Reading Notes from Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The Chesterton quotation and the essay on magical realism are not reading notes, but I put them here for book club discussion purposes, and I leave them here as relevant to  the quotations.

Fairy Tales

Of all forms of literature, it seems to me, fairy tales give the truest picture of life. There may be errors in detail, but in a world so full of strange things they scarcely matter. Two-headed giants and beanstalks that climb up into the sky may not be true, but assuredly they are not too wonderful to be true. But the atmosphere of the fairy tale is astonishingly true to life. It deals with the silent witchery that lies in common things, corn and stones and apple trees and fire. It presents these, no doubt, as magic stones and magic apple trees, and if anyone will stare at them steadily in a field at twilight, he will find himself quite unable to assert that they are not magic.

Let me take one quite practical example of the truth of fairy tales.  In these stories success is made to depend upon a number of small material objects and observances; life is a chain of talismans. If a man touches three trees in passing, he is safe; if he touches four, he is ruined. If the hero meets a miller without a beard, he is to answer none of his questions. If he plucks a red flower in a particular meadow, he will have power over the mighty kings of some distant city. How this poetic sense of the decisiveness of some flying detail is a thousand times more genuine and practical than the pompous insistence on some moral or scientific law which is the basis of most realistic novels. None of us know when we have done something irrevocable. Our fate has been often decided by the twist of a road or the shape of a tree. Nay, it has often been decided by an omnibus or an advertisement, and there can therefore be little reason for denying that it is a magic omnibus or a magic advertisement.

G. K. Chesterton, “The Ethics of Fairyland”

Magical Realism

In Louise Erdrich’s Tracks, Fleur Pillager drowns. She is cold and stiff. As her rescuer leans over her, her eyes open and she says “You take my place.”  Soon after, the rescuer drowns in his bathtub. A tornado destroys the locker plant where she works. Damage is light otherwise in the town. Somehow, the men who abused her are not found in the freezer for several days, by which time those who are not dead are much the worse for the experience. Or, for that matter, Toni Morrison’s Beloved comes out of the river, now grown, years after her death as a child. What is happening here? Can you hear your students say “Yeah, sure!” Or “This is fantasy, isn’t it?” Perhaps a brief lesson in Magical Realism is in order, an operative definition: what it is, what it isn’t, how it works, and why it is used.

Yes, it’s an overused and often-abused term, but it is often useful to give students names for things.

Magical Realism is a narrative device, not a genre. It may contain fantastic elements, but it is not fantasy. Fantasy is its own genre. The key word of Magical Realism is realism.

Some would apply the term Magical Realism only to a group of certain Latin American writers from a particular time period — not very useful for discussing other writers. Often today, it is stretched to include much contemporary fantasy. This, too, is not very useful.

Actually, Magical Realism seems not to be exclusively, or even originally, Latin American. The term was coined about 1925 by German art critic Franz Roh to denote a particular branch of Expressionism. This was also about the time that Surrealism was beginning. Surrealism, however, is less tied to mundane reality, and is usually highly symbolic. Its psychological bias tends more to the Freudian, Magical Realism more to the Jungian.

The Latin American writers to whom the term was first applied were, according to one source, a) profoundly influenced by Kafka, and b) made extensive use of indigenous folklore and myth. The combination established the basic characteristics of Magical Realism:

  • Transcending simple realism
  • With events that seem to deny common sense or the laws of nature,
  • Telling its stories from the point of view of people who live in our world and experience a different reality

Bruce Holland Rogers outlines three main effects by which Magical Realism conveys a world view different from modernist/rationalist/empirical/positivist:

  • Time is not linear. Past and present are often intertwined.
  • Causality is subjective and events that objectively have no cause-effect relationship may be juxtaposed in such a way as to suggest causality.
  • The marvelous and the mundane are leveled: The miraculous may be treated as ordinary and/or the ordinary as miraculous.

So, to what end may an author choose to do these things?

  • To add a mythic dimension – to mythologize mundane material
  • To connect the narrative to mythic or folkloric themes and motifs
  • To defamiliarize the familiar – to make what we take for granted seem strange so that we must see it and imagine it anew
  • To challenge our notions of what is real and what is not
  • To show us that our ideas of what is “real” are not as “objective” as we might think, but are cultural constructs
  • To confront the limitations of rationalism as the only way to know the world
  • To take the reader into the frame of reference of another culture with different constructs – different assumptions about what is real.

