Often referred to as ‘ubiquitously cosmopolitan’ and ‘non-national’ writer, Haruki Murakami is an avid critic of Japan’s colonial expeditions and its brutal exercises on the colonized. The impending result of these brutal exercises, as evident in his writings, is the ‘disillusioned’, ‘fatalistic’ post-war Japan. Post-War Japan is characterized by consumerism, industrialization, overwork, and capitalism ruled by the traditional imperialistic form of government. Successful establishment of the nation was realized through the penetration of nationalism that coincided with the nation’s modernization and industrialization with rapid changes in each field.
Such rapid changes in this period are often seen as an effort to subdue the guilt of those colonial expeditions and the sense of loss of the WWII. The building of modern Japan, by eradicating these inhuman political exercises from ‘collective subconscious’ was a deliberate effort made by the authoritarian government of Japan. Modern Japan chose to be amnesiac. In other words, Modern Japan was another empire in which feudal loyalty was replaced by nationalist loyalty. And the outcome of such voluntary obliteration of selective past and substitution of them with something else such as ‘over-work’ and ‘industrialization’ had serious impact upon the society.
As observes Hiroshi Minami, the justification and substitution of the defeat in the WWII and the inhuman colonial expeditions had negative social impacts such as ‘psychological instability’, ‘fatalism’ and ‘flesh-ism’. These factors are prevalent in almost all the fictions of Haruki Murakami. His characters are very much influenced by these social factors such as ‘fatalism’, ‘flesh-ism’ and ‘psychological instability’, and from such bizarre condition they undergo a journey towards self-discovery. But as the journey moves on, they start getting entangled with larger social and historical events.
Their historical lineage starts unfolding. And in this paper, I have attempted to look at those historical events that had wide repercussions in the modern Japanese society with reference to Haruki Murakami’s novel A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.The characters of Haruki Murakami’s fictions are presented against this background, where they suffer from crises such as ‘loneliness’, ‘purposelessness’, and ‘isolation’. The protagonists are mostly without job such as Toru Okada in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, who leaves his job for no specific reason, and he does not try to find another even. On a symbolic level, the protagonists are a representation of what Hiroshi Minami termed about Japanese youths, that is ‘fatalistic’ and ‘flesh-ist’. They are also characterized by ‘lack of emotional intelligence’ such as Boku in A Wild Sheep Chase, who is least bothered about the fact that his wife has divorced him or his ex-girlfriend has died.
From such condition of ‘disillusioned’ and ‘purposelessness’ they start their odyssey of self-discovery or realization. The quest initially begins with a search for something external such as Toru Okada goes out for the lost cat, while Boku goes out for the star marked sheep. And this external journey, however, takes a turn towards self-discovery where Murakami entangles them with the larger historical context. The journey from ‘amnesia’ to ‘knowledge’ begins.However, it is important to note that Murakami’s major concern in his writings is not the defeat of Japan in the 2nd World War, but the moral guilt of Japan that they should take responsibility for the grotesque injustices done to its colonial subjects. Though he does not pass judgments over those atrocities in his fictions but he explicates and replicates those historical massacres with grotesque details to evoke the feeling of moral guilty among the Japanese, which has been attempted to obliterate from the society.
Deliberate attempts to push those memories into oblivion from the Japanese Psyche can also be observed in their use of terminology. An example of which is the Nanking Massacre, where thousands of Chinese civilians were murdered, plundered and raped. But Japan prefers it to be called as an ‘incident’ instead of ‘massacre’, thereby demeaning the significance of that massacre, and thus veers away from taking moral responsibility for the losses that took place. Modern Japanese historiography, this way, has been a victim of what Ranajit Guha termed as ‘elitist’ and ‘statist’ ideology. They were highly manipulated and politicized. Michel Seats in his book “Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanese Culture” takes on the Inega lawsuit where he was forbidden by the Education Ministry of Japan to publish New Japanese History because of certain inclusion that does not suit the imperial policy. He comments on the Japanese History books as: “In such books, ‘history’ appears in the form of timelines, dates and events with the most well known trope of the imagined defining ‘event’ of Japanese modernity signified by the proper noun ‘Meiji Restoration’ which from the early 1930s down to today has been employed to dramatize loyalties and to force men to make clear their ideological commitments.” (263)Murakami both in his fictions and personal interviews claims for the official recognition of those crimes committed by Japan against the other peoples of Asia.
