A まち is a 町 is a 街

I did a rewrite of my senior thesis and it has been published on Neojaponisme, a Japanese culture web journal. I wrote about the Haruki Murakami short story collection Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round (『回転木馬のデッド・ヒート』). Before it was a collection, it was serialized under the title Views of the City (『街の眺め』).

While I used the word “city” in the translation of that set of stories, the actual word is 街, which is pronounced まち and is loosely related to the other まち, 町.

町 can either be either a town (e.g. 西会津町) or a neighborhood within a city or ward (e.g. 門前仲町). It’s a geographic and bureaucratic term.

街 is used in 商店街 (しょうてんがい, shopping arcade), 繁華街 (はんかがい, downtown/entertainment district/center of town), and 住宅街 (じゅうたくがい, residential area). It refers to a less well-defined portion of geographical space but definitely a piece of the city. (China Bonus!: In Chinese it means street.) It can also be used to talk about a town in the broad sense, but unlike 町, it is never named.

Murakami uses 街 in nearly all of his novels between 1979 and 1983, always referring to the unnamed (*cough* Kobe *cough*) hometown of his unnamed boku narrator. Murakami contrasts this hometown with Tokyo, where the narrator has gone off to college; Tokyo is where he lives now, but all his memories and emotions are tied to the 街. Murakami takes this comparison to its most extreme limit in his book Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, in which he contrasts an ultra-modern Tokyo with a pre-modern, industrial town, the 街, in alternating chapters.

In Views of the City, however, Tokyo is the only 街 to be found. It feels like a casual reference to a familiar place. For example, you could say, “This is my part of town,” even in reference to a big city. It also shows how 街 is the "town" from the phrase "town and country."

While 街 is often used to refer to big cities, this is the first time Murakami uses the term in reference to Tokyo. It is also his first collection of realistic stories. The change in usage of this term mirrors the way Murakami turns his vision from the interior thoughts of his anonymous first-person narrator to the lives of people around him in Tokyo.

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