Dance Dance Dance
translated by Alfred BirnbaumAcclaim
"An entertaining mix of modern sci-fi, nail-biting suspense, and
ancient myth ?a sometimes funny, sometimes sinister mystery spoof
?[that] also aims at contemporary human concerns." — Chicago Tribune
"The plot is addictive." — Detroit Free Press
"There are novelists who dare to imagine the future, but none is as
scrupulously, amusingly up-to-the-minute as ?Murakami." — Newsday
"[Dance Dance Dance] has the fascination of a well-written detective
story combined with a surreal dream narrative ?full of appealing,
well-developed characters." — Philadelphia Inquirer
"A world-class writer who ?takes big risks?If Murakami is the voice
of a generation, then it is the generation of Thomas Pynchon and Don
DeLillo." — Washington Post Book World
"All the hallmarks of Murakami's greatness are here: restless and
sensitive characters, disturbing shifts into altered reality, silky
smooth turns of phrase and a narrative with all the momentum of a
roller-coaster?This is the sort of page-turner [Mishima] might have
written." — Publishers Weekly
"[Murakami's] writing injects the rock 'n' roll of everyday language
into the exquisite silences of Japanese literary prose." — Harper's
"One of the most exciting new writers to appear on the international
scene." — USA Today
About Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and grew up in Kobe. He is
the author of A Wild Sheep Chase; Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End
of the World; and The Elephant Vanishes. He lives with his wife in
Books by Haruki Murakami:
South of the Border, West of the Sun
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Dance Dance Dance
The Elephant Vanishes
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
A Wild Sheep Chase
I often dream about the Dolphin Hotel.
In these dreams, I'm there, implicated in some kind of ongoing
circumstance. All indications are that I belong to this dream
The Dolphin Hotel is distorted, much too narrow. It seems more like
a long, covered bridge. A bridge stretching endlessly through time.
And there I am, in the middle of it. Someone else is there too,
The hotel envelops me. I can feel its pulse, its heat. In dreams, I
am part of the hotel.
I wake up, but where? I don't just think this, I actually voice the
question to myself: "Where am I?" As if I didn't know: I'm here. In
my life. A feature of the world that is my existence. Not that I
particularly recall ever having approved these matters, this
condition, this state of affairs in which I feature. There might be
a woman sleeping next to me. More often, I'm alone. Just me and the
expressway that runs right next to my apartment and, bedside, a
glass (five millimeters of whiskey still in it) and the malicious —
no, make that indifferent — dusty morning light. Sometimes it's
raining. If it is, I'll just stay in bed. And if there's whiskey
still left in the glass, I'll drink it. And I'll look at the
raindrops dripping from the eaves, and I'll think about the Dolphin
Hotel. Maybe I'll stretch, nice and slow. Enough for me to be sure
I'm myself and not part of something else. Yet I'll remember the
feel of the dream. So much that I swear I can reach out and touch
it, and the whole of that something that includes me will move. If I
strain my ears, I can hear the slow, cautious sequence of play take
place, like droplets in an intricate water puzzle falling, step upon
step, one after the other. I listen carefully. That's when I hear
someone softly, almost imperceptibly, weeping. A sobbing from
somewhere in the darkness. Someone is crying for me.
The Dolphin Hotel is a real hotel. It actually exists in a so-so
section of Sapporo. Once, a few years back, I spent a week there.
No, let me get that straight. How many years ago was it? Four. Or
more precisely, four and a half. I was still in my twenties. I
checked into the Dolphin Hotel with a woman I was living with. She'd
chosen the place. This is where we're staying, was what she said. If
it hadn't been for her, I doubt I'd ever have set foot in the place.
It was a tiny dump of a hotel. In the whole time we were there, I
don't know if we saw another paying customer. There were a couple of
characters milling around the lobby, but who knows if they were
staying there? A few keys were always missing from the board behind
the front desk, so I guess there were other hotel guests. Though not
too many. I mean, really, you hang out a hotel sign somewhere in a
major city, put a phone number in the business listings, it stands
to reason you're not going to go entirely without customers. But
granting there were other customers besides ourselves, they were
awfully quiet. We never heard a sound from them, hardly saw a sign
of their presence — with the exception of the arrangement of the
keys on the board that changed slightly each day. Were they like
shadows creeping along the walls of the corridors, holding their
breath? Occa- sionally we'd hear the dull rattling of the elevator,
but when it stopped the oppressive silence bore down once more.
A mysterious hotel.
What it reminded me of was a biological dead end. A genetic
retrogression. A freak accident of nature that stranded some
organism up the wrong path without a way back. Evolutionary vector
eliminated, orphaned life-form left cowering behind the curtain of
history, in The Land That Time Forgot. And through no fault of
anyone. No one to blame, no one to save it.
The hotel should never have been built where it was. That was the
first mistake, and everything got worse from there. Like a button on
a shirt buttoned wrong, every attempt to correct things led to yet
another fine — not to say elegant — mess. No detail seemed right.
Look at anything in the place and you'd find yourself tilting your
head a few degrees. Not enough to cause you any real harm, nor
enough to seem particularly odd. Who knows? You might get used to
this slant on things (but if you did, you'd never be able to view
the world again without holding your head out of true).
That was the Dolphin Hotel. Normalness, it lacked. Confusion piled
on confusion until the saturation point was reached, destined in the
not-too-distant future to be swallowed in the vortex of time. Anyone
could recognize that at a glance. A pathetic place, woebegone as a
three-legged black dog drenched in December rain. Sad hotels existed
everywhere, to be sure, but the Dolphin was in a class of its own.
