When Taiwanese Lin Hui came to Tokyo to study fashion, she imagined a city filled with twinkling lights, beautiful meals and laid-back characters, just like the ones in the early novels of Haruki Murakami.
“His novels are the only books my friends and I read that weren’t textbooks. The way he writes made life here in Tokyo sound so free and easy,” says the 24-year-old, speaking inside the cafe Rokujigen. “That’s why I was so surprised by how rigid and constricted life here really is. But I’m lucky a friend told me about this place -- I can come here once in a while and feel that I’m in one of his stories.”
With its dark and woody interior, Rokujigen (meaning “sixth dimension”) certainly has the look and feel of a jazz bar right out of “Dance, Dance, Dance” or “Norwegian Wood” and no wonder: Located up a flight of stairs in an old building beside the JR Chuo Line train tracks in the Ogikubo district of the city, the cafe served as a jazz bar for nearly 40 years, until present owner Kunio Nakamura turned into a book-themed cafe four years ago.
“If you’re looking for something on Haruki Murakami, then this is the place to start your search,” says Nakamura. A freelance travel essayist and TV director by day, Nakamura opened the cafe initially as a combination office and coffee nook where he could also hold gathering for friends who shared his interests--collecting books and creating an atmospheric space to share them in.
Not long after after opening, though, it became a “clearinghouse” of all things Murakami, says the owner, regularly drawing fans of the author from as far as Taiwan (thanks to a Taiwanese-Japanese friendship group based at the cafe) and Finland (which features in Murakami’s latest work) as well as reporters and TV crews who come whenever Murakami puts out a new book or makes waves overseas.
“As a writer I’ve had more than a few chances to cover Murakami, but now I’ve gone from being one of the people following him to being a part of the trail,” says Nakamura, explaining that Murakami’s name has become a sort of haiku “kigo” (seasonal word) denoting autumn, when the annual announcement of the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature rolls around.
On the night of the announcement (usually in early October) Murakami fans and news crews gather at the cafe to wait with bated breath alike. This past year was a busy one, according to Nakamura: The cafe received more than a hundred inquiries from journalists and media crews hoping to contact the writer or at least land a sound bite from someone in touch with him.
“It’s odd because I’ve never met him myself,” says Nakamura.
Although there is no direct link between the cafe, the clientele (except for a Murakami sighting) and the famously reclusive author, it’s easy to see why it’s become a go-to place.
The aroma of coffee, sounds of jazz and the lulling rumble of passing trains have seeped deep into the wooden tables and floor. Fans can imagine themselves inside Peter Cat, the jazz bar that Murakami used to run in Tokyo.
To feel the vibe, just pick a Murakami book off the shelves (Nakamura aims to gather every translation of the author known), order a cup of Guatemalan coffee or a chai and read alone or with others..
“We’re able to get more out of his books by coming here and reading them together than we can alone,” says Yuko Taniguchi, 43, a member of a Murakami reading circle that has been gathering at the cafe since soon after its opening. “Here, someone else might lead me off into a tangent I wouldn’t follow otherwise, which is somehow like the way Murakami writes.”