The Bakery Attack Take 2 by Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Patrick Coleman on

Originally published August, 1985 Illustration of a masked couple robbing a McDonalds in Japan

I’m still not sure that telling my wife about the bakery attack was the right thing to do. Maybe the problem’s that I just can’t think of any way to know if it was right or wrong. Some wrong choices lead to right outcomes and some right choices lead to wrong outcomes. So without sounding too crazy – I think this’ll be ok to say – you’ve gotta take the position that we don’t really make any choices at all. At least that’s how I try to live my life. I think. In the end whatever happens happens, and what doesn’t doesn’t.

So coming at it from that angle, I ended up just telling my wife about the bakery attack. I said what I said, and well, as for what happened next, it was already too late anyhow. So if what I’m about to say appears strange to some folks, I think this’ll at least give you an idea of how it all got started. Anyway that’s what I think. It’s not to say that it’s not unusual or anything. It’s just how I think.

Here are the simple facts. There I was standing in front of my wife, telling her about the bakery attack. It wasn’t like I’d planned it all out ahead of time either or like I suddenly remembered and started to say, “well…” No, it was nothing like that. In fact, I myself had completely forgotten that I’d attacked a bakery before until the words “bakery attack” came out of my mouth.

The thing that made me remember the bakery attack right then was an unbearable hunger. It was just before two in the morning. My wife and I had a light dinner at six, crawled into bed at half past nine, closed our eyes, and then for some reason or another, the two of us woke up at exactly the same time. And then a little while after waking, a hunger sprang up and attacked, out of nowhere, just like that tornado in “The Wizard of Oz.” It was so unbearable you might even say it was crazy.

But there wasn’t anything in the fridge that you could remotely call food. It was just some french dressing, a six pack of beer, two shriveled up onions, butter, and a box of baking soda. We’d only just gotten married two weeks earlier, and we hadn’t yet settled on a shared meal routine. In those days there was a mountain of things still left unsettled.

Back then I was working at a law firm, and my wife did office work at a design school. I was either twenty-eight or twenty-nine (for some reason I can never remember the year I got married). She was two years and eight months younger than me. Our lives were super busy, cluttered and crowded like a 3D computer cave, and we certainly couldn’t have been bothered to keep any spare food.

We got out of bed and moved over to the kitchen, sitting across from each other at the table with nothing to do. We were both too hungry to go back to sleep – it was painful just lying there – but then we were also too hungry to get up and do anything either. We had no idea at all where this intense hunger had come from or how it’d snuck up on us.

With a faint sliver of hope, we took turns opening the refrigerator door, but of course, no matter how many times we opened it, the contents never changed. Beer, onion, salad dressing, baking soda. That was it. We could’ve made a butter stir fry with the onions, but we didn’t think two shriveled up onions would’ve done much to fill our empty stomachs. Onions are the type of food to eat with something else, not the type that can satisfy hunger on its own.

“How about baking soda sautéed a la french dressing?” I jokingly suggested, but as expected, I was ignored.

“Let’s go out for a drive and find a 24-hour fast food joint,” I said. “If we get on the highway there’s bound to be something.”

But my wife refused my suggestion. She said going out for a meal sounded awful.

“There’s something, I dunno, just wrong about going out for a meal after midnight,” she said. She was terribly old fashioned that way.

“Ah yeah I guess so,” I said, taking a breath.

In the very early days of our marriage, my wife’s opinions (or rather, theses) rang in my ears like some kind of divine revelation, as clichéd as that might sound. When she put it that way, it seemed to me like the hunger that was gripping me right then was some special hunger that couldn’t just be conveniently satisfied by some fast food spot along the highway.

So what was this special hunger?

I’ll lay it out in single image, like in a movie scene:

  1. I am floating on a quiet sea in a small boat.
  2. Looking down, I can see the peak of an underwater volcano.
  3. It doesn't seem like there's much distance between the surface of the sea and the peak, but I can't be certain.
  4. It’s because the water’s too transparent to gauge the distance.

