Japan: Murakami’s Tokyo: walks through places from his novels | The traveler

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It is autumn and the day is misty and with fine rain that soaks you to the bone, it would have been signed by Haruki Murakami himself. I’m at La Kagu, a former bookstore converted into a café, bookstore, art gallery, and store in the Kagurazaka neighborhood. Surrounded by books, this place is perfect to enter the journey of a writer who has made Tokyo his most prolific habitat. The music that is playing is Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis. A sign, I think, as jazz is the recurring soundtrack in his books. What I will find out after a few days in the Japanese capital is that jazz is not only the heritage of his novels, but it is the soundtrack of the city. Sounds in shops, cafes, restaurants, and injazz kissaten, open since morning, people sip coffee while devoutly listening to rare jazz records.

Beyond this music, the other passion of the Japanese is literature. Japan is one of the most widely read countries in the world, with 91% of its population regular readers and an average reading per person of four books per month. In Tokyo there are huge bookstores like Buntkisu, where you pay admission as if it were a museum, and other tiny ones like Morioka Shoten, where only one title is sold per week. It is not surprising that in a country of inveterate readers, Murakami, and his books, are considered an object of worship. The love of the written word escapes from the bookstores and reaches the hostels, and thus in the original Book and Bed it is possible to stay between shelves and sleep surrounded by books. In this accommodation decidedly cool, a cubicle that appears between the shelves full of books as a room, a lamp and a curtain is all that young chic intellectuals (and I…) need to spend an enlightened evening. On my table, two books: After Dark and Tokyo blues. So every night, after roaming the streets of Tokyo looking for Murakami, I will sleep with him (metaphorically).

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The next morning I have breakfast at Café Bundan inside the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature. On the menu, sausages with tomato and toast, a breakfast straight out of Murakami’s book The end of the world and a ruthless wonderland, a whole high cholesterol tribute. This is the most popular dish for stomachs and selfies. The passion that the writer arouses in Tokyo is present in literary cafes where followers of the author, known as harukists, they meet to read and exchange opinions about his books. At Café Rokujigen, the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature is followed live by dozens of fans who come to follow the event in front of the television, to see if that year the spell is broken and the finalist in seven consecutive editions is finally awarded.

Following the advice of the lovers protagonists of Murakami’s most famous novel, Tokyo Blues, “Walking and walking through Tokyo without a destination in mind” I tour the Shinjuku neighborhood. Masses of people move in an orderly manner on the sidewalks and the rhythm of the city seems to flow discreetly.

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The hill of love

In Shibuya, near the most famous zebra crossing on the planet (with permission from the Beatles’ Abbey Road), most of the tourists gather around the shops and guided by the glow of the neon lights. Around the corner, away from the shopping streets, is the hill of the love hotels. The streets are narrowing and the illuminated signs of the love hotels detail the prices of their rooms in nightly rates or only for a few hours. The prices of accommodation in Tokyo have made these places, the scene of the passions of homeless couples and extramarital encounters, a good option for tourists. As expected, brothels like those that Murakami recreates in After Dark. Here it is easy to imagine the door of the Alphaville with its madame Kaoru and the rarefied atmosphere of the night and the sex business, so masterfully described by the author: “In the middle of the night, time moves its way and you can’t fight it,” says the manager of a club. jazz in this novel that takes place in 24 hours, where the meetings, the cafes, the jazz, the love hotels and loneliness.

Behind Shibuya in Jingumae, art galleries and decoration shops alternate with houses of avant-garde designs. The avenues of the upscale Omotesando shopping district ooze opulence in this neighborhood known as Tokyo’s Champs Elysees. A little further south, in Otoyama, there are modern restaurant terraces with boutiques luxury designed by the best architects in the world. It is in this exclusive district where Aomame, one of the novel’s characters 1Q84, he goes shopping, and it is also here that Murakami himself has his office. Nearby are the sports facilities of Meiji Jingu Gaien, where Murakami, a passionate sport running (describes in detail his hobby in What I mean when I talk about running), he launches his 10 kilometers a day after finishing the four hours a day he dedicates to writing. His route passes by the Jingu baseball stadium, where, in the middle of a game, he had his epiphany and decided to become a writer at age 30.

His fantastic world is also on the street. Without going to the extreme of his novels, where giant frogs that save Tokyo from an earthquake or talking cats appear, the characters that one meets in the Harajuku district also seem to have come out of the world of the surreal. Sunday is the meeting day of the cosplayers (young people dressed as characters from the manga and anime) on Takeshita Street, which is transformed into a delirious catwalk where they meet gothic lolitas, decora fashion, wamomo, anime, cyber fashion and other tribes that are part of the most pop and eccentric urban landscape of the city.

Afternoon falls and I head towards one of the most soulful areas of Tokyo. In the dark alleys that make up the Golden Gai, tiny bars that survived earthquakes and bombings emerge like mushrooms (there are about 200 bars and izakayas),, some with space for only two or three clients, where to finish the night between beer and sake. Here it is easy to imagine Murakami’s man; lonely, night owl, seeking company in complicit conversation with other misfits like him. The last drink of the night cannot be anywhere other than the Jazz Bar Dug in Shinjuku. Stairs wallpapered with concert posters and photos lead to a bare brick basement in true New York style. In this place, open since 1961, the protagonists of Tokyo Blues they burned the night between drinks and conversation. On After Dark Also the drinks, the conversation and the chicken salad at Denny’s diner they lengthen the nights of the young protagonists.

Murakami ran a jazz bar called Peter Cat in the 1970s. Today, the characters in his novels continue to rule Tokyo nights.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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