Literature / The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Japanese: ねじまき鳥クロニクル, Nejimaki-dori Kuronikuru) is a novel by Haruki Murakami. One of his most critically acclaimed and popular works, it opens with the life of Toru Okada, currently unemployed, and his marriage to his wife, Kumiko. One day their cat goes missing, sparking a series of increasingly bizarre events that leads to the unraveling of their marriage. It was first published in three parts during 1994-1995.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Let's face it. Kumiko's parents were absolute shit to all of their children.
  • The Ace: Cinnamon is good at pretty much everything, ranging from housekeeping to advanced computer programming, and is a borderline Omniglot to boot. He can't talk, but even that's not much of a handicap because people can somehow understand everything he says anyway.
  • Affably Evil: Noboru Wataya is more of a Villain with Good Publicity, but you have to admit, he has an excellent TV personality. Also Boris the Manskinner in Lieutenant Mamiya's story.
  • Arc Symbol: A few, including wells, water, and the wind-up bird itself.
  • Arch-Enemy: Toru and Noboru dislike each other from the outset, but over the course of the novel they come to absolutely despise each other.
  • Author Appeal: Apparently, the author has quite a thing for wells and classical music. It's also pretty clear that he really loves cats.
  • Author Tract: A good portion of the work concerns the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (Manchukuo) during the 1930's and World War II. Murakami makes no bones about calling the whole affair out as having been a Very Bad Idea.
  • Batter Up: Toru's weapon of choice is a baseball bat and despite his mild-mannered exterior he shows himself to be capable of great violence.
  • Big Bad: Noboru Wataya... maybe.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: between Abusive Parents and Noboru's one-sided crush on the eldest sister, it's no surprise Kumiko was traumatized for a long time.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Toru finds peace with himself to some degree, but Kumiko murders Noboru and ends up in jail, separating the two from each other permanently. On the other hand, because the death was ruled a Mercy Kill, she gets a reduced sentence, thus leaving the possibility that they may be reunited in the future.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: A rare non-comedic example. When Kumiko was younger she walked in on Noboru Wataya masturbating to their dead sister's underwear.
  • Cool Big Sis: Kumiko's sister was the only thing that made living in their household bearable to Kumiko. When she died...
    • Malta Kano. Kind of.
  • Cool Old Guy: Lieutenant Mamiya, who is unfailingly polite and respectful to everyone, but carries a lot of trauma from the things he saw at war. Mr. Honda, his old war buddy, also qualifies.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: May Kasahara. A bit more levelheaded than most examples, but definitely out there.
    • It's a bizarre thing when the Cloud Cuckoo Lander is by far, one of the most normal and sensible people in the story. The other characters aren't nearly as far out in terms of their thought process, but this is countered by their actions and jobs being outwardly strange (a mind prostitute and her incredibly vague older sister with psychic abilities, a fashion designer who goes out of her way to buy the people around her perfect wardrobes, a dimwitted lackey who cannot stop talking about how stupid and horrible he is to the point where he forgets his reasons for entering the main character's house without permission, and Noboru).
    • All that said, May Kasahara is the only one who thought it would be fun to cover her boyfriends eyes while he was driving his motorcycle. Actually, she didn't even do it for fun; she just felt like doing it.
  • Chekhov's Baseball Bat: The baseball bat Toru takes from the guitar guy is later used by him to kill Norboru Wataya in the hotel.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: See Flaying Alive, below.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Pretty much everyone except Toru. He has a dark and troubled present instead.
  • Determinator: Toru Okada becomes a surprising example of one of these as the book goes on, not giving up his search despite the increasingly bizarre, disturbing, and frightening things going on around him.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Toru and Kumiko finally get their revenge on Noboru Wataya.
  • Door Stopper: The English translation's a good 600 pages, and the original Japanese version is even longer.
  • Dream Sequence: Quite a few, and they're all really weird.
  • The '80s: It takes place in the mid 1980's, but it doesn't affect the story much.
  • Eldritch Location: The hotel, which displays Alien Geometries and can seemingly be accessed only by something resembling Astral Projection.
  • Empty Shell: Mamiya says he became this after being thrown down a well in Mongolia and spending several days starving and alone.
  • Epiphanic Prison: Toru's well.
  • Erotic Dream: Introducing Creta Kano: prostitute of the mind!
  • The Everyman: Toru, which is commented on by both May Kasahara and Noboru Wataya.
  • Fiction 500: Nutmeg and Cinnamon.
