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1Q84 (1Q84 #1-3)
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2011 Reads > 1Q84: A Collection of Mostly Useless Notes

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Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Murakami is sometimes criticized in Japan for pandering to Western audiences, but even so there are still some bits that will only make sense if you're familiar with Japanese culture. So far I haven't found anything that will alter your understanding of the book, but it's still interesting.

DISCLAIMER: All my knowledge of Japan comes from books and film. As such you should assume that this is as accurate as a Japanese person expounding upon American culture based upon Stephen King novels and Star Trek. Void where prohibited. Please consult a physician is symptoms persist for more than three days.

Chapter 1:

Taisho and Showa - The reign of each Japanese Emperor is given a name, and these eras serve as the indigenous Japanese calendar. The Taisho Era ran from 1912-1926 and was a period of continued industrialization, modernization, and growth of Japan as a world power. The Showa Era ran from 1926-1989, which encompasses a lot of history -- the rise of militarism, the invasion of Manchuria, Pearl Harbor, WWII, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, occupation, demilitarization, democratization, Reagan, Begin, Palestine, and the emergence of Japan as an economic superpower. If applied to US history, it'd be an era that runs from Al Capone's heyday to Guns 'n' Roses making it big.

Japanese emperors have only a given name which is never supposed to be used once they take the throne. While in power they're referred to publicly as just "the Emperor," and after they die they're given a posthumous name. In the modern period, the posthumous name corresponds to the imperial era, so Yoshihito is the Taisho Emperor and Hirohito the Showa Emperor.

Chapter 2:

Cram school - The Japanese education system is notoriously tough. People who want to get into a top college often supplement their high school education by attending evening classes at cram schools. They're similar in purpose to SAT prep courses, except instead of going for a couple weekends, it's a regular series of classes. Since Japanese high schools have their own admission tests, there are even cram schools for middle school students who want to get into the best high schools. Almost makes you thankful for the half-assed American education system.

Literary Prizes - The Japanese love their literary prizes, and many magazines and publishing houses have their own awards (which are often self-serving since they're limited to the best book published by the company giving the award). The most prestigious award is the Akutagawa Prize for new writers, named after Ryunonsuke Akutagawa (best known in the West through Akira Kurosawa's film of Rashomon).

In 2003, Risa Wataya and Hitomi Kanehara created a media sensation when they became the youngest prize winners at age 19. Kanehara's victory in particular has several similarities to the Fuka-Eri plotline. Besides the young age, Kanehara was a high school drop-out whose novel, Snakes and Earrings, is noted for a very rough style (just look at all the one- and two-star Goodreads reviews). She first submitted the story to the Subaru Prize, run by the Shueisha Publishing, and then moved on to the Akutagawa after winning, just as Komatsu plans to do with Fuka-Eri's novel.

Chapter 3:

"Rightwing sound-truck" - Exactly what it says on the tin -- trucks and vans with loudspeakers mounted on them that drive around blaring rightwing political messages (you know, like, "Re-elect Mayor Goldie Wilson").



Chapter 5:

The Russo-Japanese War - As the name implies, a war between Russia and Japan for hegemony over Manchuria and Korea. Although Japan had already beaten on China and Korea, this was their first time taking on a major European power. The fact that they won -- a country that had only begun their industrial revolution a few decades before -- led the rest of Europe to reconsider Russia's status and played a role in the German and Austro-Hungarian decision to start WWI a decade later.

Kansai accent - Although the Kansai region contains several of Japan's major cities, it doesn't contain Tokyo so it's seen as something of a yokel accent -- sort of Texas with a bit of New Jersey thrown in.

Chapter 6:

Little Men - Make of this what you will.

To be continued...


terpkristin | 4135 comments Wow, great notes. They provide a good background. Thanks!


message 3: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6200 comments But how do you explain the panties?


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2846 comments Yes, thanks Sean. Love the little men.


Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Tamahome wrote: "But how do you explain the panties?"

