With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post
a small large piece pieces of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1, 2.
On April 1, 1978, Murakami went to a baseball game. When he got home, he had a brand new fountain pen and fresh paper. He started writing.
For Murakami freaks the story is well known. At the game he saw Dave Hilton hit a double and had a sudden thought, I can write a novel. He wrote out Hear the Wind Sing over the next few months, submitted it to Gunzō, and the rest is history.
Murakami has recounted the tale himself several times, so I thought this week I’d show you three different versions, two of which I’ve translated.
The first comes from Walk, Don’t Run – Ryū versus Haruki (ウォーク・ドント・ラン 村上龍VS村上春樹), a lengthy transcript of two conversations between Haruki and Ryū Murakami.
The first conversation took place on July 29, 1980.
It had been over a year since Hear the Wind Sing. In that time he wrote Pinball 1973 and a “medium-length” novel called Machi to sono futashika na kabe (街とその不確かな壁, The Town and Its Uncertain Wall), which he later incorporated in Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Here’s the part where Haruki describes the moment:
Haruki: Back then all sorts of people were agitated, right? Even the novelists were pretty agitated. If you asked them at that time, they were all really comfortable with that. But when it [the era] ended, there was nothing left. Right around 1970. I had an intense feeling that words had no meaning. I really did want to write something when I was in my twenties. Just scripts for movies, you know. But I just felt that a bunch of words, they’ve got no meaning. And so I couldn’t write anything for ten years. Ten years passed. I thought, Alright now, I should be able to write something, and I wrote it. I hardly wrote anything at all until I was 29, and this might be an exaggeration, but I felt like the reason I was able to write it was something like God’s grace. I feel like it would be terrible to waste that. I felt like I seriously couldn’t do anything, and then I turned 29 and all of a sudden…it was right when I was watching a Yakult [Swallows] game at Jingū Stadium. It was Opening Day of the season they won the championship, and Hilton hit a double to left-center his first at bat. Yasuda threw a complete game, giving up one homerun to Garrett. I saw that and thought, “Okay.” Dunno why, but I thought I’d write a novel. (laughs) I went straight to Shinjuku, bought a 5000-yen fountain pen at Kinokuniya, and when I started writing, I was able to write.
Ryū: And that was Hear the Wind Sing?
Haruki: Exactly. Matsuoka shut out [the] Chunichi [Dragons], and I finished writing right around when they won the championship. I brought it to the post office right in front of Jingū Stadium and submitted it [for the Gunzō Prize]. So before that, there was absolutely no necessity to write. Even if you don’t put that along the lines of receiving something from above, I do feel like the act of writing is itself something like that. (14-15)
I knew that he felt a sense of fate in that moment, but it surprised me to see him use the word God (神). I also hadn’t realized that he basically wrote through the baseball season.
Murakami described the moment again ten years later in supplementary commentary to the Complete Works 1979~1989.
Each of the eight volumes to the complete works contained a small pamphlet with the series title 自作を語る (じさくをかたる) – telling the stories of my works.
In the pamphlet included with the first volume he told the story again:
The reason I started to write this novel is actually pretty easy to explain. All of a sudden I wanted to write something. That’s it. Honestly, I wanted to write on a whim. And so I went to the Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and bought a fountain pen and paper. Then I sat down at my desk. All of my time had gone into my work ever since I graduated from university, so other than taxes and the occasional letter, I had barely written even a single word. I’m not just saying that to sound cool. It’s actually true.
For a long time I had always felt like I wanted to make writing, although not necessarily being an author, my job. However, in university I tried writing scripts (I was in the Cinema and Theater department) but could never write them very well, so I thought, “I guess I don’t have that kind of ability.” Not that it was ever serious enough to make me lay down the pen forever; I just thought, If that’s the way things are, that’s okay, and gave up. After that I just kind of went on with the way life took me. Work was going relatively well, and I was too busy to do much else. So much so that I didn’t even realize that I didn’t own a fountain pen.
But one early afternoon when I was 29, I was laying out in the grassy outfield embankment section of Jingū Stadium (they still didn’t have seats back then), and I had a thought: whether or not I have talent or ability, I just want to write something for myself. There wasn’t any of the eagerness that I felt whenever I wanted to write something long ago. I was relieved even just to set the cheap pen and pad I’d just bought on my desk.