The Dolphin Hotel was conceptually sorry. The Dolphin Hotel was
It goes without saying, then, that aside from those poor,
unsuspecting souls who happened upon it, no one would willingly
choose to stay there.
A far cry from its name (to me, the "Dolphin" sobriquet suggested a
pristine white-sugar candy of a resort hotel on the Aegean Sea), if
not for the sign hung out front, you'd never have known the building
was a hotel. Even with the sign and the brass plaque at the
entrance, it scarcely looked the part. What it really resembled was
a museum. A peculiar kind of museum where persons with peculiar
curiosities might steal away to see peculiar items on display.
Which actually was not far from the truth. The hotel was indeed part
museum. But I ask, would anyone want to stay in such a hotel? In a
lodge-cum-reliquary, its dark corridors blocked with stuffed sheep
and musty fleeces and mold-covered documents and discolored
photographs? Its corners caked with unfulfilled dreams?
The furniture was faded, the tables wobbled, the locks were useless.
The floorboards were scuffed, the light bulbs dim; the washstand,
with ill-fitting plug, couldn't hold water. A fat maid walked the
halls with elephant strides, ponderously, ominously coughing. And
the sad-eyed, middle-aged owner, stationed permanently behind the
front desk, had two fingers missing. The kind of a guy, by the looks
of him, for whom nothing goes right. A veritable specimen of the
type — dredged up from an overnight soak in thin blue ink, soul
stained by misfortune, failure, defeat. You'd want to put him in a
glass case and cart him to your science class: Homo nihilsuccessus.
Almost anyone who saw the guy would, to a greater or lesser degree,
feel their spirits dampen. Not a few would be angered (some folks
get upset seeing miserable examples of humanity). So who would stay
in that hotel?
Well, we stayed there. This is where we're staying, she'd said. And
then later she disappeared. She upped and vanished. It was the Sheep
Man who told me so. Thewomanleftalonethisafternoon, the Sheep Man
said. Somehow, the Sheep Man knew. He'd known that she had to get
out. Just as I know now. Her purpose had been to lead me there. As
if it were her fate. Like the Moldau flowing to the sea. Like rain.
When I started having these dreams about the Dolphin Hotel, she was
the first thing that came to mind. She was seeking me out. Why else
would I keep having the same dream, over and over again? She. What
was her name? The months we'd spent together, and yet I never knew.
What did I actually know about her? She'd been in the employ of an
exclusive call girl club. A club for members only; persons of
less-than-impeccable standing not welcome. So she was a high-class
hooker. She'd had a couple other jobs on the side. During regular
business hours she was a part-time proofreader at a small publishing
house; she was also an ear model. In other words, she kept busy.
Naturally, she wasn't nameless. In fact I'm sure she went by a
number of names. At the same time, practically speaking, she didn't
have a name. Whatever she carried — which was next to nothing — bore
no name. She had no train pass, no driver's license, no credit
cards. She did carry a little notebook, but that was scrawled in an
indecipherable code. Apparently she wanted no handle on her
identity. Hookers may have names, but they inhabit a world that
doesn't need to know.
I hardly knew a thing about her. Her birthplace, her real age, her
birthday, her schooling and family background — zip. Precipitate as
weather, she appeared from somewhere, then evaporated, leaving only
But now, the memory of her is taking on renewed reality. A palpable
reality. She has been calling me via that circumstance known as the
Dolphin Hotel. Yes, she is seeking me once more. And only by
becoming part of the Dolphin Hotel will I ever see her again. Yes,
there is no doubt: it is she who is crying for me.
Gazing at the rain, I consider what it means to belong, to become
part of something. To have someone cry for me. From someplace
distant, so very distant. From, ultimately, a dream. No matter how
far I reach out, no matter how fast I run, I'll never make it.
Why would anyone want to cry for me?
She is definitely calling me. From somewhere in the Dolphin Hotel.
And apparently, somewhere in my own mind, the Dolphin Hotel is what
I seek as well. To be taken into that scene, to become part of that
weirdly fateful venue.
It is no easy matter to return to the Dolphin Hotel, not a simple
question of ringing up for a reservation, hopping on a plane, flying
to Sapporo, and mission accomplished. For the hotel is, as I've
suggested, as much circumstance as place, a state of being in the
guise of a hotel. To return to the Dolphin Hotel means facing up to
a shadow of the past. The prospect alone depresses. It has been all
I could do these four years to rid myself of that chill, dim shadow.
To return to the Dolphin Hotel is to give up all I'd quietly set
aside during this time. Not that what I'd achieved is anything
great, mind you. However you look at it, it's pretty much the stuff
of tentative convenience. Okay, I'd done my best. Through some
clever juggling I'd managed to forge a connection to reality, to
build a new life based on token values. Was I now supposed to give
But the whole thing started there. That much was undeniable. So the
story had to start back there.
I rolled over in bed, stared at the ceiling, and let out a deep
sigh. Oh give in, I thought. But the idea of giving in didn't take
hold. It's out of your hands, kid. Whatever you may be thinking, you
can't resist. The story's already decided.
