South of the Border, West of the Sun , like Norwegian Wood before it, is one of Murakami’s only novels to lack any of the surrealist elements the author is so well-known for. Instead, it focuses entirely on human relationships. While not nearly as famous as Norwegian Wood, many who’ve read South of the Border, West of the Sun consider it to be one of their favorites.
AOYAMA WALKING TOUR
South of the Border, West of the Sun is also one of just a few Murakami novels to be centered entirely around one main neighborhood. Exploring the scenes from this novel will be a great opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of the Aoyama district. You may have also noticed that Aoyama gets mentioned often in other Murakami novels and short stories, such as Dance, Dance, Dance, Kino and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Clearly, Murakami himself is a big fan of the neighborhood.
Aoyama is where the protagonist Hajime lives, runs his two jazz bars and goes on lunch dates with his childhood friend Shimamoto. A number of local establishments make appearances in the book, such as the supermarkets Kinokuniya and Natural House, both of which are located on Aoyama Boulevard.
Though not covered in the novel, Aoyama is one of the best places in Tokyo to see art. The area is home to the Nezu Museum. While oddly omitted from South of The Border, West of The Sun, the Nezu Museum is mentioned any number of times in other Murakami works. For those looking for something more modern, the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum can be found nearby. Take a look at shibuyaguide.com to learn about these museums as well as other places worth visiting in the area.
The Aoyama Cemetery gets mentioned often throughout the book, as it’s what Hajime can see from the window of his condo. The cemetery is a fascinating place to visit for anyone coming to Tokyo. It houses the graves of shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa, novelist Yukio Mishima and even the famous dog Hachiko. The cemetery also features a ‘foreign section’ dedicated to experts from Europe and the US who came to aid in Japan’s development during the Meiji Era.
Hajime’s jazz bars are fictional and were likely inspired by Murakami’s personal experience running his jazz bar in nearby Sendagaya. There is a real jazz club in Aoyama, however, that fits the description of Hajime’s bars quite well. If you’re a fan of jazz you should definitely try and visit Body & Soul. If you’re looking for something more mainstream, Blue Note also happens to be nearby.
Aoyama is also one of the best places in Tokyo to see stunning architecture and to shop for high-end fashion. You may only be interested in one or the other, but both can be found along the bustling Omotesando Street which connects Aoyama with Harajuku.
The Murakami Pilgrimage features a detailed map of where Aoyama’s most interesting buildings can be found.
While Aoyama is the main focus of the story, other parts of the novel take place in Hajime and Shimamoto’s hometown, which is not revealed to the reader. Hyogo Prefecture is a likely possibility considering it’s the author’s hometown and it’s where a number of his other protagonists have grown up.
The mountain town of Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture is the location of Hajime’s cottage and where his final meeting with Shimamoto takes place. Also within Kanagawa is Fujisawa, the town nearby Enoshima and Kamakura where Shimamoto later lived until going to university.
An important scene of the novel takes us to Ishikawa, a prefecture on the island’s western coast facing the Sea of Japan. Hajime visits with Shimamoto but they don’t spend much time there and we’re not given much of a feel for the place. If you’re interested, the prefecture is best known for its stunning scenery, preserved samurai districts and traditional villages. This may be an ideal destination for those looking to experience “old Japan” away from the crowds.