The basic dynamic of Magical Realism is the cognitive dissonance that results from blurring the boundary between the realistic and the fantastic. There is an element of “Trickster discourse at work.

Distinctions have been made between Magical Realism and Mythic Realism. I will not pursue them because they seem to draw a finer point than is necessary for the present discussion.

But I will emphasize the difference between the device of Magical Realism and the genre of Fantasy.

  • In Magical Realism, characters are in our historical world, but experience it differently than we do.
  • Fantasy and science fiction occupy coherently constructed alternative realities. Cognitive dissonance is considered undesirable.
  • The writer of fantasy may employ techniques of realism to help the reader more willingly suspend his disbelief. But this could more appropriately be termed “Realistic Magicism.”
  • In allegorical fantasy, the fantastic operates as an analog to the mundane.

Magical Realism, fantasy, science fiction: how do you actually tell the difference? By posing the question in the context of the work as a whole. Where is it coming from? Where is it going? What do you, reader, perceive to be the author’s “agenda?”


How to read this book

Like a make-believe bird hanging in a make-believe sky, I see the rooms from above. I enlarge the view, pull back, and survey the whole, then zoom in to enlarge the details. Each detail carries much significance, of course. I check each in turn, examining it for shape and color and texture. From one detail to the next, there is no connection, no warmth. All I am doing at that point is a mechanical inventory of details. But it’s worth a try. Just as the rubbing together of stones or sticks will eventually produce heat and flame, a connected reality takes shape little by little. It works the way the piling up of random sounds goes on to produce a single syllable from the monotonous repetition of what at first glance appears to be meaningless.  (394)

Baseball bat

With the agility of a monkey, the man [with the guitar case, the folksinger from Sapporo. See 231] had leaped out from behind the shoe cabinet and had hit me with a baseball bat. (335)

I ended up bringing the bat all the way home with me and throwing it in the closet. (337)

I climb down the steel ladder anchored in the side of the well, and in the darkness at the bottom, I feel for the bat I always leave propped against the wall – the bat I brought home with me all but unconsciously from the house where I had followed the man with the guitar case. The touch of the scarred old bat in the darkness at the bottom of the well fills me with a strange sense of peace. It helps me, too, to concentrate. (391) (See 549)

He [a young Manchukuo cadet] killed two officers with a bat. (517)

“I’ve been ordered to beat this guy to death with the same bat he used,” the lieutenant said… (518)

…I climbed down the steel ladder into the well. I set foot on the well bottom and took a few deep breaths, as always, checking the air. It was the same as ever, smelling somewhat of mold, but breathable. I felt for the bat where I had left it propped against the wall. It was not there. It was not anywhere. It had disappeared. Completely. Without a trace. (549) (See 391)

…The anchorman began to read a text that had just been handed to him. “According to reports just in, Representative Noboru Wataya has sustained severe injuries to the head in what appears to be an attack on his life. The young assailant…delivered several strong blows to the head with a baseball bat, inflicting severe injuries.” (568)

The “present” [from the woman in 208] was a baseball bat… It was almost certainly the bat I had taken from the young man with the guitar case… Someone had used this bat to smash someone else – probably Noboru Wataya – in the head… “This is your bat, isn’t it?” she asked. (581)

A third swing hit home – the skull – and sent him flying… I heard something crack open in the dark…like a watermelon. (586)


Cats are very sensitive creatures, you know. (Malta Kano, 43)

For a while Kumiko lay there thinking. Seven-thirty Sunday morning: a time when everything sounds soft and hollow. I listened to the pigeons shuffling across my apartment roof, to someone calling a dog in the distance. Kumiko stared at a single spot on the ceiling for the longest time. “Tell me,” she said at last, “do you like cats.” (72)

“Is there anything different about its appearance? Anything that has changed since before it disappeared?”