In the two or three seconds from when my wife said, "I don't wanna go to some late-night restaurant," and when I agreed, saying, "Yeah, I guess not," that was the general image that came to mind. Of course since I'm not Sigmund Freud, I couldn't clearly analyze whatever that image meant, but I intuitively understood that it was a revelatory sort of image. So that's why, despite my hunger being strangely intense, I agreed, half automatically, with her thesis (or statement) that we shouldn't go out to eat.

With no other option, we opened a can of beer and started drinking it. Drinking beer was way better than eating onions. My wife didn't like beer all that much, so I drank four of the six cans, and she had the remaining two. While I was drinking the beer, she painstakingly searched the kitchen shelves like a November squirrel and found four butter cookies left at the bottom of a bag. They were leftovers that we'd made in a frozen cake tray, damp and gone completely soft, but we nibbled on them preciously, two apiece.

Sadly, neither the canned beer nor the butter cookies left even a dent in our hunger, which was boundless like the Sinai Peninsula seen from the sky. They just flew on by through the window, as if they were part of the worn-out scenery.

We read the letters printed on the aluminum cans of beer, glanced at the clock repeatedly, checked the refrigerator door, flipped through the pages of yesterday's evening paper, and cleaned up the cookie crumbs scattered on the table with the edge of a postcard. Time was dark and sluggish like a lead sinker swallowed up in a fish's belly.

"I've never been this hungry before," said my wife. "I wonder if it has something to do with us getting married?"

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe, maybe not."

While my wife was looking the kitchen over for new scraps of food, I was leaning over the side of the boat, looking down at the peaks of underwater volcanoes again. The transparency of the seawater surrounding the boat made me feel really uneasy. It felt as if a gaping void had formed near the pit of my stomach. A pure void with no way in or out. That strange feeling of emptiness inside my body – the feeling that absence really exists – was a bit like the numb, tingling fear you might feel if you climbed all the way to the top of a tall spire. The fact that hunger and the fear of heights might have something in common was a new discovery.

Right then I remembered that I'd had the same kind of experience once before. My stomach was just as empty then as it was now. That was when…

"It was when I attacked the bakery," I blurted out without thinking.

"What do you mean you attacked a bakery?" my wife immediately asked.

And just like that my flashback of the bakery attack began.

"A really long time ago, I attacked a bakery," I explained to my wife. "It wasn't a very big bakery or a popular one. It wasn't especially delicious or especially bad. It was just a regular neighborhood bakery. It was right in the middle of a commercial street, and it was just this one old guy baking and selling the bread and pastries. It was the kind of small bakery that would close for the day once they'd sold out of whatever'd been baked that morning."

"Why did you pick such a boring bakery to attack?" my wife asked.

"There was no need to attack a big store. We just needed enough to satisfy our hunger. It's not like we were trying to steal cash or anything. We were attackers, not robbers."

"We?" my wife said. "Who's we?"

"I had a partner in crime back in those days," I explained. "This was all ten years ago or so. The two of us were so poor we couldn't even afford to buy toothpaste. Of course we were always short on food too. So if I'm being honest, we used to do a lot of horrible things just to get food. And attacking a bakery was one of those things..."

"I'm not sure I understand," my wife said, staring intently at my face. It was like her eyes were searching for a faded star in the dawn sky. "Why would you do such a thing? Why weren't you working? If you got a part-time job, shouldn't you have at least been able to buy bread? No matter how hard I think about it, that just seems easier. Easier than robbing a bakery, right?"

"I didn't want to work," I said. "That was pretty clear."

"But you're fine with working now, aren't you?" my wife said.

I nodded and took a sip of my beer. Then I rubbed my eyelids with the inside of my wrist. Those several cans of beer seemed to be making me sleepy. They seeped into my consciousness like runny mud and wrestled with my hunger.

"Times change. Moods change. Our ways of thinking change," I said. "But shouldn't we go to sleep soon? We've both gotta get up early in the morning."

"I'm not really tired, and I want to hear the story about the bakery attack," my wife said.

"It's a boring story," I said. "It's not in the least bit this exciting story that you're hoping for. There's no over-the-top action or anything."

"Well, was the attack a success?"

I gave up and popped open a new beer. My wife's the kind of person who can't help but listen all the way to the very end once she starts hearing a story.

