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Arts

New library tunnels into the world of Haruki Murakami

Facility funded by Uniqlo owner Tadashi Yanai and designed by Kengo Kuma

"I hope the library will become a base for the transmission of new culture," Murakami told a press conference ahead of the opening of the Waseda International House of Literature (The Haruki Murakami Library) next week. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- A new library dedicated to Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami will open next week at his Tokyo alma mater Waseda University, with the internationally-acclaimed writer hoping it will serve as a cultural hub bringing together students and young people in Japan and from around the world.

Giving prominence to Murakami's body of work, the library was fully funded by Tadashi Yanai, the billionaire founder of Fast Retailing -- the parent company of Uniqlo -- and was designed by Kengo Kuma, the architect best known as a designer of the Japan National Stadium that featured in 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Celebrating the library's forthcoming opening, the three men highlighted the importance of finding and visiting other cultures as they sent cheers to Waseda students and encouraged them to challenge themselves abroad. The Waseda International House of Literature, known informally as the Haruki Murakami Library, will formally open on Friday at Waseda's main campus.

Not only will it allow visitors to immerse themselves in the Murakami world made famous by novels such as Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84, with nearly 3,000 books -- including first editions of his novels, copies of his books translated in over 50 languages, as well as foreign authors translated into Japanese by Murakami himself including J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye -- the library will also include a selection of his manuscripts and personal papers already deposited with the university.

With an entrance enclosed by white nest-like eaves, a wide wooden stairwell welcomes visitors with bookcases built into the walls featuring Murakami's works, as well as other publications recommended by nine global litterateurs. Murakami's works are sorted by theme, such as music, animals and food, together with books from other authors broaching the same topics.

The library will provide access to tens of thousands of documents including Murakami's manuscripts, letters, and other records deposited with his alma mater. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

"I hope the library will become a base for the transmission of new culture," Murakami told reporters at a press conference this week. "I want to make it a place where students can freely share their ideas, rather than having students receive their professor's teaching one-sidedly."

The library, which also has a coffee shop, a lounge, an audio room and a radio studio, will allow visitors to exchange their thoughts while paying homage to Murakami, who went from running a jazz coffee shop to becoming a world-famous writer. The library even recreates Murakami's study with the same writing chair and other furniture from his home.

Waseda University, which decided in 2019 to create the library in an old research facility, has spent the last two years cataloging Murakami's papers, with an archive of over 10,000 items now available for professional researchers.

From left, Haruki Murakami, Uniqlo owner Yanai Tadashi, and architect Kengo Kuma pose during a press conference on Sept. 22 in Tokyo. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Fast Retailing's Yanai told reporters that he would like to see the library become a place not only to reflect on Japanese culture, but to export Japanese it to the world. "What I am most concerned about now is that the capacity to transmit literature or even Japanese culture itself to the world has weakened," said Yanai, who is not only a Waseda alumnus but a contemporary of Murakami.

"I've expanded [the Uniqlo] business abroad, and I feel that the influence of Japanese culture is rather small. But Haruki Murakami's book is extremely popular all over the world," said Yanai. "I hope the library becomes a place where people including Asia and the West create culture together."

The library's music room has been furnished with the same equipment as jazz aficionado Murakami's own music room. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Born in 1949, Murakami is one of Japan's best-known novelists, with his books topping bestseller lists around the world. A former drama student, the library is located next to the theater museum where Murakami spent almost every day as a student.

Shortly before graduating, Murakami and his wife opened a jazz cafe, and he only started writing novels at the end of his twenties. After enjoying early success with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World in 1985, as well as Norwegian Wood two years later, his fantasy novels and short stories have kept him in the international spotlight.

The library's cafe will be run by current Waseda University students. "I want to make it a place where students can freely share their ideas, rather than having students receive their professor's teaching one-sidedly," said Murakami. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Kuma, who calls Murakami the writer he reads the most and who has had the most impact on him as an architect, described his literature as having a "tunnel structure which brings us from our everyday world to a different one." Kuma said he wanted to build a tunnel within the library -- the stairwell encompassed by a wooden arch -- to take visitors to the world of Murakami.

"It is an unprecedented library combining even a radio studio," said Kuma. "I wish the facility allows an exchange which is different from the conventional academic literature."

The library was designed by Kengo Kuma, the architect best known as one of the designers of the Japan National Stadium that featured in 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

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