1978 was the year the Yakult Swallows won the championship. I started writing in the spring and finished right around the time they finally won. I was living nearby Jingū Stadium, so I went to see a lot of games. Yakult won its first championship in its 29th year in the league, and I, too, was 29. Of course Matsuoka and Wakamatsu were great. But that season guys like Funada, Ise and Hilton, guys past their prime, or maybe you could call them athletes who weren’t quite all-stars in the first place, were solid role players. I remember sitting at my desk and thinking, Everyone is trying hard, I’ve gotta try hard, too. Every day I worked late, and then all through the night I’d drink beer and write at the kitchen table. Every day I wrote a little more, cutting off enough to make me think, “That’s enough for today.” I think that’s the reason the chapters are so fragmentary. (II – III)
Pretty much the same story except he had the time to stylize it as it wasn’t part of an impromptu conversation. Note for now that he called the pen (and pad of paper) “cheap” but in 1980 mentioned that he spent 5000 yen on it, which even at the time was $20. He also left out Dave Hilton’s hit.
The final story comes from Philip Gabriel’s translation of Murakami’s 2007 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
This comes 17 years since the Complete Works supplement and 27 years since Murakami’s conversation with Ryū Murakami:
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I first thought I could write a novel. It was around one thirty in the afternoon of April 1, 1978. I was at Jingū Stadium that day, alone in the outfield drinking beer and watching the game. Jingū Stadium was within walking distance of my apartment at the time, and I was a fairly big Yakult Swallows fan. It was a perfectly beautiful spring day, not a cloud in the sky, with a warm breeze blowing. There weren’t any benches in the outfield seating back then, just a grassy slope. I was lying on the grass, sipping cold beer, gazing up occasionally at the sky, and leisurely enjoying the game. As usual for the Swallows, the stadium wasn’t very crowded. It was the season opener, and they were taking on the Hiroshima Carp. I remember that Yasuda was pitching for the Swallows. He was a short, stocky sort of pitcher with a wicked curve. He easily retired the side in the top of the first inning, and in the bottom of the inning the leadoff batter for the Swallows was Dave Hilton, a young American player new to the team. Hilton got a hit down the left field line. The crack of the bat meeting ball right on the sweet spot echoed through the stadium. Hilton easily rounded first and pulled up to second. And it was at that exact moment that a thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel. I still can remember the wide open sky, the feel of the new grass, the satisfying crack of the bat. Something flew down from the sky at that instant, and whatever it was, I accepted it.
I never had any ambitions to be a novelist. I just had this strong desire to write a novel. No concrete image of what I wanted to write about, just the conviction that if I wrote it now I could come up with something that I’d find convincing. When I thought about sitting down at my desk at home and setting out to write I realized I didn’t even own a decent fountain pen. So I went to the Kinokuniya store in Shinjuku and bought a sheaf of manuscript paper and a five-dollar Sailor fountain pen. A small investment on my part.
This was the spring of 1978, and by fall I’d finished a two-hundred-page work handwritten on Japanese manuscript paper. (27-28)
Again, the same story for the most part. The pen is even cheaper now. The location of Hilton’s hit is also different – left center vs. left field line. Besides small changes in the details, Murakami decided not to include his disenchantment with literature left over from the late-60s in the later two. My guess is that came up because he was talking with Ryū Murakami, kind of reminiscing about the era.
His main emphasis, clearly, is that external will he felt. He wasn’t even eager or excited to write. He was just relieved. Something in Dave Hilton’s hit, maybe the sound of it, knocked on Murakami’s subconscious and woke him up, called him to write a novel. Or so he says.
This page has a picture of Jingū Stadium as well as Murakami’s jazz bar, Peter Cat, his apartment, and a ramen shop he went to in Sendagaya, the area around the stadium.
So I guess this requires some Japanese study material, too, eh? Here are the baseball terms Murakami used:
優勝する (ゆうしょうする) – win a championship
野球 (やきゅう) – baseball
試合 (しあい) – game
開幕試合 (かいまくしあい) – Opening Day game
第一打席 (だいいちだせき) – first at bat
左中間 (さちゅうかん) – left-center field
二塁打 (にるいだ) – a double
完投する (かんとうする) – throw a complete game
ホームラン – homerun
完封する (かんぷうする) – throw a shutout / shutout a team
外野席 (がいやせき) – outfield seats
球場 (きゅうじょう) – baseball stadium