1Q84

1Q84 is a 2009 novel by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami (1949-Present)A love story set in a dystopian 1984, the novel follows two lonely characters as they become entwined in a secretive and dangerous cult. Murakami uses 1Q84 to investigate the changing nature of reality and themes about the problems of modernity.

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Contents
Table of contents

    1Q84, Photograph of Haruki Murakami, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The novel's author, Haruki Murakami, often uses his works to chronicle the changing landscape of Japanese society.

    1Q84: Summary

    It's 1984 in Toyko, and a young woman named Aomame leads a double life. Working as a fitness instructor during the day and a paid assassin at night. Aomame is contracted by a wealthy woman, known as The Dowager, to kill men who commit acts of domestic abuse.

    Having grown up in a strict religious sect, Aomame often feels lonely and isolated. She recalls a brief spark of love she shared with a classmate years ago. On her way to a meeting, Aomamae's taxi gets stuck in heavy traffic on the expressway. The driver suggests Aomame uses the emergency staircase to reach the street below. As she exits, he warns that things are not always what they seem and cryptically cautions, "... don't let appearances fool you. There's always only one reality." (Ch. 1)

    How does the taxi driver's warning foreshadow the book's events?

    Aomame descends the stairs and notices slight differences in the street. The newspapers refer to recent events she can't recall, including a recent confrontation between police and a sect of religious extremists. Later, she notices two moons in the night sky. Aomame recognizes she has slipped into an alternative reality, one slightly different from the 1984 she knows—a world she calls 1Q84.

    Tengo Kawana is an aspiring writer who works as a math teacher. He lives a lonely life while waiting for his big break, and he often remembers a brief moment of love he shared with a classmate twenty years ago. Tengo's literary editor offers him a job rewriting a manuscript entitled Air Chrysalis. Allegedly written by a 17-year-old girl called Fuka-Eri, the novel shows promise but needs substantial work. Uncomfortable with changing another writer's work, Tengo agrees to meet with Fuka-Eri.

    1Q84, Tokyo Loneliness, StudySmarterFig. 2 - In the densely populated Toyko, all three narrators feel lonely and disconnected from other people.

    After meeting Fuka, Tengo realizes she could not be the writer. Her legal guardian, Professor Ebisuno explains that Fuka's parents were involved in a secretive cult that sought to create a Utopia but ended up in a closed-off compound. They have not been in touch for over seven years.

    1Q84 is narrated by Aomame, Tengo, and later on Ushikawa, a private detective investigating the couple. Throughout the novel, each narrator suffers from intense loneliness. How does each of the narrators try to cope with their loneliness?

    Fuka-Eri's manuscript is set in a world with two moons and tells the story of a ten-year-old girl in a religious commune who encounters mythical creatures known as "the Little People." As Tengo begins to investigate Fuka's background, he discovers a cult called Sakigake controlled by a shadowy figure known only as "the Leader." He suspects the fantastical elements of Fuka's story may be true.

    Aomame continues to complete contracts for the Dowager and indulges in meaningless sex with older men she picks up in bars. At a singles bar, she meets Ayumi, a policewoman with similar sexual attitudes. Aomame confides in Ayumi that she hasn't had any close friendships since her best friend committed suicide to escape an abusive relationship.

    The Dowager introduces Aomame to a 10-year-old girl who has escaped from the Sakigate cult. When the girl reveals that the Leader sexually abuses young girls in the cult, the Dowager commissions Aomame to kill him. With Ayumi's help, Aomame uncovers the Leader is Fuka's father. Soon after this, Ayumi is found dead in a hotel room.

    Aomame arranges to meet the Leader under the guise of a therapeutic massage session to soothe his chronic joint pain. During the session, the Leader tells Aomame he knows she is there to kill him. After discussing religion and reality, the Leader warns Aomame that there is no path back to her actual reality. When Aomame confronts the Leader about the abuse, he claims the Little People force him to commit the acts. He welcomes a death that will free him from their influence. After Aomame kills him, severe thunderstorms suddenly rack the city.

    Before he dies, the Leader displays great self-awareness and insight. How does this impact the reader's feelings about him?

    Now under threat from the Sakigate, the Dowager places Aomame in a safe house near Tengo's apartment. As Tengo continues to edit Fuka's writings, he wanders to a local playground. Looking up at the night sky, he sees two moons. From her window, Aomame watches the man staring into the sky and recognizes him as someone from her past. She rushes down but misses him.

