Book Review: The Strange Library by Murakami Haruki

The Strange Library (ふしぎな図書館: fushigi na toshokan) is a short story by Murakami Haruki.

The Japanese version was published  with  illustrations by Maki Sasaki in 2008. The story is based on a former different version (図書館奇談 toshokan kidan) published in the short story collection カンガルー日和 (kangaruu hiyori. Good weather for kangaroos) of 1986.

The Strange Library is told  from the perspective of a shy little boy who loves to read. On his way back from school it pops into his mind to borrow some history books from the local library.  Starting the moment he enters the building everything turns out very strange. First he is directed to room No. 107 in the basement where he never had been before and meets an odd librarian, who seems to inhabit this dusted dark area for ages.

The boy asks him politely for the book titles. The old man mumbles and rumbles on his way to a hidden archive in the back of the library.  When he returns with the books, he tells the boy, that it is forbidden to take them home. He has to stay and read them in a separate study room.  Now the boy is slightly scared by the man, and the thought of staying here any longer makes him feel uncomfortable, but he is also feeling obliged to go to the reading area and make no fuss about it.

Intimidated he follows the old weird man further downstairs through a labyrinth. Finally reaching the room the boy sits down to read. After a short while the sheepman arrives on the scene. He then tells him, that the boy is being held hostage. A wild and spooky story unfolds with an unforeseen twist at the end.

In this early work Murakami  makes use of surreal story telling, for which he is known as a bestseller author. The book is pretty short, but along with many illustrations it is an entertaining read. For students with intermediate language skills the Japanese version is relatively easy to understand.

Translations are available in many languages. I have seen the English and German versions of the book. The illustrations are very different from the Japanese version.

ふしぎな図書館 by 村上春樹. Illustrated by 佐々木木マキ。2008.



Reading in October

In October people visiting Japan Kaleidoskop were mostly interested in Japanese Literature. As in the month before the two mostly read book reviews were the same as in the month before.

Men without women by Murakami Haruki  and Thousand Cranes by Kawabata Yasunari.

Two titles of Tanizaki Jun’ichirô  are on the third  and fourth place. Books I personally adore: The Makikoka Sisters followed by Naomi.

And  surprisingly for the first time people were much interested in reading the book review of Hiromi Kawakami’s The Nakano Thrift Store  which is a fun book to read.

I am currently reading Murakami’s 1Q84 and Yukio Mishima’s  Thirst for Love, probably I will finish the last soon and will write a review here.

My readers came mostly from this countries, in this order:

  1. The United States
  2. Phillipines
  3. Japan
  4. Germany
  5. Netherlands
  6. Canada

There were many searches on Japan Kaleidoskop and I am very happy, that you enjoy my blog and that it is useful for many readers.

Surprisingly ‘Dreaming of Kimchee‘ was searched for several times. And first I did not know, what is was. But then I remembered: It is a short story of Banana Yoshimoto in her book Lizard.

My favorite search term of October is ‘Japanese woman holding a lantern‘, which probably was not found, because there is no tag like this. But there is a very lovely picture of Suzuki Harunobu (c. 1725-1770) on this blog. It was on Art on Tuesday on January 7th, 2014.

Thank you for visiting and reading Japan Kaleidoskop. I wish you a happy autumn!


Hear the music of 1Q84 Book I

To begin with It’s only a Paper Moon is the overall theme of 1Q84. The book I am  currently reading for the third time.

Murakami Haruki is referring to music in his stories very often, which makes them all the more fun to read. So I wanted to hear the song he is mentioning in the novel and this is what I have found. There are many versions of the Paper Moon song, but these are the best on YouTube in my opinion. It’s a good way to start with to get in the mood of reading the 1ooo pages of this multi-faceted novel. The first version is not only instrumental, but the singing starts about a minute from the beginning. The pictures are so cute. The Japanese singer Saori Yuki 由紀さおり is singing the other version.

