Japanese Stonks

I’m in The Japan Times with a look at the language of investing: “Put your yen to work with the language of investing.”

Initially I was hoping to find out the Japanese equivalent of “stonks,” but it became clear that while there has been a boom in retail investors, not all of them are tuned in to the GameStop madness. Bloomberg has one report in Japanese (a really good read!) which says lack of English skills limited Japanese participation in the mania, but they just put out a new one in English about a bar for stock pickers that suggests maybe there has been some effect from GME.

They point out Satoshi Uehara, and I found another Twitter account X1_droid who is also investing in popular U.S. stocks. I found the term ジャンピングキャッチ (“jumping catch”) initially from their account. I also found an account/bot that translates Elon Musk tweets, and there seems to be a contingency of Japanese followers shadowing some of his moves. However, as the Musk-followers might suggest, these are all fanatics, not the Japanese public more broadly.

In terms of explaining what’s going on, there’s a blogger over at Note who’s been providing some solid Japanese language explanation of “stonks” and GameStop. There may be some other useful posts if there are any slang terms you’ve been trying to communicate to Japanese friends and family.

Intermediate Reading Recommendations

Reading Japanese is hard…until it isn’t. Finding the right material for that period of time when you’re moving from advanced beginner to intermediate is critical. You need to find something that’s not going to make you want to defenestrate the text itself or the device you’re reading it on but that will at the same time push you to learn new words and phrases.

Looking back on my own experience, I read the Murakami collection “Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round” while I was on a spring break trip. I think that was the first real book I read on my own, and it was just about the appropriate level. I could basically understand what was going on, and being on a trip meant I often just read past things I didn’t understand fully, trying to get a sense of the meaning from context. This is an important skill to practice, something you’re likely doing in your native language without realizing it.

I jumped into a couple of novels after that with the help of a professor, and I’m glad I had that help because there’s something about the first few pages of Japanese 純文学 (junbungaku, “pure literature”) that’s fairly dense and difficult. The text often settles down after this.

There are places to find the texts you need, online and for free. Here are a few reliable resources:

NHK’s Easy Japanese News

The news! But easy! For example, instead of 少数民族 (shōsū minzoku, minorities), the headline for this article uses 人口が少ない民族 (jinkō ga sukunai minzoku,people with a small population). There’s also a feature to turn furigana off and on. The bonus is that you’ll be keeping up with the latest news from Japan.

Ogawa Mimei

Someone is determined to upload all of Ogawa Mimei’s writing to Aozora. His stories just keep on popping up on the list of newly added works. They all have furigana and are written in a fairy tale/children’s literature style, so the grammar and vocabulary is relatively simple. We’ve been reading one for the Japanese Reading Group that’s been a lot of fun. Highly recommended.

Itoi Shigesato’s 今日のダーリン 

You might recognize Itoi Shigesato as the mind behind Mother (EarthBound). He was also the editor who got Murakami to write the series of super short stories that were collected in 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, The Night of the Spider Monkey). He maintains a website ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞 (Hobo nikkan Itoi shimbun, Nearly Daily Itoi Times), which has a short essay on the front which self-destructs each day and is not archived (although it does look like he makes the previous day’s essay available now?). They’re relatively short and pretty casual. The title of the series is 今日のダーリン (Kyō no dārin, Today’s Darling). Worth a read!

Ameblo

Ameblo is Japan’s largest blog network. Recommendations on the top page usually point to active and often illustrated blogs, but you can also search by topic and interest. The best part about these blogs is that you’ll be getting casual, living Japanese, which won’t always be easy to understand but will be useful. Explore! And while you’re at it, why not try creating your own blog?

The real key for any of these is ensuring that you get the repetitions. Having the right reading material matters very little if you’re not actively getting through it. Do whatever it takes (be ruthless) to get those repetitions.

How to 告白

I’m in The Japan Times with a look at how to 告白 (kokuhaku, confess): “Confess! Dating in Japan requires short set phrases to spark the fire.”

I was surprised this article hadn’t already been written, to be honest. There are a few Bilingual articles that have Valentine’s Day themes, but none are a comprehensive look at the 告白 practice.

I have this vivid memory of some one-off reality TV show episode I watched in Japan at some point. It must have been early on in my time on JET or while writing for a travel guide after my third year of study. I remember basically being able to understand what was going on: A group of men, the subject of the show, all got together as a sort of support group and decided to confess to their partners.

Some did so over the phone, others in person, and one by one they were all rejected. It seemed like some of them weren’t even dating the women at the time, like they were maybe just acquaintances? It was a weird show.

The last guy, however, arranged to meet the woman he was dating in the early evening at a fountain in a park (I think?!). They met there, stood about 10 feet apart from each other, and he did his 告白. He gave an intro saying he had something he wanted to tell her, told her that she was important to him, confessed his love, and then asked her to date him. It was a textbook 告白.

I remember being struck by what happened when she said yes. What happened was this: nothing. No hug, no kiss. Maybe a bow? But I’m not even certain about that. For me this was a striking realization about how different dating and love were in Japan.

So maybe it’s not a surprise, then, that a Japanese website called “Love Hacks” is a completely ingenuous and perhaps even healthy guide to dating rather than a site written by pickup artists, which you might expect from a similarly titled site in the U.S.