His attempt in his writings is to assert the fact that Japan was not simply a victim of the atom bomb dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the enemy, but they were also a reason behind the victimization of many. In this regard, Murakami was once asked by an interviewer that why current generation should take responsibility for the crimes committed in the past. In response to this he replied:Because we are Japanese. When I read about the atrocities in China in some books, I can’t believe it. It is so stupid and absurd and meaningless. That was the generation of my father and my grandfather.
I want to know what drove them to do all those kinds of things, to kill or maim thousands and thousands of people. (qtd. in Jay Rubin 215)The Wind-up Bird Chronicle can be seen as a part of that painful process to understand those historical events which are now being pushed towards the edge of oblivion. This fiction deals with the Namonhan Incident (1939), The Zoo Attacks and some other incidences with survivors, who recall their traumatic experiences of those incidences. In A Wild Sheep Chase, on the other hand, Murakami looks back to the beginning of such colonial invasions by Japan.
In his quest for the star marked sheep he discovers the history of the place ‘Hokkaido’ and the reason behind the cultivation of sheep in that place. When Boku reads the history of the area he finds that the Meiji government started raising sheep in order to promote their plans for continental invasion. As a part of the plan, the government was offering sheep to the locals of Junitaki to raise them. Though it seemed to them as a business plan by the government to raise wool, but as time went by and the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905) broke out they realized the real motive behind such ‘kind treatment by the government’. The villagers were taken away from there and got killed in the war. In a sense, the government was cultivating manpower to engage them in the upcoming wars.
Murakami, in both the novels, establishes a link between past and present, and presents a critical overview of the process in which attempts were made by the authoritative force of Japan to obliterate those colonial expeditions into the unconscious memory. He sees them not as a past but a continuous process still hovering in the sub-conscious mind of the Japanese. The Boss, who sends Boku in that journey, was born in Hokkaido and is described as having been sent to Manchuria “where he fell in with the upper echelons of the Kanto Army and became party to some plot” (Murakami 57). The Kwantung Army was, in fact, the culprit behind the fake railroad attack in Manchuria which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and subsequently Japan established their puppet regime there. The modern version of this Boss is no less dominating, rather a metamorphosed version of the colonial superpower. He is a ‘right-wing’ superpower responsible for the post-war capitalistic, consumerist Japan. He is also the one who is behind the obliteration of Japan’s war memory. He is described as someone against whom no one can stand or write: “a magazine reporter got a scoop implicating him in some shady investment deals, but the story never saw the light of day” (56).
This Boss was forming an organization which Jay Rubin terms as a replication of a ‘totalitarian state’ where the Boss is the controller of everything “politics, finance, mass communications, the bureaucracy, culture, all sorts of things you would never dream of.” (118). And the commander of this state would be the Boss himself and “If he pulls out the plug, the ship goes down. Passenger and all, lost at sea, and surely before anyone become aware of that fact” (ibid). By this character Murakami was perhaps alluding to the contemporary Japanese government and its authoritarian attitude.
Through the character, as Jay Rubin observes: Murakami imputes sinister motives to the key controlling elements of contemporary Japanese consumer culture, linking them with the same forces behind Japan’s doomed, destructive attempt at continental expansion. Behind the Boss’s all-encompassing shadow kingdom lurks a huge, individual-snuffing, totalitarian “Will” that is somehow embodied in a certain “chestnut colored sheep with star on its back. (Rubin 92)A similar kind of character appears in the novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle named Noboru Wataya, whose uncle was a strong believer and supporter of Kanji Ishiwara, the ‘ringleader’ of the ‘Manchurian Incident’. His uncle was there when the incident took place and perhaps helped in perpetrating the attack. Noboru Wataya inherited his uncle’s position and thus inheriting his legacy of imperialism.These characters representing the war mongering imperial ideology are contrasted with characters such as Toru Okada and Boku, who bear the moral responsibility and the guilt of those victimizations in the colonized countries. Toru Okada, the least political character bears a historical significance. His name suggests ‘some kind of pre-war foreign minister’, and, in fact, Keisuke Okada, with whose name it has resemblance, was the Prime Minister from 1934 to 1936 who promoting the ideals of ‘national essence’ and decided to go to war.
The idea of ‘national essence’ was not dead even during the post-war period. The modern essentialised Japan is a standardised Japan with uniform characteristics disallowing internal variation. This Japan is largely the making of the central government to create a unified, uniform, and homogeneous nation. But this essentialised Japan as observes Yoshio Shogomoto “is an imagined community far from the reality the country presents.
