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Focusing in Haruki Murakami's Novels

Kobe, Japan


Akira Ikemi

Kobe, Japan

Translated by James Even Chen, supervised by Akira Ikemi / July 13, 2023
Translated from: “The Psychology of Focusing as Observed in the Novels of Haruki Murakami” (2013, 2016)
Author: Akira Ikemi

This essay is about Focusing found in the novels of Haruki Murakami, a renowned Japanese novelist. I had written it in Japanese about 10 years ago, and recently James Even Chen discovered the essay and translated it from Japanese to English.

私のエッセー「村上春樹の小説にみるフォーカシングの心理学」をJames Even Chen が発見して、英訳してくれました。日本語版へのリンクは本稿の最後に示しています。

It was Hiroyuki Uenishi who told me about the felt sense in Haruki Murakami's novels. In his doctoral thesis titled "Quantitative Studies on Focusing in Daily Life," which he submitted to Kansai University, he referred to the "clump of air" that the protagonist of the novel "Norwegian Wood" (Kodansha) feels within himself. I will leave this for a moment and give a brief introduction to felt sense and Focusing.

Felt sense is a meaningful sensation that is difficult to put into words but can be felt in the body in a vague and ambiguous way. When talking to someone and feeling something is not quite right, it's often unclear what exactly is bothering us, and it may not immediately translate into words. However,

Norwegian Wood

there can be a faint sense of discomfort or a sense that something is out-of-place, felt in the chest or within the "body." That sensation is referred to as felt sense. The act of slowly touching upon this implicitly meaningful felt sense and gradually bringing forth its meaning is called Focusing. Focusing-oriented psychotherapy is centered around this process and was developed by Eugene Gendlin, a renowned philosopher and psychotherapist from the United States, at the University of Chicago. Since the 1960s, Professor Gendlin has emphasized and substantiated the significance of Focusing as a crucial process in psychotherapy and the "creation of meaning."

Let's return to the novel "Norwegian Wood."

I tried hard to forget, but there remained inside me a vague knot of air. And as time went by, the knot began to take on a clear and simple form, a form that I am now able to put into words what it was, like this:... (p.53, Volume 1 of 2)

...but at the time I felt it not as words but as that knot of air inside me. (p.54, Volume 1 of 2)

Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin (2000, Vintage), edited by Akira Ikemi 

Since many features of the felt sense are displayed here, there is no doubt that this is an expression of the felt sense. First, it is a sensation that is felt within oneself ("inside me"), in the body, regarding a certain situation. Second, it is a sensation that is perceived vaguely, distinct from intense emotions or pain. Therefore, the protagonist expresses it as a "knot of air." Additionally, it exists prior to words, meaning that its meaning can be discovered later and put into words. Furthermore, as expressed by "what it was", the past is reexamined and understood in a new way, in the sense of "Ah, so that's what it was," as if what we had always felt was this, even though we discovered the meaning anew later. I have come to refer to this as “carried forward was” (Ikemi, Okamura & Tanaka, 2023). Thus, this brief excerpt accurately represents several characteristics of felt sense.

Embarrassingly enough, I haven't read many of Haruki Murakami's novels. However, after discovering this passage in "Norwegian Wood," I became interested in reading some of Murakami's works. As I read his novels, I noticed that this "knot of air" is frequently depicted.

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