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Literature / South of the Border, West of the Sun

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"Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star… Maybe the star doesn’t even exist any more. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything."

South of the Border, West of the Sun (国境の南、太陽の西 Kokkyō no Minami, Taiyō no Nishi) is a 1992 novel by Haruki Murakami. It follows the life of Hajime, specifically the events of his childhood and middle age. It examines his complicated relationship with Shimamoto, an old childhood friend who mysteriously reappears decades later. Their encounter results in a chain of events that cause Hajime to question whether he should give up his current lifestyle and attempt to reclaim the magic of his past.

Not to be confused with East of the Sun and West of the Moon.


The novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Ambiguous Situation: Hajime's entire reconnection with Shimamoto; at the end he even doubts if any of it was real.
  • Amicably Divorced: Subverted. Hajime chooses to remain with Yukiko, and it's clear she was emotionally devastated before taking him back.
  • Age-Appropriate Angst: Hajime is clearly going through a midlife crisis. He's become successful, but wonders if his lifestyle is worthwhile.
  • Author Appeal: Murakami's love for surrealism and jazz are still prevalent. Like Hajime, he also ran a jazz bar, the Peter Cat in Tokyo.
  • Betty and Veronica: Hajime is torn between Yukiko, his loving wife with whom he has two daughters, and Shimamoto, his mysterious, beautiful childhood friend.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hajime chooses to stay married and keep his family, and ends the novel looking at a promising sunrise. However, he'll never see Shimamoto again.
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  • Boy Meets Ghoul: Depending on how you interpret Shimamoto's existence.
  • Break the Cutie: Izumi did nothing to deserve the emotional turmoil Hajime put her through. She never gets better.
  • Broken Bird: Izumi was hurt deeply by Hajime, and lives out her life as an embittered, unhappy woman. Yukiko is also hurt badly, but she and Hajime resolve to work to improve their marriage.
  • Call-Back: Hajime encounters Izumi near the end, reminding him of his past mistakes.
  • Color Motif: Blue is strongly associated with Shimamoto; she's frequently wearing blue and she's haunted by a great sadness. Blue also symbolizes new beginnings; at the end of the novel Hajime observes a blue-tinged sunrise.
  • Commitment Issues: Hajime has some serious underlying hang-ups that Shimamoto brings to the surface.
  • Consummate Professional: Unlike some of Murakami's protagonists, Hajime already has a successful career and knows tons about running a jazz bar.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Hajime's father-in-law is implied to be one, mostly due to blatantly questionable investments and funding practices.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Yukiko. Hajime is so caught up in himself that he doesn't realize how badly he's wrecking his marriage. She's aware of his affair almost the entire time, and gives him a subdued but very pointed call out.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Hajime has to make some very hard choices and deal with his mistakes. His wife forgives him, though.
  • Empathic Environment: It's always raining when Shimamoto shows up.
  • First Girl Wins: Hajime has girlfriends after his childhood interactions with Shimamoto, but he never forgets about her and compares them to her. It comes to a head when they meet again as adults, but is ultimately subverted as he chooses to stay with his wife.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Both. Hajime becomes obsessed with Shimamoto and cheats on Yukiko. However, he also faces his responsibilities and becomes a better person for it.
  • Good-Guy Bar: The Robin's Nest, Hajime's recently famous jazz bar.
  • Happily Married: Hajime has two daughters with Yukiko and runs successful businesses, though the happy part is thrown into question. It sticks.
  • Idiot Ball: Hajime doesn't handle the temptation of cheating well, often to his own - and everyone else's - detriment. Had he been more communicative, honest, and decisive, the plot of would have been resolved much sooner.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: One of Hajime's biggest hang-ups is that he doesn't think he's earned his success of his own accord, and that his life feels empty as a result.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Shimamoto's bad leg. She had surgery done on it during the timeskip, but Hajime notes there's still something unnatural about it.
  • Love Hurts: Yukiko knew Hajime was cheating on her almost the entire time.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Hajime is a really competent guy, but he makes some really poor decisions as a result of his obsession/love for Shimamoto.
  • Love Nostalgia Song: "Star-Crossed Lovers" is played whenever Shimamoto shows up at the bar. Hajime requests that it's never performed again after she vanishes. Not just because of her, but because the song "doesn't do what it used to" for him anymore.
  • Love Triangle: Between Hajime, Yukiko, and Shimamoto. Hajime and Yukiko stay together.
  • Love Will Lead You Back: In the end, despite Yukiko knowing Hajime was seeing Shimamoto, they stay together and resolve to start over.
