Believe

In Hard-boiled Wonderland the the End of the World Chapter 34 “Skulls,” Boku treks through the snow to the Library after speaking briefly with the Colonel. He has coffee with the Librarian and confesses that he’s decided to leave the Town with his shadow, despite the fact that he will miss her. He also admits he considered letting his shadow go but staying in this world, exiled to the Woods. Boku is surprised when the Librarian says she thinks she could put up with such an existence if she had mind, which startles Boku since it suggests she has the ability to believe—a sign of the presence of mind. They retreat to the stacks where Boku will attempt to read skulls and retrace some piece of her mind.

There are very few changes in this short chapter, and until I came to the very last line, I wasn’t quite sure what I would write about. Here is my translation of the final exchange of the chapter:

「あなたは川の中に落ちた雨粒を選りわけようとしているのよ」

「いいかい、心というのは雨粒とは違う。それは空から降ってくるものじゃないし、他のものと見わけがつかないものじゃないんだ。もし君に僕を信じることができるんなら、僕を信じてくれ。僕は必ずそれをみつける。ここには何もかもがあるし、何もかもがない。そして僕は僕の求めているものをきっとみつけだすことができる」

「私の心をみつけて」しばらく後で彼女はそう言った。 (518)

“You realize you’re trying to sort out raindrops that have fallen in a river.”

“Listen, mind is different from raindrops. It doesn’t fall from the sky, and it’s not indistinguishable from other things. If you’re able to believe in me, then believe. I will definitely find it. Everything is here, and nothing is here. And I will definitely be able to find what it is I want.”

“Find my mind,” she says, after a moment.

And here is Birnbaum’s version. Check the final line:

“It is like looking for lost drops of rain in a river.”

“You’re wrong. The mind is not like raindrops. It does not fall from the skies, it does not lose itself among other things. If you believe in me at all, then believe this: I promise you I will find it. Everything depends on this.”

“I believe you,” she whispers after a moment. “Please find my mind.” (352)

The edits in the penultimate paragraph are neither here nor there…I think they probably improve the translation, notably the use of the colon to link the two sentences.

But adding “I believe you” feels like a step too far! I think it improves the translation in that it makes it more dramatic, possibly even cinematic. It also takes the text one step further than Murakami does: It suggests she has the ability to believe, and thus that she has mind.

I wonder what Murakami was getting at with the 何もかもがあるし、何もかもがない。(Everything is here, and nothing is here.) I’m not totally happy with this translation. I think there’s a way to render it more exciting yet not opt for “Everything depends on this.” Is that what Murakami is suggesting?

Six chapters left…

Natsume Sōseki’s “Koeber-sensei’s Farewell”

Apropos of plugging my Japanese reading group, here is a translation of ケーベル先生の告別, which we read this month:

Koeber-sensei’s Farewell
Natsume Sōseki

Koeber-sensei is supposed to be leaving Japan today (August 12). But he probably hasn’t been in Tokyo for two or three days now. Sensei is a strong willed person who hates empty ceremony and formalities. I heard that when he left Germany at the invitation of a university here twenty years ago, not a single person who knew him went to the station to see him off. He arrived in Japan quietly, like a shadow, and it seems he plans to leave Japan secretly, again like a shadow.

This quiet man moved three times in Tokyo. He was probably only familiar with those three houses and the ways to get to school from them. A while back, I asked him if he went walking, and he answered no, I have no place to go walking, so I don’t. He was of the opinion that the city was not a place for walking.

Sensei didn’t need to learn anything about Japan. Nor did he ever have the curiosity to try to learn anything. He was such that when I told him I was living in Waseda, he said he didn’t know his way to Waseda. Even after Fukada-kun reminded him that he had been invited to Count Ōkuma’s house in the past, Sensei had already forgotten. That might have even been the first time he heard Count Ōkuma’s name. [Count Ōkuma was the founder of Waseda]

When I took an invitation to dinner last month on the fifteenth, I asked him if he would have friends when he returned to his country, and he responded that, other than the North and South Poles, he had friends wherever else he went. This was a joke, of course, but Sensei could make this response precisely because somewhere deep inside his head there lurks an international mindset that transcends the trivial notion of place. And precisely because he could make such a response, he never needed to scowl despite living for twenty long years in Japan, a place about which he had little interest.

And it wasn’t just place; Sensei had a completely different attitude toward time than normal people. When I asked him why he had chosen to go on a steamer from a shipping company even though it was slow because half of the ship was filled with cargo, he said that he wouldn’t be bothered floating at sea for a long time nor could he understand someone so wrapped up in thoughts of convenience, trying to hasten their trip by a single day and get from Japan to Berlin in fifteen days or fourteen days.