    A third narrator, Ushikawa, is introduced. Once a successful lawyer, Ushikawa was mired in disgrace and forced to quit his practice. Now working as a private investigator, Ushikawa is hired by the Sakigake cult to find Fuka. After seeing Fuka working closely with Tengo, he begins investigating the writer.

    Ushikawa begins a stakeout of the apartment and follows Tengo back to the playground. When Tengo leaves, Ushikawa notices a woman attempting to follow him and trails her home. His investigation reveals that Tengo and Aomame are former classmates and uncovers Aomame's relationship with the Dowager.

    Suspecting the pair's involvement in the Leader's disappearance, Ushikawa tails Aomame. She spots the detective and follows him back to his stakeout, where she notices Tengo's name on the mailbox and remembers him as the classmate she'd shared one fleeting moment of love many years ago.

    Ushikawa observes Fuka entering Tengo's apartment, but before he can report his findings to the cult, the Dowager's bodyguard interrogates and kills him. Now free from danger, Tengo and Aomame finally meet at the playground and embrace.

    The novel's plot depends on many coincidences and circumstances of chance. Are these influenced by the mysterious Little People or how things work in the alternative reality?

    Aomame shares her strange experience with Tengo and the pair return to the expressway staircase. They cross back over and are relieved to find only one moon in the night sky. Aomame begins to notice minor details in this reality but can't be sure if they are differences in reality or gaps in memory. Now pregnant, Aomame remembers the Leader's warning that there are no paths back to the world she came from, but reasons that as long as she has Tengo and their baby, they will be happy together.

    1Q84, Tokyo expressway, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The Toyko expressway acts as Aomame's entrance to and exit from the strange world of 1Q84.

    1Q84: Characters

    Most of 1Q84 is told from the perspective of Aomame and Tengo; each of them narrates alternating chapters. In the later stages of the book, the reader is introduced to a third narrator, Ushikawa.

    Aomame

    Aomame is a 30 -year old woman who leads a double life. Growing up in "the Society of Witnesses," a religious cult that prophesized the end of the world, she learned discipline but received no love or affection. She works out daily and maintains a strict diet while maintaining a regimented life. Her only indulgences are the occasional beer and random sexual encounters. She feels a crushing sense of loneliness and often thinks about the one genuine moment of love she shared with Tengo 20 years ago.

    Tengo

    The novel's male lead and second narrator, Tengo, is an aspiring writer who works on the occasional short story and commission pieces from his editor. Having grown up in a broken home, Tengo is traumatized by his mother's abandonment. Raised by his stern father, Tengo struggles to feel close to others and often escapes into his imagination where he remembers the loving moment he shared with Aomame at school.

    Ushikawa

    The novel's third narrator is a disgraced lawyer who works as a private investigator for the Sakigate cult. Hired to track down Fuka, Ushikawa investigates Tengo and soon uncovers his association with Aomame. A dedicated and tireless investigator, Ushikawa connects many of the dots before Aomame and Tengo. He recognizes their deep connection and is jealous.

    Fuka-Eri

    A 17-year-old high school student who claims to have written Air Chrysalis, Fuka is detached and apathetic. Tengo works closely with her to redraft the manuscript and discovers that much of the fantastical tale is based on her experiences in the Sakigate cult.

    The Leader

    The mysterious head of the Sakigate cult, the Leader, is a reclusive and powerful figure throughout the book. Through Tengo's research, it is revealed that the Leader is Tamotsu Fukada, father of Fuka-Eri. He claims to be able to predict the future and communicates with the Little People. This relationship may have caused his mysterious illness and chronic pain.

    Murakami often uses his novels and short stories to explore the evolving nature of Japanese identity and society. After Japan's defeat in WWII, the nation was rebuilt and entered a period of prosperity. With increased modernization, Japanese society became more westernized. Many people felt came at the expense of many traditional forms of life.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, Japan saw considerable growth in religious cults in response to these social changes.

    While many of these groups started as meditation and yoga classes, some transformed into more isolated and repressive sects that sought to close themselves off from the outside world.

    On March 20, 1995, a radical section of the Aum Shinrikyo cult carried out the Toyko Subway Attack, killing 13 civilians. The incident sent shockwaves through Japan.