Some of the recommendations do seem tailored for seduction, like the rating of 告白 locations:

But then they’ll have a line like this in the section about confessing over the phone:

なお、いきなり電話して告白すると相手もびっくりしてしまうので「話したいことがあるから」と、事前に電話していいか確認するようにしましょう。

Note that confessing suddenly over the phone will surprise them, so make sure to check with them beforehand and ask if it’s ok to call them: “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”

Everything seems calculated to make the person feel comfortable and special. I haven’t read too deeply, so I’m sure there must be at least a few questionable suggestions on the site (the topic is just too fraught for there not to be), but I’m kind of impressed. The page even includes guidance for elementary school students! Not sure how to feel about that one, but it does seem kind of innocent.

Keep an eye on the February How to Japanese newsletter for more on this topic from a grammar angle!

I regret to inform you that I’ve also started posting on TikTok:

@howtojapanese

How to 告白 (kokuhaku) – Dating in Japan #japanesestudy #日本語勉強 #japan #japanese #love #valentinesday #バレンタインデー #恋愛

♬ original sound – Daniel Morales

Radicalization

明けましておめでとうございます! And Happy New Year, as well!

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at the 創作漢字コンテスト (Sōsaku kanji kontesuto, Created Kanji Contest): “Radical recombinations: Capture the moment with created kanji.” Tip of the hat to my editor Shaun who alerted me to this fascinating and fun contest. Also, HUGE thanks to the JT production team which turned my scribbles into actual fake kanji:

I think there’s a point at which it would be too early to introduce this contest to JSL students—you need to give them time to build up a familiarity with the language before they’d be able to do anything clever with it—but I can imagine it taking up part of a lesson for some teachers out there (nudge nudge, any of you Japanese teachers looking for lesson content) or at the very least an extra credit assignment. Maybe second year of study would make sense? It’s helpful to have students thinking about the role of radicals early on.

I found a couple interesting blog posts on the kanji for Nihonium, which is apparently not exactly a new kanji? I will admit to not fully understanding the connection between 鉨 and 璽 noted in the posts, but the archived original post on Yuwen.jp clearly explains how radicals are involved in the Chinese kanji for elements:

金へん:金属
石へん:常温で固体かつ非金属
气がまえ:常温で気体
さんずい:常温で液体

金-hen: metals
石-hen: non-metal solids at room temperature
气-gamae: gas at room temperature
Sanzui: liquid at room temperature

Wikipedia has an excellent rundown on the Japanese names for radicals of different orientations:

There’s an English explanation here. I don’t think I ever got these names for radical component locations formally in a class! At least not all at once in a list. I’m sure we looked at each radical at some point and talked about them, but I wonder if it would be useful to do a big drop at some point and force students to learn them. Then again, that might fall under the category of too much too soon.

The Wikipedia post doesn’t include the kanji for the radicals, so I’ll give those here:

偏 (hen): left component
旁 (tsukuri): right component
冠(kanmuri): top component
脚 (ashi): bottom component
垂 (tare): component hanging over the top and left
繞 (nyō): component component running from left under the bottom
構 (kamae): component surrounding the character

These are the main component names, but according the Wikipedia post, there are a couple of other positions that don’t seem to have specific names (although each radical itself still has a specific name):

– Top and bottom as in 亘 (Wikipedia gives this radical as 一, but dictionaries say 二?)
– In the middle like 一 in 日
– Open bottom like 間
– Open top like 凶
– Open right side like 医
– Right and left side like 街

Anyone know what’s the deal with these components? Could be that some of these have only one example, like 凵部 (kanbu), which also seems to be referred to as うけばこ (ukebako), and 匚部 (hōbu), which gets called はこがまえ (hakogamae).

How to Strike the Dockside Pose in Japan

I’ve been listening to NHKラジオニュース (NHK Radio News) more regularly as an end-of-year resolution of sorts, and I have two strategies to pass on:

1. Listen to a bunch in a row.

Many of the news updates are just 3-5 minutes long, so you can steamroll through them. Most will include the same top news stories for the day, so you get a ton of repetitions with the same vocabulary. Always a good thing.

If you’re living in Japan or working with Japan, now feels like an especially good time to be tuned into what’s going on.

2. Make sure you don’t miss the hour-long ジャーナル (jānaru, journal) episodes.

These have meatier (meteor?) content. Longer news blasts, more analysis, and some random content sections. Like on December 10 when they discussed 筋肉のつり (Kin’niku no tsuri, muscle spasms) during the ジャーナル医療健康 (jānaru iryō kenkō, Journal Medical Care and Health) section.

I learned a lot about how to express muscle spasms in Japanese. Not only is it a noun as shown above, you can say things like 急に筋肉がつった (kyū ni kin’niku ga tsutta, My muscle suddenly spasmed) or つってしまった筋肉 (tsutte shimatta kin’niku, Muscle that spasmed).

Based on a few Google searches, it seems like the word is most often expressed in hiragana, and not the very cool kanji 攣る (tsuru).

In addition to vocab, you often gain access to different cultural concepts through the show. Including meme-ified bits of the culture.

In this case, the expert who was discussing muscle spasms was explaining how to prevent them, including how to stretch your ふくらはぎ (脹脛, fukurahagi, calves). This involves putting one foot up on something 30-40cm high and then stretching the calf of the other leg. He likened it to a famous pose:

石原裕次郎さんが波止場の船のロープを____くいに片足を乗せて決めるあのポーズのようなイメージですね (Ishihara Yujiro-san ga hatoba no fune no rōpu o ____ kui ni kata-ashi o nosete kimeru ano pōzu no yō na imēji desu ne, It’s like the pose that Ishihara Yujiro struck where he’s ___ing the boat rope on the wharf, with his leg up on the post).

