Kafka on the Shore Places

February 22, 2021 By mk

This post is for those who loved Kafka on the Shore and miss travelling abroad and includes a spoiler.

When I wrote someplace in my novel, I always thought “there should be this place somewhere” “this place should exist somewhere”. So, I would be grateful if that place exists inside your brain, as the place also exists inside me and you and I share the place. (Murakami’s response to a reader in 2003)

Reading is like travelling. Then, I wonder if travelling can be like reading. This note attempts to extend the imagination when I reread Kafka on the Shore from the point of view of a Tokyo local with sharing humbled views and interpretations.

The facilities mentioned in the novel are totally fictitious, although the places exist in real. Like many great literary pieces, Murakami created his world with the exquisite gap between fiction and reality, which can be applied to many places in the world, as Nakata said.

“The stone is everywhere. Not just in Shikoku. And it doesn’t have to be a stone.” (Ch.30)

The story goes through roughly four places over Japan:

Chapters Tokyo Yamanashi Fujikawa and Kobe Shikoku
Kafka 1, 3   5-49
odd CHs
Nakata 6, 10, 14, 16, 18, 20   20, 22 24-48
even CHs
U.S. Army
  2, 4, 8    
The teacher   12    
The chapters and setting places
The setting places of Kafka on the Shore is in the west part of Japan

(1) Cozy Nogata

The story starts in Nogata, a town where Kafka and Nakata lived with 20,000 inhabitants. Nogata is a part of the Nakano ward located in the north-west of Tokyo. Murakami used to live in Toritsu Kasei, the next station of Nogata, when he was a student after getting out from “the dormitory (Toru lived in Norwegian Wood)” in 1968 and moved to Mitaka (“I” lived in Wild Sheep Chase) next year.

There are cosy and inexpensive shops and restaurants in the typical shopping street is in front of the Nogata station.

And there are some cats in town (but not very friendly).

There is a restaurant serving eel in Nogata.

“Eel is quite a treat. There’s something different about it, compared to other food. Certain foods can take the place of others, but as far as I know, nothing can take the place of eel. (Ch.6)

Seiryu (map)

(2) The governor in Shinjuku

The Tokyo Metropolitan Office is in Shinjuku (map)

I’ve got to keep this a secret from the Governor, so don’t tell anybody (Ch.6)

When Kafka on the Shore was published in 2002, the governor of Tokyo was Shintaro Ishihara (1932-), a friend and literary rival of Yukio Mishima (1925-1970). Ishihara won the Akutagawa Prize in 1956 and, since then, the prize had been recognized prestigious one.

Ishihara was elected as governor of Tokyo in 1999, two years after the first human infection of bird flu in Hong Kong. The next year, he started the “ridding crows project” partly because of the pandemic prevention measure. He quoted Charles Dickens’ work that “crow pie is tasty” and demonstrated to eat a crow pie. The Tokyo people supported him until his resignation in 2012 to decrease the number of crows but did not like the crow pie.

Murakami clearly denied that he did not expect any particular person when he mentioned “the governor”. He wrote, “a story lasts more than a politician’s term”.

Skyscrapers in Shinjuku

(3) The library founded by a wealthy family

Komura Memorial Library is a fictitious place. Murakami wrote, “when I created such factious places, I reinforced every detail of the place. For example, I could imagine and write several pages on how Miss Saeki’s desk looks and what is on the desk. Such imagination makes fictitious scenery more realistic than the real one; it is a joy to write a novel. “

But there is an interesting place in Sakaide City, 18 km (11miles) west of Takamatsu station and 20 minutes by train.

Shikoku map

The Komura Memorial Library, the place was called. I go over to the tourist information booth at the station and ask how to get there. A pleasant middle-aged lady marks the spot on a tourist map and gives me instructions on which train to take. It’s about a twenty-minute ride (Ch.5)

Kamata Kyosaikai Kyodo Hakubutsukan (map)

Kamada Kyosaikai Kyodo Hakubutsukan was one of the three museums that the family runs and established in 1922 by Shotaro Kamada (1864-1942), a wealthy businessman and lord of parliament. It was originally built as a library but now is a museum of local history. Since the 18th century, the Kamada family run a soy sauce company in Kagawa and its US branch in Bellvue, WA. 

