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  • Writer's pictureNiranjana

Isn't it Good Norwegian Wood

A little girl in pigtails running through a thousand Tori Gates. A mouthful of Vodka and Tonic as smoke, jazz and euphoria fill my lungs. An underground restaurant serving Indian curries over pickled shallots as I conspire about an alternate universe taking shape high above. A dark eyed woman I presume is a witch pouring me cups of black coffee in kawai mismatched cups. Musical bells mixing with the humming winds in an almost make- believe railway station up in the bamboo forests. Matcha ice cream. Matcha rice balls. The clang of the bell from the temple mixing with the bubble of ceremonial sap green tea. Biting into a generous egg sandwich at a seven eleven after crunching my way through octopus dollies at the night market. Warm sake. Soupy sake. Many gulps of gratitude. Blink.

Day 28 of quarantine brings out a sense of Fernweh- an ache for distant places.

I’m a sucker for all things Japan. Fueled by pop culture and a generous overdose of Japanese literature I decided that I’d take a trip to the land of the rising sun, and before I hiked up the Fuji or went on a temple run, I’d live a day out of the familiar pages of the book in unfamiliar territories.

While I’ve read all of his books, Murakami’s Norwegian wood strikes a special chord with me and I planned to explore Tokyo that morning, by putting myself into the shoes of the protagonist Watanabe and taking a leaf out of his book. (Pun intended)

I start early, catch the subway to Waseda university and take a detour to the boy’s dormitories where both our stories begin.

The hike is a steep one past green meadows and kitschy houses and I make it in the nick of time to the hillock where the they hoist the rising sun every morning. For a minute I see the flag rise with the sun through my protagonists’ sleepy eyes. Through the writer’s eyes. Through my eyes.

Before heading to the famed Waseda university, I decide to stop for coffee at this quaint café by a garden. Japan is obsessed with Kawai and it is everywhere. Billboards, toffee wrappers, bins, subways, people. An old lady with over a thousand wrinkles painted on her face motions to me in silence to sit at the counter while she makes me her brew. She points a wall where over a hundred mismatched cups dangle, and she signals to pick one- I spend the happiest fifteen minutes breathing in the aroma of her brew and pondering over many shades of kawai.

I spend the morning at the university, hopping through classes, chatting with students (most of who don’t understand why I’d spend a sunny day in Tokyo at university than hiking up the Fuji) and spending a lazy afternoon writing, as I spoon mouthfuls of carrot soup over toasty bread- the student’s menu for the day. A rush of belonging in an unfamiliar world. I leave the university, my heart full and backpack fuller with a sweatshirt sealed with the bear- a souvenir I knew I’d treasure beyond anything else.

I take a subway to Shinjuku- Tokyo’s fashion hub that celebrates the weird and wacky. I walk past candy flossed hairdos, stilettos dancing around food trucks as music fills the air with a sense of psychosis and duck into Dug’s jazz bar- my protagonist’s escape room where he spends his afternoons soaking up Vodka over tonic and Jazz. I order myself the fix and settle into the backdrop, letting unfamiliar snatches of conversation, music and smoke fill my heart. I close my eyes and realize this is the most at peace I’ve been in a long while.

This is probably not the most touristy way to explore Tokyo, though it was a day seeped in familiar unfamiliarity. It has been over a decade since I first read the book, and I now have an acquainted visual to go with my narrative. I agree with Murakami when he says “Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene, I hardly paid it any mind. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that years later I would recall it in such detail.”

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