Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood Summary and Analysis of Chapter 6


The day after receiving Naoko's letter, Toru sets out for the outskirts of Kyoto, where Ami Hostel is located. Situated in the middle of a forest, it immediately strikes him as a very peculiar, self-secluded world where all is incredibly peaceful and clean. He meets Reiko Ishida, a woman in her late-thirties who is Naoko's roommate, and over lunch with her hears about how the sanatorium encourages honesty and the acceptance of one's own problems, such that the line between patients and doctors is blurred and all help each other. Reiko shows him to the small house where she and Naoko live and then leave him there; Toru dozes off but is awoken when Naoko unexpectedly visits him for a short talk before slipping off again. Later she returns with Reiko, and the three eat dinner together before returning to their house to chat and listen to Reiko playing guitar. Naoko begins to talk about why she wasn't able to sleep with Kizuki but then breaks down in tears; Reiko suggests that Toru take a walk while she calms Naoko, and after he returns Reiko joins him and tells him her life story.

Once a young aspiring concert pianist, Reiko was stricken by a psychological disorder and committed to mental institutions. Though she forfeited her dream, she nonetheless seemed to return to life when she married a man who promises to take care of her. However, this family life of hers was destroyed when she took on a neighbor's thirteen year-old daughter as a piano student; outwardly the girl was angelic, but as Reiko discovered too late, inwardly she was a pathological liar. At this point in her storytelling, Reiko decides that it is time to go back to see Naoko.

Naoko apologizes for her breakdown and tells Toru that he was able to bring out the best in Kizuki whenever he was around. The three go to sleep, and then in the middle of the night Toru wakes up to see Naoko sitting in the moonlight near the couch where he is lying. As though in a dream, she moves to his side and removes her nightgown to reveal her naked body to him. Toru is struck by its sheer perfection. Just as silently as she entered his room, she leaves. The next morning Toru cannot find any explanation for what he saw, and after breakfast he, Naoko, and Reiko go on a long walk outside the sanatorium grounds to a nearby pasture and field. When Toru and Naoko get some time alone, Naoko gives Toru a handjob and tells him about how her sister committed suicide. That night Toru goes on another walk with Reiko, and she tells him the remainder of her story.

The young girl, her student, very nearly succeeded in seducing Reiko, but at the last moment Reiko was able to resist. Nevertheless, Reiko felt defiled by what had been done to her and began to feel dangerously anxious when the neighbors shunned her due to a rumor spread by the young girl that Reiko had tried to abuse her. In the end her mind snapped again, and as a result she left her husband and went to Ami Hostel.

The next morning Toru takes the train back to Tokyo, where he feels alienated and disoriented by the disorderly rush of cars and crowds so unlike the quiet and peaceful life at Ami Hostel.


Although Toru habitually goes travelling, his trip to Ami Hostel to visit Naoko takes him into a wholly different kind of world than the one he is used to in Tokyo or elsewhere; riding on a bus from Kyoto deep into the wooded mountains around it, Toru watches the landscapes and surrounding human habitations change until he reaches a kind of empty place: "At the stop where I got off, there was nothing — no houses, no fields, just the bus stop sign, a little stream, and the trail opening" (92). Just as Naoko had described it in her letters, the sanatorium is a very insulated, clean, neat, and quiet place, albeit with a tinge of strangeness in the behavior of its residents, doctors and patients alike. However, rarely is there the sense of anything threatening; as Toru notes, people eating in the cafeteria speak in subdued and unchanging voices and everything seems very comfortable as though removed from all things.

His conversation with Ami Hostel’s gatekeeper about pork in Tokyo makes the sheer anachronistic nature of the place all the more apparent: all the people there, especially those who have been there for a long time, have only memories as their connections with the outside world. Reiko, for instance, has been cut off from her family due to the stigma of her mental illness and so has no human contact with the outside world except for some people living in the nearby area. With the sense that they have come to a utopian place where personal deformities are recognized instead of unhealthily concealed, the patients are reluctant to leave, especially knowing that they would not be able to return; we might read this to mean that the sanatorium is a kind of incubator which relaxes a person and so improves their condition. For some, this solves their problems and allows them to return to the real world, but for many others this makes it impossible for them to return. As Naoko tells Toru during his visit, she is using all her energies to keep herself together and so cannot afford to relax herself; while her stay at the sanatorium seems to actually allow her to be more relaxed, she senses quite presciently that there are still serious tensions within her that, though abating, could be stirred up at any moment by an external stimulus.

