Dazai Osamu’s “Dispatch From Tokyo”

I was in the Japan Times this week with a curated look at Aozora Bunko, a great source for public domain literature in Japanese: “Blue Sky Books is a literary treasure trove.”

My encounters with Dazai Osamu on Aozora Bunko have been revelatory. I’d only ever read him in translation previously, and nothing ever really struck me (for which I’ll blame youthful ignorance), but I remember a friend at Waseda saying that she loved his sentences, and I can now say that I know what she was talking about.

To try to give you a good example of this, I’ve translated one of his shorter nonfiction pieces on Aozora titled 東京だより (Tokyo dayori, Dispatch from Tokyo). I don’t think I do him full justice, but it was a fun exercise:

Dispatch From Tokyo

Dazai Osamu

Tokyo is currently full of working girls. Morning and evening, on their way to and from the factories, the girls march through the streets of Tokyo in double-file columns singing the songs of industrial soldiers. They wear almost exactly the same clothing as boys. However, the straps of their geta are red, and this lone point leaves them with an aura of femininity. All of the girls have the same look on their faces. You can’t even tell clearly how old they are. When offered up to the Emperor, perhaps all humans are cleanly stripped of all facial features and age. This isn’t only when they march through the streets of Tokyo; when I see these girls laboring or working, each of their features lost and their so called “personal circumstances” also forgotten, it’s even easier for me to understand that they’re exerting themselves for their country.

Just the other day, a friend of mine who is an artist was drafted to work at a factory, and I had to see him about something, so I visited the factory three times. This something was that he is going to draw the cover for one of my fiction collections that should be published soon, but in truth I always make fun of his works, and in the past he asked several times to draw the cover of my collection, but I rejected him outright and said, if I let you draw the cover, even one of my books that wasn’t considered any good to begin with would get even worse and would never sell a single copy, so, yeah, I’ll pass. Actually, his drawings were really bad. But he got in touch with an incredibly solemn request and said he was going into the factory and now was precisely the moment to try to draw the cover for my collection with a fresh mindset, so I quickly set out for the factory to ask him to draw the cover. I didn’t care if it was crap. I didn’t care if the collection was reviewed poorly. None of those things mattered. If drawing the cover for my boring collection lifted his spirits at the factory, then nothing would make me happier. I received his touching correspondence and quickly set out for the factory where he works. He greeted me with great joy and told me about his various plans for the cover. Each and every one was unsatisfactory. It shocked me how cliched and sentimental they were, but, yet, given the situation, the quality of the drawing was not the problem. My next collection might be ruined due to his drawing, but, nevertheless, I couldn’t have cared less about it. Didn’t someone once say, do unto others? He excitedly told me about his boring ideas and then the next time he showed me even more boring drafts of the drawings, so I was frequently summoned and had to go to his factory.

I passed through the gate of the factory, showed the guard the letter from him, and entered the administrative office, where ten girls were quietly attending to administrative duties. I told one of the girls the reason for my visit and had her phone his guard room. He slept in one room of the factory, so he had made sure to inform me of his break times in his letter, and I was able to make a short visit during those break times. Until he got to the office, I sat in a small chair in one corner and stared off into space as I waited, but actually I wasn’t that spaced out. I was surreptitiously observing the ten girls who were working right in front of me. They had already, in almost beautiful fashion, cooly ignored my presence. I’ve been accustomed to being ignored by girls since my childhood, so I wasn’t particularly surprised, but the way they ignored me showed no trace of arrogance; they all simply looked downward and diligently attended to their duties without a shift in attitude revealed on any of their faces, and there was no sign of any change in the quiet atmosphere due to the coming and going of visitors—it was an incredibly pleasant scene; I could hear only the crisp sounds of the abacus and the turning of pages in the ledgers. There weren’t noticeable expressions on any of the girls faces, which made them seem like identically colored butterflies quietly lined up on the branch of a flower, but there was one who, for some reason, had an unforgettable impression. This is a rare phenomenon when it comes to working girls. I stated previously that there weren’t even slight distinguishing features between each of the working girls, but there was the one in the administrative office of that factory who had a completely different sense from the other girls. There was nothing all that different about her face. It was longish and tan. There was nothing different about her clothes either. She was wearing the same black work uniform as everyone. There was nothing different about her hairstyle either. There was nothing different about anything about her. Nevertheless, she was beautiful and vividly different from the others, as though a green butterfly was mixed in amongst black swallowtail butterflies. Yes. She was beautiful. She wasn’t wearing any makeup. Still, she was completely different and beautiful. I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I must confess that while I waited for the artist in that office, I was looking only at that mysterious girl’s face. I settled myself down and came to the most plausible conclusion that it was her bloodlines. Her father or mother had noble blood for many generations in the distant past, therefore she gave off this strange scent despite having no discernible features. I sat alone intrigued and sighed thinking of how important bloodlines are for humans, but I was wrong. My lone conclusion was completely off. The reason she was so prominently, mysteriously beautiful lay within a solemn—even sublime—urgent reality. One evening, when I was leaving through the front gate of the factory after completing my third visit, I happened to hear the girls singing behind me and turned around to see them come out from the factory courtyard in double-file lines, loudly singing the songs of industrial warriors. I stopped to watch the energetic group go by. And then I was astonished. The girl from the office came walking with crutches, slightly behind everyone else. As I watched, my eyes began to burn. The girl who should’ve been beautiful, her legs were deformed from birth. Her right leg right around her ankle—no, I can’t bring myself to say it. She passed by me silently on the crutches.

The piece is striking for its variety of sentences. Dazai has total control and jumps back and forth between shorter and longer phrases. There is some repetition of terminology (such as 事務所), but I think they can be chalked up to linguistic differences.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of 男子意気に感ぜざれば. I found a few instances of 人生意気に感ず, which has a few good explanations here and here, so I made up something that seems to fit. Let me know if you see any other blatant mistakes.

Dazai has a long list of shorter pieces on Aozora that are manageable reads in addition to longer works like 人間失格 (Ningen shikkaku, No Longer Human). There are also a number that are related to the war, which are interesting…I don’t think I’d read many primary texts about the war experience in Japan. I think this piece can be read as a subtle critique of the war effort and its effect on the populace.

Skulls and Songs

Chapter 36 “Accordion” is a very short chapter in which Watashi seems to discover the secrets of the Town: it’s all part of himself. He and the Librarian are in the stacks, and she comes to the conclusion that the accordion and music might be the key to discovering the lost bits of her mind. Watashi plays random notes and chords and then stumbles upon the tune to “Danny Boy” while letting his thoughts drift out over the Town and its residents. The skulls light up with bits of the Librarian’s mind, and he begins to try and separate them for her.

There aren’t many changes in this chapter. A few minor adjustments and creative translations. The one major adjustment by Birnbaum (or his editor) comes, as usual, at the end of the chapter, but he takes the opposite of his usual approach and ends with the narrator’s thoughts rather than actions. Here is the official English translation:

She surveys the rows of softly glowing skulls before exiting the stacks. The door closes behind her. The flecks of light dance upon the skulls. Some are old dreams that are hers, some are old dreams of my own.

