Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

  Tsukuru glanced at his watch. Had they finished lunch? He hesitated, but with nothing else to do, he decided it was time to visit the Haatainens. He walked straight toward the cottage, trampling the summer grass as he went. On the porch, a napping dog stood up and stared at him. A little long-haired brown dog. It let out a few barks. It wasn’t tied up, but the barks didn’t seem menacing, so Tsukuru continued his approach.

  Probably alerted by the dog, a man opened the door and looked out before Tsukuru arrived. The man had a full, dark blond beard and looked to be in his mid-forties. He was of medium height, with a long neck and shoulders that jutted straight out, like an oversized hanger. His hair was the same dark blond and rose from his head in a tangled brush, and his ears stuck out. He had on a checked short-sleeved shirt and work jeans. With his left hand resting on the doorknob, he looked at Tsukuru as he approached. He called out the dog’s name to make it stop barking.

  “Hello,” Tsukuru said in English.

  “Konnichi wa,” the man replied.

  “Konnichi wa,” Tsukuru replied. “Is this the Haatainens’ house?”

  “It is. I’m Haatainen. Edvard Haatainen,” the man replied, in fluent Japanese.

  Tsukuru reached the porch steps and held out his hand. The man held his out, and they shook hands.

  “My name is Tsukuru Tazaki.”

  “Is that the tsukuru that means to make things?”

  “It is. The same.”

  The man smiled. “I make things too.”

  “That’s good,” Tsukuru replied. “I do too.”

  The dog trotted over and rubbed its head against the man’s leg, and then, as if it had nothing to lose, did the same to Tsukuru’s leg. Its way of greeting people, no doubt. Tsukuru reached out and patted the dog’s head.

  “What kind of things do you make, Mr. Tazaki?”

  “I make railroad stations,” Tsukuru said.

  “I see. Did you know that the first railway line in Finland ran between Helsinki and Hämeenlinna? That’s why the people here are so proud of their station. As proud as they are that it’s the birthplace of Jean Sibelius. You’ve come to the right place.”

  “Really? I wasn’t aware of that. What do you make, Edvard?”

  “Pottery,” Edvard replied. “Pretty small scale compared to railroad stations. Why don’t you come in, Mr. Tazaki.”

  “Aren’t I bothering you?”

  “Not at all,” Edvard said. He held his hands wide apart. “We welcome anyone here. People who make things are all my colleagues. They’re especially welcome.”

  No one else was in the cabin. On the table sat a coffee cup and a Finnish-language paperback left open. He seemed to have been enjoying an after-lunch cup of coffee while he read. He motioned Tsukuru to a chair and sat down across from him. He slid a bookmark into his book, closed it, and pushed it aside.

  “Would you care for some coffee?”

  “Thank you, I would,” Tsukuru said.

  Edvard went over to the coffee maker, poured steaming coffee into a mug, and placed it in front of Tsukuru.

  “Would you like some sugar or cream?”

  “No, black is fine,” Tsukuru said.

  The cream-colored mug was handmade. It was a strange shape, with a distorted handle, but was easy to hold, with a familiar, intimate feel to it, like a family’s warm inside joke.

  “My oldest daughter made that mug,” Edvard said, smiling broadly. “Of course, I’m the one who fired it in the kiln.”

  His eyes were a gentle light gray, well matched to his dark blond hair and beard. Tsukuru took an immediate liking to him. Edvard looked more suited to the forest and lakeside than to life in the city.

  “I’m sure you came here because you needed to see Eri?” Edvard asked.

  “That’s right, I came to see Eri,” Tsukuru said. “Is she here now?”

  Edvard nodded. “She took the girls for a walk after lunch, probably along the lake. There’s a wonderful walking path there. The dog always beats them home, so they should be back soon.”

  “Your Japanese is really good,” Tsukuru said.

  “I lived in Japan for five years, in Gifu and Nagoya, studying Japanese pottery. If you don’t learn Japanese, you can’t do anything.”

  “And that’s where you met Eri?”

