi’s smiley t-shirt. GREAT touch.

“My brain is vibrating.”

Being reborn. Leaving before the exit is blocked.

Aomame’s breaking her pregnancy down to her chorionic gonadotropin levels.

Would climbing back UP the emergency staircase work?

“The rules of the world are loosening up.”

Where did the three nurses go?

What happened to him on the train ride away from “Cat Town?” The sweat, the awful smell in his mouth…

From Strecher, continuing from my last post:

“Two scenes particularly stand out as significant in this regard, both recurring in book 3. The first comes early in the volume, while Tengo’s father still lives and Tengo spends the night with a woman named Adachi Kumi, one of the nurses who is caring for his father. Their night is potentially sexual – Adachi Kumi lies in bed with Tengo, rubbing her lush pubic hair against his thigh – and yet they do not have sex; instead, they smoke hashish (a first for Murakami characters), and Kumi, after confiding to Tengo that she can remember dying once before, urges him, in all seriousness, to ‘get out of this place while the exit is still unblocked’ [MY NOTE: Memories of Kafka on the Shore?] Much later in the work [MILD SPOILER ALERT] after Tengo’s father has died, Kumi clarifies that she was strangled to death on a chilly, rainy, lonely night. This, we have since learned through another character, is precisely how Tengo’s mother died, and we can hardly be blamed for wondering whether Adachi Kumi, now existing in the land of the dead, looking after Tengo’s father until his death, is not actually the spirit of Tengo’s mother.

In the physical world of ‘1Q84′, on the other hand, we find that the same kinds of mysterious conduits – what I term wormholes – that functioned so cleverly in Kafka on the Shore are even more explicitly depicted in this later work. We never quite see how Kafka’s inner shadow makes the metaphysical journey between Shikoku and Tokyo to emerge in Nakata’s physical self; we know only that it has happened, resulting in the death of Tamura Koji/’Johnny Walker.’ By comparison, in 1Q84 Murakami selects his symbolic imagery more carefully, turning the process into a highly sterile, ritualistic act of reproduction.

The most critical part of Fukaeri’s narrative concerns the kuki sanagi, or ‘air chrysalis,’ as the English translation has it, referring to a kind of cocoon. According to her story, the heroine (presumably Fukaeri herself) is punished for failing to look after a dying goat by being placed, along with the goat’s corpse, into an underground room. As she languishes there, the ‘Little People’ emerge from the mouth of the goat’s corpse and teach the girl how to spin a cocoon out of the air. Upon completion of the cocoon, it is opened, and out comes a perfect copy of the heroine. Similar to the room in which Asai Eri is trapped in After Dark, this ‘cocoon’ may be viewed as a real and metaphorical image of the womb, though this process of procreation is unnatural indeed, for it is sterile, involving no intercourse, an ‘immaculate’ conception in every sense.

If the purpose of the air chrysalis is to create human replicas, for what purpose is this done? We receive one clue near the end of book 1, in a rather unsettling scene involving a little girl named Tsubasa, allegedly one of the Leader’s rape victims, now under the care of the old woman who directs Aomame’s activities as an assassin. Tsubasa’s case is unusual even in the old woman’s experience, for her reproductive organs – particularly her uterus – have been damaged virtually beyond repair. The reasons for this are revealed only when Tsubasa is unwatched:

‘At length, her mouth opens slowly, and the Little People emerge one after the other. They appear, one by one, looking cautiously around themselves. If the old woman had awakened she would probably have been able to see them, but she was deeply asleep…When they came out of Tsubasa’s mouth, they were no larger than her little finger, but once they have fully emerged they expand, like pieces of inflatable furniture, until they are about thirty centimeters tall. All wear the same unremarkable clothing, and their faces are without any distinguishing characteristics, so one cannot tell them apart.’