The only reference I've come across so far is Aomame flashing traffic as she climbs off the highway. Panty-shot scenes are incredibly common in Japanese fiction aimed at males, to the point that there have been entire series built upon them.



Even penguins get in on the act.


Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments And yet more notes:

Chapter 7

Self-Defense Force - One of the conditions the United States imposed upon Japan after WWII was complete and total disarmament. The Japanese Constitution completely forbids Japan from maintaining a military. But when the Korean War broke out in 1950 and the US had to transfer a large portion of the occupation force to mainland Asia, the US and Japan realized that the US couldn't be the sole guarantor of Japanese sovereignty, so both sides decided that it wouldn't actually violate the constitution or any treaties if the Japanese maintained a small armed force for self-defense purposes only.

Chapter 8

Soviet invasion of Manchuria - Americans tend to think that we won World War II almost single-handedly with a little help from our British sidekicks -- and, oh yeah, the Russians may have done something too, but we aren't sure what. That's completely untrue in Europe where the Russians did most of the heavy lifting against Hitler, but it holds some truth in the Pacific. The Soviets had a neutrality treaty with Japan which they didn't renounce until the war in Europe was wrapping up. However, their entry into the Pacific War and rapid defeat of Japanese forces in Manchuria had as much to do with Japan's surrender as the atomic bombs. The Japanese knew it'd be better to be occupied by the Americans than Russians, but the longer they fought on, the more likely the Soviets would be to demand a piece of the action.

Tengo's mom - This is sometimes known as Anime Syndrome, though you'll find it in all forms of Japanese fiction. It commonly strikes tragically beautiful teenage girls, forcing them to remain out of school for long periods of time. When an older woman, particularly a mother, comes down with Anime Syndrome, it's almost universally fatal. It rarely affects men, though fathers are occasionally susceptible to it.

Chapter 9

1Q84 - "1984" in Japanese is "ichi-kyu-hachi-yon" so Aomame didn't randomly change one number to "Q".

Chapter 10

"He was generally aware that 1970s Japan was not the place or time for mounting a revolution." - Sadly not everyone got the message. Besides the Asama Mountain standoff mentioned a few chapters ago, there's the strange case of Yukio Mishima, a well respected writer (nominated for the Nobel Prize several times) who formed a rightwing militia that seized control of an SDF base and tried to get the troops to overthrow the democratic government and return power to the Emperor. This didn't go over too well with the soldiers, and Mishima committed seppuku after they jeered at him.

Chapter 12

Door-to-door proselytizing - This may just be a coincidence, but in the novel Welcome to the NHK by Tatsuhiko Takimoto, the main character is an hikikomori (shut in) who believes the NHK is brainwashing people through subliminal messages. He eventually befriends a teenage girl who's being raised by a crazy Christian aunt who forces her to go door-to-door proselytizing.

Christmas - Yes, the Japanese celebrate Christmas even though only 1% of the country is Christian. They mostly just do the Santa and presents stuff, but for some reason Christmas Eve has mutated into a romantic holiday like Valentines Day (which they also celebrate).

Ostracism in schools - Bullying in Japanese schools is usually less overt than we have in the US and typically takes the form of ostracism aimed at people who don't conform. It's a common subject in any story that takes place in schools. Kimi ni Todoke (Reaching for You - the comic with the little men linked to above), for example, is about a girl who's ostracized because she looks like the creepy demon girl from The Ring; Kodaka from Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (I Don't Have Many Friends) is ostracized for having blonde hair; Momoka from Kamikaze Girls is ostracized for her eccentric fashion choices; and the titular character in Haruka Nogizaka's Secret is afraid of her classmates discovering that she's secretly an otaku who collects anime figurines. And that's just off the top of my head.

Students cleaning the classroom - Most janitorial work in Japanese schools is taken care of by students. Yes, even cleaning the bathrooms. Besides being a way to save money, it builds community spirit and discourages vandalism.