The first chapter of 1Q84 begins with the introduction of Aomame, the female main character of the book. She is sitting in a taxi stuck in a traffic jam on a highway in Tokyo on her way to an important date.

The radio plays Sinfonietta by Leoš Janáček of 1926. You should hear this and read the first chapter. It is a perfect, grandiose background music of the appearance of this strong woman.

More about the book itself, when I have finished reading the book One, which can probably last a while. Meanwhile I am enjoying the music! I hope you too.

Readings in August

I am surprised, that the visitors of Japan Kaleidoskop preferred reading exactly the same posts about Japanese books as in June and in July 2015. I skipped writing about it in July for this reason, because I thought, it was a little redundant.

I guess it has something to do with algorithm and how often something is mentioned on the blog and not really only about taste in Japanese Literature. Maybe it has also something to do with fewer postings on my blog about Japanese books in the summer. Never the less I am currently reading ‘Geisha in Rivalry’ by Nagai Kafû. And the next post will be about this exciting book.

In August people also liked to read posts about Naomi and the Makioka Sisters of Tanizaki Jun’ichirô and of course Yukiguni by Kawabata Yasunari. And least about  All she was worth by Miyabe Miyuki,  who is a well-known contemporary author and I think quite interesting.

What did I learn from the statistics then? Most of my visitors came from the United States, the Philippines and from Japan. Thank you very much!

Most often visited was the lovely picture of  Katsushika Oi.



Readings in June

In June readers of Japan Kaleidoskop were mostly interested in Japanese Literature and again the book reviews:

1. Most of my visitors read the book review of Men Without Women by Murakami Haruki as in May 2015. So this title is on the first place again due to the popularity of the author’s latest book.

2. On the second place there is a surprise: It is Thousand Cranes by Kawabata Yasunari. The title has been searched for several times in this month, but never before June. In the past many visitors were looking for Yukiguni by Kawabata instead. But it is still the same author on the second place. Kawabata Yasunari was born in June 11, 1899 in Ôsaka.

3. The third most read book review on this blog was Seven Japanese Tales by Tanizaki Jun’ichirô. One of my personal favorite Japanese author.

Although most of the search terms are not visible anymore, there were some, which gave me a hint, of what my visitors were looking for.

I liked the search term: “courtesan reading poet ono no komachi biography” very much. It is an ukiyo e by Kikugawa Eizan 菊川 英山 (1787 – 1867) chosen for this blog’s Art on Tuesday series on November 14, 2014.



Book Review: After Dark by Murakami Haruki

13640447“It’s true, though: time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night.”

After Dark is a short novel by Murakami Haruki published in 2004.

The story is told from an alternating perspective, scenes are changing movie like, the story is written in a screenplay style.

What happens? It is not clear.

Things belong to the darkness. Everything happens during one single night.

The intro scene is playing in a diner restaurant. Mari, a Japanese girl is sitting alone at a table reading a book. Other single customers are around with their laptops, cellphones, some guests are just staring.

The door opens. A woman comes in, looking around, then walking straight towards Mari and picking her up. You do not know why.

Then the scene changes to a love hotel, where a Chinese prostitute was hurt by a customer, who had fled the building. Mari was the only person available to help interpreting from Chinese to Japanese, therefore she was chosen. So Mari and the hotel staff eventually could help the girl escape the situation.

Murakami introduces a parallel nightmarish story about Mari’s sister Eri. She is sleeping and at the same time awake. Eri had realized that she is trapped in a room with no doors, and she is trying to escape this situation by sleeping. “… let me get to sleep again! she pleads. If only I could fall sound asleep and wake up in my old reality! This is the one way Eri can now imagine escaping from the room.”

Back from the love hotel incident Mari meets a boy named Takahashi at the diner. And covered by the night, they begin to talk about their lives and inner feelings, Takahashi reveals he had an affair with Eri some time ago. And Mari is worried about her own relationship with Eri, which became very difficult lately. As the two sisters are very different they became estranged from each other. Their lives are so contrary, there is little tolerance for each other, therefore a huge gap is all there is left – they are not talking to each other anymore. Mari is hurt, but there seems no way out for her, because she cannot reach Eri anymore.