I got sent to Hokkaido on assignment. As work goes, it wasn't
terribly exciting, but I wasn't in a position to choose. And anyway,
with the jobs that come my way, there's generally very little
difference. For better or worse, the further from the midrange of
things you go, the less relative qualities matter. The same holds
for wavelengths: Pass a certain point and you can hardly tell which
of two adjacent notes is higher in pitch, until finally you not only
can't distinguish them, you can't hear them at all.
The assignment was a piece called "Good Eating in Hakodate" for a
women's magazine. A photographer and I were to visit a few
restaurants. I'd write the story up, he'd supply the photos, for a
total of five pages. Well, somebody's got to write these things. And
the same can be said for collecting garbage and shoveling snow. It
doesn't matter whether you like it or not — a job's a job.
For three and a half years, I'd been making this kind of
contribution to society. Shoveling snow. You know, cultural snow.
Due to some unavoidable circumstances, I had quit an office that a
friend and I were running, and for half a year I did almost nothing.
I didn't feel like doing anything. The previous autumn all sorts of
things had happened in my life. I got divorced. A friend died, very
mysteriously. A woman ran out on me, without a word. I met a strange
man, found myself caught up in some extraordinary developments. And
by the time everything was over, I was overwhelmed by a stillness
deeper than anything I'd known. A devastating absence hovered about
my apartment. I stayed shut-in for six months. I never went out
during the day, except to make the absolute minimum purchases
necessary to survive. I'd venture into the city with the first gray
of dawn and walk the deserted streets, and when the streets started
to fill with people, I holed up back indoors to sleep.
Toward evening, I'd rise, fix something to eat, feed the cat. Then
I'd sit on the floor and methodically go over the things that had
happened to me, trying to make sense of them. Rearrange the order of
events, list up all possible alternatives, consider the right or
wrong of what I'd done. This went on until the dawn, when I'd go out
and wander the streets again.
For half a year that was my daily routine. From January through June
1979. I didn't read one book. I didn't open one newspaper. I didn't
watch TV, didn't listen to the radio. Never saw anyone, never talked
to anyone. I hardly even drank; I wasn't in a drinking frame of
mind. I had no idea what was going on in the world, who'd become
famous, who'd died, nothing. It wasn't that I stubbornly resisted
information, I simply had no desire to know anything. Even so, I
knew things were happening. The world didn't stop. I could feel it
in my skin, even sitting alone in my apartment. Though little did it
compel me to show interest. It was like a silent breath of air,
breezing past me.
Sitting on the floor, I'd replay the past in my head. Funny, that's
all I did, day after day after day for half a year, and I never
tired of it. What I'd been through seemed so vast, with so many
facets. Vast but real, very real, which was why the experience
persisted in towering before me, like a monument lit up at night.
And the thing was, it was a monument to me. I inspected the events
from every possible angle. I'd been damaged, badly, I suppose. The
damage was not petty. Blood had flowed, quietly. After a while some
of the anguish went away, some surfaced only later. And yet my half
year indoors was not spent in convalescence. Nor in autistic denial
of the external world. I simply needed time to get back on my feet.
Once on my feet, I tried not to think about where I was heading.
That was another question entirely, to be thought out at a later
date. The main thing was to recover my equilibrium.
I scarcely talked to the cat. The telephone rang. I let it ring. If
someone knocked on the door, I wasn't there. There were a few
letters. A couple from my former partner, who didn't know where I
was or what I was up to and was concerned. Was there anything he
could do to help? His new business was going smoothly, old
acquaintances had asked about me.
My ex-wife wrote, needing some practical affairs taken care of, very
matter-of-fact. Then she mentioned she was getting married — to
someone I didn't know, and probably never would. Which meant she'd
split up with that friend of mine she'd gone off with when we
divorced. Not surprising, them splitting up. The guy wasn't so great
a jazz guitarist and he wasn't so great a person either. Never could
understand what she saw in him — but none of my business, eh? About
me, she said she wasn't worried. She was sure I'd be fine whatever
it was I chose to do. She reserved her worries for the people I'd
get involved with.
I read these letters over a few times, then filed them away. And so
the months passed.
Money wasn't a problem. I had saved plenty enough to live on, and I
wasn't thinking about what came later. Winter was past.
And spring took hold. The scent of the wind changed. Even the
darkness of night was different.
At the end of May, Kipper, my cat, died. Suddenly, without warning.
I woke up one day and found him curled up on the kitchen floor,
dead. He himself probably hadn't known it was happening. His body
was cold and hard, like yesterday's roast chicken, sheen gone from
the fur. He could hardly have claimed he had the best life. Never
really loved by anyone, never seeming really to love anyone either.
His eyes always had this uneasy look, like, what now? You don't see
that look in a cat too often. But anyway, he was dead. Nothing more.
Maybe that's the best thing about death.
I put his body in a Seiyu supermarket bag, placed him on the
backseat of the car, and drove to the hardware store for a shovel. I
turned off the highway a good ways up in the hills and found an
appropriate grove of trees. A fair distance back from the road I dug
a hole one meter deep and laid Kipper in his shopping bag to rest.
Then I shoveled dirt on top of him. Sorry, I told the little guy,
that's just how it goes. Birds were singing the whole time I was
burying him. The upper registers of a flute recital.
Once the hole was filled in, I tossed the shovel into the trunk of
the car, and got back on the highway. I turned the radio on as I
drove home to Tokyo.
Which is when the DJ had to put on Ray Charles moaning about being
born to lose .?and now I'm losing you.