As you can see, there’s one word I couldn’t quite catch—this happens—but I got the gist from context. (It sounded like ひっかくる? Anyone have the answer?)

It’s pretty easy to imagine what this pose looked like, but I was curious so I tried to track it down. This is about the closest I could find:

This is a scene from 赤い波止場 (Akai Hatoba, Red Quay) from 1958. (On a side note, Yujiro was also in a movie called 波止場野郎 in 1960. I love this title, and nothing would please me more than to translate it poorly into English, but I will resist this temptation.)

There’s also this “Forever Yujiro” set of Zipang sake which has Yujiro in a similar pose?

Whatever the origin of the pose, Yujiro, who is basically Japanese Elvis (full credit to the graduate assistant who made this comparison when I was an undergrad), has effectively made this the pose to strike when you find yourself dockside. Do a quick Google Images search for 波止場 ポーズ. Kind of amazing, no?

We also have confirmation from Chiebukuro where a guy asks “What are those things on docks called? You know, those little fuckers that Yujiro puts his foot up on?

This is clearly a cultural phenomenon.

At any rate, I now have a new goal in life – to stand on a dock in Japan striking this pose. Montrose Harbor in Chicago may have to do for now.

Takeaways from “Who We’re Reading When We’re Reading Murakami”

I resisted the call to read David Karashima’s Who We’re Reading When We’re Reading Murakami for too long.

I read a few of the excerpts online, which were interesting, and I laughed at quotes that I saw on Twitter (one from David Mitchell, which I include below), but I think I finally bit the bullet when I realized that the Chicago Public Library had a copy. Once I started reading, I knew I needed to own a personal copy just a few pages in: It’s an incredible book.

Karashima mines personal correspondence from Murakami, Alfred Birnbaum, Elmer Luke, Jay Rubin, and tons of folks on the publishing side. He’s looking at faxes, emails, and edited manuscripts. He speaks with Junot Diaz, David Mitchell, and Tess Gallagher amongst other famous writers. My only complaint about the book is that it ends with the publication of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. There’s so much more to look at. But I’m sure that the publisher had him on a tight word count.

Here’s a running list of takeaways I kept while I was reading the book. I’m not sure if these qualify as “spoilers,” but if you haven’t read the book yet, you may want to do that before reading these:

– Birnbaum translated Pinball, 1973 before Hear the Wind Sing. He also had no formal translation training. Karashima makes it sound like he just submitted the manuscript and then the bunkobon KI version of the translation showed up in the mail later on! This seems like the way Murakami submitted his only copy of the Hear the Wind Sing manuscript.

– Norwegian Wood was published in September 1987 and sold 800,000 copies by January 1988. By the end of that year it was 3.55 million. Those are crazy numbers.

– Elmer Luke fasted twice to avoid the draft. There has obviously been a lot of “bone spurs” talk in recent years, which I think has done a disservice to conscientious objectors during the Vietnamese War: the passages in the book—Elmer Luke riding with a bus full of others who all had excuses to get out of the draft—really emphasized to me how unjust it was, as a war, as a strategy to man a war, and especially for those who weren’t able to avoid it and ended up dying in Asia. What art have we lost or nearly lost because of war?

– Shigeo Okamoto, the designer who did the cover for 回転木馬のデッド・ヒート (Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round), designed the cover for the English translation of A Wild Sheep Chase. This is pretty wild to me because they’re so totally different. The former is so abstract while Sheep is more surreal. I actually own a copy of both. A friend got me A Wild Sheep Chase years ago, and the Dead Heat first edition was one of the first purchases I made when I moved to Japan…I imagine it was significantly less expensive. You can see more of Okamoto’s work here.

– A Wild Sheep Chase was a Book-of-the-Month Club pick. Jay Rubin mentions the $50,000 advertising budget in his book Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words (Karashima notes $46,000), but the book club was new information for me and seems like a pretty big deal.

– Murakami writes about an early trip to New York at the end of 遠い太鼓 (Distant Drums) apparently. Karashima includes a note about this, so now I’m looking forward to getting through the rest of that book.

– The details about how “The Windup Bird and Tuesday’s Women” was edited for The New Yorker are fascinating (major revisions that border on censorship). Also very, very interesting is Karashima’s suggestion that Murakami decided to expand it into a novel because it had been translated and was well received upon publication in 1986. Murakami expanded into a novel when he took up his position as writer-in-residence at Princeton in 1991.

– It becomes more and more apparent that Elmer Luke has earned his acknowledgment inside the cover of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. He doesn’t get top billing, but there is the line “The translator wishes to acknowledge the assistance of editor Elmer Luke.” His name was familiar from Jay Rubin’s book, but Karashima does an exceptional job of bringing him to life through his back story as well as quotes like this, where he explains why he edited Hard-boiled Wonderland the way he did:

“I think the larger concern for me was that there was (in my humble opinion) chaff that was cluttering the picture—stuff that was repetitious or tangential or less than critical to the narrative or worked against it—the chaff needed to be culled, so that what we had was germane or, if not, appealingly whimsical or amusing or deep. … There was also the awareness that Japanese editors did not, do not, edit much. For whatever reason. In translation that lack becomes clear. So—my hubris, perhaps—I felt I had to do what had not been done.” (113)

Oh, if only someone had done that to his more recent novels. It’s clear that The New Yorker is still editing Murakami somewhat heavily (all you have to do is compare the Japanese version of the piece about his father with the English), but his novels no longer get this treatment in translation.

– Several of the sexy parts from Hard-boiled Wonderland with the Girl in Pink are provided courtesy of literature professor Hosea Hirata.

– Birnbaum is quoted saying they “must have ended up cutting around a hundred pages” (112), but it’s not nearly this much. It must have felt that way because he and Luke would work on the book five to six hours a day! Luke adds that when “the true Murakami believers” find out about the edits they “will be horrified. But that’s okay too. I made the choice. Or we did.”

I wouldn’t say I was horrified (if you didn’t know I was a Murakami true believer by now, surprise!). I did a five-blog post series on some of these cuts from Chapter 21 when the pair are running around underground (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I think that some of the sections needed to go (especially the bicycle song she sings), but others could have been kept. There’s a scene where they make out in the dark that’s compelling, and one at the end of the chapter where Watashi reflects on life that are probably worth keeping. Hell, even the scene where he shows her his erection in Chapter 31 could probably stay. But the translation does stand on its own, so I’m not too torn up.

– There’s no mention of the edits that Murakami made to the Complete Works edition of Hard-boiled Wonderland. I’m so curious to know more about how the changes came to be made, and WHEN they were made.

– Jay Rubin finished his book The Sun Gods in 1989. The book was published by Chin Music Press in 2015, and I don’t think I realized he’d written it much earlier. I am halfway through this book. I’ve been reading off and on for a few years, which I don’t mean as commentary—sadly, I have a lot of books in this state of limbo.

– Karashima has a fantastic callback to Murakami’s fiction when he tells the story of Jay Rubin encountering Murakami. Rubin got a call from an editor at Vintage, asking him to read Hard-boiled Wonderland and evaluate its potential for translation. Rubin no longer remembers this person’s name, so it’s almost like he received a phone call from a stranger…much like a Murakami narrator.

– This is an incredible quote from Murakami about being edited for The New Yorker:

“What can I say—The New Yorker has a large number of readers and they also pay really well,” he tells me, laughing. He says that if the editor of a Japanese magazine had made similar suggestions, “of course I would change things that I agree with, but in principle I would say no. Not just with The New Yorker, but in foreign markets in general, I think you have no choice but to go along with their rules. There are people who criticize me for this, saying, ‘I bet you let them do what they want because it’s The New Yorker.’ Yes, that’s exactly right! But like I said, I reverse the changes when the story is published in book form.”

This is just an incredible, mind-blowing view on the role of editing in writing. It’s almost like he doesn’t see the point of it. I can imagine that he might be skeptical of it, having been edited so heavily earlier in his career only to receive a lighter touch once he made it big. It must feel like those initial edits were all made mistakenly. But as mentioned previously, The New Yorker is still editing him. Even his nonfiction.

– I’m amazed by how many faxes Murakami and Luke (and everyone else!) were sending to each other. I think that’s something that my generation missed. My first memories of fax machines are the daily spam marketing advertisements we would receive at the first part time job I ever had. Email killed off the practicality of the fax (but not the security) pretty quickly. I imagine there was a period in the 80s and 90s after email started being used more widely when fax still made the most sense as a communication channel.

– There are several mentions of very early publications of Murakami translations, notably Philip Gabriel’s translation of “Kangaroo Communique” published in ZZYZYVA and (new to me) “On Meeting My 100% Woman One Final April Morning” by Kevin Flanagan/Tamotsu Omi. I’ve always wonder how Gabriel worked out the translation rights to publish this one. It isn’t mentioned here.

– Murakami says he doesn’t like “The Last Lawn of the Afternoon.” That story has such a mood. I haven’t read it for a while but remember enjoying it.

– Karashima does a nice job of emphasizing how Murakami arranged translation of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle before it was published in Japanese. This reduced the publication time between his translations to the three years from Dance Dance Dance (1994) to WUBC (1997).

– Fascinating: “Murakami also tells me that he is particularly keen on seeing new versions of the works originally translated by Birnbaum for the American market.” (213)

– Even more fascinating! “The unabridged translation [of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle] donated by Rubin to the Lilly Library [at Indiana University] will be made accessible in 2026.” (227) The book doesn’t seem to specify how this will happen, and Knopf seems hesitant but open to the idea, based on a few quotes in the book.

– The book takes the publication of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as its endpoint, so the criticism of the book gets quoted somewhat liberally, and I find myself impressed with Michiko Kakutani’s thoughts at the time of publication: “‘Wind-Up Bird often seems so messy that its refusal of closure feels less like an artistic choice than simple laziness, a reluctance on the part of the author to run his manuscript through the typewriter (or computer) one last time.” Karashima follows this quote with other critics who seem to admit that WUBC is messy but say that it doesn’t matter. I’ve made it clear that I think WUBC only looks worse as Murakami continues to put out long novels that are poorly edited.

I’m noticing from those links that I predicted a short Murakami book in 2021 or a long book in 2024/2025. He put out a collection of short stories this year, so maybe that tides us over for a 2022/2023 publication of a longer novel. Will be interesting to see, and to see if it sheds any light on the rest of his works.

