What we see before us is just one tiny part of the world • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
Contemporary Literature • 1970–Present
Writing for the world
1987 The hero of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, a nostalgic tale of friendship, love, and loss, is a former college student interested in US literature.
1988 Banana Yashimoto’s Kitchen tells a wistful story of a young Japanese woman, for whom the consumer opulence of Western-style cooking provides an emotional refuge.
1997 Ryu Murakami’s In the Miso Soup is a crime story set among the hostess bars of Tokyo, with conversational references to real-life Americans such as Whitney Houston and Robert de Niro.
2002 Kafka on the Shore shows Murakami exploring metaphysical fantasy — in a Japan where Westernized culture and Shintoism meet.
From the late 20th century, globalization — in particular the spread of US popular culture around the world — has created a forum in which writers have been able to free their fiction of localized traditions, as if writing for a universal readership.
US influences are particularly evident in Japanese culture — stemming, in part, from the US occupation of Japan (1945—52). Japanese author Haruki Murakami (1949—) has a cultural background that seems half American: he translated F Scott Fitzgerald and Truman Capote into Japanese, and ran a jazz club in Tokyo.
East meets West
Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle calls on American influences, as well as cultural motifs from Europe. For example, it begins with its hero, Toru Okada, listening to Rossini while cooking pasta; later in the novel, a baseball bat is used as a weapon. The book itself is a complex quest narrative with its roots in Western culture. As Orpheus visits the Underworld to bring back Eurydice in Greek myth, so Okada descends into a well to recover his wife Kumiko after she disappears.
Yet this is still a Japanese story at its core. Murakami evokes the alienation of modern urban Japan, while at the same time probing Japanese history. For instance, Lieutenant Mamiya’s tales of wartime exploits in Manchuria and a Soviet prison camp address Japan’s violent war record.
"Is it possible … for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?"
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
See also: Playing for Thrills