If you were to choose a colour to describe yourself, what will it be? Will you choose red as you lived your life with passion and energy? Or will it be blue to reflect your calmness in even the most stressful situations? Perhaps, you might prefer white as you have purity of thoughts and seek high standards in life? Or, could it be black to symbolise your stoic and unnerving personality? Or are there no appropriate colours and you consider yourself to be colourless – void of any identity and ordinary in all aspects?
In Murakami’s book, “Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”, the protagonist Tsukuru is colourless amongst his colourful friends, whose names all contain a colour in it. On the surface, his childhood friends have vivid personalities in-sync with the colours in their name: Aka (Red), Ao (Blue), Shiro (White) and Kuro (Black). Only Tsukuru (Colourless) is dull and unremarkable. However, as the story goes along, you discover contradictions and perceptual differences, which to me are the central themes of the novel.
- Aka (Red) was bold, temperamental and yet extraordinary intelligent. He will be well-suited to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a university professor. Instead, he became a boss running motivational programmes for corporate warriors. Despite his outward personality, he has to internally grapple and make peace (blue) with his unpopular career choice and also, being a homosexual in a conservative Nagoya society.
- Ao (Blue) was a rugby captain, cool people-person and a natural leader. In the end, he became a successful Lexus car dealer, who has to smooth-talk customers into purchasing cars. His mobile ringtone is “Viva Las Vegas” which accurately represents Ao’s own lifestyle: a glitzy façade overriding a darker, unsatisfied lifestyle. The supposedly calm Ao is instead in turmoil and unsettled with oneself (red).
- Shiro (White) was the innocent, naïve and pretty one, who plays the piano and desires to become a veterinarian. However, after an unfortunate rape incident, her world was flooded with darkness and depression (black). Not being able to deal with her inner demons, she committed suicide at an early age.
- Kuro (Black) was the witty class clown whose comments are always tinged with sarcasm. Although she was not regarded as the type who ventures out, she eventually married a Finnish and settled down overseas. When Shiro was raped, she devoted herself to caring (white) for Shiro even at the expense of living her own life.
- Tsukuru (Colourless) was the odd-one out. He did not have any outstanding characteristic and perceived himself to be ordinary, pallid and lacking in colour. His only fascination was in trains and railway stations, which could be argued to be methodical and dull. On his pilgrimage to visit his colourful childhood friends, he discovered that they actually regarded him to be the linchpin of the group. It was upon his absence that the group of friends gradually disintegrated and separated. He was thought to be handsome, intelligent and the mentally strongest of the group (colourful) who is best able to deal with adversities. To Tsukuru’s surprise, he even found out that both Aka and Kuro fancied him romantically in their childhood days!
Tsukuru’s perception of others turned out to be quite contradictory from the outcomes of his friends’ lives. His skewed perception of himself resulted in a constant denial of events that occurred in his life. Hence, he rarely made emotional connections with others due to low self-esteem and self-doubt issues.
“Hey, isn’t this a travel blog? What has this got to do with travelling?!” Ok… I will now try to forcibly link this article back to travelling ;) Like Tsukuru, I have always found myself to be colourless. Throughout my years in school, I have always found myself to be middle of the pack: Not the most intelligent, but my grades were above average. Not the most talkative, but also not a complete loner. Not the best in sports, but I did not struggle with passing fitness tests. Not inclined enough to be well-versed in the arts, but I loved and appreciated music greatly. However, no one is truly colourless. Similar to Tsukuru, the clouded perception of myself stemmed from a lack of self-confidence.
The ‘pilgrimage’ in which I found myself will be the numerous travels during my student exchange days. It was then I discovered an indescribable kind of happiness that radiated and shone through the hazy fog in my life. I found my passion in travelling and my greatest joy was derived from experiencing new cultures and environments. It is when I am overseas that I no longer feel like I am colourless Yidian. Rather, I am colourful Yidian who has passion, drive and most importantly, an individual-defining trait. In that way, I can be likened to a prism and travel was the ray of light that refracted through me, bursting into a spectrum of colours.
What about you? Is travelling the rainbow of your life? Or what brings colour into your life? Shout out in the comments below!