He was also so indifferent to money that he didn’t seem like a Westerner at all. People who had visited Sensei’s home said that, from an economical point of view, he seemed to have been given a freedom that you couldn’t find in normal houses. When I last met him, the subject of a certain wealthy man came up, and he smirked and asked what exactly he planned to do by saving up all that money. Sensei will live off of a pension from the Japanese government and what is left of his pay to this point, but the amount left from his pay is truly a natural remainder and not the result of any foresight on his part.

The thing that mattered most to this man who lived in this way was just the love and affection that connected people. Sensei seemed to be fondest of the Japanese students he taught. On the night of the fifteenth when I was getting ready to leave his house and go home, he asked me to write the simple message “Farewell, be well” for him on his leaving Japan to his friends, especially his students that he had taught, in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Sensei didn’t want to write anything other than that. He didn’t need to say anything else. And he didn’t want the message to be placed into the classified section. Owing to circumstances, I received Sensei’s permission and carefully added my own words (superfluous though they may be) to his “Farewell, be well” so that the many people who received his teaching would see his farewell message, as he wished. And on behalf of those many people, I pray he has a safe voyage and a pleasant rest of his life.

It’s a nice little piece of writing. The sympathy toward Cable-sensei certainly seems to change over the course of the profile. There’s one other, longer, piece up on Aozora about Koeber-sensei. I’ll have to give it a read at some point.

But not in February! February we read Dasai Osamu’s . If you’re in Chicago, please join us:

Discoveries

明けましておめでとうございます! Happy New Year! It’s the Year of the Rooster, which apparently is not as lucky for me (a Rooster) as I initially believed…it’s just my responsibility to throw the beans on Setsubun as a 年男. よろしくお願いします!

After an extended break, I’m back on the Murakami with Chapter 33 “Rainy-Day Laundry, Car Rental, Bob Dylan” of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It’s a really nice chapter. Watashi waits at the coin laundry for a dryer to open, throws in the Girl in Pink’s laundry when one opens, kills time walking and shopping around the neighborhood, drops off the laundry, picks up some new clothes, has a couple beers at a beer hall, grabs the unicorn skull from storage at Shinjuku Station, rents a car, and drives off to his date.

He spends a lot of time thinking as he performs these activities, and as you might expect, a lot of these thoughts get cut. There are so many that it’s difficult to pick out just one. For the most part I don’t think the cuts detract, and in some cases they actually improve the translation.

One example I’ve already looked at, actually, when I wrote for Neojaponisme about Murakami’s “advertorial” short stories in Men’s Club. There’s an extra bit cut immediately after the passage I looked at. Here is Birnbaum’s version:

I took the subway to Ginza and bought a new set of clothes at Paul Stuart, paying the bill with American Express. I looked at myself in the mirror. Not bad. The combination of the navy blazer with burnt orange shirt did smack of yuppie ad exec, but better that than troglodyte.

It was still raining, but I was tired of looking at clothes, so I passed on the coat and instead went to a beer hall. (342)

And here is the extended original and my translation:

私はまず電車で銀座に出て〈ポール・スチュアート〉でシャツとネクタイとブレザーコートを買い、アメリカン・エキスプレスで勘定を払った。それだけを全部身につけて鏡の前に立ってみると、なかなか印象は悪くなかった。オリーヴ・グリーンのチノ・パンツの折りめが消えかけているのが多少気になるが、まあ何から何まで完全というわけにはいかない。ネイビー・ブルーのフラノのブレザーコートにくすんだオレンジ色のシャツというとりあわせはどことなく広告会社の若手有望社員という雰囲気を私に与えていた。少なくともついさっきまで地底を這いまわっていて、あと二十一時間ほどでこの世界から消えていこうとする人間には見えない。

きちんとした姿勢をとってみると、ブレザーコートの左の袖が右より一センチ半ばかり短いことがわかった。正確には服の袖が短いのではなく、私の左腕が長すぎるのだ。どうしてそうなったのかはよくわからない。私は右ききだし、特に左腕を酷使した覚えもないのだ。店員は二日あれば袖を調節できるからそうすればどうかと忠告してくれたが、私はもちろん断った。

「野球のようなものをやっておられるのですか?」と店員がクレジット・カードの控えを渡しながら私に訊いた。

野球なんかやっていない、と私は言った。

「大抵のスポーツは体をいびつにしちゃうんです」と店員が教えてくれた。「洋服にとっていちばん良いのは過度な運動と過度な飲食を避けることです」

私は礼を言って店を出た。世界は様々な法則に満ちているようだった。文字どおり一歩歩くごとに新しい発見がある。

雨はまだ降りつづいていたが、服を買うのにも飽きたのでレインコートを探すのはやめ、ビヤホールに入って生ビールを飲み、生ガキを食べた。 (500-501)

First, I took the train to Ginza and bought a shirt, a tie, and a blazer at Paul Stuart, paying for it with my American Express. I put it all on and looked at myself in the mirror. Not bad. I was a little worried that the center creases in my olive chinos had started to fade, but I guess not everything had to be perfect. And the combination of the navy blue flannel blazer and burnt orange shirt did make me look a little like a young employee at an advertising firm. But at least I didn’t look like someone who’d just been crawling around in the sewer and only had 21 hours left before he disappeared from the world.