  Edvard laughed cheerfully. “That’s right. I fell in love with her right away. We had a wedding ceremony eight years ago in Nagoya, and then moved back to Finland. I’m making pottery full time now. After we got back to Finland, I worked for a while for the Arabia Company as a designer, but I really wanted to work on my own, so two years ago I decided to go freelance. I also teach at a college in Helsinki twice a week.”

  “Do you spend all your summers here?”

  “Yes, we live here from the beginning of July to the middle of August. There’s a studio nearby I share with some friends. I work there from early morning, but always come back here for lunch. Most afternoons I spend with my family. Taking walks, reading. Sometimes we go fishing.”

  “It’s beautiful here.”

  Edvard smiled happily. “Thank you. It’s very quiet, and I can get a lot of work done. We live a simple life. The kids love it here too. They enjoy the outdoors.” Along one of the white stucco walls was a floor-to-ceiling wooden shelf lined with pottery he’d apparently made himself, the only decoration in the room. On another wall hung a plain round clock, a compact audio set and a pile of CDs, and an old, solid-looking wooden cabinet.

  “About 30 percent of the pottery on those shelves was made by Eri,” Edvard said. He sounded proud. “She has a natural talent. Something innate. It shows up in her pottery. We sell our work in some shops in Helsinki, and in some of them, her pottery’s more popular than mine.”

  Tsukuru was a little surprised. This was the first he had ever heard that Kuro was interested in pottery. “I had no idea she was into pottery,” he said.

  “She got interested in it after she turned twenty, and after she graduated from college she went back to school, at the Aichi Arts College, in the industrial arts department.”

  “Is that right? I mostly knew her when she was a teenager.”

  “You’re a friend from high school?”


  “Tsukuru Tazaki.” Edvard repeated the name, and frowned, searching his memory. “You know, I do remember Eri talking about you. You were a member of that really good group of five friends. Is that right?”

  “Yes, that’s correct. We all belonged to a group.”

  “Three of the people from that group attended our wedding ceremony in Nagoya. Aka, Shiro, and Ao. I believe those were their names? Colorful people.”

  “Yes, that’s right,” Tsukuru said. “Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the wedding.”

  “But now we’re able to meet like this,” he said with a warm smile. His long beard fluttered on his cheeks like the intimate flickering of a campfire flame. “Did you come to Finland on a trip, Mr. Tazaki?”

  “I did,” Tsukuru replied. Telling the truth would take too long. “I took a trip to Helsinki and thought I’d take a side trip and see Eri, since I haven’t seen her in a long time. I’m sorry I couldn’t get in touch ahead of time. I hope I’m not inconveniencing you.”

  “No, not at all. You came all this way, and we’re happy to have you. It’s lucky that I stayed at home. I know Eri will be really happy to see you.”

  I hope you’re right, Tsukuru told himself.

  “May I take a look at your work?” Tsukuru said, pointing to the pottery lined up on the shelves.

  “Of course. Feel free to touch any of them. Her work and mine are mixed together, but I’m sure you’ll figure out which are which without me telling you.”

  Tsukuru walked over to the wall shelf and studied the pottery one by one. Most were practical dining ware—plates, bowls, and cups. There were several vases and jars as well.

  As Edvard said, Tsukuru could distinguish between his pieces and Eri’s at a glance. The o
nes with a smooth texture and pastel colors were Edvard’s. Here and there on the surface, the colors were darker or lighter, a subtle shading like the flow of the wind or water. Not a single one had any added design. The change in colors itself was the pattern, and even Tsukuru, a complete novice when it came to pottery, could tell that coloring like this required a high level of technical skill. The pieces had an intentional absence of any extraneous decoration, and a smooth, refined feel. Though fundamentally northern European, their pared-down simplicity revealed the clear influence of Japanese pottery. They were unexpectedly light to hold, too, and felt natural and right in his hand. Edvard had taken painstaking care with all the details, and they were the kind of work that only the finest craftsman could achieve. He never would have been able to display this kind of talent while working at a large company that dealt in mass production.