Like the goat in Fukaeri’s narrative, Tsubasa is a replica of an original, and her function is to transport the Little People from one place to another. As it turns out, however, the Little People are not the only ones who have access to this means of transport. On the night of the Leader’s death at the hands of Aomame, Fukaeri herself becomes the conduit by which Tengo and Aomame are joined. In an atmosphere rich with metaphysical markers, Tengo senses that something is different on this night; ‘the air was dripping with moisture, and he felt that the world was marching steadily toward a dark end.’ In this perfect mixture of fertility (moisture) and death (the dark end of the world), Fukaeri enters his bedroom, and Tengo experiences an erection like no other he has ever known. Not wishing to commit an act of immorality with Fukaeri, who is only seventeen and under his protection, he ‘switches tracks’ in his mind, taking refuge in the sterile world of mathematics, eventually falling asleep. Upon awakening, he finds himself naked and unable to move, his erection unchanged. A now naked Fukaeri climbs atop him, and he is struck by how artificial her sexual organs look. ‘Where her pubic hair should have been there was only a mound of smooth white skin. The whiteness of the flesh emphasized too much how defenseless she was down there. Her legs were spread, so he could see her vagina. Like her ears, it looked like something that had just been constructed. And maybe it really had just been constructed.’ Using this newly formed canal to ‘envaginate’ Tengo’s penis, Fukaeri gyrates upon him until he ejaculates, sending forth his semen into the wormhole. As we later realize, it is at precisely this same moment that Aomame, on the other side of Tokyo, is using her weapon – a homemade, needle-sharp ice-pick tool – to pierce the Leader’s neck, pricking him at the base of the brain and ending his life. We presume that this forms the other side of the wormhole and that Tengo’s seed has passed through the needlelike end of Aomame’s tool into her hand and thus to her womb. Both Fukaeri and the Leader, then, have functioned as gateways to the wormhole, perceiver and receiver.

Interestingly, Fukaeri’s manipulation of Tengo’s penis – note that he is entirely in the passive position – is a verbatim reenactment of the Leader’s ritualistic manipulation by members of his cult using their own daughters. Whether these girls are their actual daughters or merely replicas of them, created in cocoons similar to the kuki sanagi Fukaeri describes, is never made clear, but in the end this is less important than the fact that the female sexual organs and womb serve explicitly as passageways to the ‘other world,’ either as wormholes that connect people in disparate locations (as in Fukaeri’s case) or as living cocoons, human hothouses in which to grow new life. What they seek to grow, presumably, is a new ‘chosen one,’ a sacred being who will take the Leader’s place as the ‘one who hears the voices’ of the Little People In this sense, when Aomame’s classmates teased her as a child, calling her ‘the One,’ they were unwittingly hitting the nail squarely on the head, for Aomame is ‘the One,’ possessing the sacred Womb that will produce an heir to the Leader, the next generation of divinely connected beings. And it has all been accomplished through the immaculate remote control of the metaphysical wormhole.

What we have seen in this chapter, above all, is that the metaphysical world as it is conceived in Murakami Haruki’s fiction has developed quite significantly since its inception in Hear the Wind Sing, and yet in other ways it has remained very much as it ever was. Certainly this realm has lost none of its underlying tension since Pinball, 1973, wherein Boku enters the freezing darkness of a chicken warehouse, wondering whether he will remain trapped there forever. From the terror of ‘dead man’s curve’ near the end of A Wild Sheep Chase, to the seemingly endless forest road to Naoko’s sanatorium in Norwegian Wood, to the gloomy corridors of the unconscious hotel in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, to the bedroom Tamura Kafka occupies at the back of the Komori Memorial Library in Kafka on the Shore, or the darkened hotel room wherein Aomame cuts the power to the Leader’s brain, these places are never insignificant, never innocent. No one ever ‘simply exists’ in Murakami’s metaphysical realm; even Okada Toru, sitting for days at the bottom of his dry well in the heart of Tokyo (a real and figurative conduit through the very center of Japanese society), experiences visions, considers major life problems, confronts his instinctive, primordial fear of darkness, loneliness, and death.”

My next post: WEDNESDAY, October 29, Book Three, Chapters 13-21


“I will find Aomame, no matter what happens, no matter what kind of world it may be, no matter who she may be.”

Book Two, Chapters 19-24; Book Three, Chapters 1-3
By Dennis Abrams

cover design 1q84

And so it goes. As does my love affair with Murakami and 1Q84

Let’s catch up with Aomame:

Aomame loves “Air Chrysalis” (was there ever any doubt?), especially it’s simple flowing language, language that she’s sure could only have been written by Tengo.