In contrast to Reiko and what we assume is the case with most of the other patients, Naoko maintains a connection to the external world through her correspondence with Toru and his visits in person. The scene in which she sneaks an early visit to see Toru in her house is rich with highly evocative detail:

"I lay there for a long time, letting my mind wander from one memory to another…How long did this go on? I was so immersed in that torrent of memory (and it was a torrent, like a spring gushing out of the rocks) that I failed to notice Naoko quietly open the door and come in. I opened my eyes, and there she was…At first I thought she might be an image spun into existence by my own memories. But it was the real Naoko" (103).

Just as in the beginning of the previous chapter when reading the first paragraph of Naoko's letter makes Toru feel overwhelmed by a "torrent of memory," in this chapter Naoko is never simply Naoko: just as when Kizuki was alive, Toru cannot think of her but as a part of his best friend. Even though the Toru and Naoko have formed many memories since Kizuki's death, the eternal 17-year-old is never truly absent from their relationship. Although Naoko may have been somewhat quiet in that seemingly idyllic period of their lives when all three were together, it seems fair to say that she did not take on her dangerously clear, cold, and otherworldly personality until the trauma of her boyfriend's suicide. One should remember that she is always yearning to be reunited with him; even her sexual intimacy with Toru seems in one respect to draw her away from life. Nowhere is this clearer than the night the two have intercourse, when it is clearest that Toru is fulfilling the bond between Kizuki and Naoko, who were unable to have intercourse though both wanted to; the handjobs and blowjob that Naoko gives Toru also become inevitably connected to the ones she gave Kizuki and which she told Toru about.

The climactic scene of the chapter is when Naoko silently enters Toru's room, reveals her naked body to him in the all but supernatural light of the moon, and then leaves just as silently.

Just before he wakes up and sees her, Toru dreams a fantastic dream in which he tries to unburden the branches of willow trees of the "tiny birds" that sit on them to allow them to sway in the breeze, only for them to "[turn] into bird-shaped metal chunks that crashed to ground" (130). There is, of course, the sense that he is trying to free Naoko of her pain and attachment to the dead, and despite his optimism there is also a dreadful premonition of the futility of his efforts.

"Naoko stayed frozen in place, like a small nocturnal animal that has been lured out by the moonlight. The direction of the glow exaggerated the silhouette of her lips. Seeming utterly fragile and vulnerable, the silhouette pulsed almost imperceptibly with the beating of her heart or the motions of her inner heart, as if she were whispering soundless words to the darkness" (130).

Later Naoko tells Toru about the voices that speak to her from the darkness, which presumably come from Kizuki and her sister, both of whom died by the own hands out of loneliness, or a sense of lack. In this scene, the moonlight provides the almost ritualistic conveyance by which Naoko is able to establish a connection with them—and speak to them, an action that is especially significant considering her problematic relationship with words—and moreover share that connection wordlessly with Toru. As in many cases, she makes the connection first with her unique eyes: "Strangely transparent, they seemed like windows to a world beyond, but however long I peered into their depths, there was nothing I could see. Our faces were no more than ten inches apart, but she was light-years away from me" (130).

Then she shows him her "perfect flesh,” so unlike the "imbalance and awkwardness" that he had felt in her when he slept with her (131). However, very significantly, Toru notes that whereas the latter gave him an incredible level of sexual arousal, there was nothing arousing about the former. If we associate this perfection with death—for it is only in death that Naoko can actually be reunited with Kizuki and thereby completed—then it becomes apparent that the life-giving act of sex is impossible in the face of it. This scene shows Naoko at the zenith of her non-communicability, which is also the height of her beauty and her alienation from life, the direct opposite of the night she wept and slept with Toru.