Art and culture

5 Tokyo Hotspots from Haruki Murakami’s Novels

Felix Chan dives into the world of Haruki Murakami – the Japanese author who has captured an international audience with his coming-of-age and surrealist tales

Literature transports us – to different countries, continents or entire new universes. But sometimes, we’re able to transport ourselves to literary worlds – discovering the actual places where our favourite stories have unfolded. Haruki Murakami’s novels are full of real-life Tokyo. From Shinjuku’s hole-in-the-wall bars to surfer spots in Tsujido, we explore his world one setting at a time.

1. Dug Jazz Café & Bar

Shinjuku City, Tokyo

Credit: Dan Nevill

‘We caught a bus to Shinjuku and went to an underground bar called Dug… We each started with two vodka and tonics. “I come here once in a while”, she said. “They don’t make you feel embarrassed to be drinking in the afternoon.”’

Murakami frequented this subterranean bar as a young writer, and it’s where protagonist Watanabe and his love-starved friend Midori Kobayashi hang out in Norwegian Wood. Dug has hung its little neon sign in various locations across town since 1967: despite all the glitz and glam upstairs around the packed east gate of Shinjuku Station, it’s a quiet sanctum that’s steeped in a nostalgic American vibe.

2. Inokashira Onshi Park

Kichijōji, Tokyo

Credit: Kanokpol Tokumhnerd/Alamy Stock Photo

‘We were sitting as usual side by side at Inogashira Park, on her favourite bench. The pond spread out before us. A windless day. Leaves lay where they had fallen, pasted on the surface of the water. I could smell a bonfire somewhere far away. The air was filled with the scent of the end of autumn, and far-off sounds were painfully clear.’

Almost everyone visiting Kichijōji in Tokyo makes a pilgrimage to the Studio Ghibli Museum to delve into the animated world of Hayao Miyazaki; but little do they know that Inokashira Onshi Park beside it is the place to calm the wanderer’s soul. Look at Sumire in Sputnik Sweetheart: she feels ready for another taste of the topsy-turvy world after a tranquil respite in the park.

3. Sangenjaya

Tokyo

Credit: Alva Pratt/Unsplash

‘The flow of traffic had been smooth at first, but suddenly backed up just before Sangenjaya, after which they had hardly moved. The outbound lanes were moving fine. Only the side headed toward downtown Tokyo was tragically jammed.’

In 1Q84, protagonist Aomame is stuck in a traffic jam on the Inbound Expressway Number 3. But the iron-willed Aomame gets out of the taxi and climbs down a narrow ladder to the streets below – and into another world. The place she climbs down to is Sangenjaya, a laid-back corner of the city lined with hipster cafes, izakayas and one of the only two remaining tram lines in Tokyo. Here, new meets old while pop culture and high art coexist – a fitting place for Murakami to establish his parallel universe.

4. Bundan Coffee & Beer

Tokyo

‘I put some water on to boil, took tomatoes from the refrigerator and blanched them to remove the skin. I chopped up a few vegetables and garlic, added the tomatoes, then stirred in some sausage to simmer. While that cooked down, I slivered some cabbage and peppers for a salad, dripped coffee. I sprinkled water on to a length of French bread, wrapped it in foil, and slid it into the toaster-oven. Once the meal was ready, I cleared away the empty bottles and glasses from the living room and woke her up.’

Bundan is the in-house café of The Museum of Modern Japanese Literature. While it might not be part of Murakami’s literary world, fans flock to this book-lined outlet for dishes and drinks taken from classics of Japanese literature: including the ‘sausage in tomato sauce with salad and brioche’ which the narrator of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World has for breakfast 24 hours before doomsday.

5. Tsujido Coast

Kanagawa

Credit: Taro Hama/Getty Images

‘The afternoon was pleasant, hardly any wind, the surf gentle. Just a rippling sheet of tiny waves drawing in toward shore. Perfect peaceful periodicity. The surfers had all given up and were sitting around on the beach in their wet suits, smoking. The white smoke trail from burning trash rose nearly straight up into the blue, and off to the left drifted the island of Enoshima, faint and miragelike.’

Follow the protagonist and 13-year-old Yuki from Dance Dance Dance to Tsujido in Kanagawa prefecture – adjoining Tokyo but away from the bustle. Take a walk along the sleepy coast, a favourite with surfers when the conditions are right. To the far left, you too will see the muted outline of Enoshima (above), a quiet island of resort onsens and temples. Spare some time to visit Tsujido Seaside Park, strolling through the lawn plaza, flower studio and garden, and soaking up the view of Mount Fuji floating on the horizon.

Say This

‘I’m the world’s biggest Haruki Murakami fan’

‘Watashi ha sekkai chu no ichiban Murakami Haruki san no dai dai dai fan nan desu’

‘Have you seen a vanishing cat around here?’

‘Kono hende kieda neko wo mi e mashitaka?’

‘I’m looking for an emotionally complicated woman to soothe my teen angst’

‘Watashi ha seishu jidai no fuantei na kimochi wo osaeru tameni, derikei-to na taipu na onna no hito wo sagashimasu’

Go Further Into Murakami’s Mind

One Great Meal

Credit: Courtesy image

Murakami says the best dish he ever had on his travels was small oysters served with whisky in Islay, Scotland – where the air smells of sea and single malt. The island’s smoky malts pair perfectly with its briny oysters – Ardbeg Distillery sometimes holds oyster tastings.

One Great Place

Credit: Ling Gigi/Unsplash

Murakami says the village of Nomonhan in Mongolia (right), the site of 1939’s Battles of Khalkhin Gol, is the most evocative place he ever visited. Today, the battlefield is a historical site, a memorial to the Soviet-Japanese border conflicts. Several tours from Ulaanbaatar journey to the site while taking in the endless steppe.

One… Pottery Café?

Credit: Aflo Co. Ltd./Alamy Stock Photo

Murakami has been hotly tipped for the Nobel Prize for Literature for the last few years running. Every year fans gather at gallery-bookshop Rokujigen (‘six dimensions’, below) for the announcement. These days it’s only open for special events and the owner’s kintsugi classes – the art of repairing broken pottery with gold lacquer.

2F, 1-10-3 Kamiogi, Suginami-ku, Tokyo 167-0043

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