The Use of Japanese Aesthetic in South of the Border Essay

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Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer and translator. Murakami is known for his works as a contemporary writer. As a novelist, Murakami is known for his unique style of using the cultural influences from his Japanese roots with strong Western influences particularly in music and literature. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Murakami credits his love for western culture from his childhood. Among his strongest western influences are works by American writers such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

His unique literary compositions make his body of work refreshing and very appealing. His body of work is very much different from the traditional Japanese artist as his brilliant mix of Eastern and Western cultures appeal to and reach more audiences of a varied and interesting demographic. Haruki Murakami’s works are mostly fiction, which have been characterized often as “humorous” and “surreal”. Most of Murakami’s literary masterpieces reflect the “spiritual emptiness” of the people of his generation. The Japanese are known for their rigid discipline and stringent work ethic.

Most of Murakami’s works point toward the harmful effects of the precedence of work over almost everything else on the Japanese psyche. Prior to Murakami, the prevalent foreign literature and art came from Europe. The Japanese taste in foreign in art then was more inclined to the influences of the British, the Germans, the French, and the Russians and was therefore more on the traditional. (Miura) Murakami’s emergence in the Japanese art scene in the 1980’s has brought about a big change in Japanese modern art.

Haruki Murakami has since been dubbed as one of modern Japanese art’s greatest proponents. It was during the time of his appearance that American literature became the most popular and most influential foreign literature in Japan. (Miura) Introduction Haruki Murakami’s novel “South of the Border, West of the Sun” gets the first half of its title from a song by Nat King Cole. As with his other novels, this reference to the song is a creative demonstration of his wide range as a Japanese contemporary artist and his love for mixing his eastern roots with western culture.

Apart from getting his inspiration from Western music, he also gets inspired by literary works done by American writers. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Novel Summary The main character, Hajime, tells the story of the turning of his age. He tells of how he fell in love with a girl with a partially lame leg, Shimamoto, when he was young. Shimamoto is described in the novel as Although their relationship did not blossom into something further and he eventually lost touch with her, she constantly remained in his thoughts.

After a few failed relationships, in due course, he got married and has two daughters. Hajime became a successful bar owner. Just when his life seemed all to perfect, he suddenly got caught in a quandary. (Complete Review ) Hajime’s seemingly perfect life became abuzz with repressed excitement again when he crossed paths with Shimamoto when she came to his bar one night. Still attracted to her, Hajime acts upon the feelings that he has had for Shimamoto throughout the years by meeting with her several times. He finds out through these meetings that somehow she feels the same for him.

He gets ready to leave his perfect life for her until he finds that she can’t do the same for him. Hajime realizes that the relationship with them was not meant to be and he goes back to his peaceful life with his family. (Complete Review ) Japanese Aesthetics Japanese Aesthetics can be said to be embodied by Iki or the aesthetic ideal. Iki can be described as something having these qualities: “simple, improvised, straight, restrained, temporary, romantic, ephemeral, original, refined, inconspicuous”. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Quotes from the Novel When I went back into the bar, a glass and ashtray remained where she had been. A couple of lightly crushed cigarette butts were lined up in the ashtray, a faint trace of lipstick on each. I sat down and closed my eyes. Echoes of music faded away, leaving me alone. In that gentle darkness, the rain continued to fall without a sound. “(Murakami) This quote from the book represents Hajime’s recollection of his last encounter with Shimamoto. According to the requisites of iki, the situation has several elements of the Japanese aesthetic ideal. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

The fact that Shimamoto is no longer present at the bar signifies that the encounter between her and Hajime was fleeting and ephemeral, leaving a lot to the imagination and at the same time injecting a feeling of romance and anticipation to the encounter. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Murakami’s description of the faint lipstick stains crushed cigarette butts are evocative of Shimamoto’s character which are again, replete with the Japanese aesthetic ideal or IKI. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Through the author’s portrayal of the scene, readers can deduce what kind of woman Shimamoto is.

It is very evident Murakami’s depiction that she possesses robustness and elegance at the same time, that she is a roughly sophisticated woman. The traces of lipstick on the cigarette butts are symbolic of Shimamoto’s calm, tough exterior and sophisticated manner. These contrasting traits are what made her extremely attractive to Hajime. Shimamoto is very much the epitome of the iki woman very chic, sophisticated, but unknowingly enticing. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) With the situation that they are in, their feelings have given them a dilemma.

Very much in play are the consequences that their possible actions may lead to. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) This place I imagined was still incomplete. It was misty, indistinct, its outlines vague. (Murakami) This quote is an example of an iki situation, Murakami’s depiction of the place echoes of a deep longing. This representation is replete with intimations of mystery, romance in a very refined manner. Readers get a deep sense of yearning and meaninglessness in Hajime’s character without the presence of Shimamoto, a yearning that is still somehow very much repressed. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) The illustration of the empty room, although replete with emotions is very much characteristic of an iki place. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) We were, the two of us, still fragmentary beings, just beginning to sense the presence of an unexpected, to-be-acquired reality that would fill us and make us whole. (Murakami) This quote describes first unforeseen face to face encounter between Hajime and Shimamoto, which happened after some time of not being able to see each other.

An element of iki that is present is the excitingly reserved and romantic anticipation of what can possibly happen should they choose to act on their emotions. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) It was merely the small, warm hand of a twelve-year-old girl, yet those five fingers and that palm were like a display case crammed full of everything I wanted to know–and everything I had to know. (Murakami) This quote is an extremely poignant rendering of how Hajime felt when Shimamoto held his hand.

An observer would just see it as a mere physical action of somebody holding someone else’s hand but for Hajime, it opened a whole new world of possibilities for him. In this case, this was an iki situation as it is filled with romantic allusions, ephemerality and unintentional appeal. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Hajime’s description of Shimamoto’s hand as she held his evokes powerful emotions and is redolent of the refinement of Shimamoto’s features, her unintentional coquettishness, and the sophistication of ther manners. All these are characteristic of her being an iki person. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

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