‘Come to think of it, I kind of had the feeling that the shape of the tail was a little different.” (536)


[To Nutmeg, about Cinnamon] Is he unable to speak?  “…all of a sudden, at the age of six, he stopped speaking entirely.” (383)

The boy heard the hard-edged sound in the middle of the night. He came awake… It was not really a spring. It was the cry of a bird. (357) The men knelt like two black shadows at the base of the pine tree. (358) …The small man looked a lot like his father…the build, the movements. (360)

…he went on panting and digging until he uncovered the cloth bundle the man had buried… But finally, this is a dream… It was not a dream that the wind-up bird had cried and the man who looked like his father had climbed the tree. Those things had really happened. (419)  He opened the bundle to find a human heart inside. (420) (See 476)

His vocal cords were unable to stir the air, as if the very word “mother” had disappeared from the world. Before long, the boy realized that the world was not what had disappeared. (421) (See 383)

It was late 1975 when Nutmeg was forty and Cinnamon eleven, that her husband was killed. His body was found in an Akasaka hotel room, slashed to bits… The body itself had been virtually drained dry, and it was missing its heart… (476)  (See 420)

Like a big oyster on the bottom of the sea. He has burrowed inside himself and locked the door, and he’s doing some serious thinking.  (Nutmeg 503)

He was engaged in a serious search for the meaning of his own existence. And he was hoping to find it by looking into the events that had preceded his birth… To do that, Cinnamon had to fill in those blank spots in the past that he could not reach with his own hands… He inherited from his mother’s stories the fundamental style he used, unaltered, in his own stories: namely, the assumption that fact may not be truth, and truth may not be factual. (525)


The man dispatched to make on-the-spot observations in Manchukuo in 1932, immediately after the founding of the puppet regime there, was a young technocrat newly graduated from the military Staff College with  major in logistics; his name was Yoshitaka Wataya. (495)

These “clients” and I were joined by the mark on my cheek. Cinnamon’s grandfather (Nutmeg’s father) and I were also joined by the mark on my cheek. Cinnamon’s grandfather and Lieutenant Mamiya were joined by the city of Hsin-ching. Lieutenant Mamiya and the clairvoyant Mr. Honda were joined by their special duties on the Manchurian-Mongolian border, and Kumiko and I had been introduced to Mr. Honda by Noboru Wataya’s family. Lieutenant Mamiya and I were joined by our experiences in our respective wells – his in Mongolia, mine on the property where I was sitting now. Also, on this property had once lived an army officer who had commanded troops in China. All of these were linked as in a circle, at the center of which stood prewar Manchuria, continental East Asia, and the short war of 1939 in Nomohan. (498)

Cinnamon’s grandfather, the nameless veterinarian, and I had a number of unusual things in common – a mark on the face, a baseball bat, the cry of the wind-up bird. And then there was the lieutenant who appeared in Cinnamon’s story: he reminded me of Lieutenant Mamiya. Lieutenant Mamiya had also been assigned to Kwantung Army Headquarters in Hsin-ching at that time.  The real Lieutenant Mamiya however was not a paymaster… Still, I could not shake the impression that the officer who had directed the executions of the Chinese cadets had really been Lieutenant Mamiya. (526) [Parallel realities?]

[One critic comments that in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, everything is connected, but nothing fits together quite square, level, or plumb.]

Creta Kano

He [Noboru Wataya] put something in me from behind… It was huge and hard… The pain was almost impossibly intense, as if my physical self were splitting in two from the inside out… Then something very weird occurred. Out from between the two cleanly split halves of my physical self came crawling a thing that I had never seen or touched before. How large it was I could not tell, but it was as wet and slippery as a newborn baby. I had absolutely no idea what it was. It had always been inside me, and yet it was something of which I had no knowledge. This man had drawn it out of me. (300-301)

…I realized that I had become a new person, entirely different from what I had been until then. This was my third self. My first self had been the one that lived in the endless anguish of pain. My second self had been the one that lived in a state of pain-free numbness (303)

At the same time I was entirely new, I was almost entirely empty. I had to fill in that blank, little by little. One by one, with my won hands, I had to make this thing I called “I” – or, rather, make the things that constituted me.  (305)


First dream pp. 101-103. Room 208.

Second dream pp. 189-191. Room 208.

Third dream pp. 241-247. Room 208. The mark.

