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Kafka on the shore

Kafka on the shore

Kafka on the Shore (2002) is a novel written by best-selling Japanese author Haruki Murakami. It follows the interwoven story of two eccentric characters: a teenage boy who runs away from home to escape his father, and an elderly man who has the ability to talk with cats. It has been placed on many best-seller lists. The New York Times listed the 2005 English translation in their ten best books of the year list, and it also won the World Fantasy Award in 2006.

Kafka on the Shore: Author Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan on January 12, 1949, although he mostly grew up in Kobe, a port city. His father was drafted into the Second Sino-Japanese War and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Growing up, Murakami heard disturbing stories from his father. This would lead to Murakami's outspoken criticism of Japan for past war crimes. Kafka on the Shore alludes to war atrocities with a plot incident in the woods.

Haruki Murakami grew up heavily influenced by western culture. The allied victory terms in World War II led to the American military occupation of Japan. Also, growing up in an important port city—the third largest in Japan—was like living in a nexus for cultural permeation. Consequently, western culture seeped into Japanese culture from the stationed American military personnel. Murakami listened to a lot of western music and read many western authors. Much of his written works, including Kafka on the Shore, heavily reference western culture.1

When Haruki Murakami was eighteen, he moved to Tokyo to attend Waseda University. Haruki Murakami set his sights on studying literature, passing the Literature department entrance exams at Waseda.

Haruki Murakami began writing when he was twenty-nine. While watching a baseball game, he recalled being suddenly struck by an urge to write. After working during the day at Peter Cat, a jazz café he owned with his wife, he would go home to write at night. After ten months, Haruki Murakami had written and finished the manuscript of his first novel. He was first published at age thirty. His initial success inspired him to continue writing.

Kafka on the Shore, author portrait of Haruki Murakami, StudySmarter

Fig. 1 - In 2002, Haruki Murakami finished writing and published Kafka on the Shore in Japan.

Kafka on the Shore: Characters

CharacterExplanation
Kafka TamuraAn exceptionally fit fifteen-year-old boy who runs away from home to escape his cruel father and an Oedipal curse. He is one of two main characters.
Koichi TamuraKafka's cruel and violent father who is a famous sculptor.
Satoru NakataAn elderly man who is disabled and illiterate. He searches for lost cats to earn a living. He is the other main character.
SakuraA hairdresser that Kafka meets on the bus to Shinjuku. He believes she might be his sister.
Miss SaekiAn elegant and reserved librarian whom Kafka believes might be his mother.
CrowKafka's alter ego whom he summons in times of difficulty.
OshimaA transgender gay man and librarian who helps Kafka.
HoshinoA twenty-something truck driver who helps Nakata.
Johnnie WalkerA cat-murdering spirit that takes on the appearance of Johnnie Walker, a whiskey brand mascot.

Kafka on the Shore, Franz Kafka portrait, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Franz Kafka wrote surreal stories, like one where a character wakes up to realize he became a giant bug. Kafka also means "crow, which is why the main character is named Kafka.

Kafka's Oedipal curse is in reference to a Greek myth about Oedipus who becomes cursed to unknowingly both kill his father and marry his mother.

Kafka on the Shore: Summary

Kafka Tamura has been training to prepare to leave his home. His father, a famous sculptor, is violent and abusive. He claims that Kafka is cursed to kill him and sleep with his long-lost mother and sister. They ran away from home when he was four, and Kafka hopes to find them. All he has is a photo of them from over ten years ago. While he has prepared for this escape for years, he is nervous about leaving, and he ultimately decides to go after consulting with his alter-ego, Crow.

On a bus to Shinjuku, Kafka meets Sakura. He gets her phone number after they arrive. He's attracted to her but is worried she may be his long-lost sister. Kafka goes to a small library in Takamatsu, where he meets Miss Saeki and Oshima. Oshima is welcoming and takes Kafka under his wing. Kafka believes that Miss Saeke might be his mom. He takes shelter in the library and goes to the gym in the mornings.

We learn that Nakata was in a coma for a few weeks due to a childhood incident. He lost his ability to read, write, and think abstractly. He also lost nearly all his memory of the event and seemed unable to form new long-term memories. However, he gained the ability to talk with cats. He searches for lost cats to help supplement his living from social security checks. He feels compelled by an intangible force and embarks on a mission to help reverse the course of the fate of the world. Hoshino, a truck driver, encounters Nakata. He reminds him of his grandfather and offers to help drive Nakata with his time off.

Kafka wakes up one day with blood on his shirt and no memory of why. He learns in the newspapers about a famous sculptor's murder. Despite being far away from the incident, he feels responsible. Oshima lets him stay in his family's cabin in the woods. Kafka experiences a series of surreal and magical events while living in the woods. The woods are a labyrinth and constantly changing. Sakura has a dream about Kafka wandering in the woods.

Nakata intuitively moves closer to intersecting with Kafka. He learns he can complete a series of tasks to free Kafka from his Oedipal curse. Hoshino continues to support and travel with Nakata. They arrive at the library and meet with Miss Saeki. She and Nakata die after nearly completing the Oedipedal curse tasks. Hoshino helps finish the final steps. Kafka is freed from his curse, yet he does not find his mother or sister. He returns home to sort out his inheritance.

Kafka on the Shore: Moral Lesson and Main Idea

The main moral lesson, point, and message of Kafka on the Shore is that we are responsible for how we handle what life throws at us. Given any scenario, humans have an unlimited amount of options. Often we feel we have much less, but only our willingness to use our imagination gets in the way. While we cannot handle the circumstances we may find ourselves in, we always have a choice on how to move forward. Kafka realizes that he had control over his fate.

Kafka on the Shore: Themes

Kafka on the Shore deals with many subjects, though three prominent themes include: self-sufficiency and autonomy, music as communication, and destiny and prophecy.

Self-Sufficiency and Autonomy

Despite their shortcomings and flaws, the two protagonists manage to make a living. Kafka is not yet a full-grown man, yet he has many mature adult qualities like self-discipline. He's physically very fit and able to fend for himself. Despite being disabled and illiterate, Nakata makes a living finding lost cats for other people, often his expertise being sought after.

Author Murakami himself maintains a private life despite his fame. He often writes stories about self-sufficient protagonists who are loners and wanderers. In Kafka on the Shore, the characters' success depends on their ability to devise alternative solutions to problems where the ideal solution seems impossible. For example, Kafka runs away from home to escape a curse. With Oshima's help, he can build a new life for himself. As he solves more cases with lost cats, Nakata gains more confidence in his abilities.

Music as Communication

Music plays a communicative role throughout Kafka on the Shore. Often characters share music with someone they trust. When music plays, characters are entranced and brought into reveries. Kafka on the Shore, the title, comes from a song that Miss Saeki wrote and played for her high school lover. When Kafka hears the song, he believes he can embody her young lover, and the two embark on a romance.

Destiny and Prophecy

In Kafka on the Shore, Kafka is trying to escape an Oedipal curse: his father says he'll kill him and sleep with his mother and sister. Kafka meets Sakura and Miss Saeki, believing them to be his sister and mother. Yet, he still has the power to make choices that will affect the fulfillment of the curse. Nakata is tasked with breaking the curse, or rather, providing the means to give Kafka the power to break the curse.


Kafka on the Shore, Sigmund Freud portrait, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The Oedipus Complex, coined by Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, theorized that every child goes through a phase of hating their father and desiring their mother.

Kafka on the Shore: Quotes

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

(Crow/Kafka, Prologue)

Crow and Kafka share this conversation at the beginning of the story, from a place that occurs after the story. It foreshadows the story to come. It also touches upon the power of transformation and growth through hardship and struggle. Difficult times help us build integrity and character.

It’s like my identity’s an orbit that I’ve strayed far away from.”

(Kafka, Chapter 21)

Kafka is struggling to understand and process all the events that are happening around him. He feels a lack of control. This lack of control affects his sense of identity. He remarks that the more he fights back, the farther he feels from his sense of self. Oshima counsels and reassures him that good people are "drawn into tragedy" not because of weakness or flaws, but because of their virtues. He insists that Kafka focuses on the positive details.