” (25). Toru Okada’s dislike for his name in such case could be result of this historical coincidence and the forced notion of ‘essentialism’. The Battle of Namonan, The Zoo Attack, and The Manchurian Incidence plays a formative part in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. However, while narrating these incidences Murakami has not maintained historical linearity, nor does he focus on the historical facts and dates.
He rather pays emphasis on the narrative technique and describes each incidence with vivid images and grotesque description. Here Jay Rubin’s observation is worth mentioning:Rather than writing about historical facts, then, Murakami examines the Pacific War as a psychological phenomenon shared by generations of Japanese too young (like Toru) to have experienced it first-hand. History is a story. By exploiting the power of storytelling, Murakami takes readers to the edge of the cliff and make them hang there while he switches to another narrative line.
(218)Murakami has taken up this question of representation of history in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle in a complex way that does not follow historical timelines, but the essence of the events. As Seats notes, “The text(The Wind-up Bird Chronicle) simply lays bare the terms of a debate which is related to the much earlier ‘overcoming modernity’ conundrum, and the concomitant repression of the signifier ‘history’ in the discourses of post-war Japanese ‘Emperoism’ (263). Murakami’s obsession with such psychological description of those events is because of the outcome of state organized concealing of the imperial history by substituting them with the idea of ‘nation building’ that has forced a black hole in Japan’s cultural memory. And the painful memories of those who were forced to fight were buried in the black hole.
This historical amnesia has contributed to the schizophrenic cultural condition in which disoriented people wander around the empty hole. The condition of Lt. Mamiya and Mr.
Honda in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle are best examples in this case. Both of them had firsthand experiences of the Namonhan War, and after returning from there, their life becomes a curse for them. If anything they wanted is death. Rat in A Wild Sheep Chase decides to kill himself while the spirit of the powerful sheep slumbers inside him.
Boku, on the other hand, plays his part by helping the Rat in bombing the Secretary who was equally obsessed with idea of keeping the sheep in possession. The star marked sheep that possesses him stands for the contagious imperialistic ideology signifying corrupt power. It once possessed the Boss in Manchuria and then somehow the Boss had lost control over it, and the sheep transferred itself to the Rat. The suicide, keeping the sheep inside himself, can be called as his form of protest against the spreading imperial ideology in modern Japan. The same can be said of Kumiko’s decision to kill her child within herself because ‘there is something evil in her family’, the family of Noboru Wataya.
While the Rat and Kumiko stands to resist the spreading imperial ideology then Boku, Toru, and Chinamon stand for their quest for meaning of existence and identity. Toru was introduced to those historical incidences by Mr. Honda and then through the letters sent by Lt. Mamiya. He also read about the Zoo Attack from the documents accessed from Chinamon’s computer. Toru wonders why Chinamon maintained those historical documents, and the conclusion he could draw is: “He was engaged in a 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.” (525). This, Jay Rubin notes, is an attempt by the author himself to ‘search for the meaning of his own existence’.And, in fact, the quest for individual identity is the core of both the novels. Both of them begin with the characters quest for the unknown.
Here, A Wild Sheep Chase serves as a prelude to The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and the symbols used in the earlier are more precisely used in the later. Boku’s search for Rat leads him to Junitaki where he finds “a bird shaped fountain with no water in it”, while in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Toru comes across the alley where there is a dead well and a statue of a bird, “The bird had its wings open as if it wanted to escape from this unpleasant place as soon as possible.” (14).
Here Jay Rubin comments: “If Murakami’s birds represent a lively communication between the conscious and unconscious world, these frozen birds suggest a kind of amnesia.” (212). The same can also be said about the empty well in that yard.
However, the well at the same time serves as a repository of knowledge. When Toru becomes aware of the incidences preceding his birth and the whereabouts his wife, the well starts filling itself. Both the fictions, thus, present a clash between the representative of ‘imperial ideology’ and ‘subjects’ of it. Here, in this context, Murakami’s ‘egg’ and ‘wall’ analogy can be appropriated. The ‘wall’ stands for the powerful Japanese State which was attempting an appropriation of those atrocities by substituting it with a comfortable life of affluence and a state-sponsored ideology of economic participation. The ‘eggs’ on the other hand, stand for the individuals who are fighting against it, such as Toru and the Rat. The battle is never easy. The death of the Rat and Kumiko suggests the difficulty of this battle.
However, killing the sheep or the child in Kumiko’s womb alone is not going to liberate Japan from the evil that they represent in both historical and present context, rather a collective awareness is required. What he ultimately suggests is that, the battle is difficult but not unattainable.