Thousands of young Japanese (men mostly) shut themselves in their rooms and don’t come out, sometimes for years on end. Hikikomori, as ths phenomenon is referred to, has many potential causes, including that “Japanese parents tell their children to fly while holding firmly to their ankles”. Reminds me of some of the themes from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.
I’ve been reading a fair amount of fiction lately, which is not typical for me. My usual regimen of nonfiction followed by even more nonfiction has been wearing on me and I read so much news and short nonfiction pieces in keeping up with kottke.org that I’m getting a little burned out. My latest foray into fiction has been great, a welcome reprieve from a schedule that has been a little brutal recently.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was especially good; I burned through it like I used to do with books when I was in high school. The lives of the characters in the book start out fairly normal but get more and more strange and unsettling as the action proceeds. But from my point of view as a reader, I was overcome by a growing sense of calm as I read. Maybe it was Murakami’s quiet storytelling style, but I was especially struck by the duality of self theme running throughout the book. Many of the characters either had two distinct personalities (not in a schizophrenic sense…usually one personality before a dramatic event in their lives and a different one afterwards), talked of leaving their body & looking back on themselves, or had vague feelings that they should be someone else, that some other personality was inside them and couldn’t reveal itself. This all ties into Japanese history & culture, eastern religion & philosophy, and Murakami’s own experience, but I found it all personally reassuring, a reminder that you could change as a person and still essentially be who you were before or that stepping outside your normal self for a look ‘round can be a healthy thing.
 I knew next-to-nothing about Murakami before picking up this book, but when I finished, I did a little poking around. Via Andrea Harner, here’s an interview with him from 1997 in Salon. In it, you can definitely see how he feels disconnected with Japan, other Japanese writers, and from his past:
Because it’s my father’s story, I guess. My father belongs to the generation that fought the war in the 1940s. When I was a kid my father told me stories — not so many, but it meant a lot to me. I wanted to know what happened then, to my father’s generation. It’s a kind of inheritance, the memory of it. What I wrote in this book, though, I made up — it’s a fiction, from beginning to end. I just made it up.