"You might say it was a success, or you might not," I said. "Basically we were able to take as much bread as we wanted, but it didn't really count as robbery. In other words, before we even tried to steal the bread, the baker gave it to us."

"For free?"

"It wasn't free. That's the tricky part," I said, shaking my head. "The baker was a classical music fan, and right then he was playing a collection of Wagner's overtures in the store. So he offered us a deal: listen silently to this record to the very end, and then you can take as much bread as you can carry from the store. My partner and I talked it over, just the two of us. Then we came to a conclusion. Why not just listen to some music? It wasn't work in any real sense, and it wouldn't hurt anyone. So we put our kitchen cleaver and table knife in our Boston Bag, took our seats, and listened to the ‘Tannhäuser’ and ‘Flying Dutchman’ overtures with the baker."

"And then you got the bread?"

"Yeah. My partner and I stuffed most of the store's bread into our bag and took it home. Then we ate it for about four or five days," I said, taking another sip of beer. The sleepiness rocked my boat clumsily, like a silent wave from an underwater earthquake.

"Of course, we were happy to get the bread, which was our goal after all," I continued. "But no matter how you look at it, you can't call it a crime. It was, so to speak, a trade. We listened to Wagner, and in exchange, we got some bread. Legally speaking, it was like a business transaction."

"But listening to Wagner isn't work," my wife said.

"Exactly," I said. "If the baker had told us to wash the dishes or scrub windows, we would have flat out refused and would've just stolen the bread. But the baker didn't ask that, all he wanted was for us to listen to the Wagner LP. And that's what got me and my partner terribly confused. Obviously there's no way we expected Wagner to come up. It was like we'd been cursed. Looking back on it now, we should have ignored such a weird proposal and just stuck to the plan, threatened the guy with our knives, and simply stolen the bread. If we'd just done that, there'd have been no problems at all."

"There were some problems?"

I rubbed my eyelids with the inside of my wrist again.

"Mhmm," I replied. "But it's not like there were any clearly visible, concrete problems. It was more like, after that incident, things just started to slowly change. And once things changed, they could never go back. In the end, I went back to college and graduated without issue. I studied for the bar exam while working at a law firm. Then I met you, and we got married. And I never attacked a bakery ever again."

"So that's the whole story?"

"Yeah, that's all there is to it," I said, drinking the rest of my beer. We'd emptied all six cans. In the ashtray the six pop tabs were left there, fallen like scales from a mermaid.

Of course, it wasn't really like nothing happened. There were several clearly visible, concrete things that did occur. But I didn't want to talk about that with her.

"So, your partner, what are they up to now?" my wife asked.

"I don't know," I replied. "Something happened after, and we split up. Haven't met since. No idea what they're up to."

My wife stayed silent for a while. I think she probably sensed some ambiguity in my tone. But she didn't dare bring up the point again.

"But the bakery attack is what really caused the breakup, right?"

"Maybe. I think the shock we got from the attack was way stronger than it appeared at first. For days afterwards we talked about the connection between bread and Wagner. Whether, in the end, we made the right choice or not. But we never came to a conclusion. When you think about it, it should have been the right choice. After all, nobody got hurt, and everyone was more or less satisfied. The baker – though I still can't understand why he did it – was able to spread the Wagner propaganda, and we were able to stuff ourselves with bread. Nevertheless, we felt that there'd been a big mistake. And that mistake, without really understanding its true nature, began to cast a dark shadow over our lives. That's why I used the word curse before. It was, without a doubt, a little curse-like."

"I wonder if that curse has been lifted yet? From the both of you?"

I made an aluminum ring about the size of a bracelet using the six pop tabs from the ashtray.

"I don't know either. There seem to be a lot of curses in the world, and even when something bad happens, it's hard to know which curse might have caused it."

"No, that's definitely not the case," my wife said, staring deeply into my eyes. "If you really think about it, you'll understand. And unless you break this curse with your own hands, it's going to keep torturing you like a toothache until you die. And not just you, me too."

"You too?"

