travel, otherness, and self-realizations
Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart
is an effective exploration of the connection between otherness, the search for identity and travel. The three main characters in the novel—the narrator (K), Sumire, and Miu—are all, in many ways, alienated from society. K notes that he was always different from his family and, because of that, took to books. Sumire, essentially embodying counter-culture, idolizes Kerouac and dropped out of college to complete her “total novel”. Miu is a Korean who grew up in Japan, never truly part of Korean or Japanese culture. They are all, in their distinct ways, outsiders. Without the guidance or cues from society, their search for self and identity has to be a mostly private and personal struggle. It is through travel that any sense of self can be understood. Yet, Murakami’s novel is unique because the characters do not only travel on a physical level; they also travel on a metaphysical, alternate-reality level. Despite the type of travel, though, otherness and the search for self always remain central ideas.
On the physical level, all three characters travel to an unnamed (probably fictional) island in Greece. Prior to this, Miu and Sumire have travelled around Europe for business purposes. It is in Greece that Sumire has a dream that leads to a revelation which she recounts: “I decided to make it clear to Miu what I want…I want to make love to Miu, and be held by her…It’s not too late. I have tobe
with Miu, enter her” (140-141). In Japan, Sumire realized that she was in love with Miu, but in Greece that relationship takes on a physical aspect. It is only abroad that Sumire is able to understand the nuances of her feelings of Miu. Miu, herself, seems to realize her feelings for Sumire—which, though not sexual, are still loving. Again, this happens abroad. Additionally, Miu is able to accept her composed self, even though it means the loss of her sexual self. This is evidenced by her refusal to continue to dye her hair. Similarly, K is only able to experience the this-side/other-side phenomenon on the Greek island. All of the important revelations occur abroad and they all reveal precise and significant aspect of the character’s self. Sumire and Miu need each other to form some sort of identity. K, similarly, needs to experience the other-side to ever connect to Sumire again, but also to be open to duality of his person. Overall, the search for self is only accomplished through travel.
The other type of travel present in this novel is the movement between this-world and the other-world. This duality of worlds, along with the duality of persons, remains a central aspect of the novel. Miu recounts the tale of her night on the Ferris-wheel, watching herself make love to a man whose flirtations she tried to ignore. The next morning, she was left with only her composed self and had completely lost her free or sexual self. The composed self had grey hair and was sexually barren, in contrast to the young, adventurous other self. Sumire’s travel to the other side in order to find and possibly restore Miu’s other-self has important consequences. It is during her “travel” that she realizes her true feelings for K. As she says, “I really need you. You’re part of me; I’m part of you” (209). Without her travel to the other-side, Sumire may have never had this realization. As for Miu—she is introspective enough to realize that she simply could not manage both of her selves, so one had to leave. However, while she accepts it, she can never reconcile both selves. It is unclear why, but perhaps if she had followed Sumire to the other-side she would have been able to do so. Thus, true revelation seems to only occur during moments of travel.