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:


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:


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


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 clearly explains how radicals are involved in the Chinese kanji for elements:


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.


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.





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.



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.




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.


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.

Pacing Norwegian Wood

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

After a cold, rainy fall on Spetses, the Murakamis decide to relocate to Mykonos, which he describes in a chapter simply titled “Mykonos.” Murakami is skeptical because he’s been before (twice apparently!) and it was more touristy than he was hoping for.

But that was during the season. The travel agent convinces him to take an off season spot on Mykonos, which ends up being perfect…and one of his only options. Murkami thought a lot of apartments would be available during the off season, but supply availability drops with demand, and a lot of landlords have already taken off for the year and are on vacation. It becomes difficult to even get in touch with them.

Mykonos in the off season is quiet and he ends up being relatively productive. After a big chunk complaining about the terrible, cold weather and why so many Japanese visit during that season (fall honeymoon season, New Year’s travels), he talks about what he worked on:

But as a result, despite this terrible weather, or perhaps precisely because of this terrible weather, Mykonos during the off season was actually the ideal environment for me to quietly get some work done. Here I completed the translation of C.D.B. Bryan’s novel The Great Dethriffe. It was pretty long, but the story was interesting, and I wanted to get through it quickly and start working on my own novel, so I steadily worked through the translation every day. I still wasn’t using a word processor at this point, so I crammed my writing into a college notebook with a fountain pen.

Once I made it to the end of The Great Dethriffe, I wrote several sketch-like pieces of writing about life on Spetses (the basis for the essays in this book) and then got started on the long-awaited novel. During that time my body had this incredible itch to write a novel. I was parched, thirsting for words. “Bringing” myself to that point was the most important thing. You can’t write a long novel without bringing yourself right up to a point like that. Just like running a marathon, if you fail to make the adjustments to get to that point, you won’t have the breath for the long haul.

That novel would later become Norwegian Wood, but I didn’t have a title at that point. I started writing casually and with the goal of making it a smooth 300-350 pages or so of 400-character manuscript paper, but when I’d written 600 pages I realized, “That’s not gonna work. There’s no way I’ll finish in 300-400 pages.” From that point until April of the following year (1987) I became completely absorbed in novel life as we moved between Sicily and Rome. In the end, the completed novel was 900 pages.



この小説はのちに『ノルウェイの森』になるわけだが、このときにはまだタイトルもついていない。四百字詰めで三百枚か三百五十枚くらいのさらっとした小説にしようというくらいの軽い気持ちで書き始めたのだが、百枚くらい書いたところで「こりゃ駄目だ、とても三百、四百じゃ終わらない」とわかった。以来翌年(一九八七)の四月まで、シシリー、ローマと移動しながらの小説漬けの生活にのめり込んでいくことになる。結局出来上がった小説は九百枚だった。 (140-141)

This is a fascinating look at Murakami’s productivity and practices. As usual, he knocks out translations and nonfiction like they’re nothing. The Great Dethriffe is 252 pages, a substantial translation. He then writes the essays. And then apparently gets a draft of Norwegian Wood written in what must be about a six-month span. Absolutely crazy.

900 pages with 400 characters means 360,000 characters, and at about 2.2 English words per character that’s just over 160,000 words. Not a huge novel like the kind that Murakami writes now, and he was working from the short story “Firefly” (nice little ode to “Firefly” right here) but a remarkable feat nonetheless. All done on the road while putting up with storms and all sorts of other challenges (which we’ll see in later chapters)!

Murakami spends the rest of the chapter reminiscing about the different bars on Mykonos. After he writes every day (time his wife spends reading books, studying Italian, playing with cats, and not talking to him), they go to a bar and talk.

As usual Murakami does a good job of capturing the other people they run into. Bar owners, residents who have been to Japan before, the foreign community, and he ends the chapter with a sense that Mykonos is a place filled with people who are a little lost.

This is such a great book (rough at times, but full of energy), and it’s a shame it hasn’t been translated.


A brief aside about The Great Dethriffe. It’s a terrible book. The New York Times panned it when it was published. Japanese reviewers on Amazon have this to say about it:

グレート・ギャツビー(村上春樹訳)を読んで、数日後に読破。残念ながら、グレート・ギャツビーにかないいません。村上春樹さんの力の入れようも違うのかな。(I read The Great Gatsby [Haruki Murakami’s translation] and finished it in just a few days. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold a candle to The Great Gatsby. Maybe Murakami was wrong to put his energy into this.)

Even C.D.B. Bryan didn’t like it: One of his children has a blog with anecdotes from his letters, including this line: “So I went back to read Dethriffe yesterday and hated every minute of it. Why is it so difficult to reread something after it has been published.”

