The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 318

Haruki Murakami is one of the most popular authors in Japan as well as one of the more familiar Japanese writers in the Western world. His novels are filled with references to Western culture, such as his protagonists' interest in jazz, which are not typical Japanese elements in the more traditional novel. Murakami's novels also often contain dream-like sequences or otherwise supernatural details. His novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997) is a perfect example of the author's tendencies to include both the supernatural and the Western influences.

The Wind-Up Chronicle takes place in Tokyo, Japan, during the 1980s. There are several flashbacks, however, to the war between Japan and Korea, a time when Japan took control of the Korean peninsula in the early part of the twentieth century.

Murakami weaves through these two time periods as he tells the story of how people either lose or gain personal power. This power is used both for the benefit and the detriment of other people. The protagonist, Toru Okada, is forced to develop an inner strength when his wife goes missing. She falls victim to her brother, a politician, who has mastered some sort of mind control over less mentally stable people. To bring his wife back, Toru must learn to outwit the brother and break the spell he has on Toru's wife. Much of the story takes place inside dreamscapes. Toru practices lucid dreaming, which consists of being consciously aware of one's dreams while sleeping. Another aspect of the story, the flashbacks to Japan's control of the Korean people, is graphic and arresting: details of torture are a major part of the historical material.

Themes of loss and isolation run through this novel. Every character is touched by a great loss, such as Toru's loss of his wife. However, there is also a strong discussion of how some people work at achieving a power over their emotions and subconscious thoughts.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1319

Toru Okada is thirty years old and has just resigned from his job as a lawyer’s assistant. His wife, Kumiko, works for the publisher of a health food magazine. While cooking spaghetti one evening, Okada gets strange phone calls from a woman who seems to know details about his life; she solicits phone sex from him. Okada ignores the woman and goes out to look for his and his wife’s missing cat, Noboru Wataya, named for Okada’s brother-in-law. While searching for the cat, he meets May Kasahara, a sixteen-year-old girl on sick leave from school, who promises to keep an eye out for the cat while out of her house.

Meanwhile, the Okada’s marriage has become increasingly strained, as Kumiko returns home from work later and later. A woman named Malta Kano calls Okada and asks to meet him. She turns out to be a clairvoyant who researches the mystic elements of water. She tells Okada that her sister, Creta Kano, had been raped by Okada’s brother-in-law, Wataya, and claims that the disappearance of the cat marks the beginning of a series of life-changing events in Okada’s life. Okada remembers how another medium, Mr. Honda—whom Kumiko’s father had demanded Okada and Kumiko see—had warned him to be careful of water.

While again searching for the cat, Okada runs into May at the vacant house in their neighborhood. She calls him Mr. Wind-up Bird for the bird with a creaking call that Okada hears every morning. May reveals that she has been working for a wig company in Tokyo and asks him to join her on the job. She also shows him the dried-up well near the house, and Okada notes how he is attracted by the darkness inside the well.

Okada reflects on what Kumiko tells him about her difficult childhood, during which her sister, the favorite of the family, had died. Okada, in turn, reveals his hatred for his brother-in-law, a pompous academic with no real conviction and an increasingly prominent presence in the media.

Soon after Okada and Malta meet, Malta’s sister, Creta, goes to the Okada house to take a water sample from the tap. After Okada urges her to give him more information about his missing cat, she tells him that she does not know how everything will add up, but that she must tell him about her past. She recounts how, when she was young, she had suffered from physical pain so terrible that she decided to commit suicide at the age of twenty. She crashed her brother’s car into a wall but survived to discover that the pain had gone away. To pay for the damage to the car and the wall, she became a prostitute. Creta then reveals that Okada’s brother-in-law had been a client of hers. Surprised, Okada asks her why her sister Malta said she had been raped by Wataya. Creta leaves Okada’s house as he is fetching her more coffee.

Okada goes with May to work, and as part of their jobs, they survey men in Tokyo and label them according to their degree of baldness. They end up discussing how balding is so frightening because it is as if life itself is being worn away.

Okada hears from an uncle about the history of the vacant house, nicknamed The Hanging House, in Okada’s neighborhood. A former military officer and his wife had lived there. After fearing trial for war atrocities he had committed in China, the two committed suicide. Another former owner, an actor who had been going blind, killed herself, too, by drowning herself in the tub.

Okada receives a letter from a man named Tokutaro Mamiya, who had served in the army with Mr. Honda. After Honda’s death, he says, he had been put in charge of distributing Mr. Honda’s keepsakes. Mamiya tells Okada a story about the time when he and Mr. Honda had been sent on a reconnaissance mission. Mongolian officers had discovered them, and the civilian investigator in charge of the mission, Yamamoto, was flayed alive. Mamiya was given the choice of being shot or jumping into a deep well. Mamiya chose the well, and Mr. Honda, who had escaped, came back to save him. Mamiya tells Okada that the time that he spent in the well had been life-changing, that the experience had taken away his sense of what it means to be alive.

One evening, Kumiko does not return home from work. Wataya calls to say that she has run off with another man. He claims that Okada has ruined her life and refuses to allow him to communicate with her. Meanwhile, Okada dreams about having sex with Creta. He later finds out that they have been having shared dreams, and that the sex occurs in a realm between dreaming and reality. In an attempt to get his wife back, Okada turns inward and goes down the well in the lot of the vacant house to think. He reflects deeply on the time when he and Kumiko first met. He remembers her abortion, the deterioration of their marriage, and her affair. After spending the night in the well, he discovers that the ladder has disappeared; he cannot climb out. May reveals that she has taken the ladder. Okada stays in the well until Creta finds him.

After returning home, Okada receives a letter from Kumiko that graphically recounts her affair and asks him to agree to a divorce. He also discovers that after being in the well, a strange mark that emits heat had appeared on his cheek. Okada starts spending a lot of time at the Shinjuku station in Tokyo, watching the crowds. During these trips in the city, he meets Nutmeg and her mute son, Cinnamon, psychic healers who employ Okada to use his mark to heal others. The mark, they say, has mystical powers.

Meanwhile, the cat returns, and Okada renames him Mackerel. Okada, also, decides to rent the vacant house. Nutmeg later tells Okada a story of what her father, a veterinarian, had witnessed during the Japanese occupation of Manchukuo, on the Chinese mainland. Because there was no food to feed the animals at the zoo, the army slaughtered all the animals.

Okada and Kumiko finally communicate, messaging each other through computers, and she tells him that he should forget about her. Okada tells her that he has been trying to find her by looking into the darkness and searching for something he calls More of everything. Kumiko says she does not understand, and they say good-bye.

Prompted by Nutmeg’s story, Okada reads about Manchukuo. One morning, he discovers on the computer a document, “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,” which further recounts Nutmeg’s father’s experiences in China. Okada learns that, not wanting to waste ammunition, Japanese soldiers had used bayonets to kill Chinese prisoners. One lieutenant had asked a young soldier to beat a prisoner to death with a baseball bat. Okada wonders if Cinnamon had made up the story, and how he and Nutmeg came up with the term “wind-up bird,” May’s nickname for Okada.

Okada goes down the well again and has a vision that he beats someone up with a baseball bat. When he awakes from the vision, he realizes that water is flooding the well. He remembers Mr. Honda’s warning to him to be careful of water. Nutmeg saves him from the flooding well.

After returning home, Okada finds out that Wataya has been hospitalized after being beaten with a bat by someone resembling Okada. He also discovers a new “Wind-up Bird Chronicle” document on the computer from Kumiko, a document that tells him that she will go to the hospital to kill her brother. She claims that Wataya has spiritually defiled both her and her sister, who had committed suicide years ago.

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