The Murakami Syndrome or Why Does Nobody Talk About Haruki’s View Of Sex?

”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.

In 1Q84:
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.”
1Q84

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.

2 thoughts on “The Murakami Syndrome or Why Does Nobody Talk About Haruki’s View Of Sex?”

  1. I totally agree with you!
    I always won­der if I’m the only one who thinks that the way Murakami writes about sex is odd and creepy.
    After read­ing a few of his books and pick­ing up on this, I did find that it affected my enjoy­ment of the stor­ies. And it makes me less enthu­si­ast­ic about seek­ing out more of his nov­els.

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