So I was extremely confused about how Murakami came to translate a book published in 1970 during the fall of 1986, why he chose to do so, and whether there might have been anything in the book that drew him to it or would speak to his own style.

To be an absolute completionist, I bought a copy on Amazon, read a few chapters, and then speed read the rest of the book. It’s not good. There are pages and pages of dialogue that should have been cut, a few bizarre racist and sexist passages (that might be jokes?), and not much going for it other than a prescient sense of how far the Gatsby revival would take F. Scott Fitzgerald stock. It reads almost like a pastiche of Gatsby had Gatsby actually married Daisy and then realized the wanting is better than the getting.

I think the Gatsby connection is the main reason Murakami translated this book. Maybe they thought they could cash in on the connection or something. There are some extended passages of people telling stories, a technique Murakami has used frequently, but he had already developed it at this point in his career. It wasn’t anything new. Bryan also makes the mistake of telling these stories completely within dialogue, never switching to third person, which is one of the pleasures of the technique.


Murakami returns to Mykonos 24 years later to make a pilgrimage to the spot where he wrote Norwegian Wood, and he’s actually able to take a peek into the place where he lived. I wrote about this essay back in 2016.

Murakami Preparedness

Welcome to Murakami Fest 2020! This year I’ll be looking at five chapters from 遠い太鼓 (Tōi taiko, Distant Drums), his travel memoir from Europe. It’s an interesting chunk of time—October 1986 through January 1987. This is when Murakami begins writing Norwegian Wood. This is notable because we know the book is published on September 4, 1987. He does have a head start with the short story “Firefly,” which forms part of the story, but he still finds a way to knock out this book in less than a year. Probably much less than that. Incredible.

This is Year 13. We’re a teenager. Here are the previous entries:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year Twelve: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo

In the chapter I’m looking at today, titled “A Storm Arrives” (嵐来る), the Murakamis deal with an unexpected storm on Spetses that lasts from October 27 to October 30 with a brief pause in the middle. A few neighbors mention to him in passing that it’s going to rain, but they are surprised by the intensity of the storm, which begins to flood the house where they’re staying. They’re forced to mop up with rags and stuff newspapers in the doors to try and prevent water from getting in.

During an initial break after the first day, they go out for fast food and even catch a movie, but the storm starts for real the next day, and eventually everything in the apartment is cold and wet. They have a sparse cabinet: enough spaghetti for one serving, tomatoes, cucumbers, a little bacon, onion, canned mushrooms, and coffee.

So we get this nice little section:

“Think we’ll be ok? This is all the food we have,” my wife said in a worried tone.

“We’ll be fine,” I said. “No matter how strong a storm is, there’s always a moment in the middle when the rain cuts out. A little break. When that happens I’ll run over to Anargyros’ place and buy food. We’ll also get some info about the storm if I go to his place.”

“Will the rain really let up so perfectly?”

“It’ll let up. I grew up in Kansai, so I’m pretty familiar with how typhoons work.”

“Assuming Japanese typhoons and Greek storms work the same way,” she said with a look of doubt on her face. She has little faith in my abilities with anything in the worldly realm.

However, as I predicted, the rain suddenly stopped just before noon. The wind also stopped, and the clouds parted as well, as if the storm to this point had been a lie. Only occasional peals of thunder we could hear from the direction of the Peloponnesian peninsula remained. We were in the eye of the typhoon. I ran through the streets filled with puddles to Anargyros’ store. The usual shortcut had been turned into a river. At Anargyro’s store I bought two bags of crackers, cabbage, potatoes, two bottles of mineral water, and wine. Anargyros calculated the bill in his usual leisurely manner, writing numbers on a piece of paper with a look on his face like the storm had nothing to do with him.

“How about that storm?” I said.

“Yup. It rained a lot,” Anargyros said.

“Think it’ll rain tomorrow?” I tried asking.

“Yeah…might rain, might not…” Anargyros said with a grin.

Greeks have this way of occasionally making incredibly philosophical statements, and I always find myself fascinated by it.











ギリシャ人というのはこのようにときどきものすごく哲学的な発言をするが、いちいち感心しているわけにはいかない。 (129-130)

This is a relatively unremarkable chapter but interesting in that we’d likely never be surprised by something like this these days, given how connected everyone is and how ubiquitous smartphones are.

Also, does Murakami buy enough food?! He adds crackers, potatoes, and cabbage—that’s it! Maybe it’s my pandemic prepping mindset or my experience stocking up for hurricanes, but you at least need to grab some milk and eggs before everyone else wipes out the shelves.