He [the man with the guitar case] took off all his clothes and started peeling his own skin as if it were the skin of an apple. (337) (See 158-159)

The empty house

The older houses, by contrast, gave hardly any sense of life. These were screened off by well-placed shrubs and hedges, between which I caught glimpses of manicured lawns. (13) (See Aickman, Robert, “The Houses of the Russians”)

The guys who had gone crazy in China (see Mamiya’s and Nutmeg’s stories) – the generals, the field officers – were being dragged away by the MPs… So one day when he saw a GI stop a jeep in front of his house, he blew his brains out on the spot. (Uncle 117) (See Ch.7, “The Mystery of the Hanging House”)

“Tight Security and Secrecy.”  (389-390)

The house was vacant for a while after that until an actress bought it – a movie actress. (Uncle 117)  (See Ch. 12, “M’s Secret Cure” 422-424)

M. was supposedly instructed to go to a certain place, where she was brought into the presence of a man with a bluish mark on his face. (“M’s Secret Cure” 422-424)

I struggled to impose my own image upon that of a vacant house. I thought of myself as a pillar, a wall, a ceiling, a floor, a roof, a window, a door, a stone… I am a weed-choked garden, a flightless stone bird, an empty well.  (368)

Fairy Tales

…The details of the battle lost the ring of reality. They [Mr. Honda’s war stories] sounded more like fairy tales. (53)

It sounded artificial, like praise for a son bringing home good grades. (57)

It’s kind of like The Magic Flute. You know, Mozart. Using a magic flute and magic bells, they have to save a princess who’s being held captive in a far-away castle… “I’m the birdcatcher…” (Nutmeg 406)

The bat was, finally, just a kind of protective talisman. (591)

He repeated the melody of The Thieving Magpie over and over like a magic spell. (591)

“I told you that you couldn’t kill me, didn’t I?  Boris said… You aren’t qualified to kill me… And now, unfortunately, you will have to bear my curse back to your homeland… Whatever you may be, you can never be happy. You will never love anyone or be loved by anyone. That is my curse. (Mamiya 563)

“And how are you going to do that?” the woman asked. How are you going to take me out of here, Mr. Okada?”

“The way they do in fairy tales,” I said. “By breaking the spell.” (580)

“Let’s go home,” I said toward the darkness of the inner room. “This is all over now. Let’s go.”

She didn’t answer.

There was no one in there anymore. (586)


This was very different from the image of home that I had imagined vaguely for myself before marriage. But this was the home I had chosen. I had had a home, of course, when I was a child. But it was not one I had chosen myself. I had been born into it, presented with it as an established fact. Now, however, I live in a world that I had chosen through an act of will. It was my home. It might not be perfect, but the fundamental stance I adopted with regard to my home was to accept it, problems and all, because it was something I had chosen. If it had problems, these were almost certainly problems that had originated within me. (46-47)


When there’s no flow, stay still. (51)

…The details of the battle lost the ring of reality. They sounded more like fairy tales. (53)


Have you ever had that feeling – that you’d like to go to a whole different place and become a whole different self? “Sure,” said May Kasahara. “I feel that way all the time.” (261)

At the same time I was entirely new, I was almost entirely empty. I had to fill in that blank, little by little. One by one, with my won hands, I had to make this thing I called “I” – or, rather, make the things that constituted me.  (Creta Kano 305)

Without a true self, though, a person cannot go on living. It is like the ground we stand on. (Creta Kano 306)

I stared into the mirror for a long time – long enough for me to begin to see my own face as something other than mine. (350)

She [Malta Kano] believes that by passing the minds or egos of a variety of people through me, she will make it possible for me to obtain a firm grasp on my own self. You see what I mean? It works for me as a kind of vicarious experience of what it feels like to have an ego. (Creta Kano 310)


I had to get Kumiko back. With my own hands, I had to pull her back into this world. Because, if I didn’t, that would be the end of me. This person, the self I thought of as “me,” would be lost.