– One of the quotes that convinced me to read this book was David Mitchell’s quote: “[A Wild Sheep Chase’s] characters were existentially untethered. They lived in bars, coffee shops and tiny rooms with no view to speak of. They worked, had odd conversations, drank beer, slept, and worked. Family rarely entered the picture. They made no plans for their futures. Not unlike English teachers in Japan, now that I think of it.” (235)

– Philip Gabriel and Ted Goosen get short thrift! I imagine this is mostly due to a page/word limit, but I found myself super curious about their backgrounds. I think Mr. Karashima owes us a sequel, or at the very least a lengthy piece in The New Yorker or The Atlantic.

– HUGE REVEAL IN THE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Murakami has asked Jay Rubin to do a new translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World! This is really exciting. I can’t wait to see how it ends up.

How to Japanese Newsletter

Happy 💩tober!

As the world slowly, incessantly falls apart, I’ve been trying to expand my writing opportunities and started a monthly How to Japanese newsletter. I won’t be posting it here each month, but I did want to give it a plug in the main feed in case anyone is interested in subscribing. It will generally include a short piece about Japan/Japanese and something about beer/brewing followed by links/plugs.

I started in September with a look at an inspirational phrase from Higashimura Akiko’s manga alongside an ode to the local homebrew shop. October will have a more actionable piece of language for your business needs and a specific yeast recommendation.

Hope you subscribe and share!

Writing is Hard

The last week of Murakami Fest 2020! We get five weeks this year. Hooray!

Previous Murakami Fest Posts:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation, Mental Retreat

On New Year’s Eve 1986, the Murakamis heads from Mykonos to Athens and then to Rome where he spends New Year’s. People are eating lentils and drinking champagne to celebrate. After celebrating, they head to Sicily for a month, which left a definite impression on Murakami — he notes that if they hadn’t already paid the rent and didn’t have a work commitment (an essay for an in-flight magazine), they would have left early. The city is dirty and run down, violent with crime, and noisy.

Not a great writing atmosphere: He goes as far as calling it Hell (地獄). Murakami manages to write, but the stress of Palermo gives him nightmares, which feels exceptional because he’s said he doesn’t dream very much.

The opera and food in town are the highlights for his time there — he sees three operas and eats heaping plates full of ikasumi linguine.

There’s a nice passage about writing at the beginning of the section, right after he describes how miserable Palermo is:

I lived in that city for a month. And the whole time I was writing Norwegian Wood. I wrote about a sixth of the way through that novel here. Unlike Mykonos, I wasn’t able to go out for walks even when the sun was out, which I guess was tough. If I suddenly wanted a quick change scenery, I couldn’t just take one. So we twice left Palermo to go on short trips. We went once to Taormina and once to Malta. Then we returned to Palermo where I confined myself to the room and worked.

It was hard to keep writing the novel every day. There were times it even felt like I was grinding down my bones or consuming my own flesh. (You might say that it isn’t that massive a novel. But to the writer, that was what it felt like.) However, it was more painful not to write. Writing is hard. But writing itself wants to be written. The most important thing when this happens is focus. The focus to throw yourself into that world. And the strength to sustain that focus for as long as possible. If you do this, you’ll find that at some point you conquer the pain. And you have to believe in yourself. Believe that you have the strength within yourself to complete it.

そんな街に一ヶ月住んだ。そしてそのあいだずっと『ノルウェイの森』を書いていた。その小説のだいたい六合めくらいまではここで書いた。ミコノスとは違って、日が暮れてもちょっと外に散歩に出るということができなくて、それが辛いといえば辛かった。さて気分転換をと思っても、それができない。そこで二回ばかりパレルモを離れて小旅行に出た。一度はタオルミナに、もう一度はマルタ島に行った。そしてパレルモに帰ってくると、また部屋にこもって仕事をした。

毎日小説を書き続けるのは辛かった。時々自分の骨を削り、筋肉を食いつぶしているような気さえした。(それほど大層な小説ではないじゃないかとおっしゃるかもしれない。でも書く方にしてみればそれが実感なのだ)。それでも書かないでいるのはもっと辛かった。文章を書くことは難しい。でも、文章の方は書かれることを求めているのだ。そういうときにいちばん大事なものは集中力である。その世界に自分を放り込むための集中力である。そしてその集中力をできるだけ長く持続させる力である。そうすれば、ある時点でその辛さはふっと克服できる。それから自分を信じること。自分にはこれをきちんと完成させる力があるんだと信じること。 (183)

This feels like good advice…to be taken with a grain of salt. Murakami’s writing advice often feels like it will result in “the scroll.” I think this is the recipe for a lot of bad first drafts, which are necessary to eventually produce good writing, but given what we know about Murakami’s later output, I’m not sure how much editing is being done. Murakami is a sixth done with his novel in January/February 1987, and it goes to press in September. Norwegian Wood itself was a revision project, working based on a short story, so maybe that’s why it works better than some of his other projects. He’s not just sitting down to knock out Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Vol. 3.

That’s all for Murakami Fest this year! I’ll be back next year with more chapters. I’m curious to see what other bits about Norwegian Wood make it into these little memoirs.

Mental Retreat

Week four of Murakami Fest 2020!

Previous Murakami Fest Posts:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This chapter is titled “Retreat from Mykonos.” Murakami is leaving Mykonos, and during the day of departure his mind is preoccupied with Napoleon’s retreat from Russia.

