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Culture and Education

Insatiable Haruki Murakami Fans: Reading "1Q84"

Chiaki Ishihara
Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

As my sabbatical leave from Waseda University had finished, I resumed teaching regular classes in April. In one of the classes we are reading full-length novels by Haruki Murakami, starting with "Dance Dance Dance." At the same time I was preparing for the class, I read "1Q84" Book 3, and I was reminded anew that it differs significantly in taste from "Dance Dance Dance."

The quality of the text in Murakami's novels has changed very little since his early works. However, in "1Q84" Book 3, the overall taste has changed from his previous works, while details of the text have remained the same. For example, in "1Q84" Book 3 the characters repeat other character's words or sometimes say, “I think I understand” instead of simply saying, “I understand.” Before this book, Murakami's writing style was unhurried, and readers felt as if they were being carried to an unknown place. This writing style attracted Murakami fans. In "1Q84" Book 3, however, Murakami seems to be in a rush to "solve the mystery." While Ushikawa was a secondary character that threatened Tengo Kawana in Books 1 and 2, the story in Book 3 opens with Ushikawa as a central character. Requested by "Sakigake," Ushikawa hunts for Masami Aomame's identity, which perfectly matches "readers' mystery-solving expectations."

For example, Ushikawa almost instantly connects the fact that Aomame attended an elementary school in Ichikawa City, Chiba, with the name of Tengo. Of course, readers who have read Books 1 and 2 already know the connection, so explaining it would have been superfluous. However, I felt that the connection was made too quickly. Mysteries are subsequently uncovered and solved one after another. This book has around 600 pages, but it did not seem that long. I nearly felt as if Murakami, too, was rushing, eager to know the ending.

I was surprised by Aomame's "virgin pregnancy" in Book 3. The virgin pregnancy perfectly resolves the mysterious connection between Tamotsu Nonaka, the leader of "Sakigake," Tengo, and Aomame. The readers' mystery-solving expectations have been amply fulfilled. As a reader, I felt relieved, yet at the same time dissatisfied that the story had ended too neatly.

In Books 1 and 2, readers are sure to have recalled Murakami's "Egg and Wall" speech when he was awarded the "Jerusalem Prize," and expected him to provide something like an "answer" to our totally confused world. The "Shouninkai" religious group, which Aomame's parents join, shares similarities with "Jehovah's Witnesses" and the "Sakigake," of which Eriko Fukada had previously been a member, shares similarities with the "Yamagishi-Kai" and "Aum-Shinrikyo" religious groups. As I read on, these similarities made me search unnecessarily for Murakami's "answer" at times. I felt that I was expecting Book 3 to provide these answers, as well as solving the mysteries planted in Books 1 and 2.

However, Book 3 is unquestionably the "love story" of Aomame and Tengo, and the social issues presented in Books 1 and 2 have been pushed into the background. Even "Sakigake" seems to have been just an obstacle to their "love." The old lady who asks Aomame to murder the leader, Eriko Fukada, who wrote "Kuuki-Sanagi," and the eerie little people also seem to have been left behind. In this respect, I could not find Murakami's "answer" to social issues after all, which was a little disappointing.

As I have written before, I believe that Murakami wrote "Dance Dance Dance" to downsize his fan base to what he felt to be an appropriate size after his readership grew from one hundred thousand to a million with "Norwegian Wood." I suspect this because it is difficult to understand "Dance Dance Dance” unless the reader has read his three works that precede "Norwegian Wood." However, Murakami seems prepared to accept a million readers with "1Q84." I believe he brought up social issues in "1Q84" to enable readers to easily connect the book and the “real” world.

However, I repeat: Book 3 is definitely the love story of Tengo and Aomame. Social issues which served as a solid backbone in Books 1 and Book 2 have become side stories. For better or worse, Book 3 has become "Norwegian Wood." Will it finish here? Please recall that Book 1 started in April. That is to say, nothing has been written of the period from January to March. I believe that this story has not finished "yet." There is no harm in having hope, is there?

Chiaki Ishihara
Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Profile
Professor Ishihara was born in 1955. He graduated from the Department of Arts and Literature, Faculty of Arts and Literature, Seijo University; completed the Master program of the Japanese Literature course, Graduate School of Literature, Seijo University; and left the Doctoral Program of it. After working as a full-time lecturer and assistant professor at Toyoko Gakuen Women's Junior College and associate professor and professor at Seijo University, he was appointed as a professor at Waseda University in April 2003. His primary works include: