Photo/IllutrationCopies of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, “Killing Commendatore,” are stacked up at Sanseido bookstore in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on March 6. (Eiichi Murano)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

ODAWARA, Kanagawa Prefecture--This coastal city southwest of Tokyo expects to ride a new wave of prosperity due to novelist Haruki Murakami's latest work, which is set here.

Sanseido bookstore at the west exit of JR Odawara Station is promoting Murakami’s “Killing Commendatore” as "a local novel based in Odawara." More than 100 copies are displayed in the store front.

The bookstore sold 50 or so copies Feb. 24 when the two-volume novel was put on sale by its publisher, Shinchosha Publishing Co. The book also ranked as its top-seller early this month.

“In Odawara, history and literature have piled up like geological layers. I want Harukists (fans of Murakami’s novels) to walk around this city,” said Yoshihito Hirai, 54, manager of another bookstore, Hirai Shoten, which sells many books relating to the history and literature of Odawara.

In "Killing Commendatore," the protagonist, “I,” is a portrait painter who lives in the house of Tomohiko Amada, who switched styles from Western-style painting to Japanese-style painting.

The house, which accommodates his studio, is located in a mountainous area close to the Odawara-Atsugi Road and commands stunning views of Sagami Bay beyond a forest.

One scene in the novel describes an “ume” (Japanese apricot) grove, which symbolizes Odawara, and explains that many politicians maintained villas close by. The book mentions a villa kept by Fumimaro Konoe (1891-1945), who served three times as prime minister, which existed in the Iriuda district of western Odawara.

Murakami is believed to have based his Amada character on a painter named Sanko Inoue (1899-1981), who lived in the Iriuda district and developed a painting style that married those of Japan and Western Europe.

“Tomohiko Amada (in the novel) has similarities to Sanko Inoue. Both of them retreated to their studios located in mountains, and had periods in which they made Japan’s ancient world the focus of their work,” said Tatsushi Kishi, 90, a former chief priest of Tosenin temple, who is well-versed in the arts and culture of Odawara.

In the novel, important paintings are concealed in the attic. Inoue also hid his best works in the attic of his house before holding an exhibition in Washington in 1971.

“Haruki Murakami knew that, didn’t he?” painter, Ryohei Kusakabe, 82, who was a disciple of Inoue, said with surprise.

“Sanko (Inoue) was known to the world as coming from Odawara. I don't want people to forget him,” said Kusakabe.

A horned owl, which plays an important supporting role in the novel, is a bird that has been much loved by Odawara citizens.

Renowned poet Kitahara Hakushu (1885-1942) named the house he had constructed in Odawara during the Taisho Era (1912-1926) “Horned owl’s house.” Now, a kindergarten, “Mimizuku Yochien” (Horned owl kindergarten), stands on the site.

Odawara city government employee Hideo Takei, a big fan of Murakami’s works, noted that this giant of contemporary Japanese literature described the scenery of Odawara’s beach in another novel, “Dance Dance Dance.”

In "Killing Commendatore," Murakami penned a scene in which a restaurant chef at the Odawara fishing port offers dishes that use fish such as chicken grunts and goosefish.

"(I think that) Murakami, who learned in high school in (the port city of) Kobe, also got used to the scenery of the sea at Odawara and described the senses of people who live in mountains close to the sea," said Takei, 54.

The Odawara fishing port and the area of villas, both of which are described in the novel, are tourism resources upon which city authorities place growing importance.

Annual tourist numbers to Odawara have ranged between 4 million and 5 million in recent years. The city government aims to raise the figure to 7 million in 2022. The challenge is how to get tourists to visit not just the regular sights like Odawara Castle, but also surrounding areas.

“Using the world-renowned writer Murakami’s latest novel as a following wind, we want to make our city more attractive to tourists, including foreigners,” said Yoshihiro Takei, head of the tourism section of the city government.