I would guess that all this started after you became pregnant… Which is probably why I received my first warning from the guitar player in Sapporo (See 231) the night you had the abortion. (580)

Do I have any sound basis for concluding that the me who is now writing this letter is the real me? I was never able to believe that firmly in my “self” nor am I able to today. I often used to dream of you – vivid dreams with clear-cut stories. In these dreams, you were always searching desperately for me. We were in a kind of labyrinth, and you would come almost up to where I was standing. (603)

I have to leave for the hospital now to kill my brother… I have to do it for his sake too. And to give my own life meaning. (603)

Malta Kano

I believe that you are entering a phase of your life in which many different things will occur. The disappearance of your cat is only the beginning… Good things and bad things. Bad things that seem good at first and good things that seem bad at first… But after all, Mr. Okada, when one is speaking of the essence of things, it often happens that one can speak only in generalities. (Malta Kano, 44)

At least she [Malta Kano] wasn’t boring. And that’s a good thing. I mean, the world’s full of things we can’t explain, and somebody’s got to fill that vacuum. Better to have somebody who isn’t boring than someone who is. Right? Like Mr. Honda, for example.” (48)

There are no sides in this case. They simply do not exist. This is not the kind of thing that has a top and a bottom, a right and a left, a front and a back, Mr. Okada…. You will have to win with your own strength, with your won hands. (204)

I heal others and Cinnamon heals me. But who heals Cinnamon? Is he like a black hole [well?], absorbing all pain and loneliness by himself? (459)

Before long, Nutmeg felt that she wanted to leave her work. “I don’t have much strength left. If I keep this up, I will burn out completely. (459)  (See 453)


Skinning Yamamoto (159) (see 337)

On the third day, I was saved by Corporal Honda. (167)

…but I was not, in the true sense of the word, alive. (171)  (See Creta Kano’s numbness)

And if it turns out to be a dry well, I feel the urge to climb down inside. I probably continue to hope that I will encounter something down there, that if I go down inside it will be possible for me to encounter a certain something.   Not that I expect it to restore my life to me. (345)

Hell [a well?] has no true bottom. (547)

The mark

We slipped into the wall… A moment later, I felt a kind of intense heat on my right cheek… And I passed through the wall. When I opened my eyes I was on the other side of the wall – at the bottom of a deep well. (Third dream 247)

Malta Kano made a dainty little sound of clearing her throat. “By the way, Mr. Okada, I wonder if you might have noticed some kind of major physical change during the past few days. (281)

I brought my face up to the mirror and examined the mark with the utmost care. Located just beyond the right cheekbone, it was about the size of an infant’s palm. Its bluish color was close to black, like the blue-black Mont Blanc ink that Kumiko always used. (286) (See Nutmeg’s story 400)

The mark was trying to tell me something: it wanted something from me. I went on staring at my self beyond the mirror, and that self went on staring back at me from beyond the mirror without a word.  (350)

Witnesses say the man [who attacked Noboru Wataya] , approximately thirty years of age, was wearing a navy-blue pea coat, woolen ski hat, also navy, and dark glasses. He stood some five feet nine inches in height and had a bruiselike mark on his right cheek. (568)

May Kasahara

But finally, Mr. Wind-up Bird, isn’t that just what life is? Aren’t we all trapped in the dark somewhere, and they’ve taken away our food and water, and we’re slowly dying, little by little? (113)

Some things, you know, if you say them, it makes them not true? (   )

…Last night, after my family left for the summer house, I went down into the well. I stayed there five or maybe six hours just sitting still…but I wasn’t terrified or scared or anything… But I knew it wasn’t just dark… But after a few hours, I knew less and less who I was. Sitting down there in the darkness, I could tell that something inside me – inside my body – was getting bigger and bigger. It felt like this thing inside me was growing, like the roots of a tree in a pot, and when it got big enough it would break me apart… Whatever this thing was, it stayed put inside me when I was under the sun, but it, like, sucked up some special kind of nourishment in the darkness and started growing sooo fast it was scary… It was the scaredest I’ve ever been in my life. This…gooshy white thing like a lump of fat was taking over, taking me over, eating me up. (320-321) (See 300-301)

Everybody’s born with some different thing at the core of their existence. And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat soured that runs each person from the inside… But sometimes it gets out of hand. It swells or shrinks inside me, and it shakes me up. What I’d really like to do is find a way to communicate that feeling to another person. But I can’t seem to do it. They just don’t get it. Of course, the problem could be that I’m not explaining it very well, but I think it’s because I’m not listening very well. They pretend to be listening, but they’re not, really. [Consider Holden Caulfield]  So I get worked up sometimes and I do some crazy things… Like, say, trapping you in the well, or, like, when I’m riding on the back of a motorcycle, putting my hands over the eyes of the guy who’s driving. (322)

