This chapter takes the form of a declassified US Army document from World War II. In 1946, Second Lieutenant Robert O’Connor conducted a series of interviews in Yamanashi Prefecture to investigate the mysterious “Rice Bowl Hill Incident” of 1944. Lt. O’Connor notes that his interview subject, the schoolteacher Setsuko Okamochi, seems intelligent and responsible, but also still traumatized by the incident.
Murakami uses frequent perspective and tense shifts to craft his narrative, heightening the surrealism of the novel. In this flashback, conveyed in the format of an army document, the reader is introduced to a mysterious incident from the past.
In the interview, Setsuko recalls that on the morning of the incident she and her students observed a bright silver flash moving across the sky. They thought it might be a B-29 or some other kind of army plane. O’Connor responds that, according to records, there were no U.S. airplanes in the region at the time. Setsuko also tells Lt. O’Connor that her husband was killed during the war.
The bright flash in the sky is never fully explained, but in retrospect everyone assumes that it was an omen of the coming incident. This demonstrates people’s tendency to search for patterns of meaning in random events.
At Lt. O’Connor’s request, Setsuko then tells the story of the day of the incident. On the morning of the incident, she led a group of children—five of whom had been evacuated from Tokyo to the school in the countryside—to gather mushrooms on a hill called “Rice Bowl Hill.” Other than the brief sight of the airplane, it was a normal, peaceful morning in the woods.
Although Murakami does not explicitly say so, the scenes of food gathering on Rice Bowl Hill are evidence of shortages that affected the countryside during World War II. Beneath this idyllic scene of an outdoor field trip, there are hints of the difficulty of survival during the war, which touched the lives of children as well as adults.
Soon after Setsuko and the children stopped to pick mushrooms, the children began to collapse. They seemed to be unconscious, but their eyes continued to look around, almost as if a part of their minds were still awake even though their bodies remained limp. Feeling terrified and alone, Setsuko ran down the hill to search for help. After a pause, she tells Lt. O’Connor that she didn’t notice anything unusual before the children began to collapse.
One of the most striking things about the incident is the fact that the children’s minds seem to be acting independently of their bodies. This phenomenon reinforces a larger trend in the book: characters often feel as if their minds are disconnected from their bodies, or as if their consciousness has the ability to roam around influencing events separately from their physical actions and desires.