Chapter 13

Aomame's age - A 30 year old woman who's still single is known as a "Christmas cake," as in leftover Christmas food that no one's interested in anymore. But at he same time, as you can see from (view spoiler), women are expected to give up their careers when they get married and become good little homemakers. From what I've read both these concepts have become outdated now, and the Christmas cake mostly exists as a joke character in fiction -- "Oh my God, I'm 29 and still single! I have to find a man right now! Anyone will do!" -- but it would've been much stronger back in 1984.

Subway gropers





Japanese subways are extremely crowded during rush-hour, giving unscrupulous men the opportunity to cop a feel without getting caught. The problem's so bad that the Tokyo subway system has started offering women-only cars.

"Boxed lunches" - This is a technically accurate translation of the Japanese term "bento," but I find it highly misleading.

These are what homemade bento looks like:





And these are the kind you can find in stores:





I don't know about anyone else, but that's nothing like what I imagine when I hear, "boxed lunch".

(Incidently, one of the best anime series of this season is Ben-to, which is about people who gather at supermarkets every evening and battle for the leftover bento that have been reduced to half-price. Really. That is the whole plot.



And it is awesome.)


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2846 comments Sean, will you keep us grounded in reality (view spoiler)


message 8: by Tamahome (last edited Nov 19, 2011 01:08PM) (new)

Tamahome | 6200 comments Sean, can you translate what this awesome female guitarist is saying after the song?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btc_KP...

Oh, I also nominate Sean to skype into the next S&L. :)


Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Tamahome wrote: "Sean, can you translate what this awesome female guitarist is saying after the song?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btc_KP... "


Sorry, my Japanese is quite minimal. All I know is she says "thank you: at the beginning and what sounds like "lets eat" just before she makes the sleepy time gesture.


message 10: by Sean (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Jenny wrote: "Sean, will you keep us grounded in reality [spoilers removed]"

(view spoiler)


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2846 comments Sean I have started to notice the connection (view spoiler)


message 12: by Sean (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Chapter 14

Shogi - A descendant of the same Indian game that gave rise to chess in the West. The most notable difference is that once you capture a shogi piece, you can return it to the board on your own side.

Tengo's teacher - Female teachers in Japanese fiction are commonly depicted as Christmas cakes (see above) even when they're so incredibly beautiful that it's inconceivable that they don't have guys lined up around the block. A prime example is in the Toradora novels where the main teacher is never mentioned without her age and marital status coming up as well:

The homeroom teacher was the same as last year's (Koigakubo Yuri, 29 years old, and an unquestionably single lady).

It seems the teacher (Koigakubo Yuri, single, age 29) was feeling rosy while attempting to continue with her pointless chatter.

Startled at this, the teacher (Koigakubo Yuri, single, turning 30 in two months’ time) shuddered while looking at Aisaka with her head lowered.

In the end, she covered her face in her hands and began sobbing. Knowing it would come to this, wouldn't it have been better if she had just shut up? She just had to take on something that was beyond her power. It's no wonder she's still single.

Yet the single lady (Koigakubo Yuri, Homeroom Teacher, 7 years of boyfriendless experience) sobbed.

When the hopeless single lady clad in her trendy red dress left the classroom after the class had sent her off at the end of lessons, the classroom became lively once again.


Keep in mind, these examples are all from the first book; there are nine more volumes that become increasingly cruel, to the point that even students refer to her as "that single woman".

Male teachers are only slightly less likely to be depicted as single, but it's never treated as a debilitating condition.

"Second year of high school" - 11th grade in American terms.

High school dormitories - As mentioned earlier, to get into a good college in Japan it's necessary to attend a good high school, which sometimes means enrolling in a school that's not near your home. As such, many Japanese high schools offer dormitories for students who don't live within commuting distance.

