Some of my favorite quotes from Murakami’s book of short stories

An Independent Organ

“I’ve been out with lots of woman who are much prettier than her, better built, with better taste, and more intelligent. But those comparisons are meaningless. Because to me she is someone special. A ‘complete presence,’ I guess you could call it. All of her qualities are tightly bound into one core. You can’t separate each individual quality to measure and analyze it, to say it’s better or worse than the same quality in someone else. It’s what’s in her core that attracts me so strongly. Like a powerful magnet. It’s beyond logic.”

‘Having seen my love now / and said farewell / I know how very shallow my heart was of old / as if I had never before known love,’” Tokai intoned. “Gonchunagon Atsutada’s poem,” I said. I had no idea why I remembered this. “In college,” he said, “they taught us that ‘seen’ meant a lover’s tryst, including a physical relationship. At the time it didn’t mean much, but now, at this age, I’ve finally experienced what the poet felt. The deep sense of loss after you’ve met the woman you love, have made love, then said goodbye. Like you’re suffocating. The same emotion hasn’t changed at all in a thousand years. I’ve never had this feeling up till now, and it makes me realize how incomplete I’ve been, as a person. I was a little late in noticing this, though.” With something like that there’s no such thing as too soon or too late, I told him. Your understanding may have come a little late in life, but that’s better than never realizing it at all. “But maybe it would have been better if I’d experienced this while I was still young,” Tokai said. “Then I would have developed love antibodies.”

“One huge problem is that the more I get to know her, the more I love her. We’ve gone out for a year and a half, but right now I’m even more entranced than I was at the beginning. It feels like our hearts have become intertwined. Like when she feels something, my heart moves in tandem. Like we’re two boats tied together with rope. Even if you want to cut the rope, there’s no knife sharp enough to do it. I’ve never experienced this—ever. And it scares me. If my feelings for her get even stronger, what in the world’s going to happen to me?”

It feels like somehow our hearts have become intertwined. Like when she feels something, my heart moves in tandem. Like we’re two boats tied together with rope. Even if you want to cut the rope, there’s no knife sharp enough to do it. Later on, of course, we all thought he’d tied himself to the wrong boat. But who can really say? Just as that woman likely lied to him with her independent organ, Dr. Tokai—in a somewhat different sense—used this independent organ to fall in love. A function beyond his will. With hindsight it’s easy for someone else to sadly shake his head and smugly criticize another’s actions. But without the intervention of that kind of organ—the kind that elevates us to new heights, thrusts us down to the depths, throws our minds into chaos, reveals beautiful illusions, and sometimes even drives us to death—our lives would indeed be indifferent and brusque. Or simply end up as a series of contrivances.


Habara went to bed early that night and thought about Scheherazade. Perhaps he would never see her again. That worried him. The possibility was just too real. Nothing of a personal nature—no vow, no implicit understanding—held them together. Theirs was a chance relationship created by someone else, and might be terminated on that person’s whim. In other words, they were attached, and barely at that, by a slender thread. It was likely—no, certain—that that thread would eventually be broken. The only question was whether that would occur sooner or later. Once Scheherazade was gone, he would no longer be able to hear her stories. When their flow was broken, all the strange and unknown tales she should have told him would vanish without ever being heard.

But there was another possibility. He could be deprived of his freedom entirely, in which case not only Scheherazade but all women might be taken away from him. It was a very real prospect. Never again would he be able to enter the warm moistness of their bodies. Never again would he feel them quiver in response. Perhaps an even more distressing prospect for Habara than the cessation of sexual activity, however, was the loss of the moments of shared intimacy. To lose all contact with women was, in the end, to lose that connection. What his time spent with women offered was the opportunity to be embraced by reality, on the one hand, while negating it entirely on the other. That was something Scheherazade had provided in abundance—indeed, her gift was inexhaustible. The prospect of losing that made him saddest of all.

Men Without Women

But before I knew it, M was gone. Where to, I have no idea. One day, I lost sight of her. I happened to glance away for a moment, and when I turned back, she had disappeared. There one minute, gone the next. Some crafty sailor must have invited her to run off with him to Marseilles, or to the Ivory Coast. My despair was deeper than any ocean that they might have crossed. Deeper than any sea where giant squid and sea dragons swam. I started to hate myself. I couldn’t believe in anything. How the hell had this happened? That’s how much I loved M, how much she meant to me. How much I needed her. Why had I ever looked away? Conversely, ever since then, M has been everywhere. I see her everywhere I go. She is part of many places, many times, many people. I put the half eraser in a plastic bag and carried it around with me like a talisman. Or a compass. As long it was in my pocket, I knew that someday, somewhere, I would find M again. I was sure of it. A smooth-talking sailor had sweet-talked her into boarding his big ship, and spirited her far away, that’s all. She was always the type of girl who trusted others. The type who would take a brand-new eraser, break it in half, and offer it to a boy she didn’t even know. I tried to collect fragments of clues as to her whereabouts, in all sorts of places and from all sorts of people. But these were nothing but scraps, assorted bits and pieces. No matter how many you collect, fragments are still just that. Her essence always vanished like a mirage.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say here. Maybe I’m trying to write about essence, rather than the truth. But writing about an essence that isn’t true is like trying to rendezvous with someone on the dark side of the moon. It’s dim and devoid of landmarks. And way too big.

