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:


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:







“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:




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。


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.