It’s all a question of imagination. Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine.”

(Oshima, Chapter 15)

The librarian Oshima leaves this note to Kafka. He takes Kafka under his wing and tries his best to support him. Kafka feels responsible for great violence but has no memory of any related event. He suspects he did something wrong though he has no idea what or how. So far though, Kafka has proven himself to be a resilient person. A recurring theme in nearly all of author Haruki Murakami's books is the power of self-sufficiency and autonomy.

Kafka on the Shore - Key takeaways

  • Kafka on the Shore is an award-winning novel by best-selling author Haruki Murakami.
  • The story follows two protagonists, teenage Kafka, who runs away from home to escape a curse, and Nakata, an elderly disabled man who can talk to cats.
  • Growing up, Murakami was heavily influenced by western culture and makes frequent references throughout Kafka on the Shore.
  • The main idea is that everyone has the power to make choices and change their fate.
  • The three main themes are self-sufficiency and autonomy, music as communication, and destiny and prophecy.

1. Jay Rubin. Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words. 2002.

References

  1. Fig. 1 - Photo signed by Haruki Murakami (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Photo_signed_by_Haruki_Murakami.jpg) by Society for Culture, Art and International Cooperation Adligat is licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 3 - Sigmund Freud colorized portrait (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sigmund_Freud_colorized.jpg) by Own work is licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Kafka on the shore

Kafka on the Shore is about two separate characters whose lives are intertwined. Kafka Tamura runs away from home to escape a curse and Nakata can speak to cats, intuitively divining their location.

One should read Kafka on the Shore because it's a heart-warming story about two very different people whose lives are intertwined.

The point of Kafka on the Shore is that we have power over our lives to change them, no matter what we believe our fate is.

The ending of Kafka on the Shore means that Kafka was able to escape his fate. Yet, he is still concerned with the same thoughts as when the story started, which is trying to find his mother and sister.

The message of Kafka on the Shore is that we have power over our lives to change them, no matter what we believe our fate is.

Final Kafka on the shore Quiz

Question

What is the main message of Kafka on the Shore?

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Answer

The message of Kafka on the Shore is that we have power over our lives to change them, no matter what we believe our fate is.

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Question

How does Kafka on the Shore end?

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Answer

Nakata, with Hoshino's help, breaks Kafka's curse. Kafka returns home to sort out his inheritance.

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Question

What is Kafka on the Shore about?

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Answer

Kafka on the Shore is about two separate characters whose lives are intertwined. Kafka Tamura runs away from home to escape a curse and Nakata can speak to cats, intuitively divining their location.

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Question

Author Haruki Murakami had the English translation of Kafka on the Shore first published in

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Answer

2004

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Question

What culture heavily influences Kafka on the Shore?

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Answer

Western culture

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Question

Who is Kafka Tamura?

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Answer

An exceptionally fit fifteen year old boy who runs away from home to escape his cruel father and an Oedipedal curse. He is one of two main characters.


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Question

Who is Nakata?

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Answer

A disabled and illiterate elderly man who searches for lost cats to earn a living. He is the other main character.

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Question

Who is Oshima?

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Answer

A transgender gay man who helps Kafka.

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Question

What is Kafka's curse?

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Answer

He is cursed by his father, to eventually kill him and sleep with his mother and sister.

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Question

What are three themes from Kafka on the Shore?

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Answer

Self sufficiency and Autonomy

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Question

When does Kafka consult Crow?

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Answer

When he is struggling with something difficult

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Question

Who is Sakura?

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Answer

A hairdresser that Kafka meets on the bus to Shinjuku. He believes she might be his sister.

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Question

Who is Miss Saeki?

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Answer

An elegant and reserved librarian whom Kafka believes might be his mother.

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Question

Who is Hoshino?

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Answer

A twenty-something truck driver that helps Nakata.

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Question

Who is Johhnie Walker?


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Answer

A cat murdering spirit that takes on the appearance of Johnnie Walker, a whiskey brand mascot.

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