    1Q84, Tokyo Subway Attack, StudySmarterFig. 4 - Chemical Troops from the Japanese Defense Force arrived on the scene of the deadly attack.

    Murakami conducted extensive research on the cult and the attack for his 1997 nonfiction book Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. Murakami continued to explore the dangers of organized religion and the shortcomings of modernity in 1Q84.

    1Q84: Themes

    In 1Q84, Murakami questions the idea that economic prosperity is akin to happiness. The postwar recovery saw Japan quickly modernize and emerge as a dominant global force. However, it also resulted in an increased sense of loneliness and a yearning for spiritual fulfillment within the population.

    Religion

    In 1Q84, Murakami is highly critical of organized religion. He uses the novel to attempt to understand the need for faith, especially in the light of cult activity in Japan during the 1970s and 1980s. The Sakigate cult and the Society of Witnesses in which Aomame grew up, serve to isolate their members and cut them off from the rest of the world. The cult is shown to be violent, dangerous, and implicated in covering up the Leader's sexual abuse of young girls.

    Whilst planning the Leader's assassination, the Dowager and Aomame discuss the cult-like trappings of their arrangement; they are shut off from others and operate a violent ideology, but the Dowager reasons that since Aomame is paid and has the option to reject the contracts, they are not indeed a cult.

    While Murakami is critical of religious groups, he doesn't wholly villainize the members or the need for spiritual beliefs. As the Leader faces death at Aomame's hands, he explains his role and the necessity for religion:

    ...no one is looking for painful truths. What people need is beautiful, comforting stories that make them feel as if their lives have some meaning. Which is where religion comes from." (Ch.11)

    Murakami acknowledges that the drive for spirituality and meaning is part of the human experience but also points out how organized religion manipulates and warps this. Though the Leader is guilty of abuse, he is shown to be powerless to the mythical Little People. He uses the Little People to represent humanity's darker desires and drives. Murakami leaves the motivations and actions of the Little People open to the reader's interpretation.

    Loneliness

    All three narrators suffer from intense loneliness and spend most of the novel isolated from other people. Aomame has suffered loneliness from an early age. Instead of giving love, her parents drilled her with strict religious teachings. She was ostracized at school due to her family's spiritual conviction and has struggled to feel connected to other people since then. To quell her loneliness, she uses sex as physical intimacy; however, it lacks deeper emotional bonds, and she ends up feeling lonely again. The Dowager's bodyguard warns Aomame:

    Loneliness becomes an acid that eats away at you." (Ch. 2)

    Tengo faces similar struggles with intimacy and long-term relationships. Struggling with childhood trauma and a broken heart, he still remembers the feeling of love he had when he held onto Aomame's hand at school. Even his job as a writer involves a great deal of isolation and solitude.

    The novel's third narrator, Ushikawa, is alone because of his failed marriage. He yearns to be with his wife and two children but is stuck, alone, watching other people live their lives.

    Japanese culture is traditionally collectivist. In collectivist cultures, an emphasis is placed on group identity rather than the individual. Family, friends, or community often surround people, but the narrators of 1Q84 are different. They stand out from their society as individual and unique figures. Murakami shows us that though this can be liberating, it also results in a great deal of loneliness.

    1Q84: Meaning

    At almost a thousand pages, 1Q84 is a complex work that tackles significant social anxieties. Because of the title, many readers draw comparison's to George Orwell's classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). While there are similarities and references to this work, the title is the name Aomame gives to the alternate 1984 she finds herself in.

    1Q84—that's what I'll call this new world, Aomame decided. Q is for "question mark." A world that bears a question." (Ch. 9)

    Murakami is also using wordplay in the title. In Japanese, the number 9 and the letter Q have similar pronunciations. This reflects the similar but slightly different reality in which Aomame finds herself. The world of 1Q84 feels like a dystopia. Just like the society Orwell created in Nineteen Eighty-Four, in 1Q84, history has been rewritten, and a cult mentality has gained power in society. Like Winston Smith in Orwell's novel, Aomame is the only individual who seems to notice the differences.

    While Orwell's villain was an ever-present, inescapable Big Brother, the antagonists of 1Q84 are the invisible and ambiguous group known as the Little People. When talking to Tengo about the cult Fuka escaped, Professor Ebisuno draws this comparison between the forces:

    There's no longer any place for a Big Brother in this real world of ours. Instead, these so-called Little People have come on the scene. Interesting verbal contrast, don't you think?" (Ch. 18)

    In interviews, Murakami has spoken about his intentions with 1Q84. The Tokyo subway attacks scarred the Japanese nation and left many searching for answers about how a prosperous and stable country could produce such a deadly cult. Murakami believed this sense of confusion wasn't just limited to his own country. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he believes that the world shook off the optimism of the 1990s and entered the new millennium with a sense of paranoia and disbelief.

