Illustration by Aakif Rattu

Is Murakami’s Writing Sexist?

There are many negative opinions of Murakami’s work on social media, but what I implore you all to do is to take a look for yourself, pick up a Murakami book and be your own judge.

Murakami Haruki is quite possibly the most popular and widely read Japanese writer of our age. Readers all over the world have been captivated by his beautiful use of prose and magical realism. His writing style is like none other and is, at the same time, accessible and understandable for most people. However, that is not to say that his writing lacks any controversy. Murakami’s greatness is challenged by some readers' accusations that his writing is sexist and misogynistic. I remember having a conversation about favorite authors in a WhatsApp group with some of my future classmates, at my time and when I mentioned Murakami, his supposed sexism was brought up. Not only that, but sometimes I would see internet memes about relationship “red flags” and reading Murakami was considered one of them. That led me to wonder, “Is Murakami’s writing truly sexist?”
One thing we need to understand is that the main basis for those accusations are not derived from the author’s personal actions but rather the contents of his writing. Anyone who has ever read Murakami may have an idea about what I am talking about. The criticism is directed towards the female characters in Murakami’s works. While it depends on the work, there’s a general consensus that Murakami's depiction of women and their relationship to the male protagonist retains a similar sort of formula throughout all of his works, that formula being: an introspective and introverted man is “liberated” by an eccentric and extroverted young woman. There’s that and also Murakami’s strange obsession with breasts.
First, let’s address this topic about the “misogynistic formula” that is present in Murakami’s works. I think there is a lot of truth about the claim that the women in Murakami’s works are two dimensional. However, what can also be said is that everyone except for the main protagonist is two dimensional in Murakami’s works. That’s to say that most of Murakami’s works are focused on one central protagonist, Boku (the Japanese word for I). Murakami’s stories are about the protagonist finding himself (because it is true that Murakami’s protagonists are mostly men) through meeting eccentric characters and navigating Murakami’s trademark world of magical realism. For example, in one of his most popular works, Norwegian Wood, the women side characters in the story are more complex than the other male side characters. We can also look at Murakami’s debut work Hear The Wind Sing, where everyone is two dimensional. In the book, the narrator is not even named!
Second, we can also address the claims that the women in these stories are too objectified. In many ways, I believe that Murakami’s depiction of both men and women are very equal — both men and women have a high degree of liberation in these texts. In Murakami’s works, women are not the subject of a man’s one way desire, but rather they have their own desires and their own insecurities that come with it. This is probably a more equal depiction than just having them be targets of desire, which has been the standard for most of literary history.
The negative image that has been associated with Murakami is so frequently spotted on social media as a consequence of the new generational standard that one wrong cancels out all of the good that is contained in a work. The nature of social media enables one to easily and quickly consume and reshare an opinion without ever truly understanding what it means. Those who have never properly read Murakami are laughing, sharing and subconsciously inputting into their minds the idea that Murakami Haruki is a misogynistic writer because they saw literary memes about the topic. Social media has enabled us to make and join communities of our interests and while many good things have come from that, we must also be wary of the consequences. What I implore you all to do is to take a look for yourself: pick up a Murakami book and be your own judge.
Ryunosuke Hashimoto is a Columnist. Email them at
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