Men without Women Review (2) Yesterday

November 4, 2021 By mk

*This article includes possible spoiler

A tangled contrast

The backbone of the story is the friendship between Tanimura, who is from Kansai area and speaks with a Tokyo accent, and Kitaru, who is from Tokyo and speaks with a Kansai accent.

In general, people from Kansai often speak with a Tokyo accent, and Tokyo people rarely pay attention to it. Some feel this is Tokyo’s arrogance (they tend to think that people from other regions should speak with a Tokyo accent), while some think it is openness.

Like Tanimura, Murakami himself is from the Kansai area, and has spoken with Tokyo accent ever since he came to Tokyo. On the other hand, it is very difficult for a person from Tokyo to speak with a Kansai accent. One of the main reasons is that many people in Kansai area do not like the Kansai accent spoken by a Tokyo person.

The current governor of Tokyo, who is from Ashiya (same as Tanimura), speaks with a Tokyo accent, while the governors of Kansai area are the locals who speak with their local accents. This is the background to Erika’s comment;

“A person like you can’t make friends. You were born in Tokyo, yet all you speak is the Kansai dialect”

However, Tanimura and Kitaru had a similar background; they are from “an area that sounds grand by its name, but is actually not that grand part in the area”. The two are in contrasting presences, like in-flexed reflections in a mirror.

Kansai area is 400km (250miles) west of Tokyo.

The Split

Kitaru describes his condition as “split”: the worry that comes from the feeling of being left behind because he failed the university entrance exam, and the relief of not having to face life because he is left behind.

Tanimura, on the other hand, came to Tokyo in order to seal up his past in Kansai. He speaks with a Tokyo accent and is about to be reborn. The word “split” reminds me of a phrase from a famous song;

“So I kinda split myself in two,” Kitaru said. He pulled his hands apart.

Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be (Yesterday, The Bealtes)

The “split” that Kitaru refers to is another way of saying that it is an uneasy premonition of the future. If he has a girl he loves, the proper way is to work hard to get her, including passing the university entrance exam, but Kitaru is obsessed with an unobtainable premonition that “even if it works, it won’t work”!

It is unusual, but, indirectly, Kitaru mentioned that he has been having mental problems since he was in junior high.

“I’ve been seeing a therapist since the end of junior high. My parents and teachers, they all said to go to one. ’Cause I used to do things at school from time to time. You know—not normal kinds of things…”

To be honest, it’s hard to see how the future can be expected. If you were in Tanimura’s position, or Kitaru’s, or Erika’s, what would you do? Would you just let fate take its course?

Icy Moon

Tanimura takes Erika on a date at an Italian restaurant with gingham check tablecloths.

There, she tells Tanimura about her dream of a moon made of ice. She is sad that she cannot see the icy moon when she wakes up. Her comments follows a classical expression of destiny of the lovers.

“I often have the same dream,” she said. “Aki-kun and I are on a ship. A long journey on a large ship. We’re together in a small cabin, it’s late at night, and through the porthole we can see the full moon. But that moon is made of pure, transparent ice.

In old Japanese, there is a term “iceman under the moon”, which is a mixture of “old man under the moon” and “man on the ice” from two stories in Chinese classics, referring to a marriage mediator. It is often used in Japanese literature such as Osamu Dazai’s “No Longer Human” in a sense that somebody who moderate a couple.

In ancient China, a young man was travelling when he met an old man reading under the moon, leaning on a bag with a red cord sticking out of it. Fourteen years later, the young man married the daughter of the county governor, just as the old man had predicted. 李復言 續幽怪錄 (9th century)

In ancient China, there was a famous fortune-teller, to whom a man went to ask the meaning of his dream: “I stood on the ice and talked with a man under the ice”. The fortuneteller told him that it was an omen that he was to be a bridegroom. The man later became the go-between for the son of the chief governor.
晋書索紞伝 (7th century)

Sixteen years later, Tanimura saw Erika again at the party and asked her if she still see the ice moon dream.

“I don’t have that dream anymore,” she said

At the end of the story, Tanimura imagines an icy moon, alluding to his current situation. We readers do not know whether his present situation is the result of something he chose, or something he did not choose, to do.

I watched that moon alone, unable to share its cold beauty with anyone.

“Erika picked up a slice of pizza and bit off a piece the size of a large postage stamp.” The gingham-checked tablecloth Italian restaurant opened in 1971, when Murakami was a student, and still serves square pizzas cut to the size of a large postage stamp. (Round pizzas don’t work that way). <map>

The Two Men and a Woman Story

The strange triangle between Kitaru, Tanimura and Erika disappear when Erika goes out with a third man. However, it was a situation that could have been changed if Kitaru really wanted to do so. However, Kitaru stepped down from the relationship and went to the United States by himself. Then, the three went on with their separate lives.

And the reader is left with the feeling of “what the hell did they want to do?”

I believe that this novel is an allusion to “another ending” of Murakami’s famous novel of the past.

In “Norwegian Wood”, Kizaki and Watanabe are high school friends, and Kizaki was in a relationship with Naoko. However, Kizaki commits suicide, and sometime later, Watanabe starts dating Naoko, but Naoko gets mentally ill and takes her own life.

If we put Kitaru in the position of Kizaki, Tanimura in the position of Watanabe and Erika in the position of Naoko, we can see the future that Kitaru was really trying to avoid. It also recalls the phrase in Reiko’s letter to Watanabe. 

Needless to say, I do feel sorry that you and Naoko could not see things through to a happy ending. But who can say what’s best? (Norwegian Wood, Ch.10)

Nobody knows what’s the best decision. But the future of those three characters in Yesterday is obviously better than those in Norwegian Wood. Anyway, the fate has changed, in exchange, though, Yesterday is not as dramatic as Norwegian Wood.