I felt like crying. Sometimes one little thing will do the trick. I
turned the radio off and pulled into a service area. First, I washed
the dirt from my hands, then went into the restaurant. I could only
manage a third of a sandwich, but I put down two cups of coffee.
What was Kipper doing now? I wondered. Down there in the dark. The
sound of the dirt hitting the Seiyu bag echoed in my brain. That's
just how it goes, pal, for me the same as you.
I sat staring at my unfinished sandwich for an hour. Until a
violet-uniformed waitress came by and nervously asked if she could
clear the plate away.
That's that, I thought. So now, back to society.
It takes no great effort to find work in the giant anthill of an
advanced capitalist society. That is, of course, so long as you're
not asking the impossible. When I still had my office, I did my
share of editing and writing, and I'd gotten to know a few
professionals in the field. So as I embarked on a free-lance career,
there was no major retooling required. I didn't need much to live on
I pulled out my address book and made some calls. I asked if there
was work available. I said I'd been laying back but was ready to
take stuff on. Almost immediately jobs came my way. Though not
particularly interesting jobs, mostly filler for PR newsletters and
company brochures. Speaking conservatively, I'd say half the
material I wrote was meaningless, of no conceivable use to anyone. A
waste of pulp and ink. But I did the work, mechanically, without
thinking. At first, the load wasn't much, maybe a couple hours a
day. The rest of the time I'd be out walking or seeing a movie. I
saw a lot of movies. For three months, I had an easy time of it. I
was slowly getting back in touch.
Then, in early autumn, things began to change. Work orders increased
dramatically. The phone rang nonstop, my mailbox was overflowing. I
met people in the business and had lunch with them. They promised me
more work. The reason was simple. I was never choosy about the jobs
I did. I was willing to do anything, I met my deadlines, I never
complained, I wrote legibly. And I was thorough. Where others
slacked off, I did an honest write. I was never snide, even when the
pay was low. If I got a call at two-thirty in the morning asking for
twenty pages of text (about, say, the advantages of non-digital
clocks or the appeal of women in their forties or the most beautiful
spots in Helsinki, where, needless to say, I'd never been) by six
A.M., I'd have it done by five-thirty. And if they called back for a
rewrite, I had it to them by six. You bet I had a good reputation.
The same as for shoveling snow.
Let it snow and I'd show you a thing or two about efficient
And with not one speck of ambition, not one iota of expectation. My
only concern was to do things systematically, from one end to the
other. I sometimes wonder if this might not prove to be the bane of
my life. After wasting so much pulp and ink myself, who was I to
complain about waste? We live in an advanced capitalist society,
after all. Waste is the name of the game, its greatest virtue.
Politicians call it "refinements in domestic consumption." I call it
meaningless waste. A difference of opinion. Which doesn't change the
way we live. If I don't like it, I can move to Bangladesh or Sudan.
I for one am not eager to live in Bangladesh or Sudan.
So I kept working.
And soon enough, it wasn't just PR work. I got called to do bits and
pieces for regular magazines. For some reason, mostly women's
magazines. I started doing interviews, minor legwork reportage. But
really, the work wasn't much of an improvement over PR newsletters.
Due to the nature of these magazines, most of the people I had to
interview were in show business. No matter what you asked them, they
had only stock replies. You could predict what they'd answer before
you asked the question. In the worst cases, the man- ager would
insist on seeing the questions in advance. So I always came with
everything written out. Once I asked a seventeen-year-old singer
something that wasn't on the list, which caused her manager to pipe
up: "That wasn't what we agreed on — she doesn't have to answer
that." That was a kick. I wondered if the girl couldn't answer what
month followed October without this manager by her side. Still, I
did my best. Before each interview I did my homework, surveyed
available sources, tried to come up with questions others wouldn't
think to ask. I took pains structuring the article. Not that these
efforts received any special recognition. They never got me an
appreciative word. I went the extra step because, for me, it was the
simplest way. Self-discipline. Giving my disused fingers and head a
practical — and if at all possible, harmless — dose of overwork.
After that, my days were busier than ever. Not only with double or
triple my regular load, but with a lot of rush jobs too. Without
fail, jobs that had no takers found their way to me. My role in
those circles was the junkyard at the edge of town. Anything,
particularly if complicated or a pain, would get hauled to me for
By way of thanks, my savings account swelled to figures I'd never
seen the likes of, though I was too busy to spend much of it. So
when a guy I knew offered me a good deal, I got rid of my
nothing-but-headaches car and bought his year-old Subaru Leone.
Hardly any miles on it, stereo and air-conditioning. A real first
for me. And I moved to an apartment in Shibuya, closer to the center
of town. It was a bit noisy — the expressway passing right outside
my window — but you got used to it.
I slept with a few women I met through work.
I had a sense about which women I ought to sleep with. And which
women I'd be able to sleep with, which not. Maybe even which I
shouldn't sleep with. It's an intelligence that comes with age. I
also knew when to call it quits, all very nice and easy so no one
got hurt. The only thing missing was those tugs on the heartstrings.
The deepest I got involved was with a woman who worked at the phone
company. I met her at a New Year's party. Both of us were tipsy, we
joked with each other, liked each other, and ended up back at my
place. She had a good head on her shoulders and terrific legs. We
went for rides in my new-used Subaru. She'd call, whenever the mood
struck, and come over and spend the night. She was the only
relationship with one foot in the door like that. Though both of us
knew there was no place this thing could go. Still, we quietly
shared something approaching a pardon from life. I knew days of
peace for the first time in ages. We exchanged tenderness, talked in
whispers. I cooked for her, gave her birthday presents. We'd go to
jazz clubs and have cocktails. We never argued, not once. We knew
exactly what we wanted in each other. And even so, it ended. One day
it stopped, as if the film simply slipped off the reel.
Her departure left me emptier than I would have suspected. For a
while, I stayed in again.
The problem was that I hadn't wanted her, really wanted her. I'd
liked her, liked being with her. She brought me back to gentle
feelings. But what it came down to was, I never felt a need for her.
Not three days after she got out of my life, the realization hit
home. That ultimately, all the time I'd been next to her, I might as
well have been on the moon. The whole while I'd felt her breasts
against me, I'd really wanted something else.
It took four years to get my life back on steady ground. I carefully
dispatched each piece of work that came my way, and people came to
feel they could depend on me. Not many, but a few, even became
friendly. Though, it goes without saying, that wasn't enough. Not
enough at all. Here I'd spent all this time trying to get up to
speed, and I was back to where I started.
Okay, I thought, age thirty-four, square one. What do you do now? I
didn't have to think much about that one. I knew already. The answer
had been floating over my head like a dark, dense cloud. All I had
to do was take action, instead of putting it off and putting it off.
/ had to go to the Dolphin Hotel. That's where it all started.
I also had to find her. The woman who'd first guided me to the
Dolphin Hotel, she who'd been a high-class call girl in her own
covert world of night. (Under astonishing circumstances, I was to
learn this nameless woman's name sometime later, but, for reasons of
convenience, unorthodox as it will seem, I'll tell it to you now.
Pardon me, please. It was Kiki.) Yes, Kiki held the key. I had to
call her back to me. To a life with me she'd left never to return.
Was it possible? Who knew, but I had to try. From then would begin a
I packed my bags, did double time to finish up outstanding work,
then canceled all the jobs I'd penciled in for the next month. I
said I was leaving Tokyo on family business. A couple of editors
made noises, but what could they do? I'd never let them down before,
and besides I was giving them plenty of advance notice to find other
ways and means. In the end, it was fine. I'd be back in a month, I
Then I took a flight to Hokkaido. This was the beginning of March
Of course, the family business wasn't over in anything near a month.
I booked a taxi for two days, and the photographer and I raced
around Hakodate in the snow checking out eateries in the city.
I'm good at researching, very systematic, very efficient. The most
important thing about this sort of job is to do your homework and
set up a schedule. That's the key. When it comes to gathering
materials beforehand, you can't beat organizations that compile
information for people in the field. Become a member and pay your
dues; they'll look up almost anything for you. So if by chance
you're researching eating places in Hakodate, they can dig up quite
a bit. They use mainframe computer retrieval, arrange the facts in
file format, print out hard copy, even deliver to your doorstep.
Granted, it's not cheap, but plenty worth the time it buys.
In addition to that, I do a little walking for information myself.
There are reading rooms specializing in travel materials, libraries
that collect local newspapers and regional publications. From all of
these sources, I pick out the promising spots, then call them up to
check their business hours. This much done, I've saved a lot of
trouble on site. Then I draw lines in a notebook and plan out each
day's itinerary. I look at maps and mark in the routes we'll travel.
Trying to reduce uncertainties to a minimum.
Once we arrive in Hakodate, the photographer and I go around to the
restaurants in order. There are about thirty. We take a couple of
bites — just enough to get the taste — then casually leave the rest
of the meal uneaten. Refinements in consumption. We're still
undercover at this stage, so no picture taking. Only after leaving
the premises do the photographer and I discuss the food and evaluate
it on a scale of one to ten. If it passes, it stays on the list; if
not, it's out. We generally figure on dropping at least half. Taking
a parallel tack, we also check the local papers for listings of
places we've missed, selecting maybe five. We go to these too, and
weed out the not-so-good. Then we've got our finalists. I call them
up, give the name of the magazine, tell them we'd like to do a
feature on them — text with photos. All that in two days. Nights, I
stay in my hotel room, laying down the basic copy.
The next day, while the photographer does quick shots of the food
and table settings, I talk to the restaurant owners. Saves on time.
So we can call it a wrap in three days. True, there are those in our
league who take even less time. But they don't do any research. They
do a handful of the more well-known spots, cruise through without
eating a thing, write brief comments. It's their business, not mine.
If I may be perfectly frank, I doubt that many writers take as many
pains as I do at this level of reportage. It's the kind of work that
can break you if you're too serious about it, or you can kick back
and do almost nothing. The worst of it is, whether you're earnest or
you loaf, the difference will hardly show in the finished piece. On
the surface. Only in the finer points can you find any hint of the
I'm not explaining this out of pride or anything.
I just wanted you to have a rough idea of the job, the sort of
expendables I deal with.
On the third night, I finish writing.
The fourth day is left free, just in case.
But since the work has been completed and we don't have anything
else in the tube, we rent a car and head off for a day of
cross-country skiing. That evening, the two of us settle down to
drinks over a nice, simmering hot pot. One day's relaxation. I turn
over my manuscript to the photographer, and that's it. My job's
done, the work's in someone else's hands.
But before turning in that evening, I rang up Sapporo directory
assistance for the number of the Dolphin Hotel. I didn't have to
wait long. I sat up in bed and sighed. Well, at least the Dolphin
Hotel hadn't gone under. Relief, I guess. Because I wouldn't have
been surprised if it had, a mysterious place like that. I took a
deep breath, dialed the number — and someone answered immediately.
