Music appears often in Kafka on the Shore as a powerful force for triggering introspection. At various moments, Murakami depicts characters who feel profoundly touched by subtle elements of music, from unusual pairings of chords and evocative lyrics to artful handling of imperfections in performance. Characters share music with each other as an act of trust, and struggle to put their intimate feelings about music into words. In this novel, Murakami shows that music has the power to do more than simply inspire emotion—it can also lead to deep self-reflection, and help characters to think about the very nature of life and death.
Murakami shows that music can preserve and recreate intense emotions from the past. The song “Kafka on the Shore” was written by Miss Saeki in her youth as an embodiment of her young love for her boyfriend. When Kafka listens to the song, he feels as if it reminds him of a forgotten time, and that it speaks directly to him. Although he is much younger than Miss Saeki, he begins to imagine that he could be the boy from her past, as if the song has transported him to that time. The song also reawakens strong emotions in Miss Saeki, who begins an affair with Kafka because she, too, feels transported to the romance of her youth by the reappearance of the song. In a surreal twist, the song also conjures a ghost who resembles a younger version of Miss Saeki. The power of “Kafka on the Shore” (the song) lies in its ability to conjure up memories of a distant relationship. Music has the ability to make listeners identify with and even experience for themselves the emotions of the songwriter.
Throughout the novel, classical music is a motif that is closely associated with self-awareness and reflection. By carefully listening to classical music and considering its complexities and imperfections, characters are able to gain perspective on their own lives and even confront the thought of death without fear. Because Oshima suffers from hemophilia, he often imagines his own death and seems to be at peace with his mortality. For example, he intentionally drives recklessly so that, if he were to get in a car accident, he would die swiftly and painlessly. But Oshima also tempers such thoughts of death with music. As he drives, he plays a Schubert sonata that he finds beautiful precisely because it contains imperfections. As he ponders this paradox, Oshima feels that death simply “isn’t an option.” Like Oshima, Hoshino is also captivated by a piece of classical music. As he aids Nakata, Hoshino hears a recorded performance of a Beethoven piece for the first time. Although he has never been particularly interested in music before, Hoshino feels moved by the beauty of the music—so much so that he begins to reexamine his life and the choices that have brought him to this moment. His newfound love for music leads him to think critically about his past, and decide that his recklessness in befriending and following Nakata is the beginning of a new and more fulfilling life.
Music in Kafka on the Shore serves as a force for altering characters’ perspectives. It can be intensely nostalgic, triggering painful memories of the past. Music can also prompt introspection and even self-transformation, pushing listeners to reconsider their own lives in light of the powerful emotions that music can stir. In this way, Murakami champions the virtues of music as a medium that is at once physical and nonphysical and thus transcends the boundaries between body and mind that are so central to the book’s thematic landscape.
Music and Introspection ThemeTracker
Music and Introspection Quotes in Kafka on the Shore
“If I listen to some utterly perfect performance of an utterly perfect piece while I’m driving, I might want to close my eyes and die right then and there. But listening to the D major, I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of—that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect. And personally, I find that encouraging.”
One by one the words find a home in my heart. It’s a weird feeling. Images beyond any meaning arise like cutout figures and stand alone, just like when I’m in the middle of a deep dream.
The drowning girl’s fingers
Search for the entrance stone, and more.
Lifting the hem of her azure dress,
at Kafka on the shore.
The lyrics to “Kafka on the Shore” speak deeply to Kafka, serving as one of many pieces of real or imagined evidence convincing him that he is being drawn to Miss Saeki by fate. Indeed, there are many references in the song tying different elements of the book together, adding a note of surrealism and coincidence that helps explain why characters like Kafka might believe so strongly in fate. The most obvious instance of this is the connection to Kafka’s name, which seems especially powerful because he chose the name “Kafka” for himself. The reference to the “search for the entrance stone” connects Miss Saeki and Kafka’s story to that of Hoshino and Nakata, reinforcing the suspicion of many characters in the book that their lives are on predetermined paths.
Listening to Fournier’s flowing, dignified cello, Hoshino was drawn back to his childhood. He used to go to the river every day to catch fish. Nothing to worry about back then, he reminisced. Just live each day as it came. As long as I was alive, I was something.
“But when I listen to this music it’s like Beethoven’s right here talking to me, telling me something like, It’s ok, Hoshino, don’t worry about it. That’s life. I’ve done some pretty awful things in my life too. Not much you can do about it. Things happen. You just got to hang in there.”