  Compared to Edvard’s style, Eri’s was far simpler, hardly reaching the finely wrought subtlety of her husband’s creations. Overall there was a lush, fleshy feel to her pieces, the rims slightly warped, and a lack of any refined, focused beauty. But her pottery also had an unusual warmth that brought a sense of comfort and solace. The slight irregularities and rough texture provided a quiet sense of calm, like the feeling of touching natural fabric, or sitting on a porch watching the clouds go by.

  In contrast to her husband’s work, Eri’s pottery featured patterns—like leaves blown on the wind. In some cases the design was scattered over the pottery, in others gathered in one spot, and depending on how the design was distributed, the pieces felt either sad, or brilliant, or even flamboyant. The exquisite designs reminded Tsukuru of fine patterns on an old kimono. He looked closely at each piece, trying to decipher each design, but he couldn’t identify what the configurations might signify. They were odd and unique figures. From a slight distance they struck him as leaves scattered on a forest floor. Leaves trampled by anonymous animals who were quietly, secretly, making their way through the woods.

  In Eri’s works, different again from her husband’s, color was simply a backdrop, its purpose to showcase the design, to give it life. The colors lightly, reticently yet effectively, served as background to the design itself.

  Tsukuru picked up Edvard’s work, then Eri’s, comparing them. This couple must live in a nice balance in their real lives as well. The pleasant contrast in their artistic creations hinted at this. Their styles were very different, but each of them seemed to accept the other’s distinctive qualities.

  “Since I’m her husband, maybe it’s not right for me to praise her work so highly,” Edvard said, watching Tsukuru’s reaction. “What do you call that in Japanese? ‘Favoritism?’ Is that the right word?”

  Tsukuru smiled but didn’t say anything.

  “I’m not saying this because we’re married, but I really like Eri’s work. There are plenty of people in the world who can make better, more beautiful pottery. But her pottery isn’t narrow in any way. You feel an emotional generosity. I wish I could explain it better.”

  “I understand exactly what you mean,” Tsukuru said.

  “I think something like that comes from heaven,” Edvard said, pointing to the ceiling. “It’s a gift. I have no doubt she’ll only get more skilled as time goes on. Eri still has a lot of room to grow.”

  Outside the dog barked, a special, friendly sort of bark.

  “Eri and the girls are back,” Edvard said, looking in that direction. He stood up and walked toward the door.

  Tsukuru carefully placed Eri’s pottery back on the shelf and stood there, waiting for her to arrive.

  When Kuro first spotted Tsukuru, she looked as if she couldn’t understand what was happening. The expression on her face vanished, replaced by a blank look. She pushed her sunglasses up on her head and gazed at Tsukuru without a word. She’d gone out for an after-lunch walk with her daughters, only to come back and find a man, a Japanese man by the look of him, standing next to her husband. A face she didn’t recognize.

  She was holding her younger daughter’s hand. The little girl looked about three. Next to her stood the older daughter, a little bigger and probably two or three years older than her sister. The girls wore matching flower-print dresses and plastic sandals. The door was still open, and outside the dog was barking noisily. Edvard stuck his head outside and gave the dog a quick scolding. It soon stopped barking and lay down on the porch. The daughters, like their mother, stood there silently, staring at Tsukuru.

  Kuro didn’t look much different from the last time he’d seen her, sixteen years earlier. The soft, full visage of her teenage years, though, had retreated, filled in now by more straightforward, expressive features. She’d always been robust and sturdy, but now her unwavering, unclouded eyes seemed more introspective. Those eyes had surely seen so many things over the years, things that remained in her heart. Her lips were tight, her forehead and cheeks tanned and healthy-looking. Abundant black hair fell straight to her shoulders, her bangs pinned back with a barrette, and her breasts were fuller than before. She was wearing a plain blue cotton dress, a cream-colored shawl draped around her shoulders, and white tennis shoes.

  Kuro turned to her husband as if for an explanation, but Edvard said nothing. He merely shook his head slightly. She turned to look back at Tsukuru, and lightly bit her lip.

