First Person Singular Review (5) Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey

May 5, 2021 By mk

*This article includes possible spoiler

On 17 December 2019, two weeks before the first report of Covid-19 in Wuhan and four days before the official opening of the New National Stadium for the Tokyo Olympics, Tokyo enjoyed the holiday season with a special reading party hosted by Haruki Murakami and Mieko Kawakami in Shinjuku.

The reading session proceeded with “alternate reading”, where Murakami and Kawakami took turns to read a novel. Murakami read “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning” and an excerpt from “Confession of a Shinagawa Monkey”, which he had just written a couple of weeks ago.

During the reading aloud, Murakami changed his voice with hand gestures and read the lines of the monkey. As social distance and the wearing of masks were not required at the time, the audience laughed and listened in a relaxed manner. As he approached the end, he paused, and the audience quietened down. As if enjoying the moment, Murakami looked at the audience and said loudly:

Extreme love, extreme loneliness.”

again, he paused a moment and then headed to the ending.

Note: On some websites, a photo of this reading party was used as a scene for a feminist critique of Murakami’s novel. However, far from being a critique, this event was a gathering of pure Murakami fans, including Mieko Kawakami, who is known to be a big fan herself.

Winter Owl Reading Party, December 17, 2019 in Kinokuniya Southern Theater, Shinjuku, Tokyo

This story is a variant of forbidden love and loneliness caused by an irresistible tendency deep inside the soul. The author depicted the situation in the particular setting of a monkey who speaks a human language. However, such an isolated situation can be applied to a considerable number of humans.

The upshot was I wound up sort of neither here nor there, an isolated monkey, not part of human society, not part of the monkeys’ world. It was a harrowing existence.

Once the monkey tried to return to be with his own species, but without success, there was no place for him in human society. Then he could not get back to where he once belonged.

It’s embarrassing, but honestly, before I knew it, I could only love human females.

He was in a tunnel with no way out. He was ashamed that he was not “normal” but wanted to “be”. Now he needs a place to hideaway.

I know I’m just a monkey, but I never do anything unseemly. I make the name of the woman I love a part of me—that’s enough for me.

The protagonist did not directly deny the monkey’s orientation or try to persuade him to change his tendencies; he just listened to him and sighed. His attitude was: “if you are lonely, you can talk to me.”

It may well be the ultimate form of romantic love. But it’s also the ultimate form of loneliness.

The protagonist never saw the monkey again. The next day, when he woke up and fell out of bed, he thought back to last night’s encounter.

And above all was the total, even painful, honesty of his confession.

Back in Tokyo, the protagonist described himself implicitly in comparison with the monkey’s white mixed hair, indicated precisely what he meant to say.

Even without any major work-related assignments, somehow as I get older I find myself busier than ever.

When the protagonist heard about the memory loss of the female editor, he couldn’t come out with the story of the Shinagawa monkey for her and gave us, the readers, the opportunity to think whether it is living easy with eyes closed.

Gotenyama, Shinagawa

The story also reminded a scene in J’s bar from Haruki Murakami’s first novel.

It was the kind of picture you’d find on a Rorschach test: from where I sat, it resembled two green monkeys tossing deflated tennis balls back and forth. I spent hours looking at it. When I told J the bartender what it reminded me of, he just shrugged. “Yeah, I guess I can see that,” he said, after studying it for a moment. “But what do you think it symbolizes?” I persisted. “The monkey on the left is you,” he replied. “And the one on the right is me. I’m throwing you a beer and you’re tossing me back the money.” (Hear the Wind Sing, Ch.3)

Is it what John Lennon sang “Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

P.S. Some of the clues to the story were given in a conversation with a friend of Murakami’s on a radio show on New Year’s Eve 2020.

Dr Yamagiwa (anthropologist, former President of Kyoto University): Today, I would like to ask you something, Haruki-san. You have written two short stories, “Shinagawa Monkey” and “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey”. I am studying monkeys, and we give them names and enter their world.

Murakami: Do you give each monkey a name?

Dr Yamagiwa: Yes, we do. If we don’t give each monkey a name, we can’t understand how their world is structured. Shinagawa Monkey is a monkey that steals people’s names, right? He steals the name to get closer to the human. He steps into the human world. When I read this, I felt like the two sides of a mirror. Why did you let the monkey steal the name?

Murakami: I thought that if I were a monkey, I would want to steal a part of the human identity. In other words, there’s a hypothetical “what if I were a monkey”. Ordinary people might not think about that very often.

Yes, this is my favorite part of Murakami.