The Haruki Murakami Library and Its Exploration of People's "Stories"

The Waseda International House of Literature (Haruki Murakami Library) recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. We asked advisor Robert Campbell about the library's vision and operation.
Campbell, advisor to the library, in the first floor gallery. The gallery features all of Murakami’s works, as well as various translations of these works. The wall in the back is adorned with Murakami’s illustration of the “Sheep Man.”

Murakami Haruki as the "Trunk" of a Tree of Literary Experiences

The idea for the Waseda International House of Literature came about when Murakami Haruki donated various materials—his works, records, writing materials, and more—to Waseda University. After three years of preparation, the library opened in October 2021. The library boasts translations of Murakami's works in over 50 languages, and is the best place in the world to study the author. There are also reading spaces, an audio room, and a café, for those who want to experience the library in other ways.

During the discussions for the library, Murakami had proposed a guiding philosophy: "Explore Your Stories, Speak Your Heart." We spoke to Robert Campbell, advisor to the library, who has been involved in its establishment from the start.

Bookshelf staircase leading up from the first basement floor to the first floor. Architect Kuma Kengo, who designed this staircase, says the design for it was based on the idea of a tunnel, which itself was inspired by Murakami's fiction.
A recreation of Murakami's study, located on the first basement floor. Visitors cannot enter the room, but can view it through a window.

—Tell us more about the guiding philosophy of the Waseda International House of Literature, "Explore Your Stories, Speak Your Heart."

The world is full of stories. "Explore Your Stories" means reading and trying to understand these stories, and discussing them with other people. And among these stories, there are also stories that are unique to each of us, that we create on our own—the stories of each of our lives.

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Campbell is a University Professor at Waseda University and an advisor to the Waseda International House of Literature. He says that while he does not specialize in the stimulating works of Murakami, he wants to—as a scholar of literature—make the library a comfortable place to be.

I'd like this place to have the sort of open, accepting atmosphere that encourages people to deepen their understanding of their own stories, enrich them, or perhaps even rewrite them. In doing so, I think what's important is creating small-scale connections between people. When you spend time here, you may hear conversations between strangers, or someone might start talking to you at an event. All of these people of different backgrounds coming together in this one place, respecting each other's stories without passing judgment. "Speak Your Heart," I interpret as being more than you speaking your truth and feeling good about it, but the things that come from that.

—What makes the Waseda International House of Literature different from other literary museums and university libraries?

Murakami has said that he doesn't want the library to be just for his fans, and I agree completely. This library wasn't built in honor of one particular. I think of it as a tree—where the trunk is Murakami Haruki, but there are all of these branches, all covered with leaves, that grow out of the idea of him. The visitors are birds, flying freely from one branch to another.

Murakami has also said that he wants the people who use the library to feel as if being there is "as natural as breathing." You might visit a typical library to do research, but this library is one you can go to for your very own reasons, for your very own experiences.

Audio room, equipped with the same models of audio equipment that Murakami actually owns. Displays a portion of Murakami's extensive record collection.

For instance, the library will occasionally host exhibitions in the exhibition room. The exhibit on jazz and literature described Murakami's relationship with jazz, of course, but also introduced novels and other works by Japanese authors that touch on the music genre.

Another characteristic that makes the library special is the variety of its events. I personally am involved in a read-aloud event called "Authors Alive! ~Meet the Author~." In this event, authors read their own works aloud, discuss the work in question, and answer questions from participants. There have been times when an author has done a reading, and I've come in after to do a reading of the English translation version. I've felt for myself the good, comfortable atmosphere that this particular event creates.

—The name of the library is the Waseda International House of Literature. What do you think makes the library "international"?

The bookshelf staircase features works of world literature that authors and translators said they would want to pass down to future generations. The photo shows the works selected by Korean director and novelist Lee Chang-dong, who directed the film version of Murakami's short story "Barn Burning."

In any society, there are times when great powers outside of our individual control affect our lives. What are we meant to do in such circumstances? Murakami's works focus on the importance of existing as an individual, versus trying to be a hero. His works affirm human weakness, and occasionally evoke courage.

The translation of Murakami's works into various languages began at the start of the 1980s, after which they were read throughout the world. The response from readers overseas has been truly varied. I think it is a testament to how deeply his stories speak to people.

Murakami Haruki is already a global author, so there's no need for us to really emphasize the "international" aspect of the library. With the divisions we're seeing nowadays in society—based on things like race, nationality and religion—I think there's meaning in the library making its openness to the world very clear.

This is a place where people of all nationalities, generations, and backgrounds can mingle and communicate. Murakami Haruki, of course, being the powerful "magnet" that brings all these people here, together. The library is open to all people who wish to visit. You can even stop by just for a coffee. We happily await your visit.

The café, Orange Cat, is run by students from Waseda University. In addition to drinks, they offer light meals and snacks like curry and donuts.
The exterior of the building is known for its eaves, which are designed to resemble the flowing of air. Building 4 of the Waseda University campus was renovated to house the library.

The Waseda International House of Literature (The Haruki Murakami Library)

1-6-1 Nishiwaseda Shinjuku-ku Tokyo
Waseda University, Waseda Campus
*Visitors will need to make a booking to use the library. See the website for details.
(As of September 16, 2022)
Interview and writing by Imaizumi Aiko
Photos by Tonomura Seiji
Translation by Amitt