A little satire from Haruki Murakami

sad people

To be a pilgrim
By Meric Kirmizi

In the early 1990s, before Japan’s bubble economy burst, a leading newspaper in the US published a large photo taken on a winter’s morning of rush-hour commuters in Shinjuku Station (or possibly Tokyo Station – the same applies to both) heading down the stairs. As if by agreement, all the commuters were gazing downward, their expressions strained and unhappy, looking more like lifeless fish packed in a can than people. The article said, “Japan may be affluent, but most Japanese look like this, heads downcast and unhappy-looking.” The photo became famous.

Tsukuru had no idea if most Japanese were, as the article claimed, unhappy.

“But the real reason that most passengers descending the stairs at Shinjuku Station during their packed morning commute were looking down was less that they were unhappy than that they were concerned about their footing. Don’t slip on the stairs, don’t lose a shoe – these are the major issues on the minds of the commuters in the mammoth station during rush hour. There was no explanation of this, no context for the photograph. Certainly it was hard to view this mass of people, clad in dark overcoats, their heads down, as happy. And of course it’s logical to see a country where people can’t commute in the morning without fear of losing their shoes as an unhappy society.” –from The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.

Here’s a link to the rest of the article:
To be a pilgrim

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One Response to A little satire from Haruki Murakami

  1. I was looking for that photograph as a reference for my book review. I thought it was real. I forgot, Colorless Tsukuru is just a realist fiction.


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