Miss Saeki begins by explaining the library’s history—basically the same story Oshima told me. How they opened to the public the books and paintings the umpteenth head of the family had collected, devoting the library to the region’s cultural development. A foundation was set up based on the Komura fortune.. (Ch.5)

According to Murakami, he knew the place for the first time when he received feedback from the reader after publishing Kafka on the Shore. He wrote that he wished to visit there sometime in the future, but there is no further information until now.

(4) The pilgrimage and interpretation of Miss Saeki’s family name

Nakata to pick one up was out of the question. There was also a promising legend about Kobo Daishi, a famous scholarly monk of the Heian period. (Ch.26)

Kobo Daishi / Kūkai (774 -835) was a Japanese Buddhist monk and social leader of the times. He was born in Kagawa as a member of the aristocratic Saeki family.

Kobo Daish is well respected until now, and many people pilgrimage 88 temples associated with him in Shikoku. In the pilgrimage, people wear a white costume and written “Doko Futari (Accompanied Two Travelers). This means that the travel is with the spirit of Kobo Daishi.

In Kafka on the Shore, two teams of two people (Kafka & the crow, Nakata & Hoshino) of the characters go to Shikoku.

Staring at the ceiling in the dark, lying in bed in a cheap inn in a town he’d never been to before next to a strange old guy he knew nothing about, he began to have doubts about himself. (Ch.24)

The objectives of the pilgrimage are (1) pray for the souls of the deceased, (2) pray for the repose of one’s soul before death and (3) enlightenment of oneself. None of the characters did exercise the pilgrimage in the novel, but what they did exactly met these objectives.

(5) Where is the Entrance Stone?

Some people reminded of childbirth when they read the scene that Hoshino opened the entrance stone. Murakami commented that it is a very interesting opinion without saying what he meant to write the scene in the novel (as always).

Besides that, the scenery also reminded me of Chikaraishi (Strength Stone), a stone for demonstrating physical strength. In old time before 19th century, a man who carried a heavy stone often engraved the date and his name on the stone to let other men to challenge his record in the shrine. Some people still do so now.

The origin of stone lifting is unknown. But a stone lifted by Nomi no Sukune, the legendary Sumo Wrestler still remained in the shrine in Dazaifu, Fukuoka at the same era as the ancient Olympic Games in Greece. The mural of Nomi no Sukune is now displayed beside that of the Greek Goddess at the New Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

“The stone is everywhere. Not just in Shikoku. And it doesn’t have to be a stone.” (Ch.30)

There are 14,000 strength stones is in Japan. One of them is in Karasumori (Crow Forest) Shrine in Tokyo, near busy Ginza District and close to Shimbashi Station.

Karasumori Shrine (map)

Karasumori Shrine was established in 940 by Hidesato Fujiwara, a legendary strong aristocrat, and known for his exploit of slaying the giant centipede. In 940, when he prayed for victory against the rebellion, a white fox gave him an omen to establish a shrine in the place where sacred birds swarm. He found this place where crows swarmed, and established the shrine.

The strength stone in the shrine.
Crow is a symbol of the shrine.

Traditionally, a crow is regarded as a sacred bird. Because, in mythology, a three-legged crow guided the first Emperor Jinmu to win the battle when he established the country. Nowadays, the three-legged crow is known as a symbol of the Japan Football Association and the mark on the national football team’s uniform.

(6) The shrine where Kafka Tamura lost consciousness

Tamura Shrine in Takamatsu City is a premier shrine of Kagawa Prefecture. It locates 8 km (5 miles) south of Takamatsu Station.

Had dinner near the station. The fish dinner, as I recall. Salmon, with a second helping of rice, some miso soup, and salad. After that . . . after that I don’t know what happened. (Ch.9)

Tamura Shrine (map)

“So where are you?” I tell her the name of the shrine. “Is that in Takamatsu City?” “I’m not totally sure, but I think so.” (Ch.9)

It is in Takamatsu City and established in 709 on top of the abyss and deep well. The shrine is based on the belief in the water god and dragon. The well is still located under the inner shrine. Isn’t it a very suitable shrine to appear in Murakami’s novel?

Wrote: “The great god of Tamura is water god enshrined as a dragon god”

(7) The Mountain

The mountain in which the school teacher took the children, including Nakata, is in Yamanashi Prefecture; Yogai-san is one of the possible places. With its hight of 536 meters and semicircle form like a bowl lying on its side, it was once a fortress that guarded the border in the 16 century.

Yogaisan (map)
Mt. Fuji can be seen from the top.

It was a round hill shaped like an upside-down bowl. (Ch.2)

The upside-down bowl is in the right form