  • Flaying Alive: Lieutenant Mamiya witnessed this happen during his service in Manchuria during World War 2; his recollection of the event to Toru is horrifying.
  • Foreshadowing: The woman who calls Toru for phone sex knows a LOT about him.
  • Full-Name Basis: May Kasahara, Malta Kano, Creta Kano, Noboru Wataya.
  • Gonk: Ushikawa. Toru describes him as the ugliest person he's ever seen in his life.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: After Kumiko finds out she's pregnant, she gets an abortion despite her husband supporting the idea of raising a child. She mostly seems to be a "good girl" up to this point, but the story of the abortion is the first indication that she has a Dark Secret.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Sadly subverted, both with Kumiko and Creta Kano. Kumiko is unable to enjoy sex with Toru due to deep-seeded emotional issues from her troubled childhood, while Creta Kano was literally physically incapable of feeling any physical sensations, including sexual pleasure, due to some sort of unexplained "curse".
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Toru gets an inky blue mark on his face during one of his trips to the hotel.
  • The Gulag: Mamiya spent a long time in one after being captured in the closing days of World War II. It's exactly as horrible in this novel as they were in real life.
  • Harassing Phone Call: The novel begins with the narrator keeps getting phone calls from some an unidentified woman trying to initiate phone sex, which starts the chain of strange events that follow him after.
  • Haunted House: The infamous hanging house, though it falls more under Indian Burial Ground.
  • Healing Hands: Nutmeg and later Toru have the ability to take away people's emotional pain and stress with their touch.
  • House Husband: Toru, while Kumiko is the breadwinner. They're both quite happy with this.
  • How Unscientific!: The book generally fits into Magical Realism quite well, but the hotel scenes push things into Fantasy territory more than once.
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: Somehow, Creta Kano looks almost exactly like Kumiko.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Toru (who's in his mid thirties) and May (who's in her mid-teens).
    • Toru and Lt. Mamiya also have a fondness for each other.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The narrator states when his wife disappears that "I felt as if I had become part of a badly written novel, that someone was taking me to task for being utterly unreal. And perhaps it was true."
  • Magic Realism: Pretty much par for the course for Murakami works, but this one goes rather darker than most of his other works.
  • Mind Screw: Pretty much the entire book past Chapter 3 or so...
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: "Boris The Manskinner".
  • Odd Friendship: Toru and May.
  • Oh, Crap!: The phone rings and Toru, expecting it to be the phone sex lady, says something like "Is this the person who phones me regularly? I don't like to talk about sex before breakfast." It's not the phone sex lady.
  • On the Money: Toru needs money to buy the plot of land with the well. He meets Nutmeg by sitting on a bench observing people walking by.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The book is practically built on symbolic dreams.
  • The Password is Always "Swordfish": The passwords for Cinnamon's computer are "Zoo" and "Sub", relating to the stories his mother told him.
    • Later on, invoked by Ushikawa.
  • Perky Goth: May Kasahara is the Japanese equivalent.
  • Put on a Bus: Kumiko leaves Toru fairly early on in the book and is never seen in person thereafter. They do talk to each other over the computer at one point and it's heavily implied that she's the woman in the hotel, though.
    • May Kasahara leaves for a boarding school about halfway through and is gone until the epilogue. Subverted in that she continues sending letters to Toru updating him on her situation. And then double subverted when it turns out he never receives any of them.
  • Psychic Powers: Mr. Honda and Malta Kano both have precognitive abilities, while Creta Kano is capable of some form of Astral Projection.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Noboru Wataya to Toru. Toru responds in kind, warning Noboru Wataya not to be so quick to dismiss him.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: Toru. In an unconventional use of the trope, Played for Drama in Noboru Wataya's massive "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Toru is mediocre, a nobody, insignficant, and does not deserve Kumiko and was never going to amount to anything—Wataya drives the knife in further by implying that that's why Kumiko left him.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Plot!
  • Shadow Archetype: Toru Okada, the protagonist, and Noburu Wataya are described by Creta Kano as complete opposites, with each one serving as a representation of what the other person loathes most. No wonder they hate each other so much.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: He doesn't show it much, but Mamiya is seriously haunted by the things he saw in World War II.
  • Shown Their Work: The sections concerning World War II and the Soviet gulag system are incredibly well researched.
  • Sickbed Slaying: How Kumiko finishes off Noboru Wataya after Toru kills his spiritual form in the hotel. She's able to disguise it as a Mercy Kill because he had a stroke and was not expected to wake up, and thus gets a reduced jail sentence for it.