My search has been a long one. It has taken me to every corner of this walled Town, but at last I have found the mind we have lost. (370)

You’ll see that Birnbaum lops of the last line:

彼女はもう一度肯いて光り輝く頭骨の列を眺めわたし、それから書庫を出て行った。ドアが閉まると、僕は壁に持たれて頭骨にちりばめられた無数の光の粒をじっといつまでも見つめていた。その光は彼女の抱いていた古い夢でもあり、同時に僕自身の古い夢でもあった。僕は壁に囲まれたこの街の中で長い道のりを辿ってやっとそれにめぐりあうことができたのだ。

僕は頭骨のひとつをとり、それに手をあててそっと目を閉じた。 (544)

She nods once more, looks over the rows of brightly glowing skulls, and then leaves the stacks. When the door closes, I lean against the wall and stare endlessly at the countless flecks of light studding the skulls. The lights are old dreams she had, and at the same time they are my own old dreams. I’ve followed a long journey through the Town surrounded by a wall so that I can finally encounter them.

I take one of the skulls, place my hands on it, and gently close my eyes.

I had to borrow “flecks” for 粒 (tsubu, drops) because it was just too perfect. Birnbaum has typically corrected Murakami by cutting the narrator’s thoughts at the end of chapter, leaving things in media res. His translation of Watashi’s thoughts here are compelling, especially the creative rendering of the long journey, so I can go either way with this.

Murakami makes one adjustment to the Complete Works edition in this chapter, and as usual it is minor and curious, but it comes at such a critical time in the text. Here is a section of the official translation where the Librarian realizes the key:

“Do you have your accordion?” she asks.

“The accordion?” I question.

“Yes, it may be the key. The accordion is connected to song, song is connected to my mother, my mother is connected to my mind. Could that be right?”

“It does follow,” I say, “though one important link is missing from the chain. I cannot recall a single song.”

“It need not be a song.”

I retrieve the accordion from the pocket of my coat and sit beside her again, instrument in hand. … (367)

And here is my rendering of the original, to show you how Birnbaum is working:

「たぶん手風琴よ」と彼女は言った。「きっとそれが鍵なんだわ」

「手風琴?」と僕は言った。

「筋がとおってるわ。手風琴は唄に結びついて、唄は私の母に結びついて、私の母は私の心のきれはしに結びついている。そうじゃない?」

「たしかに君の言うとおりだ」と僕は言った。「それで筋がとおっている。たぶんそれが鍵だろう。でも大事なリンクがひとつ抜けている。僕には唄というものをひとつとして思いだすことができないんだ」

「唄じゃなくてもいいわ。その手風琴の音を少しだけでも私に聴かせてくれることはできる?」

「できるよ」と僕は言った。そして僕は書庫を出てストーヴのわきにかかったコートのポケットから手風琴をとりだし、それを持って彼女のとなりに座った。(283-284)

“It might be the accordion,” she says. “That must be the key.”

“The accordion?” I say.

“It makes sense. The accordion is linked to songs, songs to my mother, and my mother to the fragments of my mind. Right?”

“Yes, what you say is true,” I say. “It makes sense. It must be the key. But there’s one big connection missing: I am unable to recall a single song.”

“It doesn’t have to be a song. Can you just play the sounds of the accordion for me a bit?”

“I can,” I say. Then I leave the stacks and take the accordion from the pocket of my coat hanging by the stove. I bring it and sit next to her.

As you can see, Birnbaum makes a few minor cuts and adjustments, but nothing major. Here is what Murakami chooses to edit in the Complete Works edition:

「たぶん手風琴よ」と彼女は言った。「きっとそれが鍵なんだわ」

「手風琴?」と僕は言った。

「筋がとおってるわ。手風琴は唄に結びついて、唄は私の母に結びついて、私の母は私の心のきれはしに結びついている。そうじゃない?」

僕は書庫を出てストーヴのわきにかかったコートのポケットから手風琴をとりだし、それを持って彼女のとなりに座った。 (540)

“It might be the accordion,” she says. “That must be the key.”

“The accordion?” I say.

“It makes sense. The accordion is linked to songs, songs to my mother, and my mother to the fragments of my mind. Right?”

I leave the stacks and take the accordion from the pocket of my coat hanging by the stove. I bring it and sit next to her.

I guess the lines about him not being able to recall a song isn’t that important? But it does add to the suspense, to the stakes of this scene a little. It emphasizes how much he’s searching for this music within himself. The cuts don’t really make the chapter all that much more efficient. But they are pretty characteristic of some of the minor tweaks that Murakami has made throughout. I can imagine him rereading the text and muttering, “Well why did I do that? I guess we don’t need that bit.”

Four more chapters to go.

Murakami Fucks First

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

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

Today I’m looking at one last section of a conversation between Murakami and Anzai Mizumaru, a special pamphlet included with the essay collection Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata.

In this section, they’re talking about the types of customers at sushi restaurants:

村 客の立場から見て、寿司屋で僕がいちばん好きな客っていうと、やっぱり不倫のカップルですね。男が四十代後半から五十代、女が二十代後半っていう感じ。ひそひそっと隅っこで意味ありげな話なんかしてね。いかにも寿司屋らしくていいですよ。サマになるし。だいいち静かだし。

(オガミドリ)へへえ。

村 「これからやるんだな」ってカップルって、雰囲気でわかりますよね。

水 もちろんわかるね、ふふふ。

村 でも僕は個人的には、寿司を食ってからやるよりは、やってからゆっくり食べる方がいいですね。

水 そんなのいないよ、普通は食べてからやるもんだよ。

村 そうかなあ、僕が変なのかなあ。でもさ、やってる最中にこの女はさっきトロとあなごとウニを食ったな、なんて思い出すと感興がそがれませんか?お腹の中にそういうのが入っているのかしら、とかさ。ちょっと生臭くない?

水 そんなこと、誰も思わないよ。それにさ、終わってから寿司食べたりしたら、その方が逆に生々しいよ、ちょっと思い出したりしてさ(笑い)。それじゃブニュエルの世界だよ。

村 でもさ、終わったら腹減りませんか?

水 減らないよ。あとは寝るだけだよ。セックスしたあとで寿司食うなんて、そんな奴いないよ。村上君くらいだよ。

Mura: As a customer, my favorite sushi restaurant customers are definitely the adulterous couples. The ones where the men are in their late-40s to 50s and the women are in their late-20s. They sit in the corner and seem to be whispering conversation laden with meaning. That seems just like a sushi restaurant. So fitting. Mostly because it’s quiet.

(Ogamidori: Hehe)

Mura: You can tell the couples that are going to go do it when they leave.

Mizu: Of course you can, haha.

Mura: But personally, doing it and then taking your time to eat is better than eating sushi and then doing it.

Mizu: No one does that. Usually you eat and then do it.

Mura: You think? Maybe I’m weird. But look, doesn’t it turn you off when you realize right in the middle of doing it that this woman was just eating fatty tuna, anago, and uni? That all of that is in her stomach? It’s not a little too fishy for you?