And finally, we hear the entire story. The heroine, who lives in a cult compound, is punished with isolation in an old storehouse for letting an old goat die, and on her first night with the dead goat, the Little People make their entrance through its mouth. They ask the girl to help them pluck threads from the air to make a chrysalis for something that is “coming” but won’t tell the girl what it is. They work on the chrysalis every night but still won’t tell her what will come out of it. (As Aomame reads the story, she senses a sort of inner illness caused by the Little People.) The girl is released from isolation and the Little People come to her in a dream, telling her to go to the storehouse to see the chrysalis break open.

The chrysalis, she sees, is huge and already starting to crack open. When it breaks open, she discovers herself inside. It is called a “dohta” and the original girl is a “maza” – the dohta is a shadow of the girl’s heart and mind. The two must be together to allow the Little People to have a permanent, living passageway into our world. She becomes a  “perceiver” conveying what she perceives to a “receiver.” The girl must not allow anything to happen to her maza, she is warned by the Little People. In addition, she is told to watch the sky for two moons, which will be a “sign.” But the girl knows something is wrong and unnatural with this, and runs away to live with a famous artist, an old friend of her father’s.

There, she sees the two moons and knows that her dohta has awakened. She begins to lose the people around her as a warning to return to her dohta, but doesn’t want to. Instead, she begins creating her own air chrysalis to see if she can enter the world of the Little People and save the lives of those around her. The story ends with the girl stepping into the passageway.

Aomame realizes that the story is real, and is, in fact, an instruction manual. She suspects that Tsubasa is actually a dohta, not a maza which has somehow escaped, and understands that the Leaders was having sex with the shadows of the girls, not the actual girls themselves. Aomame believes that she is now part of the effort against the Little People.

That night, Aomame sits out her balcony, drinking hot cocoa (for the first time in years) and watching the two moons. She thinks about the rubber plant she had in her old life and wonders why she is so concerned about it. Suddenly, looking down from her balcony, she sees a man sitting in the playground across the street looking up at the moons as well and in an instant realizes it’s Tengo (although she still checks him out with binoculars). She races down to see him, but he is gone by the time she gets there.

She decides that she wants to leave 1Q84 and is ready to die for Tengo, but she needs to visit one last place first.

Still no mention of the Leader’s death on the news (obviously it’s being kept hush-hush). Aomame dressed professional, puts the pistol in her bag, hails a cab and tells the drive to take the Expressway between Yohga and Ikejiri. Once again, the Expressway is full of traffic, and she has the driver let her out near the location of the emergency stairwell. (He warns her to be careful.) She walks, just as she did at the beginning, towards the stairwell, and discovers that while everything else as it was when she entered 1Q84, the stairwell is no longer there. She thinks of Tengo, says a prayer, and begins squeezing the trigger of her gun.

But she doesn’t pull it – she decides not to kill herself because she believes she heard a distant voice calling her name. She tells Tamaru she will remain where she is, she won’t have plastic surgery, change her name, or leave (at least until the end of the year) – instead she’ll continue watching the playground from her balcony. And although Tamaru and the Dowager are concerned, they bow to her wishes. Food and other necessities will be delivered once a week by supply masters, but Aomame is not to show herself to them. Tamaru also tells her that he has purchased for her Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” (YAY Tamaru!)

And then there’s Tengo…

He wanders through Koenji, and when he gets back to his apartment, Fuka-Eri tells him he has had a call from the sanitarium – his father has lapsed into a coma for no apparent reason so Tengo says he’ll go the next day.

Tengo then asks Fuka-Eri about the two moons. She says they have entered the world in the story together, because they wrote the story together. Tengo, Fuka-Eri tells him, is a receiver, and the two of them need to stay together until Aomame is found.

He presses her more about the relationship between perceiver and receiver. He theorizes that is why she let him rewrite the book, which was what began his shift in worlds. Fuka-Eri also tells him that he has changed, which he will find out when he goes to the cat town.

Tengo goes back to the sanitarium, where his father shows no physical response to the doctors. He realizes that his father not only wants to die, but that he is willing himself to die. But before he does, Tengo wants to tell him about his life. He has no idea whether or not his “father” can hear him, but he needs to speak.

He is occasionally interrupted by Nurse Omura who comes into check on his father’s IV bags. She has a pen in her hair, but the last time she comes in, and suggests that Tengo goes out to get something to eat, the pen is not there. When he returns his father in another room and in his place is an air chrysalis – exactly as Tengo described it. Curious as to what is inside he pries it open to discover Aomame’s ten year-old form. He calls to her but although there is an unmistakable warmth coming from her, she does not wake up. Slowly, the chrysalis disappears, along with Aomame. Tengo vows to find her.

