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The Haruki Murakami Library: Tokyo’s New Haven for Literary Pilgrims

By Jeremy K. Sharpe
International Lawyer
June 23, 2023
Surely few libraries anywhere combine the job of receptionist and disc jockey. But the Murakami Library in Tokyo is no ordinary library. It celebrates and draw inspiration from the internationally acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami, whose diverse interests span literature, music, art, theater, running, and, famously, the human condition. The library succeeds in paying tribute to Murakami while creating a warm, inviting, informal, and visually stunning atmosphere for broader exploration and expression.
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The library, which opened in October 2021, is both an international resource center and a cultural exchange facility. It is housed within Waseda University’s main campus, where Murakami studied theatre and cinema in his youth. Murakami himself donated and entrusted to the library thousands of valuable items, including many first-edition books, handwritten manuscripts, correspondence, music, and much more.

The library was designed by the celebrated architect Kengo Kuma, famed for his innovative designs rooted in traditional Japanese architecture and locally sourced materials. The library reflects thoughtful design choices throughout, recalling recurrent themes in Murakami’s writing. There are communal spaces for conversation and mingling, private nooks for solace and calm reflection, and even a listening lounge and a student-run café, called Orange Cat, for the everyday comforts of music and coffee.
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The library holds over 3,000 books. A beautiful gallery showcases Murakami’s works translated into over 50 languages, including many first editions. Visitors can settle into chairs repurposed from Peter Cat, the coffee house and jazz bar that Murakami and future-wife Yoko ran for seven years before Murakami became a full-time writer. Art installations taken from stage productions of Murakami’s novels can be found throughout. The library also contains a broadcasting studio, research stacks, a seminar room, an outdoor green space, and a virtual annex (an online center for communication and exchange).

A key feature of the library is the exhibition room, which has featured exhibits on jazz and architecture, as well as a book-reading and Q&A series called “Authors Alive!” with Murakami and others. As a bonus, literature scholar and library advisor Robert Campbell* periodically presents an English-language reading after an author’s reading of the original Japanese text.

Other library highlights include a stunning tunnel staircase with wooden louvers. Visitors are invited to select books off the shelves and read on the wooden stairway steps.

The library’s listening lounge contains thousands of records and CDs that Murakami donated from his own eclectic music collection, including jazz, classical, rock, and pop. The grand piano in the lounge hails from Murakami’s jazz café, where it was used in live performances. The lounge also boasts a turntable and state-of-the-art speakers, befitting Murakami the audiophile. (“Japan has its share of problems,” Oshima remarked in Kafka on the Shore, “but we sure know how to make a sound system.”)

The library’s official name – The Waseda International House of Literature – confirms that the institution is no mere shrine to Murakami, but also a platform to showcase the talents of other writers and artists. And the library’s motto – Explore Your Stories, Speak Your Heart – confirms that the institution is not a place of whispers and passive pedagogy, but a forum for self-exploration, expression, and dialogue.

The Murakami Library is a wonderful new resource for scholars and admirers of Haruki Murakami. But it is also an unexpected and accessible treasure for those unfamiliar with the author, his vast writings, and the countless others he has supported or inspired in Japan and around the world. A must visit for any cool cat passing through Tokyo.

Admission to the Murakami Library is free of charge. Reservations can be made one month in advance. English-language information on its location, hours of operation, reservations, and current exhibitions can be found on the library website. Photographs by Waseda University International House of Literature.

*Sincere thanks to Professor Robert Campbell, an advisor to the library, for his warm hospitality and engaging discussion during the author’s visit.
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