When I stood up straight, I realized that the left sleeve of the blazer was about half an inch shorter than the one on the right. To be more accurate, the sleeve wasn’t shorter, it was my left arm that was longer. How’d I’d gotten that way, I had no idea. I’m right handed, and I had no memory of ever overusing my left arm somehow. The store salesman advised me that they could have the sleeve adjusted in two days and how would that be, but I of course didn’t take him up on the offer.

“Did you ever play baseball or anything?” the salesman asked as he was giving me my credit card receipt.

I told him I’d never played baseball.

“Most sports will deform your body,” the salesman told me. “For Western-style clothes, it’s best to avoid overexercising or overeating.”

I said thanks and left the store. The world is full of different rules. You discover something new literally every step you take.

It was still raining, but I was tired of buying clothes, so I didn’t look for a raincoat and went to a beer hall to drink beer and eat oysters.

I don’t think the translation loses all that much with the cut, but it’s a good example of the heightened awareness Watashi has on his last day. Birnbaum has cut other “discoveries” in the chapter, which start as an extended meditation on potted plants and a snail at the coin laundry. Murakami also uses the word いびつ (ibitsu, warped/deformed), one of his pet vocab words, twice in quick succession. Here in the cut passage and again in the beer hall when he looks in the mirror after using the bathroom.

The most effective cut in translation comes at the end of the chapter, where we know Birnbaum (or his editor) has been especially adept at making changes for more dramatic endings. Here is the Japanese and my translation:

事故現場を抜けるまでにずいぶん長い時間がかかったが、待ちあわせの時刻までにはまだ間があったので私はのんびりと煙草を吸い、ボブ・ディランのテープを聴きつづけた。そして革命運動家と結婚するのがどういうことなのかと想像をめぐらしてみた。革命運動家というのはひとつの職業として捉えることが可能なのだろうか?もちろん革命は正確には職業ではない。しかし政治が職業となり得るなら、革命もその一種の変形であるはずだった。しかし私にはそのあたりのことはうまく判断できなかった。

仕事から帰ってきた夫は食卓でビールを飲みながら革命の進歩状況について話をするのだろうか?

ボブ・ディランが『ライク・ア・ローリング・ストーン』を唄いはじめたので、私は革命について考えるのをやめ、ディランの唄にあわせてハミングした。我々はみんな年をとる。それは雨ふりと同じようにはっきりとしたことなのだ。(508-509)

It took quite a long time to get past the site of the accident, but I had time before I was meeting the librarian, so I just leisurely smoked cigarettes and listened to Bob Dylan. Then I tried to imagine what it would be like to be married to a revolutionary activist. Can a revolutionary activism be considered an occupation? Accurately speaking, of course, revolutionary activism is not an occupation. However, if politics can be an occupation, then revolution should be a modified version of it. But I could never tell very well with things like that.

Would her husband discuss the progress of the revolution over a beer at the dinner table when he got home from work?

Bob Dylan started singing “Like a Rolling Stone,” so I stopped thinking about the revolution and hummed along with the song. We’re all getting older. And it’s as clear cut as the falling rain.

The details about revolutionary activism, which refer back to a high school friend who married an activist and disappeared, feels like a very Watashi Seinfeld-esque aside (“Whats the deal with revolutionary activism?”), and it stands in stark contrast to Birnbaum’s translation:

It took forever to get by the accident site, but there was still plenty of time before the appointed hour, so I smoked and kept listening to Dylan. Like A Rolling Stone. I began to hum along.

We were all getting old. That much as as plain as the falling rain. (346)

Pretty interesting decisions. Seven chapters left…

Cool Phrase – ご無沙汰

ご無沙汰しています! I was in the Japan Times last week and this week looking at correspondence, letters and emails respectively:

‘Tis the season for ‘tegami’ — and for facing your Japanese letter-writing fears

and

To email in Japanese, take a layer cake of etiquette and stuff it with meaning.”

There is so much more I have to say about both of these topics that I couldn’t squeeze into the articles and unfortunately I don’t have time to write at greater length at the moment, but I do want to point out (sadly) how useful ご無沙汰 (gobusata) is as a potential correspondent.

