My Love Affair With Japan Part I: Haruki Murakami

How much I love Japan is no secret. As a self-diagnosed grey-romantic, I would actually marry Japan right here, right now if only I could. But what most people don’t know is how exactly this love affair of mine, with a country I have visited multiple times, even began. In this n-part series of posts, n being a number as close to infinity as possible, I will try to put into words the reasons that cultivated the kind of love (and sometimes unexplained nostalgia) I feel for a country I probably lived in in my past life or thrive in in a parallel universe. Let me begin with one of Japan’s most celebrated novelists: Haruki Murakami.

I became a big fan of Mr. Murakami at the tender age of 13 when I first read the best coming-of-age novel I had yet encountered since The Catcher in the Rye, and it was none other than Norwegian Wood. While the nostalgic tone of the novel resonated with me, I found a lot of the book’s content to be unsettling and downright confusing (read: sex stuff and people leaving), justified by my naivety and youth. Still, I was surprisingly entranced in this intense state of familiarity and intimacy, with the written work of a Japanese author, of all people. I knew at an early age that Murakami was my person.

Admiring the beautiful rows of torii in Fushimi-Inari in Kyoto, Japan

I have since read a great bulk of his work, from his short stories to the Rat trilogy, and the connection has remained unbroken. While I am excited to finish reading them all, I am also hesitant in so far as there is only so much of his real magic and sheer artistry to absorb and I would probably need a dose of Murakami’s brand of wisdom in my life every now and then. As my way of paying homage to a person who has managed to successfully entertain and simultaneously educate me over the years, I have come up with a list of my favorite Murakami quotations, taken from some of my favorite Murakami books, and the timeless nuggets of wisdom they have each brought forth in my life.

1. “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” – Nagasawa, Norwegian Wood

I don’t know about you but I have claimed ownership over Murakami many times in the past (read: h!pst3r alert). Just in this post if you remember, I called him my person. While I get incredibly excited when people I know finally discover the wonder that is Murakami’s writing, I also feel a little less special, and even betrayed to an extent. I’m admittedly weird and Murakami is a weird writer. While it is arguable that everyone is weird, it is more correct to say that everyone is weird in different ways – Murakami and I just happen to be on the exact same wavelength of peculiarity.

Nothing like the Shibuya Crossing on a summer night in Tokyo, Japan

2. “Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.” – Miss Saeki, Kafka on the Shore

I write mainly for the sake of posterity, and in this case, writing becomes a double-edged sword. The memories that I choose to document through my words are powerful in two opposing manners. Being perpetually in a state of nostalgia doesn’t help because memories for me do not form long after they are made. While it may sound absurd I often already miss and cherish the things that are still happening. This trait has cultivated within me a sense of gratitude for the little joys just as much as it has allowed me to mourn over the fleeting nature of moments.

3. “As time goes on, you’ll understand. What lasts, lasts; what doesn’t, doesn’t. Time solves most things. And what time can’t solve, you have to solve yourself.” – Unnamed narrator, Dance Dance Dance

I have always been a firm believer in letting go of things I clearly have no control over. In my honest opinion, being able to surrender important matters to the Universe is more a sign of strength than it is of weakness. While doing so is a direct admission of my limitations, it is also an overt appreciation for what exactly I can do for myself, sans the help of time healing certain wounds. As I get older, I become more introspective and I grow more confident in myself. I start to make better decisions and failures hurt a little less. It is just a matter of accepting what is meant for me, knowing how to let go of what isn’t, and trying to mend what can still be fixed.

Enjoying the lights in Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan

4. “In this world, there are things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with somebody else. It’s important to combine the two in just the right amount.” – Korogi, After Dark

I have read extensively about relationships but nothing I have ever come across quite comes close to the accuracy of this quotation. I have always had an appreciation for my independence; in fact, I celebrate it. However, I never lost my desire to find people to experience the things I can’t quite do for myself. Just like anything that requires a lot of work, finding this balance is a struggle but I’ve always felt that it is most important to learn how to be alone first. While life wasn’t ever meant to be experienced in lonesome, especially for us sentient beings, there is a lot to be said about someone who also yearns and makes an effort to connect with one’s self.

5. “No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That’s all.” – Birthday Girl, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

I have always cited my ultimate goal in life to be ‘the achievement of a successful self-actualization’. We all just want to be the best versions of ourselves. No matter how much we deny it, it has been psychologically proven that we all share this common goal. In the past, I would refer to myself as ‘untapped potential’. I have always claimed that I can be anything that I want. In the end, however, no matter what I become, no matter where I find myself years down the line, no matter what profession I end up with, I am still me – perpetually introspective and forever a student of life. There are just as many things we can achieve as things about ourselves that will remain unchanged.