As if they'd been just waiting for it to ring. So immediately, in
fact, I was taken aback.
"Hello, Dolphin Hotel!" went a cheerful voice.
It was a young woman. A woman? What's going on? I don't remember a
woman being there.
It didn't figure, so I checked if the address was the same. Yes, it
was exactly where the Dolphin Hotel I knew used to be. Maybe the
hotel had hired someone new, the owner's niece or something. Nothing
so odd about that. I told her I wanted to make a reservation.
"Thank you very much, sir," she chirped. "Please wait a moment while
I transfer you to our reservations desk."
Our reservations desk? Now I was really confused. I couldn't begin
to digest that one. What the hell happened to the old joint?
"Sorry to keep you waiting. This is the reservations desk. How may I
help you?" This time, a young man's voice. The brisk, friendly pitch
of the professional hotel man. Curiouser and curiouser.
I asked for a single room for three nights. I gave him my name and
my Tokyo phone number.
"Very well, sir. That's three nights, starting from tomorrow. Your
single room will be waiting for you."
I couldn't think of anything to say to that, so I thanked him and
hung up, completely disoriented. Shouldn't I have asked for an
explanation? Oh well, it'd all become clear once I got there. And
anyway, I couldn't not go. I didn't have an alternative.
I asked the concierge to check the schedule for trains to Sapporo.
After that, I got room service to send up a bottle of whiskey and
some ice, and I stayed up watching a late-night movie on TV. A Clint
Eastwood western. Clint didn't smile once, didn't sneer. I tried
laughing at him, but he never broke his deadpan. The movie ended and
I'd had my fill of whiskey, so I turned out the light and slept
straight through the night. If I dreamed, I don't remember.
All I could see outside the window of the early morning express
train was snow. It was a bright, clear day, so the glare soon got to
be too much. I didn't see another passenger looking out the windows.
They all knew what snow looks like.
I'd skipped breakfast, so a little before noon I made my way to the
dining car. Beer and an omelet. Across from me sat a fiftyish man in
a suit and tie, having beer with a ham sandwich. He looked like a
mechanical engineer, and that's just what he was. He spoke to me
first, telling me he serviced jets for the Self-Defense Forces. Then
he filled me in on how Soviet fighters and bombers invaded our
airspace, though he didn't seem particularly upset about it. He was
more concerned about the economics of F4 Phantoms. How much fuel
they guzzled in one scramble, a terrible waste. "If the Japanese had
made them, you can bet they'd be more efficient. And at no loss to
performance either! There's no reason why we couldn't build a
low-cost fighter if we wanted to."
That's when I proffered my words of wisdom, that waste is the
highest virtue one can achieve in advanced capitalist society. The
fact that Japan bought Phantom jets from America and wasted vast
quantities of fuel on scrambles put an extra spin in the global
economy, and that extra spin lifted capitalism to yet greater
heights. If you put an end to all the waste, mass panic would ensue
and the global economy would go haywire. Waste is the fuel of
contradiction, and contradiction activates the economy, and an
active economy creates more waste.
Well, maybe so, the engineer admitted, but having been a wartime
child who had to live under deprived conditions, he couldn't grasp
what this new social structure meant. "Our generation, we're not
like you young folks," he said, straining a smile. "We don't
understand these complex workings of yours."
I couldn't say I exactly understood things either, but as I wasn't
eager for the conversation to drag on, I kept quiet. No, I'm not
used to things; I just recognize them for what they are. There's a
decisive difference between those two propositions. Which is just as
well, I supposed, as I finished my omelet and excused myself.
I slept for thirty minutes, and the rest of the trip I read a
biography of Jack London I'd bought near the Hakodate station.
Compared to the grand sweep and romance of Jack London's life, my
existence seemed like a squirrel with its head against a walnut,
dozing until spring. For the time being, that is. But that's how
biographies are. I mean, who's going to read about the peaceful life
and times of a nobody employed at the Kawasaki Municipal Library? In
other words, what we seek is some kind of compensation for what we
put up with.
Arriving at Sapporo, I decided to take a leisurely stroll to the
hotel. It was a pleasant enough afternoon, and I was carrying only a
The streets were covered in a thin layer of slush, and people
trained their eyes carefully at their feet. The air was
exhilarating. High school girls came bustling along, their rosy red
cheeks puffing white breaths you could have written cartoon captions
in. I continued my amble, taking in the sights of the town. It had
been four and a half years since I was in Sapporo. It seemed like
much longer. Along the way I stopped into a coffee shop. All around
me normal, everyday city types were going about their normal,
everyday affairs. Lovers were whispering to each other, businessmen
were poring over spread sheets, college kids were planning their
next ski trip and discussing the new Police album. We could have
been in any city in Japan. Transplant this coffee shop scene to
Yokohama or Fukuoka and nothing would seem out of place. In spite of
which — or, rather, all the more because — here I was, sitting in
this coffee shop, drinking my coffee, feeling a desperate
loneliness. I alone was the outsider. I had no place here.
Of course, by the same token, I couldn't really say I belonged to
Tokyo and its coffee shops. But I had never felt this loneliness
there. I could drink my coffee, read my book, pass the time of day
without any special thought, all because I was part of the regular
scenery. Here I had no ties to anyone. Fact is, I'd come to reclaim
I paid the check and left. Then, without further thought, I headed
for the hotel.