In fiction it's also common for students to live on their own, either in an apartment rented by their parents or in the family house while their parents are out of the country for work. I've never been able to tell if this is a common phenomenon in real life or just a convenient plot device for YA stories. In any case, it's a trope that applies to older teens -- you'd never see a ten year old on his own unless he has a sibling to take care of him.

Chapter 15

Childhood friend romance - Oh, look, it's Japanese romance cliche 1(B)i: Childhood friend romance - forgotten friend - life changing poignant moment. You would not believe how many books I've read with this exact same plotline. For example, when Haruka Nogizaka is ten, (view spoiler)

Les-yay! - To a Western audience, Aomame's lesbian experiences may come across as youthful experimentation or a woman pretending to be bisexual to attract guys, but there's some cultural subtext there as well. Back in the early 20th Century, it was accepted that high school girls, particularly those at all-girls boarding schools, would dabble in lesbianism as practice for "real" relationships later on. These so-called "Class S" relationships were supposed to be platonic, though I understand there are a number of Class S romance novels from the period where sexual relations are implicit. But the key point about Class S relationships was that they were seen as childish, and remaining lesbian into adulthood was considered immature.

That's changed somewhat in modern times, and it's not uncommon to see yuri (lesbian romance) stories where girls find true love with each other, but there are also those that cling to the "it's just a phase" idea as well, though to the untrained eye it all looks like "Hot school girls who want to get it on with each other."

Chapter 16

Cherry blossoms - As my fellow Washingtonians know, cherry blossoms bloom in late March/early April, look beautiful for a week, then start shedding petals like snow.

Just about any movie or show set in a school will feature them prominently at the beginning since they bloom right around the start of the Japanese school year.



The most common name for girls in Japan, Sakura, means cherry blossom.

Seals - Since Japanese names often contain several kanji, some of them quite complex, it's a bitch for them to sign their names, and they often use stamps instead.





And I'm sure Tom is cringing in horror as he reads this and thinks about the security implications.


message 13: by Ian (last edited Dec 03, 2011 02:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Great thread, Sean.

In the Japanese title, is there any reference to the letter "Q" for "question"?

How is the difference between the two worlds communicated literally in the Japanese word or name for the two years and the novel?


terpkristin | 4135 comments Sean wrote: "spoiler"

Wow, I have been reading really slowly lately, because of work, so it's like a chapter every 2 days. I hadn't noticed that timing connection. Wow.


message 15: by Greenicicle (new)

Greenicicle | 14 comments Wow Sean, just wanted to express some gratitude for putting this together.


message 16: by Sean (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Chapter 18

Tokyo Tower - One of those structures you find in major cities, such as the Funkturm and Pope's Revenge in Berlin, that tries to disguise an unsightly broadcast tower as a scenic landmark.



Chapter 20

Ainu - Although Westerners tend to think of Japan as ethnically homogenous, it isn't. The Ainu are the native inhabitants of Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's Home Islands. They're probably related to the ancient Jomon culture that inhabited Japan before the people we consider Japanese showed up. As Murakami alludes to, the Japanese didn't treat the Ainu much better than the Anglo-Saxons treated the Celtic peoples of Britain.

Chapter 22

Throne of Blood and Hidden Fortress - Two of Akira Kurosawa's samurai movies. Throne of Blood is a retelling of Macbeth in medieval Japan, while Hidden Fortress is about a general, a princess, and two peasants who are trying to escape an evil warlord. George Lucas has acknowledged Hidden Fortress as an inspiration for the original Star Wars -- in particular Artoo and Threepio are knockoffs of the two peasants -- but the plot resembles The Phantom Menace much more.

Chapter 23

"Land prices are bound to soar. Buy now and there's no way you can lose." - This is an highly ironic statement. The "Lost Decade" recession, from which Japan has never fully recovered, was caused in large part by a real-estate bubble in the '80s. Of course, this has absolutely no relevance to America, and I absolutely do not recommend reading Tatsuhiko Takimoto's Welcome to the NHK as a primer on the future that awaits us all in our cramped one-room apartments, nor do I think Kenji Kamiyama's anime Eden of the East provides any insight whatsoever into Occupy Wall Street.

