Facing Fear Itself

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
by Haruki Murakami

So many symbolism. At one point reading the book, you will do this. Spread your palm in the cover and –realizes-.

The main reason why I bought this book stemmed from three point of reason,

  1. It was considerably cheaper than other Murakami’s book in the store at that time
  2. The title strongly reminded me of Kuroko no Basuke’s Phantom 6th Player [*]
  3. Gdmmt its Haruki Murakami’s work, what more reason do you need?

So yeah, I bought it, finished it in two days, and the story still haunts me till now. It cut near the heart, especially to people who are familiar with being alienated [**]

Growing up, you must have a group of very close friends that might give Mighty Morphin Power Rangers a run of their money. Friends you hang around together, so often you gave each other assigned name, rank or even color. Somebody is red for leader, blue for being strong and brash, green for their calmness and yellow/pink/white for the ladies. But like every epic TV series, things went south. Friendship shattered and trust gone, such thing happens everywhere and it also happened in Nagoya city to Tsukuru Tazaki and his precious friends.

[TLDR] This post will be part book review, part analysis and part life reflection.


The story opens with Tsukuru in his mid 30’s reminiscing the hardest time of his life. Sometime during his second year, his group of high school cliché decided to cut him out of their life in a terrible fashion with reason unknown to him.

At that time, Tsukuru who lived alone in Tokyo in order to pursue his education in the engineering faculty was devastated. His decision to leave hometown, family and all of his friends in Nagoya became the only reason he could come up with. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew this separation might happen, but never so sudden nor so painful.

He considered his high school friends as everything in his life due to his inability to mingle. Growing as the youngest and only male of three sibling made him a soft spoken and often over shadowed boy, colorless compared to his lively sister.

His group of five was his first taste of friendship, a pentagon [***] of summer laughter and silly smiles. Akamatsu (red), Yoshio (white), Oumi (blue) and Kurono (black) became the color in his world. They vowed to be together against all odd even after graduation and Tsukuru’s move to Tokyo, yet…

The cut off resulted him to depression where he lost considerable weight and changed his entire perspective on the world. He became even more closed off and finding difficulties in forming relationship, especially with girls he dated/slept with. He associated relationship with the fear of being rejected once more. Thus he became truly colorless.

Until he met Sara.

Sara Kimoto, two years older and a successful travel agent, is vibrant, full of story and captivate Tsukuru to the point of marriage prospect. In one of their lovely date [****], Tsukuru confessed to Sara his rooted fear of serious relationship. He mused that it was product of the harsh ending of his high school sweet memories. Tsukuru, now a successful train engineer, told the story in a chance to open Sara’s eyes about his character. Long story short, he really likes her, Tsukuru wanted to bud a proper relationship, and perhaps live together. Thus his confession of what he most feared.

Sara listens carefully and asks why Tsukuru never tried to initiate contact with his group again. Briefly Tsukuru said he couldn’t see his self going through the motion, the separation simply shocked his core. He likens the experience as being cast off to the ocean in deep dark night, buoying with no purpose beside hurt and confusion.

The lovely date went silent, and Tsukuru almost regrets telling the story. Even more so when Sara declined his invitation to spend the night with him. They parted ways, Tsukuru with burdened heart, and Sara with her promise to contact Tsukuru again.

Sometimes later they have another date; Sara expressed her gratitude for Tsukuru’s honesty and states she wanted to progress their relationship. Yet in order to do so, Tsukuru need to make peace with his past, to emotionally move on [°]. Sara asks Tsukuru to give her the names of his former friends for her research. She wants Tsukuru to meet them, to close the hurt locker so there won’t be any regrets left.

Tsukuru agreed.

Thus Tsukuru Tazaki’s pilgrimage to his deepest fear starts. A story of coming term with the hardest part of his life, of looking back and trying to figure out what happened, what went wrong, what did I do? Or better yet, what have you done?!

His journey touched the surface of past tearful lies, broken heart, murder and sad melody of Franz Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage piano suite [°°].

On relationship and life

I’m not an expert on Japanese novel, I’d love to be one, but the suicide/death/depression theme is like a black curtain in an opera. It rise and started the play, framed the stage, and fell down in a cascade of tear and applause. It’s there. It’s there unsaid unexplained and so fucking beautiful.

Thankfully my track record of friendship(s) did not graze the pasture of death by suicide, but it did get pretttty depressing at some point. Yeah I moved out here and there, lost contact with her and him, us became you and we. Hurtful words were said, stagnancy took root and by the time you realized it, you changed cell phone, lost all your previous contact and said oh well there’s always facebook birthday reminder.

It was stupid, hurtful and gosh human are so….!! [°°°]

But that’s life; it really is a long journey of conflicting happenstance and decision making. It’s about a ship buoying in the vast ocean, to quote my forever favorite poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley,

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Take command of your life, decide and move on. Never forget, never forgive yet live on.