Then she parted those lips and ran her tongue across my mark, very slowly, covering every part of it. (325)  (See 369)

This is no suspension or transition for me. I have absolutely no idea where I’m going from here. For me, this could be the end of the line… All I’m doing is trying to accept the work in every possible way. When I’m making a wig, I don’t think about anything but making that wig…

I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen to me in the future, and I get so scared I want to scream… When it happens, I try to remind myself that I am connected to others – other thing and other people. I work as hard as I can to list their names in my head. On the list, of course, is you, Mr. Wind-up Bird. And the alley, and the well, and the persimmon tree, and that kind of thing. And the wigs I’ve made here with my own hands… (449)

It’s like when you put instant rice pudding mix in a bowl in the microwave and push the button, and you take the cover off when it rings, and there you’ve got rice pudding. I mean, what happens in between the time when you push the switch and when the microwave rings? You can’t tell what’s going on under the cover. Maybe the instant rice pudding first turns into macaroni gratin in the darkness when nobody’s looking and only then turns back into rice pudding… Those people believe that the world is consistent and explainable…so if you do everything in a logical, consistent way, everything will turn out right in the end… So then one disconnected thing led to another disconnected thing…there’s no “This happened this way, so naturally that happened that way. Every time the bell rings and I take off the cover, I seem to find something I’ve never seen before. (461)

Lately, I sometimes feel like I have turned into Kumiko. I am actually Mrs. Wind-up Bird, and I’ve run away from you for some reason and I’m hiding here in the mountains. For all kinds of complicated reasons, I have to use the name “May Kasahara” as an alias and wear this mask and pretend I’m not Kumiko. And you’re just sitting there on that sad little veranda of yours, waiting for me to come back. (531)

May Kasahara, where are you now when I need you? (589)

I woke up about an hour ago from a dream about you, Mr. Wind-up Bird, and I’ve been sitting here writing you this letter…


Think about the horses dying. Think about them lying on the straw in some barn under a full moon, foaming at the mouth, foaming at the mouth, gasping in agony. (30) (Think also about the dying unicorns in Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.)

Before very long, a half-moon will last for several days. (Malta Kano, 180) (See 220)

Moonlight was pouring through the window… And the light coming in the window looked like a big white pool of water. I got naked… And I got down on my knees in the white moonlight… There was some kind of special something in the moonlight that was coming in the window…then I took turns holding different parts of my body out to be bathed in the moonlight. (May Kasahara 593)

Noboru Wataya

And your sister, I am sure, didn’t die from food poisoning… The one responsible for her death was Noboru Wataya, and you know that for a fact. Your sister probably said something to you before she died, gave you some kind of warning. Noboru Wataya probably had some kind of special power, and he knew how to find people who were especially responsive to that power and to draw something out of them. He must have used that power in a particularly violent way on Creta Kano (See 300-301). She was able, one way or another, to recover, but your sister was not. (578)

How he managed to do it and what the occasion was, I have no idea, but at some point Noboru Wataya increased his violent power geometrically. Through television and the other media, he gained the ability to train his magnified power on society at large. Now he is trying to bring out something that the great mass of people keep hidden in the darkness of their unconscious. (579)


The veterinarian was a tall, handsome man in his late thirties, with a blue-black mark on his right cheek, the size and shape of a baby’s palm. (400) (See 286)

Finally, she [Nutmeg?] stopped caressing my mark. She then stood up, came around behind me, and, instead of her fingertips, used her tongue. Just as May Kasahara had done in the garden last summer, she licked my mark. (368)  (See 325)

All the little accessories she carried with her seemed to be made of gold. Or was it that they turned to gold the moment she touched them? (380)

It [the encounter with the submarine] has nothing to do with the war; it could happen to anyone anywhere... The war is just one of the things that could happen. (398)

She would narrate events she had witnessed with her own eyes, as well as events that she had never witnessed. (407)

There should have been a decisive gap separating those two different worlds. There had to be a gap. But he could not find it. The world looked the same to him as it always had [the strange made familiar]. What most puzzled the veterinarian was the unfamiliar lack of feeling inside himself. (410)

The whole world seemed caught in a deep paralysis and some on board felt as if they had stumbled by accident into the land of the dead. (414)

Designing clothes was my secret little door into a different world. (472)

“And before I knew it, that had become my work,” said Nutmeg. She realized that she had been enfolded by a great flow.  (480)  (See Honda 51)


The alley   had become the world of these little creatures [grasshoppers], and I was simply an intruder come to upset the prevailing order.