The retreat seems tied in with the terrible weather (it’s rained almost the whole month, it’s raining again as he leaves) and some of the frustrations he’s faced during his time there: He’s working extremely hard on his writing, and he’s had some run-ins with an annoying foreigner living on Mykonos.

The retreat gets blended in with his own experience, a technique that he explores more in depth a few years later in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle through Cinnamon Akasaka, who has a divided self and writes out his grandfather’s vivid experiences in Manchuria. You could also argue that the technique dates back to one of his earliest short stories—“A Poor-Aunt Story.” Although the rain section below more closely mirrors that story. It’s a striking effect. Here’s how the chapter begins:

February 20, 1986. Sunday. Rain.

I’m leaving this island today.

I woke up at 6:30, sat at my desk and worked on the novel for an hour, and then put the bundle of papers into a large envelope when I made it to a temporary stopping place. Then I placed this securely at the bottom of my suitcase so it wouldn’t get folded. Today is also the end of my stay on Mykonos. However, now that I think about the month and a half I’ve lived here, the weather has been awful the entire time. Once or twice a week we’d get perfectly clear days. But other than that it was terrible. It rained, or it was windy, or it was rainy and windy. And most days the sky was gloomily overcast. We were surrounded by beautiful coastline, but I was only able to get in the water and go swimming once.

In the end, our final day here is rainy as well. A silent, misty rain. The wind is also blowing.

一九八六二月二十日。日曜日。雨。

僕は今日この島を出て行こうとしている。

六時半に起きて、机に向かって一時間ばかり小説の続きを書き、とりあえずのきりがついたところで、そのレターペーパーの束を大判の封筒に入れる。そしてしわにならないように、しっかりとしたスーツケースの一番底にしまいこむ。今日でミコノスの滞在も終わりである。しかし考えてみればここで暮らした一ヵ月半、まったくひどい天気ばかりだった。週に一日か二日、からりと晴れた美しい日がやってくる。でもあとはひどいものだ。雨が降るか、風が吹くか、あるいは雨が降って風が吹くかだ。そして空はたいていどんより暗く曇っている。こんなに美しい海岸に囲まれていながら、実際に海に入って泳ぐことができたのはたった一度だけだった。

結局最後の日も雨だ。細かい無音の雨。風も吹いている。

I’ll pause here and offer some commentary, the only commentary necessary: Can you imagine if he’d somehow lost his luggage or if the manuscript had been otherwise destroyed?! Obviously, writing by hand was the only option for Murakami at the time, but it feels so tenuous! I wonder whether he tried to make copies of his manuscripts or if he mailed it back to his editor in Japan. We do know that he when he submitted his first novella, the story that would become Hear the Wind Sing, he mailed his only copy to Gunzō. (I can’t seem to track down where Murakami has noted this. I thought for sure I’d blogged about it, but the best I can find in my archives is the fact that he’d completely forgotten that he’d submitted to the contest. UPDATE: Thank you to Mikhail in the comments who notes that Murakami makes this claim in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.) I’ll have to read more chapters and find out if he mentions what he did in Europe.

Murakami continues:

Just behind the house we rented is a modest sheep pasture (although it’s basically just a empty field), and usually there are 30 to 40 sheep grazing there. From time to time the shepherds, a mean couple (they look straight out of one of Dickens’ novels) come over and hit the sheep who don’t listen with a crook, unleashing a stream of foul curses at them as they do. I can look out over the whole pasture from the window in front of my desk. I kind of started looking forward to those pauses in my work when I happened to lift my eyes and see a mother sheep with her lambs from the window, but winter has deepened and the grass grown more scarce, and ten days ago every last one of the sheep were transferred to a different pasture. Now there is only a barren, brown expanse of ground beneath the window. Gone are the lambs clinging desperately to their mother’s legs, and gone are their monotonous, sing-song bleats that seemed to be underlined with a ruler. When I look at the empty pasture, it’s clear that the season has wrenched away its fair share.

Beyond the pasture is a road that runs up to the mountains, and an old truck filled with what looks like construction materials lurches its way up. The misty morning rain chills and dampens everything on the ground. As I glance outside, I think about the chapter I just finished writing. When I write on a rainy morning, somehow it ends up being writing that feels like a rainy morning. No matter how much work I put into it later on, I can never get the scent of that morning rain out of it. The scent of the rain falling silently on the lonely pasture, from which each and every sheep has disappeared. The scent of the rain that covered that old truck crossing the mountains. My writing is redolent with that morning rain. Partly out of fate.

我々の借りた家のすぐ裏手に、ささやかな羊の放牧地(というよりはただの原っぱみたいなものだけれど)があって、そこにはだいたい三十頭から四十頭の羊たちが放し飼いにされていた。ときどき意地の悪そうな羊飼いの夫婦がやってきて(ディケンズの小説に出てきそうな風貌のカップルである)、杖で言うことをきかない羊たちを口ぎたなくののしりながらひっぱたいた。机の前の窓から、その放牧地を見渡すことができた。僕は仕事のあいまにふと目を上げて、窓から羊の母子の姿を眺めるのをささやかな楽しみにしていたのだが、冬が深まるにつれて草はどんどん乏しくなり、羊たちは十日ばかり前に一頭残らずどこかべつの放牧地に移送されてしまった。今では貧相な茶色の地面が窓の下にがらんと広がっているだけだ。母羊の脚に必死にしがみつく子羊たちの姿ももう見られないし、あの定規で引いたように抑揚のない一本調子の鳴き声ももう聞こえない。からっぽの放牧地を見ていると、季節がその取りぶんをしっかりともぎとって行ってしまったことがよくわかる。