Mizu: Nobody thinks that. And conversely it’s fishier to eat sushi after you finish, thinking about what you did (laughs). That’s like something out of Buñuel.

Mura: But don’t you get hungry when you finish?

Mizu: Nope. I just go to sleep. Nobody goes to eat sushi after having sex. Only you!

This brings to mind a lot of Murakami’s fiction. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (in which characters have a massive dinner—not sushi—and then have sex; and in which the pleasure of taste and sex are both dulled in the End of the World), “The Second Bakery Attack” (in which a couple wakes up in the middle of the night with “an unbearable hunger”), “Nausea 1979” (in which a character becomes nauseous and is unable to keep down food for months at a time, possibly due to his many affairs with the wives of close friends).

There must be some other connections with novels, I just haven’t reviewed them recently. Sex and food are tightly linked as physical pleasures and sustenance in Murakami’s works.

So it’s funny to learn that Murakami is on team Fuck First! This is a term coined by advice columnist Dan Savage (also here, NSFW!). I have to say I’d agree with him. It makes me queasy to do anything too athletic on a full stomach, although I wouldn’t say that sushi in particular makes me feel weird. Usually it’s pretty light fare, so it might be the ideal Fuck After cuisine. Mexican food, on the other hand, is not.

(I was unable to find an image of a 不倫カップル at a sushi restaurant, but I did manage to find this interesting blog post where the writer seems to overhear a couple similar to the one described by Murakami. Worth a read.)

Thus ends Murakami Fest 2017! I’ll be out of the country for the announcement this year, although I’ll be on European time, so perhaps I’ll manage to watch somehow. If not, this will be the first time in 10 (?) years that I’ve missed the announcement live. If he ends up winning this year (unlikely since Dylan won last year), you will hear the やれやれ I emit over the Belgian lambic/French wine/British bitter/Scottish Scotch/Irish dry stout/whatever it is I happen to be drinking during the announcement as it echoes around the world.

How to Japanese On the Road – Guidebooks

I’m in the Japan Times today with a look at how to use Japanese travel guides to study the language while you’re traveling in other countries: “Learn Japanese as you travel the world.”

I wrote the blog post below over seven years ago. I intended to post it while I was traveling abroad in Europe, but the trip was canceled and I never made it. Somehow the post has remained drafted in WordPress despite once losing my entire site to Ukranian hackers (or something), so I thought I’d share it today.

I wish I would’ve had access to a larger selection of travel guides to choose from, and I’d really be more comfortable carrying around a paper copy, to be honest, but the 地球の歩き方 for London and the るるぶ for Paris have helped provide decent overviews for the cities, and I’ll spend the next two weeks planning out the details of a new trip I’ll be making to Europe in October!

I’ll be in the following locations on the following dates, so holler if you’re around and want to buy me a drink or something tasty to eat or to show me a cool museum:

October 6-7 – Brussels
October 7-10 Paris
October 10-13 London
October 13-15 Newcastle
October 15-17 Edinburgh
October 17-18 Dublin

And then I fly back home on October 19. I’m excited!

So enjoy the post below, and damn that final line feels incredibly prescient. :/

_____________________

If you can speak a bit of Japanese, it makes financial and educational sense to skip the English guidebooks and pick up a local one. Not only will it force you to learn a lot of Japanese, Japan has an enormous selection of guides to choose from (these people love to travel), and the books are about half to a third of the price of English language guidebooks sold in Japan. Lonely Planet and Roughguide will cost 2000-3500 yen, a significant markup compared to the prices back home. In comparison, the local ララチッタ series is only 1200 per volume. They have strategic walking tours in the front (with detailed maps), extended listings in the back, and great, high quality pictures throughout. I picked up a guide to Munich and one to London – the two places where I will most likely be on my own:

As you can see, the guidebook has pretty good coverage of the beer in Munich:

On the previous page there is a walking tour that goes 1) breakfast of white sausages and white beer, 2) Oktoberfest Museum, 3) lunch at Hofbrauhaus, 4) beer omiyage, 5) famous sausages and beer for dinner. No complaints from me.

All Japanese guidebooks come with the added benefit of helping you appear Japanese.

Sushi Counter

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

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 Belonging, Peter Cat

I’ve finished my quick look at some of the essays in Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata and now for the last two weeks I’ll take tidbits from the extra pamphlet included with the text. Take a look:

Murakami has a short conversation with his illustrator Anzai Mizumaru (neé Watanabe Noboru of Yoru no kumozaru fame) about sushi restaurants. The conversation seems to be recorded by “Ogamidori-san” (also of Yoru no kumozaru fame), who also chimes in at a few points.

The first chunk of the interview is about what they like to order, which is only mildly interesting, but then they get into the restaurants themselves:

村 しかしね、水丸さん、寿司屋は味も大事だけど、客層って大事ですよね。

水 そうそう。客層は大事だよ。たとえば小さい子供なんかが隣で生意気にウニばっかり頼んだりしていると、ちょっとむかっとするよね。

村 蹴飛ばしてやりたいですね。それからけばけばした「光り物」糸の女の人が多いとけっこう疲れますよね。香水なんか強いと、ナマものの微妙な味が死んでしまうね。あれはちょっとなんとかしてほしいよな。

水 青山の「海味」の後ろの席でカウンターが空くのを待っているときなんかさ、ちゃらちゃらした「光り物」糸女の背中見ていたりすると、それだけで頭くることあるよね。

村 だんだん腹が立って来たな(笑い)。それから寿司屋によっては、煙草を吸う人が多いですね。あれも辛いですよ。カウンターはできたら禁煙にしてもらいたいと思う。苦しくて苦しくて、何度も途中で出てきた。

水 寿司屋のカウンターでタバコは遠慮するべきだと僕も思う。迷惑だよ。携帯電話も嫌だね。

Murakami: But Mizumaru-san, the food at sushi restaurants is important, but the clientele is also important, isn’t it.

Mizumaru: Yeah, yeah. The clientele is critical. Like, I get annoyed when there’s a bratty little kid next to me who keeps ordering uni.

Mura: I’d want to punt him out of there. And I get worn out when there are hordes of gaudy, “bejeweled” women. The delicate flavor of raw fish just disappears when their perfume is heavy. I wish they’d do something about that.

Mizu: When I’m waiting on the back seat at Umi in Aoyama for the counter seats to open up, staring at the backs of these “bejeweled” women as they jingle and jangle, that’s enough to get to me.

Mura: I’m starting to get angry (laughs). And depending on the restaurant, there are a lot of people who smoke. That’s also tough. I wish they’d make the counter seats no smoking. There’ve been a number of times when I’ve gotten up and left because it was so, so awful.

Mizu: I also think people should hold off on smoking at sushi counters. It’s a nuisance. I also can’t stand cell phones.

The essays were written from 1994-1995 and published as a collection in 1996, well before the no smoking movement (and even the smoking etiquette movement) gained momentum in Japan. On my first visit in 2002, they still had smoking cars on shinkansen. They may still have them, actually.

I tried to track down a photo of someone smoking at a sushi counter, and the best I could do was find this tweet which includes screen grabs from the 1974 drama 『傷だらけの天使』 (Kizu darake no tenshi, Injured Angels):

Actor Atsushi Watanabe deftly chows down on some sushi with a cigarette between the fingers of the same hand. Ahh, those were the days. Ha.

Back next week with one more excerpt from this interview.

Peter Cat

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

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: Vermonters, Wandering and Belonging

The final essay in the collection Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata is 「猫のピーターのこと、地震のこと、時は休みなく流れる」 (“Peter Cat, Earthquakes, Time Flows Ceaselessly”). This feels more like an essay than any of the others I’ve read, and that’s mostly because the large majority of it details Murakami’s first cat Peter rather than a section of his time in America. He uses one page at the end to discuss returning to Kobe to give a reading (one of his few public readings in Japan) to benefit the 1995 earthquake. It’s an interesting end to a mostly uninteresting collection.

I believe this may be the source of the title as well. I haven’t read all the essays, so I can’t say for certain, but as we’ll see shortly, Peter is a 虎猫 (toraneko, tabby), another way of saying Uzumaki neko:

猫に名前をつけるというのは、英国の先人も述べておられたとおり、なかなか難しいものである。僕は学生時代、三鷹のアパートに住んでいたときに、一匹の雄の子猫を拾った。拾ったというか、アルバイトの帰り、夜中に道を歩いていたら勝手にうしろからにゃあにゃあとついてきて、僕のアパートの部屋にいついてしまったのである。茶色の虎猫で、長毛がかかって頬がふわふわしたもみ上げみたいな感じになっていて、なかなか可愛かった。けっこう性格のきつい猫だったが、僕とすっかり意気投合して、それから長いあいだ二人で一緒に暮らすことになった。

この猫にはしばらくの間名前をつけていなかったのだが(名前を呼ぶ必要もとくになかったので)、ある日ラジオの深夜番組−確か『オールナイト・ニッポン』だったと思うな−を聞いていたら、「私はピーターという名前の可愛い猫を飼っていたのですが、それがどこかにいなくなってしまって、今はすごくさびしい」というリスナーからの投書があった。それを聞いて、「そうか、じゃあ、この猫はとりあえずピーターという名前にしよう」と思ったのである。それだけのことで、名前に関してとくに深い意味はない。

このピーターはすごくしっかりした猫で、僕が大学の休みで帰省しているあいだは野良猫として、そのへんでなんとか自活して生きていて、僕が帰ってくるとちゃんとまたうちの飼い猫になった。そういう生活を僕らは何年にも渡って続けていたわけである。僕がいないあいだ、彼が一体どこでどんなものを食べて暮らしていたのか、僕にはよくわからなかった。しかしあとになって行動を観察しているうちに、彼が食料源の多くを略奪と野生動物の捕獲に頼っていたらしいことがだんだん判明してきた。そのようにして、学校が休みになって僕が帰省するごとに、ピーターはますますたくましくワイルドな雄猫に育って行ったわけだ。

その当時、僕が住んでいたところにはまだ武蔵野の面影が色濃く残っていて、まわりには野生動物なんかもけっこうたくさんいた。ある朝ピーターがなんかをくわえて持ってきて、僕の枕元にはなり出すので、「やれやれ、おまえまたネズミを捕まえてきたのかよ」とぶつぶつ言いながらよく見ると、それは小さなもぐらだった。実物のもぐらなんかみたのは僕も生まれて初めてである。きっとピーターはもぐらの穴の前で夜中じゅうじっと待ち受けていて、出てきたところをすかさずばしっと捕まえたのだろう。そして首をくわえて、「ほら、どうですか」と得意げに僕に見せに来たのである。もぐらには気の毒だと思ったけれど、そこに至るまでのピーターの苦労を思うと、やはり「よしよし」と頭を撫でて、何か美味しいものを与えてやらないわけにはいかなかった。

当時、猫を飼うことの問題点といえば、僕の経済状況が往々にして逼迫していたということだった。飼い主がろくに飯を食べる金もないのに、猫が食べるものなんてあるわけない。僕には当時経済的計画性というものが全くなかったので(今でもそれほどあるとは思えないけれど)、全くの無一文状態が一ヶ月のあいだにだいたい一週間くらい続くことになった。そういうときは、よくクラスの女の子に頼み込んでお金を借りた。僕が金がなくて腹を減らせていると言っても、「知らないわよ。そんなことはムラカミくんの事業自得でしょうが」と相手にもされないのがおちだが、「金がなくて、うちの猫に食べさせるものもない」と言うと、多くの人は同情して「しょうがないわねえ」と言いながら、ちょっとくらいは金を貸してくれた。とにかくそんなことをして、猫と飼い主と二人で必死に貧困と飢餓を耐え忍んだものである。ちょっとしかない食べ物を猫と文字どおり奪い拾ったこともある。今考えても情けない生活だった。楽しかったけど。 (220-224)

The naming of cats, as one of our British predecessors stated, is a difficult matter. During my college years when I was living in an apartment in Mitaka, I found a kitten. I say found, but I was walking along the street at night on the way home from my part time job when he came up behind me meowing and followed me all the way back to my apartment. He was a brown tabby with long hair and fluffy cheeks that made it seem like he had sideburns; he was pretty cute. He was somewhat fierce, but we got along right away, and from then on the two of us lived together for a long time.

I didn’t give the cat a name for a while (I didn’t really need to call him by name), but one day I was listening to a late night radio program—I think it was “All Night Nippon”—and a listener called in and said, “I had a cute cat named Peter, but he’s run off somewhere and I’m really sad.” I heard that and thought, “Ah, well, I’ll name this cat Peter for now.” That’s it, his name doesn’t have deep meaning.

Peter was an incredibly clever cat; while I returned home during university vacation, he managed to survive on his own in the area, and when I got back he was my cat again. We lived that way for a number of years. I didn’t really know what he was eating to survive when I was gone. However, later on as I observed his behavior, it gradually became clear that he relied on stealing and hunting wild animals as his major sources of food. As we lived this way, Peter became stronger and grew into a wilder cat each time university vacation rolled around and I went home.

At that time, traces of Musashino were still relatively pronounced, and there were a lot of wild animals in the area. One morning Peter came in with something in his mouth and dropped it by the bed, so I grumbled, “Great, have you caught a rat?” but when I looked over it was a mole. It was my first time ever seeing an actual mole. Peter must’ve camped out at the mole’s hole the entire night and then pounced on it the second it came out. And then he took it by the neck in his mouth and proudly brought it to show me: “Check this out. Whaddya think?” It was too bad for the mole, but when I thought of the effort that Peter went to, I said, “Good kitty,” pet him on the head, and felt obligated to give him some sort of tasty snack.

At the time the problem of having a cat was that my financial situation was tight every now and then. If an owner doesn’t have money to eat well, of course there won’t be anything for a cat to eat. I had zero financial plan back then (I don’t think I have that much of one even now), so each month there was usually a week or so when I was flat broke. During those times I would often ask girls in my class to borrow money. If I told them I had no money and was hungry, they’d always end up saying, “Whatever. You get what you deserve, Murakami” and wouldn’t pay attention to me, but if I said, “I don’t have any money to feed my cat,” most of them would sympathize, say, “I guess I have to,” and lend me a little money. That’s how a cat and his owner were somehow able to stave off poverty and starvation. Sometimes I literally stole a meager amount of food with my cat. When I think back, it was a pathetic life. But it was fun.