  • Loving a Shadow: Hajime never quite forgets about Shimamoto, a girl he loved in childhood, and subconsciously compares all of his succeeding relationships with girlfriends to the connection the two of them shared. Considering Shimamoto's questionable existence, might even be true in the story proper.
  • Magic Realism: Everything involving Shimamoto after she shows up again, considering how mysterious and otherworldly she is.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: To Hajime, meeting Shimamoto again represents the fulfillment and connection he's currently lacking in his life, and he longs to pursue her because of it despite her refusal to share anything about herself to him (and the reader). Deconstructed, as this desire nearly destroys his life, and he resolves to move past it in the end.
  • Meaningful Echo: Any time the phrases "For a while" or "Probably" are said.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Hajime is Japanese for "beginning.'' He was named so because he was born in the first week of January, 1951. He ends the novel wanting to start over and make a new beginning with his family, all while a new day is dawning outside.
    • South of the Border, West of the Sun has two: South of the Border is the title of a song as sung by Nat King Cole, and Shimamoto used to think it referred to something great south of a border. The song itself is about about a man who meets a beautiful woman in Mexico, but ultimately leaves her behind. Hajime basically ends up doing the same. West of the Sun refers to Arctic Hysteria. Shimamoto uses Siberian farmers as an example; after day after day of work, "something inside them dies", they throw down their tools, and begin walking West. They keep trying to get to a place West of the Sun until they collapse and die. It's a parallel to Hajime's struggle to deal with his life and the temptation of throwing it all away. He doesn't.
  • Mind Screw: What happened to Shimamoto after she moved away? Is she really dead? Just a memory? What was the deal with the mysterious man and the envelope of cash? Why does she vanish for weeks on end? How did she disappear despite not taking the car back?
  • The Mistress: Shimamoto in the latter half of the book, but it doesn't last.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The bartender really knows how to make great drinks.
  • Mysterious Past: Shimamoto deliberately doesn't mention hers; all we know is that she's moneyed and had a baby who died.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hajime, once he returns home and admits his infidelity to Yukiko.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Hajime makes more than enough money to take it easy, but he's a hands-on kind of business owner. His father-in-law is no slouch, either.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Izumi is forever embittered by Hajime cheating on her in high school.
  • Odd Friendship: Hajime and Shimamoto, initially.
  • Older and Wiser: More so than most Murakami protagonists. He still makes some pretty idiotic mistakes, though.
  • Old Flame: Hajime lets himself become infatuated with Shimamoto, but her interest in him is ambiguous at best.
  • Old Flame Fizzle: Hajime comes very close to running away with Shimamoto, but returns to his family.
  • Only Sane Man: Hajime is one for the most part, until he lets his obsession with Shimamoto get the better of him. Yukiko is much better grounded than he gives her credit for.
  • The Power of Love: Yukiko forgives him in the end.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Hajime's father-in-law, until he realizes his dad's - and thus his own - prosperity was obtained through illegal means.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Subverted with both Hajime and his father-in-law. Dubious investments aside, they're both highly competent in their respective businesses.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • The rain is linked with Shimamoto; besides being romantic and melancholy the symbolism is used in conjunction with Hajime viewing his life as a desert. She's also associated with the envelope of cash which disappears at the end.
    • The rising of the sun at the end when Hajime returns to his family and decides to make a new beginning.
    • Izumi's random reappearance near the very end. Hajime gets one last reminder of his past mistakes.
  • Take a Third Option: Hajime can either stay in his current, unsatisfying life with his family, or throw it all away in an attempt to rekindle the magic of his youth. He stays with his family, but is determined to live by his own ambitions and desires, not of those planned for him.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: A result of Hajime's Character Development, as he declines the opportunity to make a lot of money through dishonest stock manipulation.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Hajime's father-in-law has shades of this, especially after his income sources and investment practices are implied to be illegal.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Shimamoto gets surgery done on her bad leg sometime in the timeskip.
  • Unrequited Tragic Maiden: Izumi does not take Hajime's cheating well.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Hajime gets a long-deserved one near the end.
  • Women Are Wiser: Yukiko. Even if she doesn't question her father's methods, she's much more observant than anyone gives her credit for. She figures out Hajime is seeing someone else rather quickly, and only reveals it after he admits his infidelity.