'The Real Mystery:' Isolation, Violence, and Gender Norms of American-Influenced Japanese Capitalism within Murakami Ry's In the Miso Soup

First published in 1997 in Japan, In the Miso Soup connects the dark and difficult life of sex workers in Tokyo to the effect of American capitalism on Japan following the end of the second World War. Miso Soup tells the story of a Japanese tour guide (Kenji) who guides an American tourist (Frank) around Tokyo's red-light district. Kenji's narrative commentary on the life of young people and sex workers in Japan reveal a dissatisfaction with and isolation from life due to Japan's socioeconomic system. Meanwhile, Frank's presence and violence in Tokyo are destructive and radioactive, which call to mind the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and connect that violence to the American capitalism that plagues Japanese workers. Additionally, Murakami Ry's decision to make his two main characters male takes away narrative power and agency from the female characters of the novel, who are largely relegated to being victims of Frank's violence; this further indicts capitalism as patriarchal and lethal. In my research, I will examine modern Japanese literature, Indra Levy's examination of the "Westernesque" femme fatale in Japanese fiction, representations of the "salaryman" in Japanese manga, and the generational trauma of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first two will allow me to contextualize the literary era in which Murakami wrote Miso Soup as well as his female characters, and the last two provide a realistic depiction of embedded nuclear fears in Japan and of actual Japanese opinion of work culture as represented in their manga.


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