”Finally, she gently licks your swollen penis, as if healing it.
You come again, in her mouth. She swallows it down, as if every drop is precious.”
Kafka on the Shore
The popularity of the Japanese author Haruki Murakami grows year by year. He is a constant candidate in Nobel Prize discussions, and he is praised by women and men, old and young. His books sell in millions, and they have been translated to about fifty languages. He is mentioned as one of the world’s most important authors, and the deeper meaning of his writing is being discussed and analysed in every literary corner. Everybody likes Murakami.
I also like Murakami, and I have read a bunch of his books. I like his language, his imagination, his descriptions, his attention to detail… But I cannot read his books anymore. For every book I have read, I have become more and more confounded and uncomfortable with the descriptions of sex. Not because of the fact that there is sex, I have a problem with how sex is presented in the world of Murakami. After finishing the 1Q84 trilogy, it became clear to me that there is a pattern which practically every single sexual description in Murakami’s books conforms to:
A male character passively receives sex from a woman. It is usually told from the man’s perspective. Often, a third person is the one to offer/buy/force the sex on the man, frequently another man in a position of power. The male character usually enjoys it, while the woman is performing the intercourse for other reasons than her own pleasure. Her pleasure is not presented as being of any importance for the intercourse, and is sparsely described, if at all. When the intercourse is over, that is to say when the man has ejaculated, the woman often disappears completely from the story, or ends up in a less important role.
Now, I do not have a photographic memory, and I could have overlooked or forgotten something. But I cannot remember or find a single sex scene by Murakami that is completely consensual, and where the woman actually has sex simply because she wants to have sex. There is also a consistent focus on detailed descriptions of female bodies, extremely hard penises and abundant ejaculations. Which the women often carefully gather up with either vagina or mouth.
This is sex in the world of Murakami. The male characters are passive receivers of sexual acts. While the women performing the acts seldom have sex without any underlying reason, reasons that have nothing to do with sex or pleasure. And considering that it is often said that all of Murakami’s male characters are different versions of himself, I wonder what his view of sex really is? And what purpose he has with time after time describing sex in this way?
While Murakami’s popularity is just growing and growing, it is surprising to me that so few people even seem to reflect over his way of describing sex. Young women from different backgrounds praise him to no end without a word about the sex, as do highly educated, highly literary cultural feminists. One interesting example is my own mother. She is very politically aware, a strongly feministic woman, and she usually does not like sex in art at all. But she warmly recommended me to read Kafka on the Shore, because she thought it was fantastic. That was the first Murakami book I read. When we talked about it later, I said that I liked it, but found all the extremely detailed sex a bit elaborate and intrusive. And my mother asked, surprised:
- What sex?
She had erased all the sex from her memory, and only absorbed the things she liked about the book. She can still not remember anything particularly sexual about the book, even though we have discussed it, and laughed about it. While continuing to read Murakami’s books, not thinking too much about it. But neither of us can laugh about it anymore, nor can we read his books anymore. For what mechanism made my mother’s consciousness skip over all the extremely hard penises being licked clean of sperm? Is this what has happened the world over, has our collective consciousness created blank spaces, leaving only Murakami’s mystical worlds and philosophical depth? Is there a selective sex amnesia spreading with his books, a Murakami Syndrome making everyone forget those parts?
Here follows just a few examples of the many sexual encounters that occurs in Haruki’s books. Warning: Spoilers and genitals.
In Kafka on the Beach:
The fifty-year old Miss Saeki comes to fifteen-year old Kafka’s room in the night. Kafka is in love with Miss Saeki’s fifteen-year old ghost, while at the same time believing that she is his biological mother. Miss Saeki is sleepwalking. She undresses herself and him, rides him until he ejaculates, and then gets dressed and leaves.
In the parallel story, the truck driver Hoshino is looking for a special stone. He is offered a prostitute by the character Colonel Sanders, who nags about it until Hoshino agrees to sleep with the prostitute. Only after that can Sanders tell him where the stone is. Why Hoshino first has to sleep with the “little sex machine” is not made clear. The prostitute gives Hoshino a bath and a blow job, then she strokes him hard again and makes him come a total of three times.
In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles:
The main character, Toru Okada, shares a dream with Kreta Kano. She gives him a blow job while he sits, completely paralysed. Then, she undresses him, lays him on his back and rides him until he ejaculates. He wakes, realizing he has ejaculated for real. Afterwards, both of them remember the dream as something that has happened on a different plane. Later in the book, Kreta Kano persuades Okada to have sex with her for real. She is a prostitute, and she wants to free herself from that and her old traumas by selling her body one last time. The payment is clothing that belongs to Okada’s wife, who has disappeared.
The female main character, Aomame, gets tasked with killing the leader of a religious sect. He has brutally raped small girls, his own daughter amongst them. When she meets the leader, he explains that from time to time, he becomes completely paralysed. At such times, he does not feel anything, but has a permanent erection. Then, the little girls of the sect ride him until he ejaculates in them. They want to become pregnant with his successor, even though they have not started menstruating yet. The leader has nothing to do with their decision, according to himself. He is simply a vessel for the mystical force that is the core of the sect.
While this is happening, the thirty-something-year old character Tengo becomes paralysed in the same way as the leader. The leader’s daughter Fuka-Eri, now seventeen and an escapee from the sect, rides him until he ejaculates. Great focus is put on describing her body. During the whole process, Fuka-Eri is completely emotionless and unaffected. Just like her father, she is only a vessel, fulfilling her purpose. The result of the two meetings is that Aomame becomes pregnant with Tengo’s child.
”It seemed inconceivable that [Tengo’s] adult penis could penetrate her small, newly made vagina. It was too big and too hard. The pain should have been enormous. Before he knew it, though, every bit of him was inside her. There had been no resistance whatever. The look on her face remained totally unchanged as she brought him inside.”
The collective sex amnesia of the Murakami Syndrome worries me. We live in a time where #metoo has shown that sexual abuse has been the actual norm for years, we just have not talked about it. And one of the most popular male authors in the world publishes book after book in which sex is described as something that men passively receives from women, who do not have sex for their own pleasure but for other motives. Often with some kind of incest motive, often with some kind of prostitution. Almost always with focus on describing the female body, and the male erection and ejaculation. There may be a positive female orgasm somewhere in Murakami’s books, but I do not know where. We read this, women and men, book after book, and no one seems to notice it at all. No one talks about it. And if we do not talk about it, we will never analyse it or question it, and thereby it is accepted as normal. The Murakami Syndrome normalises it.
Haruki Murakami is often jokingly mentioned as a candidate for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Jokingly, we shake our heads and laugh about it. Nothing more. Never a serious discussion about what kind of sex he chooses to describe, about what he wants to say with it. Imagine if an author wrote book after book with detailed descriptions of sexual assaults, where many of them did not even seem to serve any clear purpose for the story. We would (hopefully) react and start to question what the author wanted to say with that. But Murakami seeps in, quietly. His sex is rarely openly violent, rarely does a woman get aggressively fucked while clearly fighting back. Instead, Murakami creates a world where women unquestioningly rape themselves on passive, super hard penises. And we do not even notice it.