The Skepticism of Japanese Suburbs
Midway through the realism construction, Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore places Kafka and his friend, Oshima, for a moment. They are trying to figure out the meaning of this puzzling recent meteorological phenomenon. On such an occasion, a rain of sea creatures falling from the sky startled the residents of the Japanese suburbs, despite Kafka’s opinion that it is a metaphor, in contrast to Oshima’s skepticism. He further described a sea animal like mackerel that fell from the sky. Strange things happen in the book; it is not always clear why. Like the dark imagery of Miss Saeki’s song, the book is full of events that resonate deeply. However, it always rejects logical explanations.
For all readers, those who wish to interpret action through a rationalist framework will soon find themselves exhausted. Not long after Murakami released the book, he also launched a website asking for clarification of questions about the book from the public. Unfortunately, the website has not been translated by Murakami, making it difficult for English speakers to read the result of the author’s efforts. At first, he always avoids offering the author’s explanation about his work. He prefers to let his listeners find personal meaning. He said that the book contains many riddles. However, there is no solution that he provides. In contrast, such a puzzle Murakami combines through his interactions in the solution’s form, being different for each interpretation.
In essence, Murakami describes the symbolism of the beach as the boundary between the subconscious and the conscious mind. Kafka on the Shore is a story about two worlds with the same realism construction, which is different, namely the unconscious and the conscious; most of life in two worlds, with one foot in one or the other, and all life on the boundary line. He explained that he did not read much about psychology or surrealism. However, what he wrote has in common with many works. Therefore, the subconscious acts as an incognito, in a physical sense traveling to Shikoku, the library, the forest, and in a more profound sense, self-exploration.
On the other hand, the protagonist’s father is best known for his work with references to a confusing but dark maze. In the novel, Oshima explains the origin of the labyrinth concept in ancient Mesopotamia. The maze principle is inside every reader, correlated with the maze outside. Self-exploration is a dangerous business, just like what Kafka does is full of blood and substance. With the reader’s urge to engage in sex and violence, the unifying force in the myth of Oedipus is the monster lurking in the labyrinth. The psychological power that is uncomfortable but not yet people think or dare to integrate into life sees the origin of the myth.
Kafka on the Shore is about Kafka Tamura, taken from the same author of realism construction and his favorite writer. After deciding that he will run away from his home in Tokyo, Crow advises him to be solid and rigid. Crow is an imaginary persona who consults the protagonist for advice when Kafka finds himself in a stressful situation. On his fifteenth birthday, he sat in his father’s study. Feeling as if Kafka is preparing for a journey that will change him forever, Kafka packs a picture of himself and his older sister on the beach when Kafka was young, some money, and a knife. His mother and older sister left the family when he was only four years old.
So, those are the only memories Kafka has of them. He has spent years building his mental and physical strength. Kafka also trains to be able to escape from his cruel father. However, surviving as a fugitive, he fears that no matter how far he runs, he will never be able to escape the dark omens that follow him everywhere. Kafka boarded a bus bound for Shikoku in Western Japan with only a backpack filled with belongings. At a stop on the way, he meets a girl named Sakura, several years older than her. She attracts him but worries, as he does with all women Sakura’s age, that he could become his long-lost sister.
The Black Cat
Remaining in a coma for weeks, interviews with psychologists and doctors show that Nakata’s case baffled them. Eventually, Nakata also woke up on his own, but not like the other kids. He has lost his memory completely. Nakata even lost the ability to write or read, skills Nakata never regained. Despite the official record ending years away, Setsuko writes in a letter that he believes he is responsible for the incident. Skipping to the present time, Nakata, now an older man, sits in an empty place in Tokyo, chatting with a black cat.
Although he loses his literacy and memory in the incident, he gains the unique ability to talk to cats. Nakata capitalized on his skills which Nakata now uses in a part-time job looking for a lost house cat. In such a context, he is hunting for a cat named Goma. A slightly confused cat named Kawamura and a Siamese cat named Mimi help him track Goma to the grassy area where she was last seen. He waited there, hoping she would reappear. Another cat warns him that an evil man has appeared there. Before long, a big, fierce dog appeared in the parking lot. He follows the dogs to the house of Johnnie Walker, a mysterious man dressed as Johnnie Walker.
Talking to Crow, he was bustling with the incredible silence of the forest. On the way back to the library, Oshima tells him about Miss Saeki’s past. Her childhood lover died when they were both very young. Since then, she has become lethargic and distant. She always refused to listen to Kafka on the Shore, a song she wrote for her boyfriend when they were young. The next day, two women visited the library. They complained that it was uncomfortable for women, accusing Oshima of sexual harassment. He revealed that he was a gay, transgender man. On the other hand, Nakata hitches a ride west, getting a series of trips in different trucks.
