After reading the first few words of Naoko's letter, Toru feels a rush of emotions and has to calm himself before reading the rest. As he reads, the rest of the world seems to disappear. Naoko writes that she has been at Ami Hostel, sanitarium-like institution, for almost four months so far. She apologizes to Toru, because she feels she may have hurt him; however, she urges him to understand that she has been similarly hurt. For her, the act of expressing herself through letter-writing is a great comfort, one that makes a great deal of sense in the kind of environment she is in, where the line between doctor and patient is blurred, and the aim is not to cure deformities but to adapt to them. However, Naoko senses that their world, in which people accept their deformities and other's deformities and do not hurt each other, is far removed from the world of normal life. She ends the letter by inviting Toru to come visit her. Toru calls Ami Hostel and makes an appointment to see Naoko the following afternoon.
At five pages, Chapter Five is by far the shortest chapter in the book, containing nothing beyond the context of Toru's reading Naoko's letter and then the text of the letter itself. Even though Toru has a great deal of conversation with Naoko when he visits her at Ami Hostel, this letter of hers stands apart, as its status as a chapter suggests, by providing Toru (and the reader) a unique window into Naoko's otherwise concealed thoughts and feelings.
As Toru notes, his experience of reading the letter is one of profound withdrawal from the world, almost as though he has been pulled into Naoko's world-outside-of-the-world at Ami Hostel. The inclusion of the letter within the frame of the current narrative only reinforces the sense of Naoko's being somewhere else; even when she is together in person with Toru, he senses that she is somehow not there. This, of course, is due to her connection to the absent Kizuki, for whom Toru cannot ever truly stand as a substitute.
Keeping Toru and Midori's self-conceptions as ordinary people in mind, our ears should prick up when Naoko writes, "This may not be the most normal way to look at things, though. Girls my age never use the word fair. Ordinary girls as young as I am are basically indifferent to whether things are fair or not…Fair is a man's word, finally, but I can't help feeling that it is also exactly the right word for me now" (85). Although she speaks with the same kind of fatalistic acceptance of the fact that her personality compels her in a certain way outside of her control, the issue, or the expression of the issue, is more difficult and convoluted for her to deal with. Even in this letter she doubts her own choice of words.
However, she mentions that "I'm happy just to be able to feel I want to write to someone" (86) and furthermore "I can sense the good feelings you have for me. They make me very happy. All I am doing in this letter is trying to convey that happiness to you" (88). Just as in the first chapter, Naoko expresses her gratitude to Toru, but unfortunately she cannot respond to him with much more; in fact, she seems to be aware in a deep way of the force that still ties her to Kizuki and separates her from Toru, such that she cannot truly love Toru and Toru cannot truly love, and thereby remember, her. As such, the act of communication, whether in writing or speech, holds a kind of value in itself of human feelings reaching out to each other in a moment, despite the fact that they can never satisfyingly come together.
Murakami cites his inspiration, so to speak, by having Toru read Thomas Mann's modernist masterpiece The Magic Mountain, a novel to whose story and themes Norwegian Wood bears striking resemblances. In Naoko's letter she writes of how the line between doctor and patient is blurred in the peculiar world of Ami Hostel, where the seeming comfortable ordinariness of life belies its uniquely insulated and open environment. Expanding even further from Midori's observation that everyone in her own family seems to have some deformity of their own, Naoko tells Toru that the core principle of the sanatorium is that everyone, whether outwardly normal or not, has deformities; that these deformities differ from person to person; and finally that the central problem in a person's life is figuring out how to be comfortable in their own skin, so to speak, to adapt to their own deformities. It is worth citing Naoko's thoughts on the spirit of this institution in length, because it sums up the very struggle that animates the story:
"It may well be that we can never fully adapt to our deformities. Unable to find a place inside ourselves for the very real pain and suffering that these deformities cause, we come here to get way from such things. As long as we are here, we can get by without hurting others or being hurt by them because we know that we are 'deformed.' That's what distinguishes us from the outside world: most people go about their lives there unconscious of their deformities, while in this little world of ours the deformities themselves are a precondition. Just as Indians wear feathers on their heads to show which tribes they belong to, we wear our deformities in the open. And we live quietly so as not to hurt one another" (87).