  • Smug Snake: Noboru Wataya comes across as this, especially to Toru.
  • Stepford Smiler: Kumiko seems Happily Married to Toru on the surface, but she has a host of psychological issues that stem from her awful childhood that eventually cause her to leave Toru.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Kumiko cheats on Toru with a number of men after running away, apparently even contracting a venereal disease in the process, but her actions were the result of a psychological breakdown brought on by a crippling inferiority complex that she's had since childhood. Toru also counts when he sleeps with Creta Kano, as it was at her insistence and he did it because he felt sympathy for Creta after hearing about what a horrible life she's had.
  • Talkative Loon: Quite a few of the characters.
  • Tomato Surprise: The identity of the woman in the hotel room, the same one who was calling Toru for phone sex. It's Kumiko.
    • This is actually left very ambiguous. Toru assumes that it is Kumiko, though her voice only changes to that of Kumiko's when he addresses this. Even still afterwards, she changes to two other voices and tries to make him doubt whether or not he had it right - though he is pretty sure. It doesn't help that she is never actually seen, even going as far to make Toru promise not to shine the light from his pen upon her face.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Both Mamiya and Creta Kano have more or less endured lifelong ones.
    • Lieutenant Mamiya was stationed in Japanese occupied Manchuria in World War II. While on a secret assignment escorting Yamamoto, a member of Japan's intelligence service, into enemy Soviet/Mongolian territory, they were captured by enemy soldiers, stripped naked, and interrogated. When Yamamoto refused to yield valuable information to Boris the Manskinner, the Soviet agent commanding the Mongolians, he was skinned alive while Mamiya watched. After this, Mamiya willingly threw himself into a well to avoid being shot, and spent several days down there freezing, starving, and in pain from his broken bones. He only survived because Mr. Honda has escaped the Mongolians and returned to rescue him. After the war, he was captured and spent over a decade in a gulag in Siberia, where he saw many more horrific things that continue to haunt him. In the present day he says he's an Empty Shell just waiting around to die, and that he feels he really died back in the well in Mongolia.
    • Creta Kano was afflicted with chronic, inexplicable pain all over her entire body from the time she was a child. When she was 18, she had given up on it ever going away and tried to commit suicide by crashing her father's car into a concrete wall. She failed and escaped with only minor injuries and the pain miraculously went away, only to be replaced by absolute numbness to almost all physical sensation. To pay off the debts she had incurred for destroying the car, she turned to prostitution, and was eventually kidnapped, raped, and pressed into service by the Yakuza. While working as a prostitute, she was raped by Noboru Wataya.
  • Troubled, but Cute: May Kasahara, who covered her boyfriend's eyes while he was driving his motorcycle.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Noburu Wataya is an incredibly famous author and TV personality, and by the end of the book he's being considered for a position on Japan's Diet.
  • Villainous Incest: Noboru Wataya lusted after his older sister and is implied to do the same for Kumiko.
  • The Voiceless: Cinnamon lost his ability to speak after a traumatic dream in his childhood. He can still communicate effectively via an idiosyncratic form of sign language.
  • Thrown Down a Well: Toru spends a rather large amount of time in the well in the 'hanging house'.
    • Also Lieutenant Mamiya which is where Toru gets the idea. It was that or be executed on the spot by the Mongolians.
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": The narrator named his cat Noburu Wataya after his hated brother-in-law. The cat gets a better name later on, after Toru decides that it was unfair to the animal.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Kumiko's parents were never satisfied with her, and constantly compared her to her sister, even forcing her to play the piano like her sister used to before she died. This is the direct cause for her crippling inferiority complex, which is later manipulated by Noboru.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: May Kasahara thinks some pretty deep thoughts for a 15 year old.
  • Worst News Judgement Ever: The local newspaper seems to put a ridiculous amount of effort into investigating who bought a "haunted" plot of land. The reader knows that the brother-in-law of a prominent politician bought the house with money from a bizarre, high-class quasi-prostitution ring for mystical purposes, but the newspaper doesn't.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: A recurring theme, symbolized by the wind-up bird. For example, in the middle of World War II, it was foretold to Mamiya by Mr. Honda that he would die back in Japan as an old man. After this, despite becoming a Death Seeker and deliberately throwing himself into suicide missions where he absolutely should have died, he survived the entire war and returned home.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Kumiko informs Toru of her affair with an older man in a Dear John letter. She later informs him that there were several other men.
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