Mar 17, 2013

Both Sides of the Same Coin: Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” and Hideo Levy’s “A Room Where The Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard”

In 1949 Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto. His father was a high school teacher and moved to a high school in Kobe, so Haruki Murakami was brought up in Kobe. In 1968 he entered Waseda University and moved to Tokyo. Although his novel “Norwegian Wood” isn’t an autobiography, in it he described the student lives in Tokyo at that time.

In 1950 Hideo Levy was born in Berkeley, California. His father was a diplomat, and he was brought up in Denver, Taichung, Hong Kong, Washington D.C., and Yokohama. In 1967 he began to study Japanese at Waseda University, and then he ran away from his home in Yokohama, and moved into his friend’s room and worked at a coffee shop in Shinjuku. He described Waseda University and Shinjuku from the standpoint of a foreigner in his first novel “A Room Where The Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard.”

In the late 1960s student movements escalated throughout the world, May Event in France, anti-Vietnam movement in the U.S., the Cultural Revolution in China, and Zenkyoto movement in Japan. Waseda University and Shinjuku were in the midst of Zenkyoto movement, and Haruki Murakami and Hideo Levy were deeply influenced by it but both of them couldn’t fully get into it.

Haruki Murakami felt something different from Japanese society. In fact he wanted to run away from his parents, so he chose Waseda University in order to move to Tokyo and to live alone. But in Tokyo he still felt something different from students especially who took part in Zenkyoto movement. All of the characters in the novel “Norwegian Wood” more or less couldn’t fit in Japanese society.

Hideo Levy also felt something different from his father and wanted to run away from him and get into Japanese society, but he, as a foreigner, was rejected by Japanese society and people. Of course he couldn’t get into Zenkyoto movement, because he couldn’t speak Japanese and he was a “Gaijin”, which means “foreigner” in Japanese.

“Norwegian Wood” and “A Room Where The Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard” are both sides of the same coin. After that, Haruki Murakami became a world-famous novelist and he got out of Japanese literary society into the world. Hideo Levy began to write novels in Japanese, and got into Japanese literary society, if not fully.

If you like the novel or movie “Norwegian Wood,” I strongly recommend that you read Hideo Levy’s “A Room Where The Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard.” If you have learned Japanese, I suggest you try the original Japanese version of this novel, but you can read it in English translation as well.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. This is a difficult system to use. What I said and then accidentally deleted was that I have already read both 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle' and '1Q84' by Haruki Murakami so I'm convinced he's an outstanding writer. I'll start reading 'Norwegian Wood' on your recommendation very soon. And I'll also look into Hideo Levy. I wasn't aware of his work. Thanks!

    2. Thank you for your comment.

      Hideo Levy isn't so popular in Japan, but I think that he is a really important novelist in Japanese literature.