    Just before 1Q84 was published in the U.S, Murakami wrote an essay entitled "Reality A and Reality B" (2010), in which he contextualized the creation of the novel. He posited that the world struggled to come to terms with a new reality in the new millennium's first decade. With terror attacks and the quickening pace of technology, it felt to him like the world had split off from its intended track and spun off into a darker and more complex reality. Like Aomame, Murakami believes most people felt some form of uncertainty and disbelief in this new reality.

    According to Murakami, readers want stories that reflect the more chaotic and uncertain world they face. Therefore it is the writer's job to "transform the things and events around us into the metaphor of the story form and to suggest the true nature of the situation...that is the story's most important function." 1

    With 1Q84, Murakami wants to depict "the near past of 1984 "4 as a way for his readers to understand the confusion and disconnection of modern times. Though 1Q84 is sometimes dark and disturbing, Murakami underpins the story with hope and love. While Tengo and Aomame struggle with loneliness throughout the story, they eventually can unite and face the uncertainty of a new world together.

    1Q84: Genre

    1Q84 weaves many genres together. Presenting a nightmarish version of society close to reality, 1Q84 differs from other works of dystopian fiction, as it is set in the near past rather than the near future. Murakami creates the novel's world in exhausting detail with long stretches that follow the characters' daily routines. By blending this realism with fantastical elements, 1Q84 could be considered a work of magic realism.

    The novel also contains many elements of postmodernism; it involves rejecting organized religion and questioning societal norms, and the characters are complex and nuanced. Aomame commits acts of murder, but her targets are unsympathetic abusers. Tengo is a writer who takes someone else's story as his own. The reader can even sympathize with the grotesque and greedy Ushikawa at points. Another characteristic of postmodernism is the character's struggle to find meaning in life and their disconnection from the modern world. In 1Q84, each of the narrators is shown to feel out of place and uncomfortable in modern Tokyo as they desperately search for meaning and connection to other people.

    1Q84 - Key takeaways

    • 1Q84 is a dystopian postmodernist work by famed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.
    • The book's title references another dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell.
    • Set in an alternative version of Toyko in 1984, the story follows two long-lost lovers, Aomae and Tengo, as they each become involved with a deadly cult called the Sakigate.
    • Murakami uses the novel to explore the real-life cult phenomenon that affected Japan in the 1970s and 1980s.
    • The book contains elements of magic realism and dystopian fiction and is a postmodernist work.

    References

    1. Fig. 1 - Haruki Murakami by Ministerio Cultura y Patrimonio, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Haruki_Murakami_2018.jpg
    2. Fig. 3 - Expressway by Ebiebi2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shutoko_expressway_Fukuzumi_interchange_001.jpg
    3. Fig. 4 - Emergency personnel respond to the Tokyo subway sarin attack from United States Public Health Service, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emergency_personnel_respond_to_the_Tokyo_subway_sarin_attack.png
    4. Haruki Murakami, "Reality A and Reality B", The New York Times, 2010.
    Frequently Asked Questions about 1Q84

    What is 1Q84 about?

    1Q84 tells the story of a young woman who enters a slightly different version of reality. As she attempts to return to her original reality she becomes entangled with a dangerous cult and crosses paths with an old love. 

    When was 1Q84 written?

    1Q84 was published in 2009.

    How is 1Q84 a dystopian novel?

    1Q84 takes place in a nightmarish society that is similar to reality but has disturbing differences. However, unlike most other dystopias, 1Q84 is set in the near past rather than the future.

    What was the point of 1Q84?

    In 1Q84, Haruki Murakami explores the changing nature of reality and the shifting landscape of Japanese society.  

    What does the ending of 1Q84 mean?

    When Aomame and Tengo emerge from the staircase, they believe they have arrived in the original. However, small differences start to emerge. It is possible the pair have entered a third version of reality.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    1Q84 is an example of Utopian fiction. 

    In which city is 1Q84 based? 

    Aomame is contracted to kill abusive men by _____________. 

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