放牧地の向こうには山に向かう坂道があり、古いトラックが建材のようなものを積んで、よたよたと山を登っていく。朝の細かい雨が地表のありとあらゆるものを冷たく濡らしている。僕はぼんやりと外を眺め、さっき書き終えたばかりの章のことを考える。雨の朝に文章を書くと、どういうわけかそれは雨の朝のような文章になってしまう。あとでどれだけ手を入れてみても、その文章から朝の雨の匂いを取り去ることはできない。羊たちが一頭残らず失われてしまった寂しい放牧地に、音もなく降る雨の匂い。山を越えていく古びたトラックを濡らす雨の匂い。僕の文章はそんな雨の朝の匂いに包まれている。半分運命的に。

This is the section that strikes me as most like “A Poor-Aunt Story.” I love the idea that something from the writer’s current situation and self are imprinted on the work. If you think about it, there are parts of Norwegian Wood that do have the kind of gray, melancholic frustration that Murakami is describing here.

Murakami continues with breakfast after his writing:

I go downstairs and heat up some water and grill pancakes. Today is our last day, so I have to find a clever way to use up each and every item that’s left in the refrigerator. We have a little pancake mix, milk, and eggs left in the fridge. So anyone would come to the conclusion we’re having pancakes for breakfast.The balance between the mix, eggs, and milk is slightly off, but I guess there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s part of taking care of leftovers. Left over—as I cut the pancakes into small pieces and bring them to my mouth, I find myself thinking of Napoleon’s retreat from Russia. The most difficult retreat with the least to gain. Cossack troops dominate fields covered in snow. Blizzards. The sound of cannons.

My wife asks, Want some tomato?

We have a lot of tomato left over. I’ll have some, I say. I cut the tomato, add some salt and lemon juice, and sprinkle on some herbs I cut up. Coffee, pancakes, and tomato salad, soldiers cross frozen rivers, and destroy bridges with their hands growing numb. They are so far from home.

僕は階下に下りてキッチンで湯を温めてパンケーキを焼く。今日が最後の日なので、冷蔵庫の中にのこっているものをひとつひとつ手際よく片付けていかなくてはならないのだ。冷蔵庫の中にはパンケーキの粉が少しとミルクと卵が残っている。だからこれは誰がどう考えても朝御飯はパンケーキということになる。粉と卵と牛乳のバランスがいささか悪いが、これはまあ仕方ないだろう。残りものを片づけるというのはそういうことなのだから。残りもの---僕はそんなパンケーキを小さく切って口に運びながら、ふとナポレオンの軍隊がロシアから撤退した時のことを思い出す。いちばん難しく、いちばん得るところの少ない撤退戦。雪原を跳梁するコサック兵。雪嵐。砲声。

トマト食べる?と女房が尋ねる。

トマトがいっぱい余っているよ。食べる、と僕は言う。トマトを切って塩とレモン汁をかけ、香草を刻んでふりかける。コーヒーとパンケーキとトマトのサラダ、兵士たちは凍てつく河を渡り、かじかむ手で橋を焼き落とす。彼らはあまりにも遠く故郷を離れたのだ。(162-164)

This is really just the start of this technique, but you can already see how he weaves his mental experience in with the physical environment. His wife’s interruption is on its own line, bringing us back to reality before Murakami deals with the tomatoes and then gradually sinks back into his thought process.

As a literary work, this might be the most interesting chapters so far.

The other interesting connection with Norwegian Wood/Murakami’s oeuvre is Murakami’s generational angst. Murakami has been pretty critical of people who protested in the late-60s only to sell out and join the Bubble era. We see this implicitly in Norwegian Wood: the narrator is a writer, still suffering from psychological wounds from the past, while his classmate Nagasawa goes on to serve as a MOFA officer after having treated his girlfriend Hatsumi so poorly. Hatsumi gets married and seems to go on to a happy life but ends up committing suicide. In one of the rare glimpses of the narrator’s present, there’s a scene when he’s on a job in Santa Fe with the sun setting beautifully, which reminds him of Hatsumi’s tragedy.

We also see this outlook in short stories like “Poolside” from Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round and in “A Folklore of My Generation: A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism.”

But in this chapter Murakami ends us seeming like the cynical one. Later on in the chapter he has an encounter with “Belgian John,” a foreigner who comes by to collect the electric bill. He’s ended up on Mykonos after becoming disillusioned with mass publication and abandoning his dreams of working as an editor in publishing. John seems like a condescending jerk, and Murakami is pretty critical of his “turn on, tune in, drop out” attitude. He dismisses him as a Baby Boomer, a relic of the 60s.

I think ultimately the criticism seems to be leveled at a lack of effort. Belgian John isn’t even trying to stay connected. It’s an interesting section. I won’t excerpt any of it here, but it’s worth a read if you’re looking at Murakami from this perspective or just want to see his writing style.

***

I mentioned this two weeks ago, but it’s worth posting the link again: Murakami revisits Mykonos 24 years later in 2010 and writes about the experience in an essay that was part of the collection 『ラオスにいったい何があるというんですか?』(What Exactly Do They Say is in Laos?). I wrote about it four years ago. Murakami revisits the apartment where they stayed but seems to have forgotten that the winter drove off the sheep when he lived there the first time.

Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation

Welcome back to Murakami Fest 2020!

Previous Murakami Fest Posts:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood

The next chapter is titled “The Port and Vangelis” (港とヴァンゲリス), and it nicely summarizes the somewhat disorganized chapter that serves as a travel sketch and profile.

A big part of Murakami’s life on Mykonos revolves around the weather and availability of fish. They have to rush to the market in the morning to buy fish. There’s no fish store, just the market, and everything available sells out in a 30-minute window after the boats return from fishing in the morning. So when the weather is calm, they rush to the market and buy a few days’ worth of fish.

Greek food doesn’t sit well for them, and they end up needing to purge with simple meals after eating too much of the local food. Murakami goes on extensively about hanging out octopus to dry before cooking it, and there is even a photo included of an octopus strung out with Mykonos in the background included in the text. (Photo above is not from the book, but rather from Wikimedia Commons.)

This chapter is a good example of Murakami capturing characters on his trip. This section about the fish market leads naturally to their building manager Vangelis, who walks around the market talking with everyone. He manages a set of 20-30 two-floor buildings all surrounded by a wall. Each building has two maisonette style apartments. He’s turning 60 the following year and is relatively uneducated but has good intuition. He has a son and a daughter and two grandchildren. Family is important to him, and he seems disappointed Murakami doesn’t have kids. I’d say he could serve as inspiration for the Colonel in Hard-boiled Wonderland, but he’d already published that book by this point. It’s almost the reverse: one of his fictional characters come to life in the form of a middle-aged Greek man.

I enjoyed this part about Vangelis on Christmas Day:

Vangelis doesn’t drink while he works. But on Christmas Day, he put on his best suit and got quite drunk in his building manager’s office. Well, Christmas is basically like Japanese New Year’s. When Vangelis gets drunk, he turns bright red, is much more cheerful than usual, and talks loudly. He offered me some whiskey. He filled a glass to the brim. The whiskey was Johnny Walker Red Label. He was extremely proud to be drinking Johnny Walker. He must’ve been saving it specially for Christmas. He usually drinks cheap wine. He never drinks uzo. A long time ago he got drunk on uzo and something happened, so he seems to have sworn off it. No matter how much uzo I offered, Vangelis never took a sip of it. “Uzo is bad liquor,” he said with a dark look on his face. “Makes you an idiot. Haruki, you should be careful. Drink wine instead.”

ヴァンゲリスは仕事中は酒を飲まない。でもクリスマスの日には一張羅のスーツを着込んで、管理人室でかなり酔っぱらっていた。まあクリスマスといえば正月みたいなものである。ヴァンゲリスは酔っぱらうと真っ赤になって、いつもより陽気になり、声が大きくなる。そして僕にウィスキーを飲ませる。グラスになみなみと注いでくれる。ウィスキーはジョニー・ウォーカーの赤ラベルである。彼はジョニー・ウォーカーを飲んでいることがすごく得意そうだった。きっとクリスマス用に大事にとっておいたお酒なのだろう。いつもはだいたい安物のワインを飲んでいる。ウゾーは飲まない。昔ウゾーで酔っぱらって何かあって、それで懲りたのかもしれない。僕がどれだけウゾーを進めても、ヴァンゲリスは絶対に口をつけなかった。「ウゾー、悪い酒。頭バカになる。ハルキも気をつけたほうがいい。ワインにしなって」と言って暗い顔をした。 (156)

Vangelis takes a liking to the Murakamis and ends up serving as a social go-between for them. He takes them with him to Cafe Neon, a space for locals where foreign tourists aren’t usually welcomed. He pours them wine, points out items on the menu, and eventually the cafe warms up to the Murakamis.

The chapter ends with one additional character, whom Murakami calls T氏 (T-shi, Mr. T). This is interesting because so far Murakami has referred to everyone by name. I think this is likely because T is the property owner and the description of him isn’t flattering. He tries to sell one of the buildings to Murakami, who decides not to make a purchase. There is a cryptic mention of his finances in Tokyo:

But of course we didn’t buy one. They were nice vacation houses and pretty well built, the price was high but fair, and I liked the manager, Vangelis. But at that time, we didn’t have the leeway (we’d left Japan because financially we’d had a bit of instability), plus Greece is a little far from Japan. It’s not an easy place to access, where you might say, guess I’ll go to Guam for a bit, even if you had the time. If you had a vacation house in a place like Greece it would just end up being a lot of work.

でももちろん僕らは買わなかった。なかなかよくできた良いリゾート・ハウスだったし、値段も高いなりにまあ妥当な値段だったし、管理人ヴァンゲリスのことも気に入っていた。でもそのときは僕らにはそんな余裕はなかったし、(僕らは経済的にはそれなりの不安を抱えて日本を出てきたのだ)、それにギリシャは日本からいささか遠すぎる。暇ができても、じゃあちょっとグアムにでも行くかという風に簡単に行けるところではない。そんなところにリゾート・ハウスを持っても手間がかかるでけである。(158)

This is interesting, and perhaps refers to some of the “negative reasons” he ended up needing to take the European trip. But it does feel strange. He’d given up the jazz bar gig after completing Pinball, 1973, had had some serious success and written lots of stories and four novels, including the lengthy Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, plus we know he’s exhausted from all the writing and writing-adjacent work he’s been doing. But I guess cost of living in Japan might have been high for the salary he was able to turn around? Interesting little passage.