A fourteen-year-old girl still resided within her, however. That girl was complete inside of her, not just fragments. If I looked closely, I could catch a glimpse of that girl coming and going inside of M. When she lay in my arms as we made love, she would turn old one minute, then become a young girl in the next. She was always traveling in her own private time zone. And I loved her for that. I’d hold her tightly, so tightly that she said it hurt. I might have held her too hard. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to give her up. But, of course, the time came when I lost her again. All the sailors around the world, after all, had her in their sights. I couldn’t be expected to protect her all by myself. No one can keep their eyes on someone every second. You have to sleep, have to use the bathroom. Need to scrub the bathtub sometime. Have to slice onions, have to snap off the ends of string beans. Check the air in the tires of your car. That’s how we left each other. Or, rather, how she left me. There was always, in the background, the unambiguous shadow of a sailor. A single dark, autonomous shadow gliding up the wall of a building. Bathtubs, onions, and air were simply shards of metaphor scattered like thumbtacks by that shadow. After she left, no one knows how wretched I felt, how deep the abyss. How could they? I can barely recall it myself. How much did I suffer? How much pain did I go through? I wish there was a machine that could accurately measure sadness, and display it in numbers that you could record. And it would be great if that machine could fit in the palm of your hand. I think of this every time I measure the air in my tires.

When I go on walks I like to sit down in front of the statue of a unicorn (the park with this particular unicorn statue is on my usual route), and as I gaze at the cold water in the fountain, I think about this man. And I imagine what it means to be the loneliest man on earth. I already know what it is to be the second-loneliest man on earth. But I still don’t know what it is to be the loneliest. A deep gulf separates the second and the first loneliest on earth. Most likely. Deep, and wide, too. The bottom is heaped high with the corpses of birds who have tried, and failed, to traverse it. Suddenly one day you become Men Without Women. That day comes to you completely out of the blue, without the faintest of warnings or hints beforehand. No premonitions or foreboding, no knocks or clearing of throats. Turn a corner and you know you’re already there. But by then there’s no going back. Once you round that bend, that is the only world you can possibly inhabit. In that world you are called “Men Without Women.” Always a relentlessly frigid plural. Only Men Without Women can comprehend how painful, how heartbreaking, it is to become one. You lose that wonderful west wind. Fourteen is stolen away from you forever. (A billion years should count as forever.) The far-off, weary lament of the sailors. The bottom of the sea, with the ammonites and coelacanths. Calling someone’s house past one a.m. Getting a call after one a.m. from a stranger. Waiting for someone you don’t know somewhere between knowledge and ignorance. Tears falling on the dry road as you check the pressure of your tires.

It’s quite easy to become Men Without Women. You love a woman deeply, and then she goes off somewhere. That’s all it takes. Most of the time (as I’m sure you’re well aware) it’s crafty sailors who take them away. They sweet-talk them into going with them, then carry them off to Marseilles or the Ivory Coast. And there’s hardly anything we can do about it. Or else the women have nothing to do with sailors, and take their own lives. And there’s very little we can do about that, too. Not even the sailors can do a thing. In any case, that’s how you become Men Without Women. Before you even know it. And once you’ve become Men Without Women, loneliness seeps deep down inside your body, like a red-wine stain on a pastel carpet. No matter how many home ec books you study, getting rid of that stain isn’t easy. The stain might fade a bit over time, but it will still remain, as a stain, until the day you draw your final breath. It has the right to be a stain, the right to make the occasional, public, stain-like pronouncement. And you are left to live the rest of your life with the gradual spread of that color, with that ambiguous outline. Sounds are different in that world. So is the way you experience thirst. And the way your beard grows. And the way baristas at Starbucks treat you. Clifford Brown’s solos sound different, too. Subway-car doors close in new and unexpected ways. Walking from Omote Sando to Aoyama Itchome, you discover the distance is no longer what it once was. You might meet a new woman, but no matter how wonderful she may be (actually, the more wonderful she is, the more this holds true), from the instant you meet, you start thinking about losing her. The suggestive shadow of sailors, the sound of foreign tongues they speak (is it Greek? Estonian? Tagalog?), leaves you anxious. The names of exotic ports around the world unnerve you. Because you already know what it means to be Men Without Women. You are a pastel-colored Persian carpet, and loneliness is a Bordeaux wine stain that won’t come out. Loneliness is brought over from France, the pain of the wound from the Middle East. For Men Without Women, the world is a vast, poignant mix, very much the far side of the moon.