DRAWER OF MEMORIES: Setting for Haruki Murakami's '1Q84' traced to Koenji neighborhood

May 11, 2014

By LOUIS TEMPLADO/ AJW Staff Writer

Editor's note: This article is part of The Asahi Shimbun AJW's series on internationally acclaimed writer Haruki Murakami. The series, titled "Drawer of Memories," is intended to depict his younger days and places associated with his works. This article was written with the cooperation of Kunio Nakamura, author of the new guidebook “Sanpo de kanjiru Murakami Haruki” (feeling Haruki Murakami through walking).

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Haruki Murakami buffs will instantly recognize the venue: a hideously ugly private detective, dropping rolls of film off at a photo lab, then ducking into a soba noodle shop before continuing his stakeout; the silhouette of a woman in a sixth-floor window of a posh apartment; and a man in his early 30s, perched atop a playground slide gazing up at a sky with two moons.

So many key moments in the opus “1Q84” take place in the confines of Koenji.

Located on the hip western side of Tokyo, outside the Yamanote train loop that circles the metropolis but not in the suburbs, the Suginami Ward neighborhood is exactly the sort of place where a young unpublished novelist who supports himself as a cram school math teacher would live. That would be the character Tengo Kawana, whose small apartment (or rather, what could be the model for it) is about a five-minute walk from the north side of Koenji Station.

Koenji is also where the mysterious “Dowager” has set up a safehouse for a beautiful sports club instructor-turned-assassin, who becomes Tengo’s love interest, to hide out. Her name is Aomame, and it’s through her eyes that readers learn that the Tokyo of 1984 is actually an alternate reality, which she names “1Q84.” Luckily for them they both live on the same plane, her upscale place just a few minutes' walk from his, all within several hundred steps of Koenji Station.

Finding where the two central characters lived (and where the ugly private investigator, Ushikawa, had his stakeout) has been a Holy Grail for Japan’s so-called “Harukists” ever since “1Q84” came out in three volumes between 2009-2010. Writer and television director Kunio Nakamura has pinpointed them, along with the film lab, the noodle shop and a payphone, in a guidebook titled “Sanpo de kanjiru Murakami Haruki” (feeling Haruki Murakami through walking), published this month.

“It’s a process of elimination. After combing through the book and exploring the entire neighborhood, this place is the only candidate,” says Kunio Nakamura, who recently led a group of Murakami fans on a “literary walk” to a beige three-story building that he says fits the bill for Tengo’s digs. Murakami spends little time describing the exterior, but his use of the term “apaato” (with its connotation of older, more frail construction) and its placement next to a park, says Nakamura, were salient clues.

Aomame’s safehouse was a lot easier to spot, says Nakamura. The sturdy six-story residence (or rather its model) is located about 300 meters from the south exit of Koenji Station. Fittingly for a parallel world, it too faces a park. But while Tengo’s place sits beside a grubby one filled with smokers, Aomame’s residence overlooks the well-maintained Koenji Chuo Koen park, with its children’s playground slide. Could it be the same place from where Tengo looked up toward Aomame’s room, and to the night sky where he saw the twin moons?

“It’s certainly a possibility. When the building was put up in the 1980s it was the the tallest and most modern in the neighborhood, and Murakami must have noticed it,” says Nakamura. Back then the Koenji neighborhood with its jazz bars and record shops was a sort of “magnetic field” for music lovers like the author of “1Q84.”

“Actually during his university years he worked part time at a jazz cafe just around the corner from the park, so it's conceivable that he took his breaks there," says Nakamura. Maybe the kernel for '1Q84' came to Murakami then--years before he knew what to do it, he adds.

By LOUIS TEMPLADO/ AJW Staff Writer
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This park on the south side of Koenji Station may be the very one described in "1Q84." The book describes the character Tengo standing on a slide and gazing up at a sky with two moons. The slide, however, does not date from 1984. (Louis Templado)

This park on the south side of Koenji Station may be the very one described in "1Q84." The book describes the character Tengo standing on a slide and gazing up at a sky with two moons. The slide, however, does not date from 1984. (Louis Templado)

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  • This park on the south side of Koenji Station may be the very one described in "1Q84." The book describes the character Tengo standing on a slide and gazing up at a sky with two moons. The slide, however, does not date from 1984. (Louis Templado)
  • A three-story apartment building stands beside a park in the Koenji neighborhood of Tokyo's Suginami Ward. In the novel "1Q84" one of the central characters, Tengo, lives in such a situated building. (Louis Templado)
  • Kunio Nakamura, at right, leads a group of Haruki Murakami fans on a tour of the Koenji neighborhood of Tokyo's Suginami Ward. Koenji is a central venue in the novel "1Q84." (Louis Templado)
  • Kunio Nakamura poses in a public telephone booth in front of Koenji Station in Tokyo's Suginami Ward. The novel "1Q84" has a scene where the character Tengo receives a telephone call from Fuka-Eri in a phone booth within view of the Koenji bus rotary. (Louis Templado)
  • Copies of "1Q84 Book 3" are sold at a bookstore in Nagoya in April 2010. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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