I didn't know the way exactly and part of me worried that I might
miss the place. I didn't. How could anyone have? It had been
transformed into a gleaming twenty-six-story Bauhaus Modern-Art Deco
symphony of glass and steel, with flags of various nations waving
along the driveway, smartly uniformed doormen hailing taxis, a glass
elevator shooting up to a penthouse restaurant. A bas-relief of a
dolphin was set into one of the marble columns by the entrance,
beneath which the inscription read:
I stood there a good twenty seconds, mouth agape, staring up at it.
Then I let out a long, deep breath that might as easily have been
beamed straight to the moon. Surprise was not the word.
I couldn't stand around gawking at the facade forever. Whatever this
building was, the address was correct, as was the name — for the
most part. And anyway, I had a reservation, right? There was nothing
to do but go in.
I walked up the gently sloped driveway and pushed my way through the
shiny brass revolving door. The lobby was large enough to be a
gymnasium, the ceiling at least two stories high. A wall of glass
rose the full height, and through it cascaded a brilliant shower of
sunlight. The floor space was appointed with a fleet of luxurious
designer sofas, between which were stationed planters of ornamental
trees. Lots of them. The overall decor focused on an oil painting —
three tatami mats large — of some Hokkaido marshland. Nothing
outstanding artistically, but impressive, if only for its size. At
the far end of the lobby a posh coffee bar beckoned. The sort of
place where you order a sandwich and they bring you four deviled ham
dainties arrayed like calling cards on a silver tray with an
embellishment of potato crisps and cornichons. Throw in a cup of
coffee and you're spending enough to buy a frugal family of four a
The lobby was crowded. Apparently a function was in progress. A
group of well-dressed, middle-aged men sat on facing sofas, nodding
and smiling magnanimously. Jaws thrust out, legs crossed,
identically. A professional organiza- tion? Doctors or university
professors? On their periphery — perhaps they were part of the same
gathering — cooed a clutch of young women in formal dress, some of
them in kimono, some in floor-length dresses. There were a few
Westerners as well, not to mention the requisite salarymen in dark
suits and harmless ties, attache cases in hand.
In a word, business was booming at the new Dolphin Hotel.
What we had here was a hotel founded on a proper outlay of capital
and now enjoying proper returns. But how the hell had this come
about? Well, I could guess, of course. Having once put together a PR
bulletin for a hotel chain, I knew the whole process. Before a hotel
of this scale is built, someone first costs out every aspect of the
venture in detail, then consultants are called in and every piece of
information is input into their computers for a thorough simulation
study. Everything including the wholesale price and usage volume of
toilet paper is taken into account. Then students are hired to go
around the city — Sapporo in this case — to do a market survey. They
stop young men and women on the street and ask how many weddings
they expect to attend each year. You get the picture. Little is left
unchecked. All in an effort to reduce business risk.
So the Hotel Dauphin project team had gone to great lengths over
many months to draw up as precise a plan as possible. They bought
the property, they assembled the staff, they pinned down flash
advertising space. If money was all it took — and they were
convinced they'd make that money back — there'd be no end of funds
pouring in. It's big business of a big order.
Now, the only enterprises that could embark on such a big business
venture were the huge conglomerates. Because even after paring away
the risks, there's bound to be some hidden factor of uncertainty
lurking around, which only a major player can conceivably absorb. To
be honest, this new Dolphin Hotel wasn't my kind of hotel.
Or at least, under normal circumstances, if I had to choose a place
to stay, I wouldn't go for one that looked like this. The rates are
too high; too much padding, too many frills. But this time the die
had been cast.
I went to the front desk and gave my name, whereupon three light
blue blazered young women with toothpaste-commercial smiles greeted
me. This smile training surely figured into the capital outlay. With
their virgin-snow white blouses and immaculate hairstyles, the
receptionists were picture-perfect. Of the three, one wore glasses,
which of course suited her nicely. When she stepped over to me, I
actually felt a shot of relief. She was the prettiest and most
immediately likable. There was something about her expression I
responded to, some embodiment of hotel spirit. I half expected her
to produce a tiny magic wand, like in a Disney movie, and tap out
swirls of diamond dust.
But instead of a magic wand, she used a computer, swiftly typing in
my name and credit card number, then verifying the details on the
display screen. Then she handed me my card-key, room number 1523. I
smiled as I accepted the hotel brochure from her. When had the hotel
opened? I asked. Last October, she answered, almost in reflex. It
was now in its fifth month of operation.
"You know," I began, donning my professional smile, "I seem to
remember a small hotel with a similar name in this location a few
years ago. Do you have any idea what became of it?"
A slight disturbance clouded her smile. Quiet ripples spread across
her face, as if a beer bottle had been tossed into a sacred spring.
By the time the ripples subsided, her reassumed smile was a shade
less cheerful than before. I observed the changes with great
interest. Would the sprite of the spring now appear to ask whether
the item I disposed of had a gold or silver twist top?
"Well, now," she hedged, touching the bridge of her glasses with her
index finger. "That was before we opened our doors, so I really
couldn't — "
Her words cut off. I waited for her to continue, but she didn't.
"I'm terribly sorry," she said.
"Oh," I said. Seconds went by. I found myself liking her. I wanted
to touch the bridge of my glasses as well, except that I wasn't
wearing any glasses. "Well, then, is there anyone you can ask?"
She held her breath a second, thinking it over. The smile vanished.
It's exceedingly difficult to hold your breath and keep smiling.
