“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.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s