Murakami’s 2002 novel Kafka on the Shore takes us from Tokyo to the island of Shikoku, as we follow the journeys of 15-year-old runaway Kafka Tamura and the odd couple of Nakata and Hoshino. Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands and it’s also the least developed. The island now has three large bridges linking it to Honshu, but until just a couple of decades ago Shikoku was only accessible by boat or plane. To this day, Shikoku still lacks a bullet train route, but this is part of what gives the island its charm. In recent years, more and more foreign travelers have been taking an interest in Shikoku, hoping to catch a glimpse of “old Japan.”
KAGAWA PREFECTURE DAY TOUR 1:
The island of Shikoku consists of 4 prefectures but a large majority of the novel takes place in Kagawa, the smallest prefecture not just of Shikoku but of the entire country. Within Kagawa, much of the action takes place in the prefectural capital of Takamatsu. However, not too many specific neighborhoods or landmarks are mentioned aside from the station and the bridge. Part of the fun of your visit will be wandering around the city and imagining buildings that could have been Sakura’s apartment or Hoshino and Nakata’s private getaway.
Trying the local delicacy ‘sanuki udon’ is a must for anyone visiting Kagawa. In fact, some people travel from across Japan just to try it. As most restaurants lack English menus, The Murakami Pilgrimage contains a sanuki udon guide so you can order your preferred dish in Japanese.
Just by the station is Takamatsu Castle, which is well worth a visit for its gardens and moats.
Also nearby is the ferry pier. Takamatsu is close by a number of small islands and you can easily check one out and be back in the city before evening. Some of the popular islands for shorter trips are Megijima and Ogijima. Naoshima, of course, has become world-famous for its art but you may want to dedicate an entire day just for that island.
No visit to Takamatsu would be complete without stopping at Ritsurin Koen. The gardens were constructed in the Edo period and to this day remain some of the most impressive gardens in all of Japan. Anticipate spending at least an hour there, if not more.
Finally, you can walk back to the main station area via Takamatsu’s massive shopping arcades which are mentioned a couple times in the novel. This is where Hoshino goes shopping for some clothes but has a difficult time finding his trademark aloha shirt. And it’s also where he stumbles upon the old-fashioned coffee shop that’s run by the classical music-loving former government minister. If you search carefully, you might just find something like it.
KAGAWA PREFECTURE DAY TOUR 2: SAKAIDE
One of the most important settings of the story, the Komura Memorial Library, is fictional. The inspiration for it does exist, however, in the city of Sakaide, about 15 minutes from Takamatsu by train.
Sakaide is also home to what was likely the inspiration for the shrine with the entrance stone – a shrine with a fascinating backstory of its own, and well worth a visit for both Murakami fans and Japanese ghost story enthusiasts. While the Kamada Museum (the inspiration for the Komura Library) is right by Sakaide Station, finding the entrance stone will require a lot more effort.
An hour walk from the minor station of Kamogawa, Takaya Shrine is where you’ll find the stone which is actually tied into an ancient legend about a former emperor named Sutoku. How do we know this? Well, one major hint is the classic collection of short stories known as Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Ueda Akinari. A number of stories from the compilation are referenced to and directly quoted by characters in Kafka on The Shore. While not mentioned in the novel, the very first story of the compilation is about Emperor Sutoku who became a monk in Kagawa after being banished from Kyoto. It’s a long, complex story but if you’re interested, the guide book contains all the details.
Despite being Japan’s smallest prefecture, there’s plenty to do and see in Kagawa. To see it all, plan to spend at least 5 days or so in the area.
Unlike most of Murakami’s other novels, only a few locations in Tokyo play any significant role in the story. The neighborhood of Nogata in Nakano-ku, where both Kafka and Nakata are from, can easily be accessed from the Shinjuku area.
Elsewhere on Shikoku island, Nakata and Hoshino visit the city of Tokushima after crossing the bridge from Kobe. Some important scenes also take place in Kochi Prefecture. We know that this location is 2.5 hours from Takamatsu by car, but given Kochi’s size and abundance of mountains, the cabin in which Kafka stays could be just about anywhere.