• Pat

The Rat Series Reflection: #1 Hear the Wind Sing

Updated: Aug 8, 2020

40th Anniversary of its original publication in Japan

In 2015, after waiting one year to get my working visa, I finally moved back to Japan. Until then, I had been teaching English online, but it was just enough to pay bills and get by living in Boston. Needless to say, moving to Japan and dealing with all the upfront fees one typically encounters upon such a move was more than my wallet could handle. As a result, my lifestyle was greatly downgraded. I lived in a cozy 16 square meter one room flat, communicated by flip phone, relied on my only two gigabytes of internet per month, and survived on the super market's discount corner. Things weren't all that bad, though, as I had friends who could help me out, but during my time at home I was certainly not binge watching Netflix or youtube.

Instead, I spent the majority of my time reading books. I was kind of on a reading spree, attempting to devour all the Murakami Haruki books possible. Absorbing myself in his world allowed me to forget about the struggles I was having at my new job, the burdens of student loans, and my poor diet of knock off beer, fish cakes, and super market bento. In these five years, my life has changed a bit. I am now 28, almost the age Murakami Haruki was when he wrote this novel, as well as the narrator "I" is as he writes his story. A few weeks ago, I picked it up again to see what I could take away. I don't mean to analyze what Murakami may or may not have intended to express, but while I was reading, a few things certainly stood out to me.

The two main characters of the novel, "I" and the Rat, spend most of their time that summer at J's bar, drinking, eating french fries, and chatting with each other. There, they are equals, but when Autumn comes, "I" will go back to university in Tokyo, while the Rat, having quit on his own education all of a sudden, will remain behind. They lead very different lives, yet in their hometown, they can relate to each other through their youth and the lucky circumstances of their first meeting (surviving a car crash at 4 am through a park fence and into a stone pillar).

"I" is a great listener. He loves hearing stories from people, but he is not one to ask questions. Even when there are people around him who are falling apart, he simply listens without pressing further or just offers surface level advice.  

“Do you think I’m sick?” “It’s hard to say.” I shook my head to show her that I really had no idea. “If you’re worried you should go see a doctor.” “Don’t worry—I’ll be okay.”

His own emotional baggage, such as an older brother who suddenly left home when he was young, the abrupt suicide of his third girlfriend, and the mysterious circumstances behind his former classmate who lent him "California Girls", as well as his own childhood tendency to keep his mouth shut, may be what prevents him from approaching others effectively or expressing himself in a proficient manner. While he actually does go to some lengths to connect with people, they are in a roundabout sort of way, never specifically helping anyone to solve anything. It is important to note that, in his own way, "I" is definitely trying though, and that is quite significant for a 21 year old college kid.  And, well, I think that is the point. He is young. He still doesn't have a grasp of how the world works, yet he has been thrown out into it, just like everyone else. We come out of our adolescence thinking what idiots we used to be in our teens and hope for a better future, or at the very least, some sort of divine revelation. What can we do when this doesn't come? Many of us, the Rat included, are shocked. "I"'s advice is to just take things as they are and see what happens.

"Winds change direction.” “You really think so?” “If you wait long enough, yes.”

Life is waiting, but waiting is life. The current girl is he is dating, who is missing a small finger, is comforted by "I"'s fairly optimistic, albeit passive attitude. If we wait long enough, things will change. This advice hits the mark, regardless that her pinky will never grow back. The Rat, on the other hand, believes that somethings just can't be helped and is surprised by what "I" says.

"All of us are laboring under the same conditions. It’s like we’re all flying in the same busted airplane. Sure, some of us are luckier than others. Some are tough and some are weak. Some are rich and some poor. But no one’s superman—in that way, we’re all weak. If we own things, we’re terrified we’ll lose them; if we’ve got nothing we worry it’ll be that way forever. We’re all the same. If you catch on to that early enough, you can try to make yourself stronger, even if only a little. It’s okay to fake it. Right? There are no truly strong people. Only people who pretend to be strong."

The Rat can't accept this and asks "I" to take it back. The Rat's rich family background certainly has had a profound effect on him. He hates rich people and hates that he comes from one. As long as he remains in this town, he cannot escape that aspect of his life. He tried to learn more about others and develop himself in university, but in the end, after an encounter with a police officer, he quit, making a full circle back to square one. He doesn't want to fake it. He desperately wants to change. After his interaction with the Rat, "I" writes about one of his favorite authors, the fictional Derek Hartfield, who is famous for one novel on Martian wells that gives a bleak picture of the universe. In it, the main character travels through these wells and finds that one and half billion years have passed when he comes out. He encounters the Martian wind, a bodiless voice that explains that the Martians have used their wells to travel all across time. When he asks what they have learned throughout their travels, the wind simply laughs. Existence is laughable? Might as well grab a beer and a handful of fries. End the night off with a bullet to the head. Right? Perhaps "I" is too passive about life, but the Rat is too focused on what can't be changed. We all face these conflicts, but if we take failure too seriously, we will never be able to move on.

"If one operates on the principle that everything can be a learning experience, then of course aging needn’t be so painful. That’s what they tell us, anyway. From the age of twenty on, I did my best to live according to that philosophy. As a result, I was cheated and misunderstood, used and abused, time and again. Yet it also brought me many strange experiences. All sorts of people told me their stories. Then they left, never to return, as if I were no more than a bridge they were clattering across. I, however, kept my lips zipped tight. And so the stories stayed with me until I entered this, the final year of my twenties."

Learning about human relationships is a big element of our youth, but as we age, we become less and less dependent on others. Friends once seemed to be the most important aspects of our lives, but we grow apart, despite promises we might have made. Connections fade and relationships change. I worry about those I have left behind, but there is nothing I can do except send them my best wishes. I am not superman. And I don't need Martian wells to tell me the secrets of the universe. I just want to live slowly and attentively. Growing up sucks, but it never ends.

In my early twenties, I made a big effort to connect with a limited number of people before working on myself. I had hoped that through their influence, I could develop as a person, and to an extent, that was true. Moving back to Japan, though, caused a lot of these relationships to fall apart or become severely altered. At 23, in my 16 square meter apartment, I suddenly found myself trying to put the pieces of my life together. At 28, I'm still working on it.

I'll continue to examine the remaining two books in this series, Pinball, 1973 and A Wild Sheep Chase, as well as the epilogue, Dance Dance Dance.

#theratseries #hearthewindsing #murakamiharuki #harukimurakami #bookreview


©2020 by Pat in Tokyo