I’ve known how to use this phrase for a while but was not familiar with the origin, so I looked for Yahoo Chiebukuro (of course), and it has a straightforward post that seems to make sense with some of the Japanese dictionaries that I’ve checked against – 沙汰 became news, notification, report, and 無 reflected a lack of such reportage, thus, “I apologize for not being in touch.” This post has a useful explanation of the difference with 久しぶり and also introduces the cool word 音沙汰 (otosata) as well as a few set ways to use ご無沙汰.

I hate to post and run, but I’ll have to get into further details in the future.

取り急ぎ (Another phrase I wanted to introduce!)

Review – Round Trip Heart (Romansu)

romance

Asian Pop-Up Cinema will close its third season next Sunday, December 4 (4:00pm at the Wilmette Theater), with the movie Round Trip Heart (ロマンス).

For those of you who can read Japanese, you may be curious about the discrepancy between the English and Japanese titles. I like the translation, although I was skeptical at first. The Japanese title, which is the transliteration of “romance,” does a lot more work establishing the setting for Japanese viewers: Hachiko Hoji (played by former AKB48 member Yuko Oshima) is an attendant on the Romancecar train that runs from Shinjuku to Hakone.

She lives a kind of sad life with a loser boyfriend and a loser coworker, but she seems to enjoy her job and does it well, until the day of the movie when she receives a letter from her estranged mother and a passenger named Yoichi Sakuraba (played by the extremely tall Koji Okura) tries to steal a snack from her cart.

The two of them are then wrapped up in a hunt for Hachiko’s mother that takes them all over Hakone, the site of Hachiko’s one family trip before her parents divorced.

The description on the Asian Pop-Up Cinema website calls the movie a romantic comedy, but I’d say it’s closer to a buddy flick. Other than a few coworkers, there are very few speaking roles that aren’t cameos, and the two characters are both linked by a kind of lingering dissatisfaction/depression that they can’t shake. The source of this feeling is very different for each of them, and the film does strong work playing with the audience’s sympathy for the characters. From this point of view, the English title does a lot of work—the viewer’s sympathy may make the round trip voyage.

The Japanese word that came to my mind while watching was 気分転換 (kibuntenkan, change of pace). We learn that Hachiko hasn’t seen her mother since graduating from high school and that Sakuraba is divorced himself and is a failed movie producer. Both could use a day off to run around the touristy sites in Hakone—to check out Odawara Castle, dip their feet in a foot bath, shop for new clothes. But the movie is careful not to fall into a kind of slide show “best of” Hakone. The characters drive the movie here.

My only complaint is that the movie may (or may not??) break the cardinal rule that fiction can begin with a coincidence but not end with one. I liked the way that the ending made me feel, but I can see how some might be disappointed.

And I should say that there is a very delicate touch on the part of director Yuki Tanada, who will be in attendance on Sunday. The final scene with Sakuraba could almost be a throwaway, but there’s a great attention being paid to both Sakuraba and the attention that he is paying. Very nice, and complemented by a long cut, which is technique used throughout the film.

Worth a watch if you have the time and can make it out to Wilmette!

Here’s a trailer if you want to see more. Japanese trailer:

English trailer:

And here’s a bonus YouTube video of the excellent and very karaoke-able song いい日旅立ち, which features in the movie:

Yahoo Chiebukuro Deep Cuts – わいせつ

waisetsu

This post is belated, but I was in the Japan Times last week with an article about the kind of language used to translate Trump into Japanese: “Japanese translators forced to grab the Trump bull by the horns.”

I feel like this piece could have been stronger if I had been paying closer attention the whole way through, but unfortunately I hadn’t. I spend most of my time at work reading about politics and didn’t have the energy to do more in Japanese when I got home. So I was forced to upload as many Japanese sources as I could in a single weekend after I pitched the column to my editor.

Fortunately I’d had the insight to listen to that first NHK Radio podcast which, combined with the email, from my host mom gave me the introduction I needed to carry me through an article that makes sense, hopefully. Got some good comments, which is always nice!

A couple notes:

1. わいせつ (waisetsu, obscene/obscenity) is an interesting word that was combined not only with 発言 (hatsugen, remark) as mentioned in my article, but also 行為 (kōi, act), as Toranpu went on to be accused by several women. A quick search on Twitter for トランプ and わいせつ gives you a pretty interesting play-by-play of how it all went down. (On a side note, I really wish Twitter searches had Google-like controls, such as specifying date ranges.) Here are a few interesting tweets I came across:

https://twitter.com/search?q=トランプ%E3%80%80わいせつ&src=typd

Looking at the translation of “pussy”:

Random Twitter punditry:

An alternative for ロッカールームトーク:

How one website translated “totally made up nonsense”:

Japanese are amused by strange English:

2. わいせつ is also notable for being used exclusively in hiragana. This seems related to the definition of the jōyō kanji, which is connected to Japanese legal language. There’s a closer look at the kanji themselves at this link.