This essay is sweet. Murakami has a true affection for cats, and it comes through here. It’s also interesting to read about what his college life was like and how poor he was…although he came from a well-to-do family and attended a private university, so I wonder how true to life this is. He didn’t get along well with his father, so he might have mostly been on his own during this time, but we do know that he was visiting home.

The rest of the essay is worth tracking down if you’re into cats, and this is a very easy reading collection, so I’d recommend it to intermediate students. It’s also nice because the essays are in chronological order and build on each other as Murakami lives through this time in the U.S.

It also goes to show how much publishable material you can put out if you set it in your mind to journal every day. This is good advice to all aspiring writers. Take down details of events and conversations, what you did and where you went. You never know what kind of work you could turn it into later.

For the last two weeks there’s an (I hope) interesting supplement that came with the book. I’ll hopefully take something from it. Otherwise I’ll dig back through the essays.

Wandering and Belonging

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

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: Vermonters

We’re continuing on with Murakami’s essay collection Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata. This week I’m looking at 「小説を書いていること、スカッシュを始めたこと、またヴァーモントに行ったこと」 (Shōsetsu o kaite iru koto, sukasshu o hajimeta koto, mata Vaamonto ni itta koto, Writing a novel, starting squash, going to Vermont again), a very short essay.

The title basically says it all. Murakami gives another long account of his daily writing routine (go to bed at 9pm, wake up at 5am to write, exercise, have lunch, and then take the afternoon to run errands, relax, or work on other writing projects), talks about how he’s taken up squash, and then visits Vermont with a friend (and talks about the Japanese association of Vermont with curry).

Murakami gives a pretty interesting account of living and writing abroad and notes where he wrote his past novels:

しかし日々こういう内向的な生活を送っていると、正直なところ、自分が外国に住んでいるという実感があまり湧いてこない。いうまでもなく家の中では女房とずっと日本語で会話しているし(英語に上達するためには夫婦でも英語で会話しなさいとよく忠告されるけど、そんなことできないよ)、外に出てすれちがう人がみんな英語を話しているのを耳にして「あ、そうだ、そうだ、ここはアメリカだったんだ」と改めて実感することもしばしばである。毎日机に向かってこせこせと小説を書いているのなら、結局のところ世界中どこにいても同じじゃないかという気がしてくる。

よく「アメリカで書いているのと、日本で書くのとでは、できる小説がずいぶん違うでしょう?」と質問する人がいるけれど、どうでしょうね、それほどのこともないじゃないだろうか。人間というのは、とくに僕くらいの年配になると、生き方にせよ書き方にせよ、よくも悪くも、場所によってガラッと大幅に変われるものではないからだ。とくに僕の場合は「外国に住んでいるから、外国を舞台にした作品を書く」というわけではないのだし。

それに僕はこれまで長いあいだ引っ越しマニアな放浪、非定着の人生を送ってきたので(とくに望んでやっていたわけでもないのだが)、他の人に比べて場所の移動というものがあまり気にならない身体になってしまったみたいだ。考えてみれば、これまでに僕が書いた長編小説はそれぞれぜんぶ違う場所で執筆された。『ダンス・ダンス・ダンス』という小説の一部をイタリアで書いて、一部をロンドンで書いたけれど、どこが違うかと訊かれてもぜんぜんわからない。『ノルウェイの森』はギリシャとイタリアを行ったり来たりしながら書いたけれど、どこの部分をどこの場所で書いたかなんてもうほとんど覚えていない。スコット・フィッツジェラルドは『グレート・ギャッツビイ』の大部分を南フランスで書いたが、ここきわめて優れたアメリカ小説について、執筆された場所を今更気にする人もいないだろう。小説というのはそういうものではないか。 (97-100)

However, as I spend days living this introverted life, I have to say that I’m not overwhelmed with the sense that I’m living in a foreign country. Needless to say, I talk with my wife in Japanese in the house (people often tell me, speak English with your wife to improve, but I can’t do that), and I often realize once again, “Oh yeah, oh yeah, I’m in the U.S.” when I go out and hear people I run into speaking English. If you’re sitting at a desk obsessively writing a novel, in the end I’ve come feel like it doesn’t matter where you are.

People often ask me “The novels you can write in the U.S. and the novels you write in Japan, they must be very different, right?” But I’m not sure, I don’t think they are that much. People, especially once they get up to about my age, don’t suddenly change, whether it’s the way they live or the way they write, for better or worse. And for me especially, it isn’t like I decide to set my work in a foreign country because I’m living in a foreign country.

Besides, I’ve lived a wandering, unattached, moving-obsessed life for a long time (not that I really wanted it that way), so compared to other people my body has become unconcerned with change of place. When I think about it, all of the full-length novels I’ve written to this point were written in different places. I wrote one part of the novel Dance Dance Dance in Italy and one part in London, but I wouldn’t have any idea how they differ if asked. I wrote Norwegian Wood while traveling back and forth between Greece and Italy, but I can hardly remember which part I wrote where. Scott Fitzgerald wrote most of The Great Gatsby in the south of France, but now nobody cares about where this superlative American novel was written. Fiction is that kind of thing.

Pretty interesting. I don’t think I knew that he lived in London. (And, ugh, my translation feels stilted on reread.)

And Murakami is still thinking about the organization-individual dynamic, this time finding the benefit of belonging:

アメリカの大学に所属していて嬉しいことのひとつは、体育館やその他の体育設備がこのようにとても充実していて、しかもそれほど混んでいないことである。東京近郊の民間スポーツ・クラブの混雑と会費の高さを思うと、これはまさに天国と言ってもいいだろう。プールだって時間さえ選べばほとんどの場合二十五メートル・プールの一レーンが一人で好きなだけ使える。僕はこれまでの人生においてどこの組織にも所属してこなかったので、こういう「所属することの喜び」は楽しめるうちにたっぷりと楽しでおこうと思う。アメリカに在住する日本人の大部分は学校に通って熱心に英語を勉強し、せっせと美術館や博物館を訪れるのだが、それに比べてスポーツ・ジムを積極的に利用する人はそれほど多くないという統計が何かに出ていた。もしそれがほんとうだとしたら、これはいささかもったいないことではないか。しかしそう言われて考えてみたら、ケンブリッジに住むようになってから美術館に行ったことなんてたった一度しかない(有名なボストン美術館。大きな声では言えないけれど、

あまり面白くなかった

)。 (101-102)

One of the nice things about belonging to an American university is that the gym and other fitness equipment is top notch, and on top of that not all that crowded. When I think of the crowd and costs of municipal sports clubs in Tokyo, it makes me think I’m in paradise. Take the pool here. Pick a time and in most cases you can use a lane of a 25m pool all to yourself as long as you want. I haven’t belonged to any organization in my life so far, so I’m planning to enjoy the “joy of belonging” as much as I can. There was a statistic that came out somewhere saying most of the Japanese living in the U.S. study hard and industriously visit museums, art or otherwise, but that in comparison there aren’t many who actively use the gyms. Assuming this is true, I feel like it’s a bit of a waste. But it does make me think back and realize that since I’ve lived in Cambridge, I’ve only been to the art museum one time. (The famous Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I shouldn’t say this loudly,

but it wasn’t that great.