Tengo continues reading to his father, and concluding that his father needs a deeper commitment, decides to stay near the sanatorium for a time. Fuka-Eri and Tengo talk on the phone, and she tells him that a crow (the one that visited Aomame?) comes everyday to the window. A television fee collector has also come around, but she does not answer the door. But, since Tengo does not have a television, he wonders why the collector is visiting. The man shouts “thief” through the door, which perplexes Tengo.

And then…suddenly…Ushikawa chapters?

Ushikawa meets with Buzzcut and Ponytail who want more information about Aomame. Ushikawa explains that there is no way someone like Aomame could have pulled off killing the Leader and then slipping away on her own – he knows that she must be connected to some sort of an organization. He has gone over her phone records and discovered a number of calls to a traffic division in a police precinct which is odd since he knows Aomame doesn’t drive. Ushikawa knows about Ayumi’s murder, and wants to see if there is any connection between Aomame and Ayumi. He also questions the two on whether the know the location of Fuka-Eri, and finds it odd that they have no interest in Tengo.

But when Buzzcut and Ponytail leave, it is revealed that Ushikawa knows a lot more than he has been letting on: he has Aomame’s private client list and has traced her back to Willow House, which he found to be very well-guarded. He is also curious about the Little People.

Some notes/thoughts:

The importance of “two” – two moons, two selves, two people…

Aomame, so strong and in control, is now like the princess in the tower, waiting on the balcony for her prince to come.

The connection between Tengo’s new world and the cat town. Nothing makes sense in cat town. The crow and the fee collector.

Why is Ushikawa now a major character?

“Near the usual moon a second smaller moon hangs like a slightly shriveled green pea [MY NOTE: Aomame?] My dohta must have awakened, the girl thinks. The two moons cast the shadow of her heart and mind. Her heart gives a shudder. The world has changed. And something is beginning to happen.”

“The look of the new moon was almost entirely Tengo’s creation.”

“This can’t be…What kind of reality mimics fictional creations?…There’s no way this can be…That’s a fiction al world, a world that does not exist in reality…Could this mean, then – that this is the world of the novel? Could I have somehow left the real world and entered the world of Air Chrysalis like Alice falling down the rabbit hole? Or could the real world have been made over so as to match exactly the story of Air Chrysalis?”

“Whatever the composition of this new world might be, I surely have no choice but to accept it in silence. There’s no way to pick and choose. Even in the world that existed until now, there was no choice. It’s the same thing. And besides…even if I wanted to lodge a complaint, who is there for me to complain to?”

The scene with Aomame watching Tengo in the playground was extraordinary.

“What should I do?”

Nice cliffhanger leaving Aomame with the muzzle of the gun in her mouth at the end of Chapter 23 – but why/how were the Little People chiming in?

Tengo/Air Chrysalis/Aomame – thoughts?

“I will find Aomame, no matter what happens, no matter what kind of world it may be, no matter who she may be.”