I knew there would be a Yahoo Chiebukuro entry related to this word, but I had no idea that it would be as epic as this page.

The questioner asks how to write ワイセツ in kanji and what it means. The best (and only) answer does provide the requested information (猥褻, vulgar/obscene), but then goes on to be kind of a dick and ask why the person couldn’t find the information on their own: これは、携帯で変換したらでてきませんか? (Couldn’t you convert [these kana] with your cell phone?) And then…これも、ググれば、辞典で出てきませんか? (If you had googled this, wouldn’t it come up in a dictionary?)

(Deep aside: Note the most excellent ググれば [If you googled] above!)

The answerer goes on to give a lengthy supplement about what exactly consists of a わいせつ act and what the punishments are under the law.

But the crowning jewel of this crazy post is the questioner’s follow up:

waisetsuyahoo

Translation: “My reply is late. I’m sorry. I’d gotten wrapped up in the categories for figurines. Thank you.”

Translation implication: This guy was trying to categorize his anime figures, wanted to know how to write “obscene” in kanji so he could properly categorize his dirty figures, gave up when he realized it was a difficult task, and opted to crowdsource on Yahoo?

The world may never know.

あかん and 中

I’m in The Japan Times again this week: “‘Thursday Night Football’ NFL draws Friday morning tweeters in Japan.”

I can’t recommend Thursday Night Football on Twitter highly enough. The Japanese tweets are hilarious, and watching them reload beneath the live feed of the game is like mainlining casual, native Japanese. Get some this week and seven other times this year. Check out the schedule. I’m looking forward to the November 17 game because it features my hometown Saints against division rivals the Carolina Panthers.

Two additional points from the article:

akan

1. Origin of あかん

While researching the piece, I started looking into the 語源 (gogen, etymology) of あかん. Like Roy from Mutantfrong Travelogue, I always thought it was a 行かない—>行かん—>あかん progression:

But all the dictionaries point to the phrase 埒が明かぬ (rachi ga akanu, make no progress, not settle). Roy was not convinced and suggested this was a false etymology. He also dug up this great blog post, which is recommended reading:

2. 中 verbs

I wanted to add a little section to the article about additional verbs that work well with 中, but I didn’t have the time or wordspace left. The tweet in the article uses 観戦中, but I can think up the following off the top of my head (with native Japanese examples found in the links):

作成中 (sakusei chū, creating, Tweet)
執筆中 (shippitsu chū, writing, Tweet; this one also seems to get used frequently in Twitter usernames as a way to say what someone is working on)
鑑賞中 (kanshō chū, watching/enjoying, Tweet)
昼寝中 (hirune chū, napping, Tweet)
勉強中 (benkyō chū, studying, Tweet)
検討中 (kentō chū, looking into/considering, Tweet; Be sure to read through the entirety of the epic three-day Twitter conversation between those two friends…very funny with lots of tangents involving Doraemon, dorayaki, and 顔文字)

Got any to add? Put them in the comments (with a link to a tweet or the usage online somewhere) and I’ll add them above!

Review – When The Curtain Rises (Maku ga agaru)

maku_ga_agaru_poster

Asian Pop-Up Cinema
Wilmette Theater
Sunday, October 9
2:00PM

For those of you in the Greater Chicagoland area, Asian Pop-Up Cinema is a great program to follow for Asian films in general and Japanese films in particular. Earlier this year I saw “Three Stories of Love,” which was an inspired movie that resulted from a series of acting workshops put on by director Ryosuke Hashiguchi.

Asian Pop-Up Cinema just started their third season, and next week they’ll be showing “When The Curtain Rises” (幕が上がる), which is kind of the opposite of “Three Stories of Love”: rather than the material being produced naturally through workshops, the idol group Momoiro Clover Z was drafted to act in an adaptation of the 2012 novel by Oriza Hirata.

The movie is a sweet if at times melodramatic treatment of a Japanese school movie: the group of girls from Fujigaoka High School go from a write-off drama club to a serious competitor at the prefectural competition. Protagonist Saori Takahashi is voted in as captain at the start of the film and is forced to negotiate her way through the emotions of her actors and lack of inspiration in order to put together a real performing group.

For me, as someone who has worked in Japanese schools, one of the most interesting aspects of the film was the treatment of crying. The movie starts with the school’s final club performances and a loss in the school competition that doesn’t seem to surprise anyone. Nevertheless, Mizoguchi-sensei, the group’s hapless coach, tries to work up the emotion to force himself to cry in his end-of-year message to the girls. The girls themselves don’t shed even a single tear.

