Bookworms in Japan now have the chance to immerse themselves in the literary world of Murakami Haruki in a new library dedicated to his works. And the architect responsible for designing the installation specifies that the archiving of documents was not the only objective.
Kuma Kengo’s new work for Murakami evokes the imagery that the famous author often uses in his work: a well. In the novel “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”, the protagonist sits at the bottom of a deep well and explores the world of memories.
The Waseda International House of Literature, popularly known as the “Haruki Murakami Library,” opened to the public in October. It is located on the campus of Waseda University in Tokyo, the author’s alma mater.
The shelves are filled with around 3,000 books, both original Japanese versions and translations into dozens of languages. The collection also includes copies of related interviews, reviews and studies. Library curators say Murakami’s handwritten notes will soon join the list.
Visitors enter the establishment through a tunnel of books.
“I designed this building as a tunnel leading to another world,” Kuma explains. “I believe the worlds depicted in Mr. Murakami’s stories have a tunnel-like structure.
“Its protagonists, living otherwise ordinary lives, open a door to another existence and go deeper and deeper – or are pulled into another time.”
Kuma is one of Japan’s most celebrated architects and is in high demand, currently involved in over 500 projects at home and abroad.
Building on a chemistry
Since its debut in 1979, Murakami has been translated into over 50 languages. Kuma is a seasoned architect, but he says it was always a challenge to meet the expectations of the legions of Murakami fans and satisfy the author at the same time.
“I was afraid that Mr. Murakami would say that his stories had nothing to do with the tunnels. I was really nervous when I explained my idea,” Kuma said. “But he listened, nodding occasionally, so I thought maybe I wasn’t too far off.”
Murakami is renowned for his media shyness. But when he appeared in a rare press conference with Kuma before the library opened, he broached Kuma’s concept.
“I didn’t expect to hear the word ‘tunnel’. So I was surprised at first. But in my stories, the protagonists go back and forth between the real world and the other dimension. one of the most striking signatures of my works. So I accepted the idea of expressing it in the form of a tunnel.”
“We both do different things in different fields, but I guess ‘the tunnel’ was the point of contact that sparked some chemistry between us,” Kuma says.
Kuma says he was also tasked with creating a “living” place, rather than the kind of museum dedicated to long-dead authors.
“When designing a museum, I usually try to create a sense of tension, but in this case I thought about how I could create a space that would relieve the tension,” he says.
The architect has structured the building so that visitors can freely take in and explore Murakami’s works. Three floors are all connected by shelves with thousands of volumes.
“I hope this place can become a living room to bring people from different parts of the world together,” Kuma says. “I believe that literature has this power. It may seem like a quiet living room, but I hope that the mysterious power of Murakami’s literature can help it become a powerful place to connect and influence the world at large. “
Watch the video (08:37), originally broadcast on October 7, 2021.