"Faye Dunaway holding a machine gun" - A reference to Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, though I don't believe Faye ever held a machine gun in it. She did however look damn fine in a beret.



Book 2 - Chapter 1

Shrine maidens - More properly, miko. Women who perform ceremonial duties in Shinto shrines. Their roles and power have varied greatly over the centuries, with the low-point coming in the Middle Ages when they were seen as prostitutes. Nowadays miko are typically the daughter or other close relative of a Shinto priest, or just some local girl hired for the part, which mainly consists of helping out around the shrine, handing out fortunes, selling souvenirs and performing in the occasional ritual.

Sidenote: Since Christianity never made much headway in Japan, many Japanese authors assume that Christian churches operate like Shinto shrines and nuns are just like miko. And since miko aren't expected to be literal maidens ... the results can be amusing.

Chapter 3

Yakuza - If you've never watched a martial arts flick, the yakuza are the Japanese equivalent of the mafia.

Jesus and the woman of Bethany - According to the apocryphal Syriac Infancy Gospel, after Jesus was circumcised, an Hebrew woman took the foreskin and preserved it in oil of spikenard, which she then gave to her son, an apothecary. The son eventually sold it to the woman of Bethany who in turn used it to anoint Jesus. See, I know obscure facts on many subjects, not just Japanese lesbian fiction.

Chapter 6

Francoise Sagan - A French author who, like Fuka-Eri, published her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse (Hello, Sadness), while still a teenager. The book tells of a 17 year old girl whose affection for her bohemian father verges on the unhealthy. When her father decides it's time for him to settle down and marry a prim-and-propper school teacher who desires to turn the heroine into a prim-and-propper young lady, the girl lashes out in a manner that leads to the sort of tragic end found in all the best French literature. Like Fuka-Eri and Hitomi Kanehara (see above) people often assume that Bonjour Tristesse is in some way autobiographical.

Chapter 8

Sword of Doom - A novel published in 41 volumes by Kaizan Nakazato during the 1920s, concerning an amoral ronin (masterless samurai) in the period just before the Meiji Restoration (i.e. when the Meiji Emperor wrested control of the country from the Tokugawa Shogunate, bootstrapped Japan into a world power and abolished the samurai class). Although 41 volumes may sound crazy, the Japanese tend to divide long works into short books so they don't have to lug giant doorstops around with them, which is why 1Q84 was originally published in three parts. According to Wikipedia's list of the longest novels, Sword of Doom is actually quite a bit shorter than Proust's seven volume Remembrance of Things Past. Still, the fact that Tengo's dad has the whole thing on his book case is impressive.

Sword of Doom has never been translated into English, however there was a film adaptation in the 1960s by Kihachi Okamoto which is available from Criterion. Unfortunately, the movie was intended to be the first in a series and ends on a cliffhanger, but the sequels were never made. Still, it's worth watching for two of the greatest sword fights ever committed to film, one of which will be familiar to anyone who's seen Kill Bill.

Chapter 10

Bon Festival - A Buddhist celebration to get together with family and honor dead relatives, though nowadays it's accompanied by a carnival and fireworks and is an excuse to dress up in yukata or kimono.

New Years - Celebrated on 1 January just like in the West. Often involves going to a temple to pray and receive fortunes. Parents give money to their children as New Years gifts, though I have a feeling Tengo's dad didn't do that part of the tradition either.

Clotheslines - Are still common in Japan.

Chapter 12

1.6 million yen - May sound like a lot, but a yen is equivalent to a cent in American currency. Price conversion will of course vary with the exchange rate, but you can get a rough idea of what something costs in Japan by dropping the last two digits off the price. 1.6 million yen is thus about $16,000 in 1984 money.

Chapter 14

Early morning radio excercises. Go here, jump to about 9 minutes into the video and enjoy.


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