Kuma Kengo builds tunnel into Murakami Haruki wonderland

Bookworms in Japan now have a chance to delve into the literary world of Murakami Haruki in a new library dedicated to his works. And the architect entrusted to design the facility says archiving documents was not the only objective.

Kuma Kengo’s new work for Murakami evokes the imagery the celebrated author often uses in his work: a well. In the novel 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,' the protagonist sits in the bottom of a deep well and explores the world of memories.

The Waseda International House of Literature, better known as ‘The Haruki Murakami Library,’ opened to the public in October. It is located on the campus of Waseda University in Tokyo, the author’s alma mater.

The Haruki Murakami Library
The Haruki Murakami Library opened to the public in October.

The shelves are stacked with about 3,000 books, both original Japanese versions and translations in dozens of languages. The collection also includes copies of interviews, reviews and related studies. The library’s curators say Murakami's handwritten notes will join the list soon.

Visitors enter the facility through a tunnel of books.

"I designed this building as a tunnel leading to another world," says Kuma. "I believe that the worlds depicted in Mr. Murakami’s stories have a tunnel-like structure.

"His protagonists, living otherwise ordinary lives, open a door to another existence and go deeper and deeper—or get pulled into a different time."

Kuma Kengo
Architect Kuma Kengo says the building is a tunnel leading to another world depicted in Murakami’s works.

Kuma is one of Japan’s most celebrated architects and is in high demand, currently involved in more than 500 projects at home and abroad.

Building on a chemistry

Since his debut in 1979, Murakami has been translated into more than 50 languages. Kuma is a veteran architect, but he says it was still a challenge to meet the expectations of Murakami’s legions of fans, and satisfy the author at the same time.

"I was worried Mr. Murakami might say his stories have nothing to do with tunnels. I was really nervous when I explained my idea," Kuma said. "But he listened, nodding occasionally, so I thought I might not be too far off."

Murakami is famously media shy. But when he appeared in a rare news conference with Kuma before the library’s opening, he touched on Kuma’s concept.

"I didn’t expect to hear the word ‘tunnel.’ So I was surprised at first. But in my stories, the protagonists go back-and-forth between the real world and other dimension. That's one of the most prominent signatures of my works. So I came to agree with the idea of expressing it in a form of a tunnel."

Kuma Kengo and Murakami Haruki
Kuma Kengo (left) and Murakami Haruki (right). Murakami says his protagonists go back-and-forth between the real world and other dimension.

"We are both making different things in different fields, but I guess ‘the tunnel’ was the point of contact that sparked some chemistry between us," says Kuma.

Kuma says he was also instructed to make a "living" place, rather than the kind of museum dedicated to long-gone authors.

"When designing a museum, I usually try to create a sense of tension, but in this case, I thought about how I could create a space that would relieve the tension," he says.

The architect structured the building so that visitors could freely pick up and explore Murakami’s works. Three floors are all connected with bookshelves with thousands of volumes.


"I hope this place can become a living room to bring people from various parts of the world together," says Kuma. "I believe literature has that power. It might seem like a quiet living room, but I hope that the mysterious power of Murakami’s literature can help it become a powerful place to connect with and influence the broader world."

Watch video (08:37), originally aired on Oct. 7, 2021.