Eventually, he meets Hoshino, a young man who explores life looking only for a new Hawaiian shirt every week and short-term relationships. Hoshino finds himself drawn to Nakata, taking a day or two off to help him reach Takamatsu. Hoshino was not sure why he was interested in the location. However, Nakata says they must find the “entrance stone,” a mysterious white stone with magical properties that only Nakata knows about. After days of searching in tourist sites and library books to no avail, an older man calling himself Colonel Sanders approached Hoshino. The colonel led Hoshino to enter the Shinto shrine, finding a stone entrance inside the shrine. He brought the stones back to Nakata, spending time trying to determine what they should do.
Burn After Reading
They start driving around town to determine what they should do next. Also wary of the intensifying search, Oshima took Kafka back to the cabin. He dreams about raping Sakura, making him feel guilty. Kafka feels trapped and very lonely by his father’s predictions. Hoping to escape, he ventures into a dark forest. Eventually, Kafka meets two soldiers in WWII uniforms who say they will lead Kafka to a mysterious entrance. He followed them down a steep ravine with a collection of small cabins in the clearing at the bottom.
The soldiers left him in one of the houses. After days of driving aimlessly, Hoshino and Nakata find Komura’s memorial library. Nakata was intrigued to go inside. He talks to Miss Saeki at the memorial, feels a direct connection, and tells him that she feels trapped in her memories. On the other hand, he felt equally trapped by his lack of memory. Miss Saeki entrusted Nakata with a stack of documents in which she had written her life story. At her request, they burned the document without reading it. When Oshima goes to Miss Saeki’s office at the end of the day, he finds her face down on her desk and dead.
In the afternoon, middle-aged Saeki came and told Kafka that he had to leave the valley. He asked, again, if she was his mother. She replies that she once left someone she should not have and asks if Kafka can forgive her. He forgives and, in his head, forgives his mother. He feels as if a part of his frozen heart has been shattered. Miss Saeki stabbed her in the arm with a hairpin, allowing Kafka to drink her blood, then left the cabin. Oshima’s brother escorts Kafka back to the library, informing Oshima that he has decided to return to school in Tokyo. They parted ways, promising to meet in the future.
He also bids farewell to Sakura on the phone, affectionately addressing her as his sister. Thinking of all that had happened to him, he took the train home. The surreal world of Kafka on the Shore has difficulty understanding strange encounters and construction of realism and the inner behavior and experiences of each character. Every character, especially Kafka, feels as though an inevitable prophecy must rule the future and the world on its own. On the other hand, special missions destined other characters to die or fall in love at certain times. It might be a path that a character’s destiny may offer solace.
However, Kafka on the Shore can also be unpleasant in the construction of realism. Whether “fate” really does not exist, belief in destiny drives each character to behave in such away. So, it makes such a question irrelevant. Thus, Murakami shows that belief in destiny is what makes destiny real. Kafka’s obsession with his family prophecy feels that each character coincidentally meets another person. Fate assumes the special significance of the strangers they meet, allowing a new relationship to change each character’s plans completely. Kafka gives deep meaning to the new friendship in the specific moment, partly because he is looking for his lost family. When he meets Sakura, he becomes convinced that they have a special relationship.
Just as Kafka makes new acquaintances as a missing family member, Hoshino is drawn to Nakata. The imaginary relationship is so strong that Hoshino abandons his daily life to help Nakata in his mysterious quest. Despite getting real, the characters always attract inappropriate relationships throughout the novel. Even though it is unhealthy, it goes down a strange new path of entrusting each character to a relationship that nature has always destined. When Murakami’s character tries to rationalize the loss, each character feels very lonely. They also find that their deepest emotions are impossible for others to share fully. However, such a lonely state can also help characters better understand themselves.
When Oshima takes Kafka to a secluded cabin, Kafka experiences true isolation. As Oshima did when he was a teenager, Kafka grapples with his greatest fear. Eventually, he came to terms with his sister, and his mother passed away. Introspect, not just Kafka; every character is very personal. However, they also found a sense of kinship with others who had experienced similar moments of isolation. While solitude can be a source of enlightenment, Murakami also points out that accepting the help of others is also essential. Both Kafka and Nakata have worked hard to become independent. For Murakami, self-sufficiency is a complicated virtue.
While personal independence is worth striving for realism construction, paradoxically, Kafka on the Shore is only to achieve self-sufficiency through accepting the support of others—recognition of how the actions of others have impacted the life of an individual. Murakami distinguishes between different types of self-sufficiency, pointing out that a commitment to self-reliance should not sacrifice openness to meaningful relationships with others. True maturity comes from a combination of personal strengths, making each character vulnerable to others. The neutral space that souls between death and life pass through goes deep into limbo. Living in the real world with impaired cognition, shadows that are only half as dark as ordinary people. Ultimately, Murakami uses metaphysics to dramatize the interactions between the physical world, both supernatural and scientific.
- Murakami, H. (2006). Kafka on the Shore. Vintage.
- Strecher, M. C. (2014). The forbidden worlds of Haruki Murakami. U of Minnesota Press.
- Zhu, W. (2018, July). Study on” Ego” in Kafka on the Shore. In 3rd International Conference on Contemporary Education, Social Sciences and Humanities (ICCESSH 2018) (pp. 783-785). Atlantis Press.