From Matthew Carl Strecher’s The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami:
“In time, Tengo finds himself enveloped by the world of ‘1Q84’ as well, as fact as difficult for him to accept as it was for Aomame. He is particularly troubled by the fact that this new world is virtually identical to the setting of the story he has created with Fukaeri. ‘Am I in the world of the novel?’ he asks himself when, looking up, he sees two moons hanging in the sky, precisely as he described them in the final manuscript. In time Tengo realizes, as does the reader, that he has internalized that world, so that when he writes – and later, even when he is not writing – he has difficulty keeping track of the various realities that swirl in and out of his mind, until the external, ‘objective’ world has all but ceased to exist, or more accurately, has joined together with all other language-based worlds:
‘He wrote a story in which there were two moons. A world that contained the Little People and the air cocoon. These were things he had borrowed from Fukaeri’s Kuki sanagi, but by now they had become wholly his own. While he faced his manuscript, his consciousness lived in that world. Even when he had put his pen down and left his desk, his consciousness sometimes remained there. At such times he had the peculiar feeling his flesh and consciousness were separated, and he could no longer distinguish where the real world ended and the imaginary world began.’
In a sense, Tengo expresses many of Murakami’s own statements on the act of writing, the dilemmas faced by the imaginative novelist who grapples with a vast array of worlds, all fictitious, but none necessarily more so than the ‘actual’ world. One hears in the passage above echoes of the author’s metaphor of descending into the depths of the cellar beneath the ‘two-story house’ of the imagination.
Through the simple fact of being declared, then, both in the spoken and written word, the world of ‘1Q84,’ with its two moons, Little People, and automatic weapon-carrying police officers, has come into actual existence: it is unquestionably constructed from words, from language, yet it has taken on actual, concrete existence – others inhabit it, and those who are capable of doing so remark on its peculiarity.
Interestingly, though privileging neither, Murakami makes a clear distinction in this text between spoken and written language, with Fukaeri and Tengo representing each of these respectively. The new world initially comes into being when Fukaeri speaks it to her adoptive sister, but its potential is not fully realized until Tengo has interpreted it and (re)produced it through the simultaneous act of reading and writing, lending it coherence and order. There is an underlying sense of the sacred in this joint act of creation, for Tengo and Fukaeri have assumed the roles and responsibilities of creator deities, and yet, as even the gods eventually discover, no reality lasts forever; whether grounded in the spoken or the written world, every reality is ultimately revealed to be shifty and impermanent.
And so, we might ask, is there a moral to this story? What can we learn from these texts? First and foremost, we may conclude that words are fallible, not to be trusted, but in the end words are all we have, and it is with words that we must construct and interact with the world’s various realities…”
And this:
“We have already seen that 1Q84 is centered on the gradual convergence of its two lead characters, Tengo and Aomame. The work’s title is derived from the name Aomame assigns to the ‘other world,’ the Q standing for ‘question mark.’ However, use of the expression ‘other world’ in this particular work is somewhat unsatisfying; in fact, it is more like a time slip or, as the Leader describes it to Aomame shortly before she ends his life, like a train switching tracks. ‘This is not a parallel world…Here the problem is one of time…the point where the track switched and the world became 1Q84.’ It would be most accurate, then, to envision ‘1Q84’ as a side step for time, not unlike opening one new circuit while closing off another. Murakami himself may have been concerned that his readers would misunderstand this point, for more than one character remarks that there can only be one reality at any given time.
Structurally, too, the world of ‘1Q84’ represents a significant departure in how Murakami handles the idea of other worlds. Aside from certain bizarre details – the existence of the Little People, a second moon hanging in the sky, police who carry automatic weapons rather than revolvers – this new dimension is virtually indistinguishable from the old, and while Aomame unmistakably enters ‘1Q84’ in the characteristic Murakami way, that is, via an escape ladder from an elevated highway, even she does not initially notice anything different. The eerie, gloomy, atmosphere that normally marks the metaphysical realm is nowhere to be found.
Or rather, is it be found in the ‘1Q84’ world’s own ‘other world,’ the characterization of which, however, is strictly imaginary: for Tengo, it takes the form of a ‘forest’ in his mind, which he associates with the unfettered imagination of Dickens, and of Chekhov, who wrote of the primitive ‘Gilyaks,’ aboriginal people who once inhabited the primeval forests of the Kurile Islands north of Hokkaido. For Fukaeri, this links them with the ‘Little People’ – earth spirits or deities similar to ‘Johnny Walker’ and ‘Colonel Sanders’ – who rule the forests with absolute supremacy and, when released into the physical world, bring with them a kind of elemental violence, expressed as torrential rainstorms and violent thunder.
In the actual physical world this realm comes to be known to Tengo as ‘Catsville’ (Neko no machi), named for a short story he has read about a man who gets off a train at a lonely stop along the line and finds himself in a deserted town inhabited solely by invisible cats whose language he can understand. Eventually the man realizes that this town is the land of the dead and that the cats are the souls of the departed. By then, however, it is too late; the tracks have been switched, and the train will no longer stop here to pick the man up. For Tengo, this name takes on a natural connection to the rural seaside geriatric center where his father lies dying, and as his father progresses through the final stages of life – from consciousness to coma, coma to death – the geriatric center and its surrounding town also ‘switch tracks,’ from a place of dying to the actual land of the dead…” (More on this later)

My next post: Tuesday, October 21st, Book Three, Chapters 4-12

Enjoy. And please…post/comment/ask questions!!!!!

A literary exploration of Haruki Murakami, with Dennis Abrams