Maybe one day I’ll confront my past relationships (bah!) and reconnect with old friends from sweeter time. Maybe I need a Sara in my life to kick me into emotional maturity. Or maybe I can do it myself or maybe I can just not do it and life happily [°°°°]

Tsukuru’s journey revealed a dark side of his friends he wasn’t aware of. It also revealed a side of Tsukuru he wasn’t aware of. He learnt of being adored and loved during high school, being seen as the best of the group due to his calm nature. Yet the revelation came late and at one point he regrets being so oblivious to his own charm [˘]. By confronting your past, you learn more about yourself, that’s one of the premises in this book.

Another is about emotional maturity, by visiting his past, Tsukuru let’s go the chained that shackled his heart. A Tsukuru of the past has no confidence in finding out the truth, forever angry and hurt, blind to the turmoil of others and basically feeling sorry for his self. The Tsukuru of now is a lovely man, rich with self confidence and open heart. Brick by brick he built his self anew and opens his heart for Sara.

The third and most important premise, love. Love, adoration and caring for other defines you. The group’s love for each other was tested by Tsukuru’s departure to Tokyo and Shiro’s lies. Kuro’s adoration to Tsukuru was ruined by her loyalty to Shiro. Aka and Ao’s ego to stay in Nagoya is idk man. They love the security of Nagoya so much they cannot bear imagining going outside their comfort zone. And then Haida [˘˘]. Decision decision decision, life as you love. And love as you life.

The world is singular, but the mind is lateral, and who are you to judge?

I think that’s the beauty of postmodernism world (the identity concept in this movement is just pure gold) and Japanese novel captures it best. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let me Down, Yasunari Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness, Natsume Soseki’ Kokoro (Heart).

Life is like a boat, it goes here and there. The struggle is both heart wrenching yet there’s always beauty in there. It’s very Yann Martel [˘˘˘]in which,

“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”
Yann Martel, Life of Pi 

Life belongs to you, so live it without regret.

I’m currently reading Murakami’s 1Q84 (Ichi-Kyu-Hachi-Yon) [˘˘˘˘]. So far so good. I’ll post it down when I’m finish.


In the manner of Terry Pratchett, here’s some fun footnotes:

*. title: Marvel Fear Itself: Journey into Mystery arc is definitely the bestbestbest! My heart is still hurting for the ending.

*’. Kuroko no Basuke is a manga by Tadatoshi Fujimaki about fictional Japanese high school basketball. The story revolves around Kuroko Tetsuya, who enters Seirin High School in order to defeat his scattered former basketball mates during his time at Teikou Junior High. The Teikou JH basketball team was dubbed prodigious, egoist and supposedly assholes in their rights, each first-liner’s name is related to color, Akashi (red), Aomine (blue), Midorima (green) etc etc. Kuroko Tatsuya (black) was considered near non-existent despite being one of the main players. A problem arise during the end of their Junior year and made all of them part ways in bad term. Kuroko’s low level of confidence (read: colorless among his fruity tutty friends), yet desire to bring back his former team set the story in motion… Story and art wise in high quality Shonen style, beware of ovaries!explosion.

**. I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an Englishman in New York~~~♪♪ I have a very nice story about a English-Belgian alien in Bukittinggi. Please wait for it, I will post it.

***. Of course, friendship stories always come in twos, threes or fives. This time it’s a colorful wheel of five.

****. Murakami wrote so many lovely little details about their date, I especially love the story about Tsukuru’s favorite tie, a loving gift from Sara.

°. Sara is a bit like Midori in Norwegian Wood, she’s the trigger in the machine. The lover, the mover, the anchor, the mother, the fate that moves the world. I just LOVE Murakami’s female protagonist character.

°°. Once again, music plays a big part in Murakami’s universe. Till now I can’t listen to Norwegian Wood by the Beatles without feeling wistful.

°°°. I literary cannot express it in words; I’m calling this the Orihara Izaya phenomenon.

°°°°. Haruki Murakami might as well be the father of Japanese Post Modernism, oh wait he is.

˘. Spoiler, Kuroko Tetsuya of KnB was considered colorless. With that parallel, the color that matches best with Tsukuru is……… ding ding ding!!

˘˘. Haida (grey) is the closest to colorless-ness. His existence in the book served as another sweet memory to Tsukuru. Post depression, Tsukuru encounters Haida a fellow college student and soon became friends. They shared the same love to Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage suite and he became the bridge that helped Tsukuru moved on. Yet his sudden disappearance puts Tsukuru two step back into abandonment issues. But like love, I think they love each other. They could be, they could be.
On further spoiler-ish note, I truly believed that Haida is the one who killed her.

˘˘˘. A not Japanese author I adore, right besides David Mitchell and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, haha another series of author which specialized in life and death. You can kinda see the pattern here, my oh my..

˘˘˘˘. One Kyu Eight Four, come on say it with me this time in Japanese Ichi Kyu Hachi Yon.  Murasaki is definitely the modern father of Postmodernism, Orwell beware.

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