Mari is talking with Takahashi about Eri and slightly things begin to change. In the end there is hope for a small path to Eri.

Some parts of the story are kafkaesk. The scenes are loosely knit together and told from alternating perspectives. Murakami walks us from a lonely diner table, through the dark aisles of a love hotel, into a nightmarish situation of a closed room, then back to the diner. And now talking to each other, getting to know each other’s secrets and inner feelings, maybe something lightens up as it becomes morning again.

You do not know exactly. And you do not have to. It is in between two days. Things change. That is After Dark.

村上 春樹. アフターダーク, 2004. After Dark by Murakami Haruki. translated by Jay Rubin, 2007.

Readings in May

I began to look more at my statistics and think it is interesting to think about what my visitors are looking for and what they actually read and like. In May people visiting Japan Kaleidoskop were mostly interested in the book reviews. Here are the top three:

1. Men without Women by Murakami Haruki. I guess it is because it is the newest book of Murakami, that people look it up often. Many visitors come to this post via search engines.

2. Snow Country  by Kawabata Yasunari is on the second place and is searched for very often during the last months. Interesting, that most people are looking for it in Japanese as Yukiguni. It seems to be an all time favorite.

3. Diary of a Mad Old Man by Tanizaki Jun’ichirô is the latest book review on Japan Kaleidoskop and was of a certain interest.

My favorite search term was “japanese scroll with geisha girl with umbrella in the winter”

I think,  it looks like this:


Book Review: Men Without Women by Murakami Haruki

murakamiMen without Women 女のいない男たち came out 2014 shortly after Murakami’s novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

The book consists of  a collection of six short stories: Drive My Car, Yesterday, Body without Organs, Scheherazade, Kino and Men without Women.

All of them except Men Without Women have been published in Japanese magazines before. Yesterday has been translated by Phillip Gabriel and was published in the New Yorker in June 2014, Scheherazade in October 2014 and has been translated by Ted Goossen. It was published as well in the February issue of the magazine Monkey.

The German issue Von Männern, die keine Frauen haben includes  恋するザムザ Samsa in Love, also translated by Ted Goosen published in the New Yorker of October 2013. So the story Men without Women is truly the only new story in this book.

The stories are fine, a good mixture and therefore a good read. If you like to read short stories of Murakami Haruki you will not be disappointed.The stories are gathered around love sickness and loneliness. All from the perspective of men. And no wonder you will find similarities to his major works. My personal favorites of  this collection are Scheherazade and Drive my Car.

I recommend the book to people, who are collectors of Murakami Haruki’s books and to those, who want to read all of his writings or to readers, who haven’t read much of the author before.

The book is not fully available in English yet, but in German, Korean and Chinese. Maybe you give the original a try.

村上 春樹. 女のいない男たち. 2014.

Book Review: Rashômon and Seventeen Other Stories by Akutagawa Ryûnosuke

rashomonThis is a fabulous selection of Akutagawa‘s stories from his early years until his later work period including his classics and some little known works. The stories are selected and translated by Jay Rubin and the book comes with an introduction by Murakami Haruki.

Akutagawa Ryûnosuke 芥川龍之介 (1892-1927) is one of the most influential Japanese writer and was even praised during his lifetime by his contemporaries. The young Akutagawa was encouraged by Natsume Sôseki 夏目 漱石 (1867-1916) and became an idol for many Japanese authors until today. Murakami Haruki admires him since his early schooldays.

Akutagawa has written mainly short stories, a genre very popular in Japanese literature. His first stories include mainly historical themes. Rashômon and In a Bamboo Grove are rewritten folktales of the 12th and 13th century. These were made into the well-known movie Rashômon by Kurosawa Akira in 1950.

Apart from that The Nose and Hell Screen are remarkable historical tales, outstandingly and thrillingly narrated by Akutagawa. Then there are some of his tragicomedies in this collection like Under The Sword, where a samurai suffering from migraine makes a deadly mistake with his sword. In Horse Legs the reader gets to know, how a man lives with two horse‘s legs.

