“UFO In Kushiro” Haruki Murakami


“Think about it – tomorrow there could be an earthquake; you could be kidnapped by aliens; you could be eaten by a bear.  Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

When a character utters this line in “UFO in Kushiro,” all of these things have happened – vaguely, to other people.  Its main character, Komura, has known of them only tangentially.  His wife has left him because he is too much like a “chunk of air,” and he has taken a trip to a vast, cold border town with frozen borders and chilling winds.  He’s talking with a woman who is unfamiliar to him, but is spookily prescient, and stirs something in Komura that he only recognizes in a fleeting instant – and that’s because what he recognizes is fleeting, too – himself.

“UFO in Kushiro” was one of the first short stories I read, and by that I mean “read” as something I did out of my own volition, and out of interest.  I did not know anything of Haruki Murakami at the time, nor did I know that After the Quake, for which “UFO” is the first story, was entirely different from even his other short works.  Murakami’s work is always defined by the mystical and vaguely koan-like, but the stories in After The Quake, which center on lives directly or tangentially affected by the 1995 Kobe earthquakes in Japan, are actually more direct and tangible than his typical work.

That is why “UFO” affected me so much – its mystery rises out of the corporeal at every turn.  Komura has taken a trip after his wife has left him, calling him a “chunk of air.”  He has gone to Hokkaido, the large island in Northern Japan.  His wife left him after days of watching earthquake footage on television, and a friend has asked him to deliver a small, extremely light wooden package to his sister.  Seems realistic enough so far, right?  In Hokkaido, there is a sister, and there is her friend, Keiko.  There is some interaction, but it’s the land that’s most interesting – the cold wind blows so strongly on the streets that snow cannot stay on the ground.  They go to a street where the “love hotels” all sit next to gravestone dealers.  He has brought this package of nothing – this chunk of air – only to have his friend’s sister disappear with it, leaving him suddenly far from home with his essence cold and missing.

The conversations in “UFO In Kushiro” might seem too ominous to be real to some, but think about times in life of great tragedy – it seems the comfortable, outer layer of our conversation has gone and we’re left with something else, something that exposes us a little more.  One conversation in particular shows Komura with the two women giggling of sexcapades gone tragic, and of the disappearances and mysteries that reveal life as fragile, as fleeting.  Are your conversations like this normally?  Probably not, but then again, how often is a context so overwhelmingly upsetting that our decorum, our normal interactions cannot suffice for what we truly have to say – not often. 

“UFO In Kushiro” is the story most directly connected to the earthquakes in After the Quake, much in the same way most of the stories of J.D. Salinger’s 9 Stories were about people affected by the war, but got further and further away from the war as the stories went on.  “UFO” is lithe and evanescent, a wound and an idea marked by the intangible.  Sometimes it takes great distance and trauma to expose us to who we really are, or separate us from who we are, and in the final words of the story, there is a rather coy sentence that is, also, very true.  As a story, it moved me initially because of something I couldn’t place.  I can place that now – because I am more familiar with what Murakami has in mind, because I know that sensation more, and because I am older.  Who we are at our core is light and threatens to disappear at a moment’s notice, and life is the process of making some sense of what is left.



2 Responses to ““UFO In Kushiro” Haruki Murakami”

  1. Maya Love Says:

    Great post. Murakami’s writing is so intangible that it is often difficult to make sense of, but I think your interpretation got to the essence of this story.

  2. oliviamullen1 Says:

    This is great !

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