Japanese students cry often. Most noticeably at their graduations, which are broadcast on the local news, and the tears are mostly those of joy, of appreciation, and maybe a few of a sadness for the upcoming departure, but they are not negative by any means. Viewers should watch to see if and when tears pop up again in the movie. The girls do find inspiration and sincerity in Yohioka-sensei, a new teacher who used to be a stage actor, who is inspired by the girls in turn.

“When The Curtain Rises” also does a great job of introducing Japanese spaces. Fujigaoka is a somewhat idyllic town at the foot of Mt. Fuji, and we see the town’s library, the school’s teacher’s lounge, the bus the kids ride into Tokyo on their summer trip, in addition to all the spaces in the school itself.

At 119 minutes, the movie feels like it would benefit from a trim, but some of the extra time is filled with clips from Japanese acting troupes, which seem to be real and inspired.

One other noticeable touch by either director Katsuyuki Motohiro, the screenwriter, or Hirata himself is the presence of only two male roles in the film: the women of the film are allowed to shine on their own. Mizoguchi-sensei adds slapstick comedy, and Takita-sensei, the Japanese teacher, adds serious artistic consideration with his solemn intonement of literary texts.

All in all, the movie in a sweet film and worth seeking out if you’re a fan of idol groups and Japanese pop music, interested in Japanese school culture, or interested in theater acting.

Distant Drumming

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: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year Eight: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness, Back Issues
Year Nine: Water, Snæfellsnes, Cannonball

spetses

Apologies for skipping last week! I’ll make up for the delay with a massive post this week.

This week I’m looking at one last essay in Murakami’s 2015 collection of travel essays. The essay is titled 「懐かしいふたつの島で 」(On two nostalgic islands), and it was originally written in 2011. I’m about half way through the collection, and this is the best one so far.

This is partially due to the fact that reading this essay makes me nostalgic. Murakami visited the two Greek islands Spetses and Mykonos during his three-year sojourn to Europe from 1986-1989, and in this essay he goes back to see them. He wrote about his initial trip in the book 『遠い太鼓』 (A Distant Drum), which I read half of at some point years ago. There are a few scenes I can still remember from the book—the “Zorba” Greeks from the beach; Murakami and his wife walking through one of the towns, low on cash because he forgot to go to the bank before the weekend; Murakami running the original Marathon course; Murakami running in Sicily and being chased by wild dogs.

It’s a great book, one that I really need to finish, one that deserves a full translation into English. (PICK ME! PICK ME!)

So I’ve picked a few of my favorite sections, starting with the introduction:

今から二十四年ほど前のことになるが、ギリシャの島に住んでいた。スペッツェス島とミコノス島。「住んでいた」といってもせいぜい合わせて三ヶ月くらいのことだけど、僕にとっては初めての「外国で暮らす」体験だったし、それはずいぶん印象深い体験になった。ノートに日々の記録をつけ、あとになって『遠い太鼓』という旅行記の中にそれをまとめた。

その後も何度かギリシャに行くことはあったけれど、それらの島をもう一度訪れたことはなかった。だから今回はそのとき以来の「再訪」ということになる。「ピルグリメイジ(巡礼)」という英語の表現がある。そこまで言うのはいささか大げさかもしれないが、要するにおおよそ四半世紀昔の自分の足跡を辿ることになるわけで、懐かしいといえばたしかに懐かしい。とくにミコノス島は小説『ノルウェイの森』を書き始めた場所だったので、僕の中にはそれなりの思いのようなものがある。

1986年9月にローマに着いて、その初秋の美しい光の中で一ヶ月間ほどを過ごし、それからアテネに行き、ピレエフス港から船でスペッツェス島に渡った。イタリアに本格的に住み始める前に、ギリシャで数ヶ月を送りたかった。10月も半ば、ギリシャの観光シーズンは既に終わって、働き疲れたギリシャ人たちがホテルやレストランや土産屋の店仕舞いを始める頃だ。この時期になると、いくらギリシャとはいえけっこう寒くなってくるし、天候もだんだん悪くなる。曇りの日が多くなり、冷ややかな風が吹き、雨もよく降るようになる。クルーズ船で夏の陽光溢れるエーゲ海の島を訪れたことのある人は、秋が深まったときそこがどれほどひっそりとした場所に(ある時には陰鬱なまでの場所に)なり得るかを知ったら、きっとびっくりするに違いない。

どうしてそんあ魅力的とは言いがたい季節を選んで我々(というのは僕と奥さんのことだが)がギリシャの島に住むようになったのか?まずだいいちに生活費が安かったから。高物価・高家賃のハイシーズンの時期に、ギリシャの島で何ヶ月か暮らせるような経済的余裕は、当時の我々にはなかった。それから天候のよくないオフシーズンの島は、静かに仕事をするのに向いているということもあった。夏場のギリシャはいささか騒がしすぎる。僕は日本で仕事をすることに当時疲れていて(それにはまあ、一口で言えないいろいろな理由があったのだが)、外国に出て面倒な雑事を逃れ、ひっそり仕事に集中したかった。できれば腰を据えて、長い小説も書きたかった。だから日本を離れて、しばらくのあいだヨーロッパに住むことに決めたのだ。 (85-86)

Nearly 24 years ago now, I was living on Greek islands. Spetses and Mykonos. “Was living” was only about three months total combined, but it was my first time “living abroad” and it turned into a very memorable experience. Every day I kept records in my notebook, and afterward I put them all together into the travelogue Tōi Taiko (A Distant Drum).