You couldn’t be sure it was raining, the drops were so fine, but if you looked hard, you could tell. The world existed in two states, raining and nonraining, and there should be a line of demarcation between the two. I remained seated on the veranda for a while, string at the line that was supposed to be there.  (58)

But one thing did occur to me when I was really focused on them [jellyfish]. What we see before us is just one tiny part of the world. We get into the habit of thinking, This is the world, but that’s not true at all. The real world is in a much deeper and darker place than this, and most of it is occupied by jellyfish and things. We just happen to forget all that. Don’t you agree? Two thirds of the earth’s surface is ocean, and all we can see of it with the naked eye is the surface: the skin. We hardly know anything about what’s underneath the skin. (Kumiko, 226)

The best way to think about reality, I had decided, was to get as far away from it as possible – a place like the bottom of a well, for example. “When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom,” Mr. Honda had said. Leaning against the wall, I slowly sucked the moldy air into my lungs. (231)

Something felt different about the neighborhood, unfamiliar – as if, in the days I was down in the well, the old reality of this place had been shoved away by a new reality, which had settled in and taken over. I had been feeling this, somewhere deep down, ever since I had emerged from the well and gone home. (285)  [The familiar made strange]

Without a step-by-step investigation of that event, I would not be able to distinguish the point at which the real ended and the unreal took over. The wall separating the two regions had begun to melt. In my memory, at least, the real and the unreal seemed to be residing together with equal weight and vividness. (293) [The familiar made strange]

fact may not be truth, and truth may not be factual. (525)

People don’t always send messages to communicate the truth…just as people don’t always meet others in order to reveal their true selves. (Woman in 208 p. 578)

Room 208

Or maybe it was just the beginning of what would be the fatal blow. I might be standing in the entrance of something big, and inside lay a world that belonged to Kumiko alone, a vast world that I had never known. I saw it as a big, dark room. I was standing there holding a cigarette lighter, its tiny flame showing me only the smallest part of the room. (30)  (See 102)

After continuing down the corridor for some time, the faceless man came to a stop in front of a door. The number on the doorplate was 208. “It isn’t locked. You should be the one to open it.” I did as I was told and opened the door. Beyond it lay a large room. It seemed to be part of a suite of rooms in an old-fashioned hotel. The ceiling was high, and from it hung an old-fashioned chandelier. The chandelier was not lit. A small wall lamp gave off a gloomy light, the only source of illumination in the room. The curtains were closed tight. (102)  (See 30)

“It’s not easy to open [the liquor cabinet], Mr. Okada,” said Creta Kano. I realized she was standing there – and in her early-sixties outfit. “Some time must go by before it will open. Today is out of the question. You might as well give up.” (First dream 102)

At the same time, I am afraid that it [meeting the one who knocks] really is going to happen. Because then I must confront whatever it is that must be there. (395)

Right now, it’s exactly 2:18 a.m. (May Kasahara 593)


…You really ought to sit down and think hard about what it is that’s most important to you. (328)

I think what you ought to do is start by thinking about the simplest things and go from there. For example, you could stand on a street corner somewhere day after day and look at the people who come by there. (The narrator soon does this and thereby meets Nutmeg. But he has already done something similar with May Kasahara. See pp. 108-113)  It may be tough, but sometimes you’ve got to just stop and take time. You ought to train yourself to look at things with your own eyes until something comes clear. (328)


You can’t keep it up forever, though. You’re going to burn out sooner or later… There’s a time when things are right for pulling out. (454) (See 459)


Malta Kano describes her spirit water spring on Malta. (40) (Consider Miu’s unnamed Greek island where Sumire disappears in Sputnik Sweetheart)