)

Murakami gets pretty creative with the text here and actually gives that final clause in a smaller font. Pretty nice. It was tough to recreate in html. I’ve done the best I can. Let me know if you know how to fix it so that I can modify the font size without making it a separate <p>.

I’ve said it once already, and I’ll say it again: Murakami writes well for the Internet age. In many ways he was the first blogger…a writer who interacted with readers and played around with his text. The content, too, is nice and light. These are pretty fun reads.

Vermonters

Year Ten! Goddamn. When I began this exercise I was living in a very small room in Tokyo, working at a translation company, using Japanese every day. Today I’m sitting here in my modest Chicago apartment (cool breeze coming in off the lake through my living room windows), working during the week at a Japanese office but using the language very little. My reading group, writing for the Japan Times, and translation exercises here are my main connections to the language. Consistency matters, so we continue, even if my feelings about Murakami have shifted over the years and are as different as my living conditions then and now.

Thus, without further ado:

Welcome to the Tenth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

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: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonball, Distant Drumming

This year I’m (lazily) looking at essays from the collection 『うずまき猫のみつけかた』 (Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata, How to Find Tabby Cats). This is a spiritual successor to 『やがて哀しき外国語』 (Yagate kanashiki gaikokugo, Foreign Languages, Sad in the End [?]), which Murakami wrote while he was in Princeton. He wrote and published the essays in Uzumaki neko in the magazine SINRA from the spring of 1994 to the fall of 1995. He was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and working (I think) as a writer in residence at Tufts University.

The essays are chronological and read a lot like extended blog posts. I’m not quite sure which essay generated the title, as I haven’t read the whole collection. I’m picking out essays here and there to read, and it seems like cats figure somewhere in most of them, but never as the central character.

The first essay I’m looking at is from the summer of 1994 and is titled ダイエット、避暑地の猫 (Daietto, hishochi no neko, Diets, Summer Resort Cats). Murakami is back in Tokyo briefly, suffering from the heat, before he returns to Boston and then takes a summer trip to Vermont. Here are some passages:

今更あれこれと言い立ててどうなるというものでもないけれど、今年の日本の夏は本当に暑かった。死ぬほど暑かった。いくら用事があったとはいえ、わざわざこんな時期に日本に帰ってきて馬鹿だった。何をする気も起きなくて、しょうがないから毎日ビールばかり飲んでいた。

ある暑い日の午後、新宿のデパートの展示会場に永沢まことさんのトスカナの絵の個展を見にいって、そこにあった宮本『世にも美しいダイエット』美智子さんのパネルを読んでいたら、「年をとって酒を飲むのはろくなことではない」というようなことが−もちろんもっと丁寧な表現で−書いてあった。それで「確かにそうだな、僕もビールを飲むのを少し控えなくてはな」とそのときは思ったのだけれど(この人の説明にはすごく納得力がある)、一歩外に出たらもう暑くて暑くて、とにかく冷たいビールを飲むことしか考えられない。というわけで、いや、やはり飲んでますね。今年の夏は僕はおおむねキリンのラガービールを飲んでいた。とくに銘柄の好みが保守的なわけではないのだが、日本に帰ってくるたびにわけのわからない見慣れないビールが次から次へと酒屋の棚に並んでいるし、暑くてどれにしようかいちいち考えるのが面倒だったからだ。 (064)

I don’t mean to over-insist, but summer in Japan was hot. Hot enough to kill a man. I was pretty dumb to schedule a return trip to Japan during this period, even if I had things to take care of. I wasn’t motivated to do anything so I gave in and drank beer every day.

One hot afternoon, I went to see Makoto Nagasawa’s solo exhibit of Tuscany paintings at a Shinjuku department store, and I read a panel displayed there for Michiko “A Beautiful Diet” Miyamoto that read “Drinking alcohol isn’t great for you as you age,” of course expressed in much nicer language. I thought to myself at the time, “That’s true, I should cut back on the beer” (her explanation was really persuasive), but I took one step outside and it was so damn hot that all I could think about was having a cold beer. So, of course, I drank. This summer I mostly drank Kirin Lager. I’m not really a stickler about the brand I drink, but when I was back in Japan, there were so many unfamiliar beers on the shelves of liquor stores and it was so hot that trying to consider all of them was a chore.

It’s interesting to see Murakami’s take on beer. This was in 1994, right after the laws were changed to allow smaller breweries. I don’t know much about Miyamoto. It must’ve been a short-lived fad diet, although Murakami sees similarities between her and himself:

僕らのようにどこにも属していない人間は自分のことはとにかく一から十まで自分で護るしかないわけだし、そしてそのためには、それがダイエットであるにせよ、フィジカル・ワークアウトであるにせよ、自分の身体をある程度きちんと把握して、方向性を定めて自己管理して行くしかない。 (65)

People like us who don’t belong anywhere have to protect ourselves in every way, and in order to do that, you have to have a somewhat firm grasp on your body to manage yourself and determine your direction, whether it’s through a diet or through physical fitness.

There are some sections that read similar to Hard-boiled Wonderland and some of his political speeches about “individuals versus the system” and how the system generally wins.

And here’s one final passage with an unflattering look at the ladies in Vermont:

ヴァーモントには素敵なカントリー・インが数多くあって、そのような旅館を泊まり歩くのも楽しみのひとつである。まあなにしろアメリカだから、トスカナみたいに目から鱗が落ちるほど料理がおいしいとは言えないけれど、素材は新鮮だし、空気が美味くて知らず知らずお腹が減るので、ご飯は楽しく食べられる。ただし、ヴァーモントは乳製品とメイプル・シロップとが名産品なので、おいしいおいしいといって食べていると、これは確実に「世にも美しくない」ことになってしまう。実際にヴァーモントで出会った女の人の八十五パーセントまでは完全な「トド体系」であった。みんなで揃ってよくこんなに肥れるよなあと感心してしまう。腰のまわりなんか布団を巻いて歩いているんじゃないかというくらいむくむくしている。アメリカも方々をまわったけれど、こんな肥った人が多い地方も初めてである。みんなに宮本さんの本を読ませてあげたいと思ったくらいである。あって、毎日昼御飯を抜いていたのだが、それでも食事はけっこうヘビーだった。旅行するのは楽しいだけれど、トシを取ってくると、毎日外食を続けることがだんだんきつくなってくる。 (73)

There are many pleasant country inns in Vermont, and hopping around between these lodgings is also fun. It’s the United States, so the food isn’t going to blow you away like it might in Tuscany, but the ingredients are fresh, and the air is clean, and before you know it you’re hungry and can enjoy eating the meals. However, Vermont is known for dairy products and maple syrup, so while they’re delicious, you definitely end up “Not Beautiful.” About 85% of the women I actually met in Vermont were total “walruses.” I was impressed that everyone was able to get so fat. They’re so ponderous when walking around it looks like they have futon strapped to their waists. I’ve been all over the U.S., and this is the first time I’ve seen this many fat people. I wanted to make them all read Miyamoto’s book. This the case, I went without lunch every day, but even so the food was fairly heavy. Traveling is fun, but it gets harder and harder to eat out repeatedly as you get older.

