Coming Home to Modern Japan. An Orphic dialogue between East and West in H. Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood”


In her submission to last year's conference, "Mapping ‘The Underworld' of Haruki's Murakami's Literary World", A. Suzuki demonstrated that the topography contained in Murakami's Norwegian Wood can be superimposed on a map of ancient Japan. In my paper, I propose to demonstrate that Murakami's coming-of-age novel harbours a mythological intertext in the form of an unconscious re-elaboration of the Orpheus-myth, both the Greek and the Japanese variants. Ploughing through the Greek/Western parameters of the myth (i.e. triumph of death and individuality), the tormented Watanabe - and alongside him Murakami - finally sails back to Japanese home waters, leaving behind the tempting but disillusioning Western culture. Like the God Izanagi, and unlike the singer-poet Orpheus, Watanabe returns from the Underworld (Villa Ami) choosing connectedness over alienation. Narratologically speaking, this is achieved through the literary mechanism of the triangular love affair, breaking up the mythical Orphic couple. Watanabe (Izanagi) decides to look forward, while it is Naoko (Eurydice) who looks back to her Orpheus (Kizuki). Thus, the mythological spell of Greek Gods is broken. In other words, Norwegian Wood neatly illustrates the paradox, pointed out by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, of the ultimate coming home to one's own (literary) culture in a period of Western modelled globalisation. However, the novel - and indeed the biography and poetics of postmodern dislocation of the world-wide acclaimed Murakami - challenges Lévi-Strauss' concept of ‘cultural optimum', defining Japan and its culture as a beacon for a fatigue-stricken, Western, society. How Japanese is Norwegian Wood really after its mythological voyage to the West?

Author Information
Emiel Nachtegael, Collegio dei Fiamminghi, Italy

Paper Information
Conference: LibrAsia2013
Stream: Literature

This paper is part of the LibrAsia2013 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Nachtegael E. (2013) Coming Home to Modern Japan. An Orphic dialogue between East and West in H. Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” ISSN: 2186-2281 – The Asian Conference on Literature and Librarianship 2013 – Official Conference Proceedings
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon