A Boy Called Kafka

Kafka on the Shore was originally published in 2002. It is Haruki Murakami’s tenth novel.

The odd-numbered chapters of this novel tell the story of a 15-year-old boy who runs away from home. It wasn’t an impulsive act. It was something he’d been planning for years, with the help of a boy called Crow. The runaway boy chooses the city of Takamatsu, where the climate is warm, and where no one would think to look for him. He takes on the alias Kafka Tamura. He finds shelter in a private library, open to anyone who wants to come in and read, owned by patrons of the arts. The head librarian, Miss Saeki, was briefly famous for recording one hit song, named Kafka on the Shore. Kafka Tamura’s story is told in the first-person.

The even-numbered chapters begin with the transcript of a declassified document from U.S. Army Intelligence. It tells of a 1944 incident in Japanese town (whose name has been deleted from the records). An object, initially thought to be an American B-29, appeared in the sky, and a group of sixteen school children, out on a field trip to pick mushrooms, all collapse, unconscious, leaving only the teacher awake. The story jumps forward with the story of one of those school children, now sixty years old. His name is Mr. Nakata. Before the incident in 1944, he was a good student, with excellent grades. Now, Mr. Nakata describes himself as “not very bright”. The incident wiped his memory. He can no longer read or write. He has difficulty understanding things like money or geography. The incident also gave him the ability to communicate with cats. He uses that ability to earn a little extra money by finding lost cats for people. Mr. Nakata’s story is told in the third-person.

This novel is often categorized as “magic realism” – something I had previously known only as a style used by Gabriel García Máquez, and some other Central and South American authors. Some odd things happen in an otherwise realistic setting. In Kafka on the Shore (both the novel and the song), fish rain down from the sky. The ghost of a living person walks the earth. A character named Johnnie Walker, who dresses just like the guy on the whiskey bottle, but isn’t the Johnnie Walker, steals cats’ souls. There’s a pimp named Colonel Sanders, who dresses just like the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and may (or may not) be the Colonel Sanders.

Kafka on the Shore is a huge and complex novel. It contains several mysteries, many clues, and no obvious answers. I don’t know what this book is about, exactly, but I enjoyed the ride.

Along the way, we meet Oshima, a young transgender gay man, with hemophilia, who runs the library, and befriends Kafka. There’s Hoshino, a truck driver, who befriends Mr. Nakata and risks a lot to help Nakata find whatever it is he’s looking for. There’s Sakura, a girl Kafka meets on a bus, who doesn’t seem to have a large role in the story, yet seems important to the plot.

It’s a love story.

It’s a coming-of-age story.

It is a quest.

There are some disturbing scenes in this book. There is also beauty.

I loved this book – not as much as 1Q84 or Norwegian Wood – but it kept me a Muakami fan.

Also, here’s a jazz cover of Miss Saeki’s hit song:

My Commute

I had to fill out a survey at work today. It was a survey about my commuting habits. It was required by the city. (I don’t know if “required” or “requested” is the right word.)

I actually enjoy completing surveys, especially when they help my city understand overall commuting trends. It likely helped my employer get whatever benefits it gets from reducing traffic Downtown.

It was a short, quick survey – all multiple choice. It asked only about my trips from home to work last week.

I worked five days last week, Monday through Friday. I don’t telecommute. My one-way commute is two miles.

I rode either a bus, train, light rail, or streetcar five times. I used two transit agencies: King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit. I used a single-occupancy vehicle zero times. (I’m assuming that excludes a bicycle or motorcycle, but even if it didn’t, the answer would still be zero.)

I was asked to pick up to three reasons why I didn’t commute in a single-occupancy vehicles. My employer subsidizes my transit pass. Parking is expensive. It’s good for my physical and mental well-being.

A Polite Reaction

It was a full group at yesterday’s Writers’ Group – Barbara, Rebecca, Mariah, Russ, and me – plus a potential new member: Russ’ wife Julia.

I was the only one who brought something newly written to read. Someone (I forget who) joked that we need to change the name of our group to the Non-Writers Writers’ Group.

My piece, the one about becoming a YouTube enthusiast, received a polite reaction. It wasn’t a hit. It happens.

It was a fun Group yesterday. Having someone new to shake up the dynamics a bit was nice.

I had some shopping to do on 15th Avenue after the group, so I rode the 10 bus home. I’m liking this pattern of walking up the hill for Writers’ Group and then busing it down the hill afterwards, although I’m not sure why. Maybe I just like paying a visit to the shopping district of 15th Avenue.

A Coffee Shop in Belltown

Last night, Phillip and I decided to see Blade Runner 2049 today. We’d heard the movie is visually stunning, so we wanted to see it on the huge screen at The Cinerama. With the movies as popular as it is, we knew The Cinerama would probably be sold out, and we’d probably have to settle for the AMC theater that used to be The Sundance.

We contacted Cristina, and she said she’d love to join us.

Phillip and I went online to buy our tickets. We checked with The Cinerama first. It was nearly sold out. There were single seats here and there, and a couple of double seats. We did find three seats together – B9, B10, and B11 – way in the back of balcony. They would have to do. A bad seat at The Cinerama is better than a good seat at the AMC 10. We bought them.

Phillip and I rode Link light rail to Westlake. We were early, as we knew we would be. It was cold out, however, and we agreed to go into a coffee shop somewhere. Phillip suggested the Starbucks at Westlake, but I wanted to discover some little coffee shop we’d never been to. I figured that with all the upscaling going on in Belltown, and with The Cinerama being such a hip spot, the area must be filled with hip little coffee shops.

We walked from Westlake to The Cinerama, and didn’t see a single coffee shop – not even a Starbucks. I don’t get it. We walked to Top Pot and had coffee and doughnuts. There is, at least, one coffee shop in Belltown.

Top Pot

Cristina met us at the theater. We bought snacks, and went upstairs to find our seats. Row B is not in the back of the theater, it’s in the front, on the lower level. That makes perfect sense, but Phillip and I knew we’d chosen seats in the back of the theater.  We were both looking at the seating diagram at the same time last night.

I figured out what happened. We’re used to theater seating diagrams placing the screen, or stage, at the top. The Cinerama places the screen at the bottom. (I tested this theory right before writing this post. The AMC 10, The Seattle Opera House, and Thornton Place Theaters all use screen-on-top diagrams. The Cinerama doesn’t. Of course, the diagram does say the screen’s down here, but we were looking for seats, not reading the diagram.)


Our seats, two rows back from the screen, weren’t bad.

While we had been waiting for Cristina, outside of the theater, I kept hearing the box office turn away ticket buyers – the showing was sold out. While the previews were playing, I looked around and saw a whole lot of empty seats. What was going on? Was the theater not selling some areas? Were that many people buying tickets and not showing up?

Blade Runner 2049 was wonderful. I would call it a masterpiece. It had enough cameos and nods to satisfy our nostalgia, while being a whole new story. It felt like Blade Runner, but a believable thirty years later. And yes, it is visually stunning. It is gorgeous, even when the landscape is bleak.

After the movie, Cristina and Phillip put me in charge of choosing a lunch spot. I chose Steak ‘n Shake, on Third Avenue.

Over lunch, we learned that Cristina has never seen Blade Runner. In fact, she’d never heard of it until Blade Runner 2049 came out. We don’t know why she’s our friend. (joking)

After lunch, the three of us went shopping at T.J. Maxx and Ross. I’d never been in either place, and Cristina had never been to either The Cinerama or Steak ‘n Shake. That made it a very good day.

Then we got on a 49 bus. Phillip and I exited on Broadway, and Cristina continued on to the U District.

The Magic Term

This past week, I’ve been working on a piece for this Sunday’s Writers’ Group. I’m writing an expansion of a recent blog post about how I became a YouTube fanatic.

I’m at that point I always reach, where the whole idea of the piece seems dull and stupid, and I want to abandon it, and, at the same time, the whole idea of the piece seems interesting and exciting, and I can’t wait to share it with the group.

Last month, when Writers’ Group was just Barbara and me, and neither one of us had written anything, and we spent a lovely afternoon, just the two of us chatting, Barbara seemed interested in what I’d been finding on YouTube. So, I’ll keep going on the piece I’m writing. Besides, no one has ever been kicked out of Writers’ Group for writing something dull and stupid.

In the piece so far, I’ve discovered the genre of “foreigner living in Japan” YouTube channels. I’ve written that I’m sure there are genres of expats living in other counties as well, but I had yet to discover the right search engine term to find them.

(I’ve tried many variations of “expat living in [name of country]” or “my life in [name of country]”, but nothing showed me the vlogs I was looking for. Rather than personal stories of expats, I kept getting commercial travel guides.)

Suddenly, this morning, before I left for work, the magic term came to me. I searched for: best vlogs by expats.  (In hindsight, it seems obvious.) I found exactly what I’d been looking for. As I suspected, there are foreigners living in counties other than Japan, and they’re posting their lives onto YouTube.

From the lists I’ve found, I decided to check out a channel named “Eight Miles from Home”. (I don’t know what the title means, but I love it.) A British couple is raising a baby in Portugal. They post vlogs about their life. It seems that they lived in Thailand for a while, before Portugal, and posted vlogs from there as well. That’s about all I know right now. I’ve subscribed to their channel, but it’s too soon to know if I’ll stick with them.

Here’s a video they uploaded today:

(Now I have to decide if I want to rewrite part of my piece, or keep going with the idea that I haven’t found the correct search term yet.)

Laundry Day

As we prepared to leave for the laundromat this morning, I checked on the status of my latest library eBook hold. It had come in. I downloaded Kafka on the Shore to my phone, and I had something new to read while doing laundry.

I had discovered Haruki Murakami when I read 1Q84 for the Reading Challenge. I loved that book. Next, I read Norwegian Wood, which reviewers had told me was not one of Murakami’s better works (some were even disappointed), but I chose it simply because it was available for immediate download. I loved it, but not as much as 1Q84.

The wait for Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, had been about two weeks, with me starting out in position 11 for 8 copies. I was willing to wait, because it’s supposed to be one of Murakami’s best works (according to those same reviewers) and also one of his stranger stories. I started it at the laundromat, but got only as far as the middle of the second chapter. I’m looking forward to this book.

(Phillip, meanwhile, is reading The Golem and The Jinni, which I read for the Reading Challenge and have been recommending to everyone.)

It was a quiet morning at the laundromat. There was no competition for machines, seats, or carts.

There was a homeless (I assumed) man in the laundromat who seemed to be just hanging out, charging his phone, and not doing laundry. He didn’t seem to be in full control of his movements, but wasn’t really bothering anyone. He wandered out of the laundromat, leaving his phone behind.

I wondered if I should run after him, and remind him of his phone. He seemed to be sticking close by, however, so I thought he was just getting some air.

He came back in, picked up his phone, and left again. He left his charger behind, however.

He returned again, picked up his charger, and took a nap on one of the laundromat benches.

There are several possibilities as to what this man was doing. My only concern was that he might lose his phone. Once I saw that that wasn’t the case, I returned to my reading.

I thought I got lucky when I found an empty dryer with 24 minutes left on it. I loaded my clothes, and inserted a quarter. My quarter jammed in the slot. I managed to fish my quarter (or, at least, a quarter) out and saw that there were several coins jammed in the machine. So much for my free 24 minutes. I loaded my clothes into another machine and paid my full 42 minutes.