Ha. What gives with the body shaming, Murakami? Maybe we can chalk this up to a 1990s lack of political correctness? Murakami doesn’t seem to realize that not everyone can/could just up and run a marathon like he does/did. Or maybe he does and attributes his fitness to a strength of character, which borders on paranoia at times. “This is what I do to maintain my independent sense of self, to maintain my direction and focus.” If there’s a weakness to this system of beliefs, I think it’s a tendency to see oneself (or the system) as flawless. I think most artists need a good portion of this attitude in order to complete any project, but too much of it can perhaps lead to an inability to self-correct…which is maybe what we’ve seen recently with Murakami.

This collection, on the other hand, seems to be one of those side projects that Murakami takes on between larger fiction projects. It’s necessarily more casual than his other work. We’ll see more next week!

Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs Wrap-up

Wow, I can’t believe I got through that whole damn bestselling enka exercise. I’ve been prepping it for over a month, but I actually started drafting the original idea three years ago (made it through songs 1-9) after coming across the list of bestselling enka. I had dreams of writing something more substantial about karaoke or enka, but after finding Christine Yano’s book “Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song,” I realized it has already been done.

Here are some of my thoughts about enka in bullet point style:

– Yano’s book is great. I haven’t finished it, but I’ve read the introduction, the chapter on the history of enka, her analysis of the frequency of words, and parts on the gender roles in enka. My only beefs so far are that the book uses romaji instead of kanji (which is how academia does it, I get it, but always feels disrespectful of the original language) and that her look at frequency of words does not include verbs. The nouns she examines are useful on their own and provide some interesting analysis. Including verbs would adjust the rankings quite a bit, and I’d be curious to see how so. For a more detailed look at the book, be sure to check out Tokyo Damage Report’s detailed review.

– Here are some verbs I think would get included in the list: しみる (shimiru, penetrate, permeate), つのる (tsunoru, grow stronger), 許す (yurusu, permit, allow), 逢う (au, meet), 泣く (naku, cry), 飲む (nomu, drink), 降る (furu, fall), 枯れる (kareru, wither), すがる (sugaru, cling to, rely on), 滲む (nijimu, blur), 生きる (ikiru, live), 死ぬ (shinu, die), 帰る (kaeru, go home, return), 誓う (chikau, swear, pledge), 抱く (daku, embrace), 酔う (you, get drunk), 耐える (taeru, endure), 行く (iku, go), 捨てる (suteru, throw away, dump).

– Enka, as Yano notes, “has been reconstructed to invoke ‘tradition.’” This is a pretty wide tangent for the second bullet point, but here it goes: I think what enka has done for Japan is very comparable to what country music has done in the United States. Country music has been codified and formulated much in the same way that enka has, and I think it even has it’s own vocal stylings much in the same way that enka has kobushi.

In terms of nationalism, though, I’m thinking in particular of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” which has made me throw up in my mouth a little since I first heard it at summer camp in 1994, in particular the line “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.” Where to start with this line. First, “American” isn’t a place, so modifying it with “where” is just wrong. Second, the “at least” has always bothered me. At least you’re free? It’s always felt to me that this line sweeps anything knocked down in pursuit of freedom under the carpet. Sure, there’s a bunch of terrible shit, but at least we’re free.

One non-shitty country western thing before we return to enka: A classic example of country western kobushi (aka “twang”): Wayne Hancock’s “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs.”

I think this twang was probably first introduced (or at least perfected) by Hank Williams. It’s also interesting to note that this song came out in 1995! It sounds like it could be much older, and the sepia-toned album cover supports the idea that some country, like enka, is a modern music designed to seem much older and more traditional:

– Ok. Back to normal stuff. All enka songs begin with a 10-30 second instrumental section which allows the emcee to give a quick intro of the performer and describe the effect the song has had on the populace. This also gives singers a moment to greet the audience and fellow performers and to gracefully position themselves in preparation to sing.

– It’s interesting that the top five songs are from 1978 and earlier and that the top two are from the 1972-1973 period when enka as a genre was first getting defined. I think this is why you see Miya Shiro and Nagata Atsushi of the Tonosama Kings both make use of an almost painfully undulating kobushi: this is when the elements of the genre were put into place, and these two may have put kobushi right up at the top.

The best way to learn enka: Buy a couple “Best of” CDs for a handful of artists and then force yourself to listen to listen to them over and over. Keep them in your car or load them on your smart phone. You’ll be surprised how quickly you gather the subtleties of the songs.

Check out this very detailed Japanese write-up about how to get better at karaoke. It includes advice to get over any コンプレックス (complexes) you might have, humming along with songs to learn them, and practicing higher key songs so that you can train your vocal chords.

I was surprised by how much “I’d die for you!” there was in enka, and I was tempted to call it unique to enka, but it most definitely isn’t. The country western song “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” for example:

This song seems to mirror the story behind Yamamoto Jōji’s song みちのくひとり旅 (Michinoku hitori tabi, Solo journey to Michinoku). A man longs for a dead lover and can only give up his love/reunite with the love in death.

I was also reminded of the song/movie “La Vida No Vale Nada,” a ranchero. I guess this is true in pop music as well (vague memories of some Ryan Adams song with the lyric “I’d die for you!”).

– I think that’s just about all I’ve got. Do you have any favorite enka songs? Share them in the comments here or on social media. I’ve got a list I’ve been keeping from karaoke sessions with coworkers. I’m not sure what if anything I’ll do with it, but it’s always nice to learn new songs you didn’t know about.

Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs – 10-1

Our look at the bestselling enka songs continues. いよいよトップテン! Previous posts:

50-41
40-31
30-21
20-11

Today, we look at the Top Ten bestselling enka songs OF ALL TIME. Thanks for reading this far if you’ve been here all week!

10. さざんかの宿 (Sazanka no yado, Camelia Lodge), 大川栄策 (Okawa Eisaku), 1982
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Quick Take: Ah yes, the elusive 人の妻 (hito no tsuma, other person’s wife), given in some lyrics as 他人の妻. The hito no tsuma is one of the most attractive tropes in Japanese culture (the world?). This song seems to imply that the narrator is sleeping with someone else’s wife, but only for the night, in the titular 宿 (yado, lodge), which is presumably covered by camelias. I don’t have much to say about Okawa, unfortunately, other than that the kobushi power seems to get stronger as we head toward the top ranked songs.

Difficulty: 8. Lots of kobushi, but maybe not impossible to pull off.