  What Tsukuru saw in front of him now was the healthy body of a woman who had walked a completely different path in life from the one he’d taken. Seeing her now, the true weight of sixteen years of time struck him with a sudden intensity. There are some things, he concluded, that can only be expressed through a woman’s form.

  As she gazed at him, Kuro’s face was a bit strained. Her lips quivered, as if a ripple had run through them, and one side of her mouth rose. A small dimple appeared on her right cheek—technically not a dimple, but a shallow depression that appeared as her face was filled with a cheerful bitterness. Tsukuru remembered this expression well, the expression that came to her face just before she voiced some sarcastic remark. But now she wasn’t going to say something sarcastic. She was simply trying to draw a distant hypothesis closer to her.

  “Tsukuru?” she said, finally giving the hypothesis a name.

  Tsukuru nodded.

  The first thing she did was pull her daughter closer, as if protecting her from some threat. The little girl, her face still raised to Tsukuru, clung to her mother’s leg. The older daughter stood a bit apart, unmoving. Edvard went over to her and gently patted her hair. The girl’s hair was dark blond. The younger girl’s was black.

  The five of them stayed that way for a while, not speaking a word. Edvard patted the blond daughter’s hair, Kuro’s arm remained around the shoulder of the black-haired daughter, while Tsukuru stood alone on the other side of the table, as if they were all holding a pose for a painting with this arrangement. And the central figure in this was Kuro. She, or rather her body, was the core of the tableau enclosed by that frame.

  Kuro was the first to move. She let go of her little daughter, then took the sunglasses off her forehead and laid them on the table. She picked up the mug her husband had been using and took a drink of the cold, leftover coffee. She frowned, as if she had no idea what it was she’d just drunk.

  “Shall I make some coffee?” her husband asked her in Japanese.

  “Please,” Kuro said, not looking in his direction. She sat down at the table.

  Edvard went over to the coffee maker again and switched it on to reheat the coffee. Following their mother’s lead, the two girls sat down side by side on a wooden bench next to the window. They stared at Tsukuru.

  “Is that really you, Tsukuru?” Kuro asked in a small voice.

  “In the flesh,” Tsukuru replied.

  Her eyes narrowed, and she gazed right at him.

  “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Tsukuru said. He’d meant it as a joke, though it didn’t come out sounding like one.

  “You look so different,” Kuro said in a dry tone.

ryone who hasn’t seen me in a while says that.”

  “You’re so thin, so … grown-up.”

  “Maybe that’s because I’m a grown-up,” Tsukuru said.

  “I guess so,” Kuro said.

  “But you’ve hardly changed at all.”

  She gave a small shake of her head but didn’t respond.

  Her husband brought the coffee over and placed it on the table. A small mug, one she herself had made. She put in a spoonful of sugar, stirred it, and cautiously took a sip of the steaming coffee.

  “I’m going to take the kids into town,” Edvard said cheerfully. “We need groceries, and I have to gas up the car.”

  Kuro looked over at him and nodded. “Okay. Thanks,” she said.

  “Do you want anything?” he asked his wife.

  She silently shook her head.

  Edvard stuck his wallet in his pocket, took down the keys from where they hung on the wall, and said something to his daughters in Finnish. The girls beamed and leaped up from the bench. Tsukuru caught the words “ice cream.” Edvard had probably promised to buy the girls an ice cream when they went shopping.

  Kuro and Tsukuru stood on the porch and watched as Edvard and the girls climbed into the Renault van. Edvard opened the double doors in back, gave a short whistle, and the dog ecstatically barreled toward the van and leaped inside. Edvard looked out from the driver’s side, waved, and the white van disappeared beyond the trees. Kuro and Tsukuru stood there, watching the spot where the van had last been.

  “You drove that Golf here?” Kuro asked. She pointed to the little navy-blue car parked off a ways.

  “I did. From Helsinki.”

  “Why did you come all the way to Helsinki?”

  “I came to see you.”

  Kuro’s eyes narrowed, and she stared at him, as if trying to decipher a difficult diagram.

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