I had the chance to go to Greece a number of times thereafter, but I never visited those islands again. So this was my first “return” since then. English has the expression “pilgrimage.” Using that term might be a slight exaggeration, but I followed my steps from a quarter century in the past, so it’s safe to say it was nostalgic. Mykonos especially has a kind of affection within me because it is where I started writing Norwegian Wood.

I arrived in Rome in September 1986 and spent a month in the beautiful light of early autumn before going to Athens and then crossing over to Spetses by boat from Piraeus. I wanted to spend a few months in Greece before settling down in Italy. By mid-October, the Greek tourist season was over, and the exhausted Greeks had started to close up their hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Around this time of year it’s cold despite the fact that it’s Greece, and the weather gradually gets worse. Cloudy days grew in number, cold winds blew in, and it started to rain often. Anyone who has taken a cruise ship through the islands of the sunny Aegean Sea of summer would be surprised to know how quiet (and at times even melancholy) a place it can become once autumn sets in.

Why did we (my wife and I) choose such a difficult-to-appreciate season to live on a Greek island? First, the cost of living was cheap. At the time, we didn’t have the economic leeway to live for several months on a Greek island during the high season with its expensive prices and rents. Also, the off season and its bad weather was quiet and suited for getting work done. Greece in summer can be too rowdy. I’d gotten tired of working in Japan (there were a lot of different reasons for this that I can’t explain in a single phrase), and I wanted to go to a foreign country to escape the bothersome everyday and focus quietly on work. If possible, I wanted to settle down and write a long novel. So I left Japan and decided to live in Europe for a little while.

One thing to note: Murakami arrived in September 1986, and Norwegian Wood was published in September 1987. That’s a pretty impressive turnaround. It’s even more impressive because we know he killed the first month in Athens! He didn’t start writing until he arrived in Spetses:

敷地の中を少し見てまわってもかまわないでしょうか?昔しばらくここに住んでいたもので。僕が管理人のおばあさんにそう訊くと、「いいよ、どうぞ好きなだけごらんなさい」という返事が返ってきた。

当時僕らが暮らしていたユニットは、外から見る限りそのままだった。何ひとつ変わってはいない。19番のユニット。白い漆喰の壁と、青く塗られた柱。そこで僕は『ノルウェイの森』の最初の数章を書いた。とても寒かったことを記憶している。12月、クリスマスの少し前のことだった。部屋には小さな電気ストーブひとつしかなかった。分厚いセーターを着て、震えながら原稿を書いた。当時はまだワープロを使っていなかったから、大学ノートにボールぺんでこりこり字を書いていた。窓の外には石ころだらけのうらぶれた野原があり、そこで羊の小さな群れが黙々と草を食べていた。僕の目にはあまりおいしそうな草には見えなかったが、羊たちはそれでいちおう満足しているようだった。

書くのに疲れると手を休め、頭を上げ、そんな羊たちの姿をぼんやり眺めた。ガラス窓の向うに見えるその風景を、今でもよく覚えている。壁に沿って大きなキョウチクトウが生えていた。オリーブの木もあった。窓から眺めた野原は当時のままうらぶれて残っていたが、なぜか羊たちの姿はなかった。

当時は朝から昼間にかけて小説を書き、夕方になると散歩がてら街に出て、バーでワインかビールを軽く飲むことにしていた。詰めて仕事をしたあとでは、何かそういう気分転換が必要だった。だからいろんなバーに行った。「ミコノス・バー」「ソマス・バー」、あといくつか名前の思い出せないバー。そういうバーにはミコノスに住み着いた外人(非ギリシャ人)たちがたむろして、小さな声で会話を交わしていた。そんな季節にミコノスにいる日本人は僕らくらいで、けっこう珍しがられた。「ミコノス・バー」で働いていた女性はとてもチャーミングな皺を寄せて笑う人で、僕はこの人を—というかその皺の具合を—イメージして『ノルウェイの森』のレイコさんという人物を描いた。(91-92)

Would you mind if I looked around inside the place a little? I lived here a little while a long time back. When I asked the old woman who managed the place, she replied, “Sure, look around as much as you like.”

