Even 30 years after it was written, Norwegian Wood still remains Haruki Murakami’s most famous novel. Say the author’s name to a random person in Japan and in most cases, “Norway no Mori” is the first thing they’ll say back to you. This is the book that launched Murakami’s career into the mainstream and it’s easy to see why. Though the story takes place in the time of the wild student demonstrations of the late 1960’s, the book deals with subjects like friendship, death and young love – concepts which are universal across borders and eras.
The novel has had a significant impact on many, and even today the sites and neighborhoods that appear throughout the story attract a number of visitors. When examining the settings of Murakami’s fiction, Norwegian Wood is unique in the sense that its characters live and play in certain Tokyo neighborhoods that hardly get any attention in the author’s other works.
WATANABE AND NAOKO WALKING TOUR:
The Murakami Pilgrimage contains a detailed itinerary with full-color maps for those who wish to follow in the footsteps of Watanabe and Naoko on their first long walk together. While the duo go on many walks together throughout the first half of the novel, only the first walk is mentioned with much detail.
After meeting randomly on the JR train, the pair decide to get off at Yotsuya Station, after which Watanabe follows Naoko’s lead for much of the afternoon:
“She turned right at Iidabashi, came out at the moat, crossed the intersection at Jinbocho, climbed the hill at Ochanomizu and came out at Hongo. From there she followed the tram tracks to Komagome.”
That simple quote is the basis for a walk that takes over four hours to complete! Only die-hard Norwegian Wood fans would even consider attempting it in one go, but all you die-hard fans are in luck! The guide book contains all the details for those who wish to follow the exact course.
Over the walking course you’ll pass through neighborhoods like Kudanshita, Jinbocho and Ochanomizu. These are all interesting neighborhoods that hardly ever appear in any other Murakami novels, so this is a great opportunity to explore the eastern half of Tokyo. You’ll also walk past Tokyo University which is where Watanabe’s friend Nagasawa studies in the novel.
At the end of the day you’ll end up in Komagome. While not mentioned in the novels, the Rikugien Gardens nearby the station are definitely worth checking out. Just across the street you can eat soba at the exact restaurant Watanabe and Naoko did at the end of their walk. The restaurant’s name is left out of the English translation, but the original Japanese novel tells us that they ate at Komatsuan.
NORWEGIAN WOOD TOKYO DAY TRIP ITINERARY:
KICHIJOJI TO UENO
The Murakami Pilgrimage features not one but two day trip itineraries for Norwegian Wood. While the first is meant to be carried out entirely on foot, the second involves a number of train trips, taking you from one end of Tokyo to the other.
Starting off in Kichijoji, where Watanabe lives in the second half of the novel, we’ll head over to Shinjuku, the location of his part-time job. Shinjuku is also where he often goes on drunken adventures with Midori, such as at the jazz bar Dug.
Then we’ll visit Waseda University, the inspiration for the unnamed university in the novel. From there it’s an easy walk to Wakeijuku, the dorm where Watanabe lives with Stormtrooper in the first half of the book. Today, even decades later, things look exactly as they’re described in the novel. It should also be noted that Murakami himself lived here in his youth.
After a brief stop in Otsuka via streetcar, we’ll end the day in Ueno. Though Watanabe only visits Ueno one time over the course of the novel, the neighborhood plays a pretty significant role in the story. There’s plenty to do around the area, such as visiting the numerous museums around Ueno Park or checking out the Ameyoko street market.
Both Watanabe and Naoko are from the Kansai city of Kobe. Watanabe does not return to Kobe over the course of Norwegian Wood but Naoko mentions returning briefly to her parents’ house before her admission to Ami Hostel. Despite Kobe often being a place from which Murakami’s characters escape, the city has its own charm and is worth at least a day trip if you find yourself in Kansai.
Kyoto Prefecture is the location of Naoko and Reiko’s mental hospital, Ami Hostel. We’re not given the name of its exact location but we know that it’s somewhere in the mountains about an hour north of the city. Kyoto City, of course, is one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations and a definite must-visit if you’re traveling to the country. It’s interesting to note, however, that Norwegian Wood is one of the few novels in which the city appears at all. And even then, Watanabe only passes through it to get to the mountains. Luckily it’s not too far from Kobe if you’re aiming to see all the sites mentioned in the novel.