"That's because now I'm your partner in crime," she said. "For example, this hunger we're feeling right now. I've never even once felt a hunger so intense before we got married. Don't you think that's unusual? I'm sure I've been tied up in the curse that's been cast on you too."

I nodded, took apart the pop tabs, and put them back into the ashtray. I couldn't be sure whether what she was saying was true or not. But when she said it, I thought it might be true.

The hunger, which had been out of my consciousness for some time now, came back. And that hunger was even stronger than before, giving me a deep, painful headache. As the bottom of my stomach kept spasming, those spasms were transmitted to my head by a clutch cable. It seemed like various complex functions had been built into the insides of my body.

I turned my eyes to the underwater volcano again. The seawater had become even more transparent. If I didn't pay close attention, I might even miss the existence of the water. It felt as if the boat was floating in mid-air without any support. Every single grain of sand on the bottom was so clearly visible that it looked like I could pick them up one by one with my hands.

"Even though I've only been living with you for about half a month, I've definitely been feeling the presence of some kind of curse around me," she said. And as she stared deeply into my face, she grasped her hands on the table. "Of course, I didn't know it was a curse until I heard your story, but now I'm sure. You've been cursed."

"What does it feel like? The presence? Of the curse?" I asked.

"It feels like an old curtain hanging down from the ceiling. One that hasn't been washed in years and is completely covered in dust."

"Maybe it's not a curse. Maybe it's just me," I said, laughing.

She didn't laugh.

"That's not it. That much I'm sure of."

"If, like you're saying, this really is a curse," I said, "then what can I possibly do?"

"Attack a bakery again. And it's gotta be right now," she asserted. "There's no other way to break this curse."

"Right now?" I replied.

"Yep, right now. While we're still hungry. We'll do now what you didn't do before."

"Ok but are there even gonna be any bakeries open in the middle of the night?"

"Let's look for one," my wife said. "Tokyo's a big city, there must be at least one bakery that's open 24 hours somewhere around here."

My wife and I floated around Tokyo in a used Toyota Corolla at half-past two in the morning, searching for a bakery. I took the wheel while my wife, seated in the passenger seat, kept her eyes sharply on both sides of the road like a bird of prey. In the back seat, a Remington automatic shotgun lay stiff like a long, thin fish, and in the pocket of my wife's windbreaker, spare shotgun shells clinked with a dry sound. There were also two black ski masks in the glove compartment. I had no idea why my wife owned a shotgun. The same goes for the ski masks. Neither of us had ever skied before. But she didn't explain, and I didn't ask. I just thought that married life was a little strange.

Despite having what you might say were the perfect tools, we still couldn't find a single 24-hour bakery. I drove down the deserted midnight streets from Yoyogi to Shinjuku, then to Yotsuya, Akasaka, Aoyama, Hiroo, Roppongi, Daikanyama, and Shibuya. Driving around midnight Tokyo, we found all sorts of people and shops, but not a single bakery. I guess they don't sell bread in the middle of the night.

We passed two cop cars along the way. One was quietly lurking on the side of the road, and the other overtook our car from behind at a relatively slow pace. Each time, I broke out in a sweat in my underarms, but my wife paid no attention and kept looking single-mindedly for a bakery. Whenever she changed the angle of her body, the shells in her pocket made a sound like a buckwheat pillow.

"Let's just give up already," I said. "There's no way a bakery is open at this hour. We should've checked ahead of time..."

"Stop!" my wife said suddenly.

I hastily stepped on the brakes.

"We'll go here," she said in a calm voice.

I left my hands on the wheel and looked around, but I couldn't find anything that looked like a bakery. The shops along the road were all dark and had their shutters down, completely silent. The barbershop sign spun like a glass eye, floating cooly in the darkness. About two hundred meters ahead, the bright sign of a McDonald's was the only thing visible.

"There's no bakery," I said.

But then without saying a word, my wife opened the glove compartment, grabbed a roll of duct tape, and got out of the car with it in her hand. I opened the door on the other side and got out too. She squatted down in front of the car, ripped off some duct tape, and stuck it on the license plate to hide the letters and numbers. Then she went around the back and did the same with that plate. These were expert maneuvers. I just stood there, absentmindedly watching her work.

