Step into the surreal worlds of Haruki Murakami at his new library in Tokyo, Arts News & Top Stories

TOKYO – Haruki Murakami has held many identities over the course of her 72 years of life: student, record shop clerk, owner of jazz bar and cafe Peter Cat, radio DJ and – his claim to fame – bestselling author and critically acclaimed Surrealist Japanese Fiction.

All of these beings come to life in a new library at his alma mater, Waseda University, in Tokyo.

The Haruki Murakami Library – officially known as the Waseda International House of Literature – opens its doors this Friday. It spans six floors, including a basement. Three floors are open to the public, while the other three are reserved for literature researchers.

Fans of Murakami can peek into the literary spirit behind his stories – with their signature jazz and cat motifs – at the library, which houses his work of Japanese-language novels as well as translated editions.

The writer, a music lover who has been running his own regular radio show on Tokyo FM since 2018, has also donated his own extensive collection of vinyl records.

“To be honest, I wish a place like this could not have been built until after my death,” he joked at a press conference last Wednesday.

“I would have liked to rest in peace and have someone else take care of the library while I sleep. I feel a little nervous seeing this in my lifetime,” he said with outbursts. laughter from the crowded media auditorium.

Despite his high international visibility, he is said to be shy in front of the cameras. Access to the press conference came with conditions – neither photos nor videos of the novelist were allowed outside of the official photoshoot.

Murakami, wearing a lightly crumpled navy summer blazer over a mustard t-shirt, khaki pants and a pair of black Vans sneakers, looked relaxed as he answered questions about the library.

The idea of ​​an institution dedicated to him originated in 2018, when he offered to donate his personal collection to Waseda University, as it was quickly running out of storage space at home.

He joked that he had never been a good student and that his best memories of college, where he enrolled in 1968 and studied acting, were not being in class.

It was only after graduating in 1975 that he realized how much he lacked learning, that he came to believe “no different from breathing” as people constantly absorb informations.

A recreation of the personal study novelist Haruki Murakami is currently using at the Haruki Murakami Library at Waseda University. ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

His years of study took place during turbulent times in Japan, with the late 1960s marked by nationwide sit-ins among undergraduates over various political and civil disputes.

Waseda alumnus Tadashi Yanai, also 72, who also enrolled in 1968 and read economics, donated 1.2 billion yen (S $ 14.7 million ) for the construction of the library.

Mr. Yanai is now the billionaire owner of Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company.

At the press conference, he said he was an avid reader of his teammate’s work, fascinated by “the mental spaces he digs into their familiar ignorance.”

A studio of the Waseda International House of Literature. PHOTO: AFP

The duo hope that the library will become a springboard for literary and cultural exchanges on a global scale. Murakami said it was important for students to learn from their teachers, but added that they should also be daring to “pitch their own ideas and actually start something.”

Mr. Yanai lamented what he saw as Japan’s declining cultural influence in the world. He said that Murakami, whose works are devoured internationally, can play a key role in growing Japan’s weight, as the institution becomes a world-class research center not only on the author but also on literature and translation work that will serve as a bridge for Japanese culture. to the rest of the world.

The chief architect of the library is the famous Kengo Kuma, who designed the Olympic Stadium in Japan and now teaches part-time at Waseda University.

Its wood aesthetic is predominant in all public spaces. Visitors entering the building are greeted by a three-story, floor-to-ceiling wooden bookcase with steps where they can sit and read.

On display are tiny white figurines that allude to Murakami’s stories.

Another striking design element is a tunnel-shaped passage made of wood and metal on the exterior of the building, which Mr. Kuma says was inspired by how the protagonists of Murakami often transcend the boundaries between worlds. real and surreal.

A tunnel-shaped passage flanks both sides of the Haruki Murakami Library. ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

The library will likely thrill fans with its faithful recreation of Murakami’s personal workspace, right down to details such as the type of rug and the model of his table lamp.

Readers can delve into its rich bibliography, alongside an curated collection of global literary works, while listening to jazz music by artists like Billie Holiday and Miles Davis from its vinyl collection.

Other artifacts on display include a Yahama grand piano that Murakami used when conducting Peter Cat before releasing his debut album in 1979, Hear The Wind Sing.

He became a literary star with the tragic romance novel Norwegian Wood (1987) and has since topped the bestseller lists with titles such as the fantastic Kafka On The Shore (2002) and the epic 1Q84 (2009 to 2010).

Kafka On The Shore was staged, notably in Singapore in 2015, and stage props, including a large neon-lit model of the planet Saturn, are also on display.

There is also a radio studio that supports live broadcasts as well as an exhibition space, where a show this Friday through February 4 examines the role of literature in architecture and vice versa through construction. from the library by Mr. Kuma.

Ms. Sawa Ishimaru and Ms. Lucy Lin are among the three employees of the Orange Cat Student Café located in the basement of the Haruki Murakami Library. ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

Another homage to Murakami’s Peter Cat years is the student-run café, Orange Cat, which serves a specialty “Murakami Blend” developed with Tokyo’s Horiguchi craft coffee.

Three undergraduates run the cafe, including literature major Sawa Ishimaru, 22, who is in fourth year at the School of Culture, Media and Society. She told The Sunday Times that she was inspired to work at the cafe because she loved to read.

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