Akutagawa‘s early stories of his own imagination are vivid psychograms. He read a lot and was influenced by Western authors as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Strindberg and others, which can be seen in his works.

His later semi-auto-biographical stories are very moving and astonishingly well-observed. Especially Daidôji Shinsuke: The Early Years, The Life of a Stupid Man and Spinning Gears. Akutagawa writes here about his own family background, behaviors and manners, inner struggles and personal stories.

Akutagawa was strongly influenced by the mental illness of his mother, who became mad shortly after his birth. She was living in the same house with him, but was not able to raise her son. Constantly under psychic pressure he became sick himself and permanently feared to get mad. Akutaga killed himself by an overdose of Veronal at the age of 35. His death shocked the whole nation.

His stories are outstanding until today, combining Japanese topics and symbolism of several historical episodes, rewritten for the modern reader. Furthermore his short stories of later years give a lively insight to his suffering and daily life and can be seen as unique documents of his life.

Many of his works have been translated into English and are available in various compilations, but this book is a good starting point and gives an overview of the work of Akutagawa Ryûnosuke.

Rashômon and Seventeen Other Stories by Akutagawa Ryûnosuke, Penguin Classics 2006.

Book Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

murakamiFirst thing I thought about this book: the title is odd. The story is about Tsukuru Tazaki who is named after the Japanese word for „to create“ and is searching for his meaning in life. A dark mystery is the core of his search.

He was born and raised in Nagoya. His best friends back in old school days were Shiro (White), Kuro (Black), Ao (Blue) and Aka (Red). They were once close and shared everything like every typical school clique. When Tsukuru left Nagoya for Tokyo in order to study, he kept contact with his friends, who stayed in their hometown.

All of a sudden without any reason they broke up with him, giving him the cold shoulder, explaining him nothing. The break up is complete and disturbing. No one of the clique is ever talking to him anymore. What happened?

In the course of that incident Tsukuru suffers deeply from a depression. He lives now solitary in Tokyo until after a while the encounter of Midorigawa (green River) is cheering him up again. He is a mysterious fellow, as he tells Tsukuru about his special skills of being able to see the colors of people. For this skill the gifted person is paying a high price, although it indicates a sort of enlightenment. Midorigawa disappears without reason.

When Tsukuru is getting to know a woman named Sara, he is changing his life attitude. With the help of her he traces back his old friends of school days and goes on a trip seeing each of them in order to get to know the story behind their sudden yet long silence. This journey takes him back into his childhood to Nagoya, later he travels also to Finland. The friends are adults now of course and have taken different paths in their life.

Tsukuru‘s trip into his past and search is written as a kaleidoscopic story. The reader gets to know piece by piece of the story and some insights to Tsukuru’s mind and dreams. Extrasensory powers and strange happenings are some of the ingredients, but not as much as in Murakami‘s former novels.

The character of Tsukuru is colorless in the beginning. He unfolds his personality during the narration and the story is a play with colors. The composition of the story is that of an expert. At a first glance it is smooth, too smooth?

The trip to Finland could have been taken place elsewhere in the world. The setting is stereotype. And I must admit most of the characters in this story are only schematic too. What is wrong with it?

There are few details or specialities, no crankiness. The story is pale. The typical Murakami ingredients are missing.

On the other hand, what do you expect when you read the title? Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki … Everyone in the mass, you do not know, could be Tsukuru. It is a story about dissolving a person‘s character and his social bonds, of someone’s search after meaning in life, friendship and love.

It is a story the reader can fill with his own colors. The questions are:
What are you doing with your life?
Are you letting go?
When do you fight?
What can you do?

In the end you will get some answers, hopefully.

It is a story of the modern man. A metamorphosis. The story has little, but some similarities with 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore. Some say, it is a mature work. I miss the old Murakami.

村上 春樹: 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年, 2013.