"I've decided we're going to that McDonald's," my wife said. Her tone was as casual as when she tells me what's for dinner.

"McDonald's isn't a bakery," I pointed out.

"It's sort of like a bakery," my wife said, and got back in the car. "Sometimes you have to make compromises. Anyway, just park in front of that McDonald's."

I gave up and drove the car forward two hundred meters, pulling into the McDonald's parking lot. There was only a shiny red Nissan Bluebird parked in the lot. My wife handed me the shotgun wrapped in a blanket.

"I've never shot something like that, and I don't really want to," I protested.

"There's no need to shoot. Just bringing it in'll be enough. No one will resist," said my wife. "Got it? Just do as I say. First, the two of us will walk confidently into the store. Then, when the cashier says 'Welcome to McDonald's', that's our signal to quickly put on the ski masks. Understand?"

"Understood, but..."

"And then point the gun at the cashier and have him gather all the employees and customers together in one place. You gotta be fast. I'll take care of the rest.”


"How many hamburgers do you think we need?" she asked me. "Do you think thirty'll be enough?"

"Maybe," I said. Then I sighed, took the shotgun from her, and lifted up the corner of the blanket. The gun was as heavy as a sandbag and jet black like the dark night.

"Do we really have to do this?" I asked. The question was halfway directed at her and halfway at myself.

"Of course," she said.

"Welcome to McDonald's," said the girl at the counter, sporting a McDonald's cap and a McDonald's smile. I always thought that girls didn't work at McDonald's late at night, so when I saw her, I was momentarily confused. But I quickly pulled myself together and pulled down my ski mask.

The girl at the counter stood there stunned, staring blankly at the two of us with our ski masks on.

There must be nothing in the "McDonald's Customer Service Manual" about how to deal with a situation like this. So after saying "Welcome to McDonald's," she tried to continue, but her mouth just got stiff and she couldn't get the right words out. Nevertheless, her professional smile remained, hanging uncomfortably off the edge of her lips like a crescent moon at dawn.

I opened the blanket and pulled out the gun as fast as I could, pointing it at the customers, but there was only one couple sitting at a plastic table, two young people who looked like students, passed out, facedown. On the table their two heads and two strawberry shakes were neatly arranged like avant-garde objects. They were so dead asleep that it seemed like leaving them alone wouldn't interfere with our job. So I pointed the muzzle at the counter.

There were three employees in total at the McDonald's. The girl at the counter, a late twenties looking manager with a pale egg-shaped face, and a part-time student worker in the kitchen, whose expression was nearly imperceptible, like a faint shadow. The three of them gathered in front of the register, staring down the barrel of my gun like tourists peering over an Incan well. Nobody screamed, nobody lunged at me. The gun was extremely heavy, so I left my finger on the trigger and rested the barrel on top of the register.

"I'll give you the money," the manager said in a hoarse voice. "But they already came by to collect it at eleven, so there isn't much left, but just please take it all. It's covered by insurance, so we don't care, really."

"Lower the front shutter and turn off the lights in the sign," my wife said.

"Wait, please," the manager said. "That's gonna be a problem. If I close the store without permission, then it's all my responsibility."

My wife slowly repeated the same command one more time.

"It'd be best if you did as you're told," I warned him. I could see that the manager was very hesitant. For awhile he looked back and forth between the gun on the register and my wife's face, before eventually giving up and turning off the sign and pushing the panel switch to lower the front shutter. I paid close attention to see if he'd pushed a button to trigger some kind of alarm or something in all the confusion, but it didn't seem like an alarm system had been installed at this particular McDonald's. Maybe they never thought that anyone would ever attack a burger joint.

Even after the front shutter banged shut with a big sound like a bucket getting bashed in with a bat, the couple at the table kept on sleep sleeping away. I hadn't seen such deep sleep in a long, long time.

"I want thirty Big Macs, to go," my wife said.

"I'll give you some extra money, just can you please go and order and eat at some other restaurant?" the manager said. "This is gonna be a huge problem with the general ledger. Basically..."

"It'd be best if you did as you're told," I repeated.