If you resist the flow, everything will dry up. If everything dries up, the world is darkness… No flow now… Now’s the time to stay still. Just be careful of water. Sometime in the future, this young fellow could experience real suffering in connection with water. Water that’s missing from where it’s supposed to be. Water that’s present where it’s not supposed to be. In any case, be very, very careful of water. (Mr. Honda, 51) (See 345)

I picked up my glass and took another drink of water. Where had that awful taste come from? (204)

Water. I was surrounded by water… Be careful of water, Mr. Honda had said to me. (588) (See 51)


Maybe you’ve got this well deep inside and you shout into it, “The king’s got donkey ears!” and then everything’s OK. (Kumiko, 29)

The law presides over things of this world, finally. The world where shadow is shadow, and light is light, yin is yin and yang is yang. I’m me and he’s him. “I am me and/ he is him:/ Autumn eve.” But you don’t belong to that world, sonny. The world you belong to is above or below that… It’s not a question of better or worse. The point is not to resist the flow. You go up when you’re supposed to go up and down when you’re supposed to go down… [See Dance, Dance, Dance] When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. (Mr. Honda, 51)

I suddenly recalled Mr. Honda’s words from long before… [51] So now I had a well if I needed one. (66)

I looked up to the mouth of the well above me, tiny now. The well’s circular opening was cut exactly in half by the half if the cover I had left in place. From below, it looked like a half-moon floating in the night sky. “A half moon will last for several days” Malta Kano had said. (220) (See 180)

“And you two know about these things?”

“We do. Not everything, but most of the answers in here,” said Creta Kano, pointing at her temple. “You just have to go inside.”

“Like going down into a well?”

“Yes, like that.”   (308)

“An old pair of good shoes can come in handy, even if they’re a little messy.” (371)  I always wear my old tennis shoes and my plastic watch, the one I had on the first time I came down into the well. Like the bat, they calm me. (393)

Down here there are no seasons. Not even time exists. (392)

I concentrate on my mark and think about the room [room 208] I try to separate from myself, just as I do when I am with the women [Creta Kano, Malta Kano, May Kasahara, Nutmeg, the woman in 208]. I try to get out of this clumsy flesh of mine, which is crouching down here in the dark. Now I am nothing but a vacant house, an abandoned well. I try to…leap from one reality to another, which moves at a different speed, and I keep a firm grip on the bat all the while. (393)

The wind-up bird

It was a narrow world, a world that was standing still. But the narrower it became, and the more it betook of stillness, the more this world that enveloped me seemed to overflow with things and people that could only be called strange. They had been there all the while, it seemed, waiting in the shadows for me to stop moving. (See Mr. Honda 51) And every time the wind-up bird came to my yard to wind its spring, the world descended more deeply into chaos. (125)

When it was over, the female announcer said it had been the seventh of Schumann’s Forest Scenes, titled “Bird as Prophet.”  (278)  (Book Two: Bird as Prophet, July to October 1984)

“If you stay here, something bad is going to happen to you…something very, very bad,” Creta Kano prophesied – in a small but penetrating voice, like the prophet bird that lived in the forest. (313)

Soon their [cicadas] cries were joined by those of a bird – strangely distinctive cries, like the winding of a spring: Creeeak. Creeeak. (A young soldier, per Nutmeg. 403)

“Didn’t you [Nutmeg] just say something about a bird that winds a spring?”

“Hmm. Now I can’t remember. I don’t think I said anything about a bird.”  (404)

I’m the only person alive who can hear these sounds. (Cinnamon 361)

As it had been the previous afternoon, the bird was in a tree somewhere, making that creeeak, creeeak sound as if winding a spring. The soldier [who had just beat the Chinese cadet to death with the bat] looked up trying to pinpoint the direction of the cries, but he could see o sign of the bird. (521)

The cry of this bird was audible only to certain special people, who were guided by it toward inescapable ruin. (525)

Woman on the telephone

I could have been looking at a De Chirico scene: the woman’s long shadow cutting across an empty street and stretching toward me, but she herself in a place far removed from the bounds of my consciousness. (20) (The painting referred to is “Melancholy and Mystery of a Street” 1913)

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