Just try it if you don't believe me.
"I'm terribly sorry," she said again, "but would you mind waiting a
bit?" Then she retreated through a door. Thirty seconds later, she
returned with a fortyish man in a black suit. A real live hotelier
by the looks of him. I'd met enough of them in my line of work. They
are a dubious species, with twenty-five different smiles on call for
every variety of circumstance. From the cool and cordial twinge of
disinterest to the measured grin of satisfaction. They wield the
entire arsenal by number, like golf clubs for particular shots.
"May I help you, please," he said, sending a midrange smile my way
with a polite bow of the head. When he noted my attire, however, the
smile was quickly adjusted down three notches. I was wearing my
fur-lined hunting jacket with a Keith Haring button pinned to the
chest, an Austrian Army-issue Alps Corps fur cap, a rough-and-ready
pair of hiking trousers with lots of pockets, and snow-tire treaded
work boots. All fine and practical items of dress, but just a tad
unsuitable for this hotel lobby. No fault of mine, only a difference
"You had a question concerning our hotel, I believe?" he voiced most
I put both hands on the counter and repeated my query.
The man cast a glance at my Mickey Mouse watch with the same
clinical unease a vet might direct at a cat's sprained paw. "Might I
inquire," he regained his composure to speak, "why you wish to know
about the previous hotel? If you don't mind my asking, that is?"
I explained as simply as I could: A good while back I had stayed at
the old Dolphin Hotel and gotten to know the owner; now, years
later, I visit and everything's completely changed. Which makes me
wonder, what happened to the old guy?
The man nodded attentively.
"In all honesty, I'm not entirely clear on the details myself," he
chose his words guardedly. "Nevertheless, my understanding of the
history of this hotel is that our concerns purchased the property
where the previous Dolphin Hotel stood and erected on the site what
we now have before us. As you can see, the name was for all intents
and purposes retained, but let me assure you that the management is
altogether separate, with no relation whatsoever to its
"Then why keep the name?"
"You must forgive me, I'm afraid I really don't?
"And I suppose you wouldn't have any idea where I could find the
"I am sorry, but no, I do not," he answered, moving on to smile
"Is there anyone else I could ask? Someone who might know?"
"Since you insist," the man began, straining his neck slightly. "We
are merely employees here, and accordingly we are strictly out of
touch with any goings on prior to when the current premises opened
for business. So unfortunately, if someone such as yourself desires
to know anything more specific, there's really very little ?
Certainly what he said made sense, yet something caught in the back
of my mind. Something artificial, manufactured really, about the
responses from both the young woman and the stiff now fielding my
questions. I couldn't put my finger on anything exactly, yet I
couldn't swallow the line. Do your share of interviews and you get
this professional sixth sense. That tone of voice when someone's
hiding something, that knowing expression of someone who's lying. No
real evidence to go on. Only a hunch, that there was more here than
Still, it was clear that nothing more would come from pushing them
further. I thanked the man; he excused himself and withdrew. After
his black suit had vanished from view, I asked the young woman about
meals and room service, and she went on at length. While she spoke,
I peered straight into her eyes. Beautiful eyes. I swear I almost
began to see things in them. But when she met my gaze, she blushed.
Which made me like her even more. Why was that? Was it that hotel
spirit in her? Whatever, I thanked her, turned away, and took the
elevator up to my floor.
Room 1523 proved to be quite a room. Both the bed and the bath were
far too big for a single. A full complement of shampoo, conditioner,
and after-shave was provided, as was a bathrobe. The refrigerator
was chock-full of snacks. There was an ample writing desk, with
plenty of stationery and envelopes. The closet was large, the carpet
deep-piled. I took off my coat and boots and picked up the hotel
brochure. Quite a production. They hadn't spared any expense on this
L'Hotel Dauphin represents a wholly new development in quality city
center lodgings, the brochure stated. Complete with the latest
conveniences and full twenty-four-hour services. Our guest rooms are
spacious and sumptuously styled. Featuring the finest selection of
products, a restful atmosphere, and a warm at-home feeling.
"Professional space with a human face."
In other words, they'd spent a lot of money, so the rates were high.
Indeed, this was a very well turned out hotel. A big shopping arcade
in the basement, an indoor pool, sauna, and tanning salon. Tennis
courts, a health club with training coaches and exercise equipment,
conference rooms outfitted for simultaneous translation, five
restaurants, three lounges, even a late-night cafe. Not to mention a
limousine service, free work space, unlimited business supplies
available to all guests. Anything you could want, they'd thought of
— and then some. A rooftop heliport?
Intelligent facilities in an impeccable decor.
But what of the commercial group that owned and operated this hotel?
I reread the brochure from cover to cover. Not one mention of the
management. Odd, to say the least. It was unthinkable that any but
the most experienced hotel chain could run a topflight operation
like this, and any enterprise of such scale would be certain to
stamp its name everywhere and take every opportunity to promote its
full line of hotels. You stay at one Prince Hotel and the brochure
lists every Prince Hotel in the whole of Japan. That's how it is.
And then there was still the question, why would a hotel of this
class take on the name of a dump like the old Dolphin?
I couldn't come up with even a flake of an answer to that one.
I threw the brochure onto the table, fell back into the sofa with my
feet kicked up, and looked out my fifteenth-story window. All I
could see was blue sky. I felt like I was flying.
All this was fine, but I missed the old dive. There'd been a lot to
see from those windows.