9. 北国の春 (Kitaguni no haru; Northern Country Spring), 千昌夫 (Sen Masao), 1977
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Quick Take: A 季節 (kisetsu) song that highlights the countryside and how the seasons there are superior than in Japanese cities. So obviously the solution is to 帰る (kaeru, go back) to the 故郷 (furusato, home town). Each verse here has a similar structure: list three seasonal weather phenomena/locations, tell some very short story about the countryside (e.g. “Haven’t seen a girl I broke up with five years ago, we were never able to tell each other we loved each other”), then the サビ (sabi, hook) of “maybe I should go home.” Subtitled version here.

Difficulty: 5. Sen has a deep enough voice that this one seems accessible.

8. おもいで酒 (Omoide zake; Liquor of Nostalgic Remembrances), 小林幸子 (Kobayashi Sachiko), 1979
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Quick Take: This is definitely disco-era enka. And I can dig it. It’s a drinking song, a breakup song. So of course there’s another appearance of 未練 (miren, lingering affection, regrets, attachment), which naturally only get worse the more you drink. And there’s the killer line in each verse: おもいで酒に酔うばかり(Omoide-zake ni yō bakari, The liquor of nostalgic remembrances only gets ya drunk). I may have been loose with my translation. Clearly the implication here is that you shouldn’t think too much about the past, that *memories* get you *drunk*.

Difficulty: 9. Massive kobushi attack. This isn’t so apparent from the studio version, but live versions are full of wavering notes. It seems like the song overall is in a lower pitch, but I’m sure this one would be challenging.

7. 北の宿から (Kita no yado kara; From a Northern Inn), 都はるみ (Miyako Harumi), 1975
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Quick Take: The highest female enka singer in the rankings, Miyako has three in the top 50 (both songs about しぐれ, strangely, at 36 and 11). From the beginning of the song, we know who it’s addressing: あなたは変わりはないですか (Anata wa kawari wa nai desu ka, How are things with you?). This is a great example of why karaoke is such good study practice. This was her third million-seller and clearly she hit the jackpot. The song varies from calm and collected death threats (あなた死んでもいいですか?, Anata shinde mo ii desu ka?, Could you go ahead and die?) to soaring take on 未練 (miren), which in this song define a woman’s heart.

Difficulty: 8. Maybe not quite as difficult to reproduce as Kobayashi’s voice above, but challenging nonetheless.

6. 奥飛騨慕情 (Okuhida bōjō; Okuhida Yearning), 竜鉄也 (Ryū Tetsuya), 1980
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Quick Take: I get it, but I don’t like it: This is a four-and-a-half-minute snoozefest, but it hits all the enka tropes: an isolated area of Japan that receives heavy precipitation and is known for hot springs; the perfect place to lay up for a while and meet a side lad/lady or just yearn over stuff in general. Perfect setting for an enka song with the chorus line 奥飛騨に雨が降る (Okuhida ni ame ga furu, It rains in Okuhida). And, damn, check out that title. It’s a kanji nerd’s dream. Ryū grew up in Gifu, and the Hida area of that prefecture is the setting of the song. This is another debut song, making it one of three debuts in the top six, I believe.

Difficulty: 9. So slow and so much kobushi throughout makes this one a tough one to get through.

5. うそ (Uso, Lies), 中条きよし (Nakajō Kiyoshi), 1974
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Quick Take: Nakajō was featured on the Gaki no tsukai batsu game in 2014. He performed a semi-duet with comedian Tomochika. Nakajō’s appearance alone was enough to make the Gaki no tsukai team laugh. Nakajō has an interesting background. After two failed “debuts,” he ran a snack bar in Tokyo and eventually appeared on a show that seems a lot like American Idol and won. One of the judges from that show gave him a new stage name and wrote him this song. The song itself is pretty typical: the narrator smokes a cigarette and finally understands the lies that his lover told him. This seems like it would be a fun (but difficult) one to sing, especially the rotating サビ (sabi, hook) which describes various lies, beginning with 哀しい嘘のつける人 (kanashii uso no tsukeru hito, people who tell sad lies). I think I would really enjoy exaggerating the final 人 for comedic effect (つけるヒーーーーーートーーーーー!).

Difficulty: 9. There are a couple of tough kobushi parts with faster lines that are borderline spoken word. I’d love to be able to sing this one, but alas.

4. 星影のワルツ (Hoshikage no warutsu; Starlight Waltz), 千昌夫 (Sen Masao), 1966
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Quick Take: Two in the Top Ten for Sen Masao. This song proves once and for all that enka is country music and vice versa. Not really, of course, but this is a sad song and captures a lot of the tropes: the Starlight Waltz is the song the narrator sings while breaking up with someone. And this is despite admitting that he still likes the person: 今でも好きだ / 死ぬほどに (Ima de mo suki da / shinu hodo ni, I still love her now / so much that I would die). This basically defines the enka theme of unfulfillable, impossible love. It’s worth tracking down a young Sen singing this song when he was at the height of his vocal powers.

Difficulty: 8. Slow songs are harder than fast songs, and this one is particularly slow.

3. 夢追い酒 (Yume-oi zake; Dream-chasing Alcohol), 渥美二郎 (Atsumi Jirō), 1978
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Quick Take: This song takes advantage of the most frequently used karaoke word: 夢 (yume, dream). Basically it’s a simple song of heartbreak, shown by the very fun サビ (sabi, hook) : あなた/なぜなぜ/私を捨てた (Anata naze naze watashi o suteta, Why oh why did you break up with me). Easy language for beginner students to understand, and the music is super catchy.

Difficulty: 8. This is probably one of those songs that’s hard to sing well, but maybe within reach for some of us?

2. なみだの操 (Namida no misao; Loyalty of Tears), 殿さまキングス (Tonosama Kings), 1973
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Quick Take: Just another song about a heartbroken woman who just wants to be beside her man and is willing to die if she can’t. I wasn’t sure if the song was sung from a man’s point at the beginning, but I think the 女だから (onna da kara, because I’m a woman) is a pretty clear hint that the narrator is a woman, despite the fact that the singer is male. The other clues are the わ (wa) particles floating about. Christine Yano confirms this in her book and writes about how the gender roles are often “crossed”: “In effect, what these crossed performances demonstrate is that the cultural imagination places women at men’s (sexual) service, but men at society’s service.” So, yeah…I’m going to go ahead and say this song is a good bit misogynistic. Harumph.

Difficulty: 9. It would be tough to match the nasally voice of the lead singer.

1. 女のみち (Onna no michi; Path of a Woman), 宮史郎とぴんからトリオ (Miya Shiro and the Pinkara Trio), 1972
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Quick Take: Miya Shiro’s unrivaled kobushi power—and probably his looks: a pencil mustache and slicked back hair—propelled this song to the top of the charts for 16 consecutive weeks in 1972. I’m willing to bet his unique kobushi is what drew listeners to this song. This is another song that appears to be a female narrator sung by a male singer. It isn’t quite as intense as the pledges to die in the song above, but it does include other pledges: 二度としないわ / 恋なんか (Ni do to shinai wa / koi nanka, I won’t do it twice / fall in love).

Difficulty: 10. Do not try this one at home unless you have massive kobushi skills.

So that’s it! If you made it all the way through the week, thanks! I’ll have one more post tomorrow putting together a few of my big-picture thoughts.