TOKYO — A new literature library dedicated to Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami opened Friday on the campus of Waseda University, the writer’s alma mater.
The facility is housed in a former office building, which was renovated with a design by renowned architect Kengo Kuma. The project was fully funded by Tadashi Yanai, the billionaire founder of Fast Retailing and Japan’s richest person. Yanai is also a graduate of Waseda and is a contemporary of Murakami.
The Waseda International House of Literature, informally known as the Haruki Murakami Library, is open to the public, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reservations will be required and entry limited at least until the end of the year. From the outside, the formerly nondescript building is easily recognizable by its curved wooden slats that wrap around one corner, connecting entrances on two sides and offsetting the whitewashed facade.
Inside the ground floor entrance, a wooden staircase framed by tall bookshelves on both sides and arches high above forms the centerpiece of the library. The center houses nearly 3,000 volumes, including Murakami’s full oeuvre. There are first-editions of the novelist’s books in their original Japanese; translations that include some 50 languages; as well as books by non-Japanese authors that were translated into Japanese by Murakami himself. The library does not allow visitors to check volumes out, but they can be read in the reading room, lounge or on the benches that line the staircase. An audio room houses a collection of jazz records that Murakami was known to play at the jazz bar he owned — called Peter Cat — before he became a writer.
Downstairs, a café run by current Waseda students serves coffee that can be enjoyed at tables in a small garden outside if the weather is nice, or even at an old wooden table that once graced Murakami’s home. There is also a recreation of the novelist’s personal study that he uses today. A grand piano that was used for live performances at Peter Cat, as well as set pieces from the stage adaptation of Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore” also decorate the basement level.
The second floor of the facility is home to a radio studio and an exhibition space, which currently houses an exhibit on the design and construction of the renovated building.
Murakami said at a press conference that he wants the library to be a place where people can come together, and where students can share ideas among one another, unlike being in the one-sided situation of listening to a professor’s lecture.
Yanai said he hopes the facility will encourage more Japanese people to share their culture with the rest of the world, while also acting as a place where people from different backgrounds and countries can create new types of culture together.
“One thing that really concerns me now is that the ability to transmit [Japanese] literature — or even Japanese culture — to the rest of the world has weakened,” the Fast Retailing executive said. ”I have expanded my business abroad, and I feel that the influence of Japanese culture worldwide is quite small. But Haruki Murakami’s books are extremely popular all over the world.”