"U.F.O. in Kushiro" by Haruki Murakami translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin Originally published in the March 19, 2001 issue of The New Yorker. Republished in the March 21, 2011 issue.
Much of this issue is devoted to the recent earthquake in Japan, which is why they republished an older Murakami story. “U.F.O. in Kushiro” opens just after the major 1996 earthquake in Japan. Images from the quake are all over the news, and Komura’s wife does not leave the television. He can’t quite understand her extreme fascination to the quake: she’s there when he wakes up, when he gets home from work, and when he goes to bed. He doesn’t think she eats or uses the bathroom.
Komura’s relationship with his wife is interesting but hard to pin down. Though Komura was enjoyed fast relationships, he has been totally faithful, though his wife is apparently not attracitve physically and does not have an attractive personality.
Still, though he himself did not quite understand why, Komura always felt his tension dissipate when he and his wife were together under one roof; it was the only time he could truly relax. He slept with her, undisturbed by the strange dreams that had troubled him in the past.
Every once in a while his wife leaves him a letter telling him that she’s going to stay with her parents for a few days or weeks. She always comes back, a bit more at ease. But something is different after the earthquake:
But the letter his wife had left for him five days after the earthquake was different: “I am never coming back,” she had written, and gone on to explain simply but clearly why she no longer wanted to live with Komura. “The problem is that you never give me anything,” she wrote. “Or, to put it more precisely, you have nothing inside you that you can give me. You are good and kind and handsome, but living with you is like living with a chunk of air. It’s not your fault. There are lots of women who will fall in love with you. But please don’t call me. Just get rid of the stuff I’m leaving behind.”
Alone and distracted, he decides to take a bit of time off work.
Hearing Komura’s plan, a colleague at work recommends Komura take a trip to some out of the way place. When Komura says that he thinks that is just the ticket, his colleagues asks him to transport a small box for him, promising that it is nothing dangerous and would not get him in trouble even if the police scanned it. He just doesn’t want to mail it and doesn’t want to take the time for the trip himself.
I found it a strange device, but it gets Komura away and to Shimao, the intended recipient of the box. Ultimately this gets him to his strange discovery.
Personally, I was underwhelmed, as I have been when I’ve tried Murakami in the past (I must admit here that I’ve never given his work a fair shot and haven’t read his more reputable works). I didn’t buy the devices and was unsatisfied by the revelation at the end, probably because it is abstract. I imagine others won’t have these same issues with the story, since I know his popular titles have similar abstractions that make them work.
On the plus side, it is certainly interesting to read throughout, and I never got bored as the story unfolded.