The three of them entered the kitchen together and started making thirty Big Macs. The student worker grilled the hamburgers, the store manager sandwiched them in buns, and the girl wrapped them in white paper. During this time, no one spoke a word. I was leaning against a large refrigerator, pointing the muzzle of my shotgun at the cast iron grill top. Meat was lined up on the grill like brown polka dots, making a sizzling sound. The sweet smell of roasting meat crept into my pores just like an invisible swarm of microscopic bugs, getting all mixed up in my blood and circulating throughout my body. And then it finally came together in the hollow void of hunger that had formed in the pit of my stomach, clinging tightly to its pink walls.

I felt like grabbing one or two of the hamburgers, wrapped neatly in white paper and piled up on the side, and greedily devouring them right then and there. But I wasn't sure if that would actually help or not, so I decided I'd just wait patiently until the very last of the thirty hamburgers had been cooked. It was hot in the kitchen, and I was starting to sweat under my ski mask.

While the three of them made the burgers, they stole occasional glances at the gun. And I occasionally scratched both my ears with the tip of my left pinky. Whenever I get nervous, my ear canals itch. When I scratched my ears over the ski mask, the barrel swayed up and down erratically, and it seemed to put them a little on edge. There was no chance the gun would go off because the safety was on, but the three of them didn't know that, and I had no plans to go and tell them.

The three employees made the burgers, and while I kept watch over the griddle, my wife kept an eye on the dining area and counted the number of finished hamburgers. She neatly packed the wrapped burgers in two paper bags, fifteen Big Macs per bag.

"Why would you do such a thing?" the girl said to me. "You could just grab the money and run, and then go buy whatever you want to eat. And besides why would you want to eat thirty Big Macs anyway?"

I didn't respond. I just stood there, shaking my head.

"I know it's not ideal, but there just weren't any bakeries open," my wife explained to the girl. "If there'd been a bakery open, we would’ve attacked it instead."

I thought there's no way an explanation like that'll provide any sort of clue to help make sense of this situation, but at any rate, they stopped talking, silently grilled the meat, put the patties in buns, and wrapped the burgers in paper.

When the thirty Big Macs were in the two paper bags, my wife also ordered two large Cokes from the girl and paid for them.

"I don't want to steal anything other than bread," my wife explained to the girl. The girl moved her head in a complex way. It was like she was nodding her head yes and also shaking it no. Maybe she was trying to do both at the same time. I felt like I understood how she was feeling, at least a little bit.

Then my wife took out a packing cord from her pocket – she carries everything – and tied the three of them to a post, as quickly and easily as if she was sewing on a button. They seemed to realize that it'd be pointless to say anything now, so they just kept quiet. Even when my wife asked, "Does it hurt?" or "Does anyone need to go to the bathroom?" they didn't say a single word. I wrapped the gun in the blanket, my wife grabbed the two bags with the McDonald's logos in both hands, and we went out through the opening in the shutter. The student couple at the dining table was still fast asleep like deep-sea fish. I was wondering what would finally break their deep sleep.

After driving for about half an hour, we found a suitable building with a parking lot, parked, ate our fill of burgers, and drank our Cokes. I sent six Big Macs down to the void in my stomach, and she ate four. But then there were still twenty Big Macs left in the back seat of the car. We snuffed out our seemingly insatiable hunger just as dawn was breaking. The first rays of sunlight dyed the building's dirty walls the color of wisteria and dazzlingly lit up the huge billboard that read “Sony Beta Hi-Fi.” From time to time the sound of passing tires on long-distance trucks came into our car, and we could hear birds sing. FEN was playing country music. We shared a cigarette. And when she finished smoking, my wife gently rested her head on my shoulder.

"But… did we really have to do that?" I tried asking her one more time.

"Of course," she responded. Then after sighing deeply just once, she fell asleep. Her body was soft like a cat's, and light.

When I found myself alone, I leaned out from the boat to gaze down at the seafloor, but the underwater volcano was no longer there. The surface of the water quietly reflected the pale blue sky, and small waves lapped against the side of the boat, rippling in the wind like silk pajamas.

I laid down on the bottom of the boat and closed my eyes, waiting for the high tide to carry me wherever I needed to go.