The unit we lived in back then looked the same from the outside. Nothing had changed. Unit 19. White stucco walls and columns painted blue. I wrote the first few chapters of Norwegian Wood here. I remember it being very cold. It was December, just before Christmas. There was only a single electric heater in the room. I wrote while shivering in a thick sweater. I wasn’t yet using a word processor at the time, so I scratched out characters with a ballpoint pen in a college notebook. Outside the window was a ragged field covered with rocks where a small herd of sheep silently munched on the grass. The grass didn’t look all that tasty to me, but it seemed to satisfy the sheep.

When I got tired of writing, I rested my hand, lifted my head and gazed at the sheep. Even now I can still remember the landscape beyond that glass window. A large oleander had been growing along the wall. There had been an olive tree as well. The field outside the window was just as ragged as it had been, but for some reason the sheep were gone.

I would write the novel from the morning through the day, and at night I went out into town for a walk and had a little wine or beer at a bar. After working intently, I needed a change of pace like that. So we went to a bunch of different bars. Mykonos Bar, Somas Bar, and several others whose names I can’t remember. Foreigners (non-Greeks) who had settled on Mykonos hung out at bars like that and had quiet conversations. We were about the only Japanese on Mykonos during that season, and they were quite curious about us. There was a woman working at Mykonos Bar who had very charming wrinkles that gathered when she smiled, and I based the character Reiko on her—or should I say her wrinkles.

This section is mostly just a little trivia, but nice for Murakami maniacs like myself. There’s one more section where his writing comes up, and it’s worth sharing as well:

昔ながらの木造漁船を造る小さな造船所から、とんとんとんという木槌の響きが聞こえてくる。どことなく懐かしい音だ。規則正しい音がふと止み、それから少ししてまた聞こえる。そういうところはちっとも変わっていない。その木槌の音に耳を澄ませていると、二十四年前に心が戻っていく。当時の僕は『世界の終わりとハードボイルド・ワンダーランド』という小説を書き上げ、次の作品『ノルウェイの森』の執筆に取りかかることを考えている三十代半ばの作家だった。「若手作家」という部類にいちおう属していた。実を言えば、自分では今でもまだ「若手作家」みたいな気がしているんだけど、もちろんそんなことはない。時間は経過し、当然のことながら僕はそのぶん年齢をかさねた。なんといっても避けがたい経過だ。でも灯台の草の上に座って、まわりの世界の音に耳を澄ませていると、あの当時から僕自身の気持ちはそれほど変化していないみたいにも感じられる。あるいはうまく成長できなかった、というだけのことなのかもしれないけど。 (106-107)

I could hear the clap, clap, clap of a mallet coming from a small shipyard that built old wooden fishing boats. It was a somewhat nostalgic sound. The even beats stopped and then began again after a moment. This hadn’t changed at all. When I listened carefully to the sound of the mallet, my soul was transported back 24 years in the past. I was a writer in his mid-30’s who had just finished writing Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and was thinking about starting to write Norwegian Wood. I was considered a “young writer.” To tell you the truth, I myself still kind of feel like a “young writer” even now, but of course that isn’t the case. Time passed, and naturally I aged an equivalent amount. It’s an unavoidable progression, as it were. But as I sat there in the grass under the lighthouse and listened carefully to the sounds of the world around me, it didn’t seem like my feelings from that time had changed all that much. Or it might be just that I had not been able to grow very well.

Murakami is generally at his best when writing about himself and things he’s familiar with, stuff he’s experienced. This section is good, and there’s a very nice ending with him leaving on a boat and watching Mykonos fade into the distance.

I don’t think the essay is quite as good as Tōi Taiko, and it’s no A Moveable Feast, but it’s still a nice read. I’d definitely recommend picking up that book before this essay.

And that’s it for Murakami Fest 2016! Thanks for reading. The announcements come next week, as usual. The site says October 3-10, but the Literature date has not yet been set. Keep an eye out. You can stream the announcement live on the website or on YouTube. Maybe this is the year!

Deep Dives

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at using Wikipedia for anguish practice…er, reading practice: “Wikipedia ‘deep dives’ can help recreate the joys and pains of Japanese-language immersion.”

This is an exercise I’ve done in the past, but I think playing the game for the JT resulted in some pretty nice material to look at.

The textbook thing, of course, pops up in the news every now and then, but it was very funny to read about the Textbook Bribery Incident and how it was uncovered.

And I was thrilled to have an excuse to revisit Adam’s amazing trek of abandoned rail lines in Hokkaido. It makes me want to do a similar trip of my own, but I’m still lame from my surgery. It will be another 6-8 weeks before I’m back to normal, but I at least don’t have to wear my brace 24/7 anymore.

This gives me a good excuse to embed all the videos here. I’m always so impressed with his video editing skills. Crack open some beers and kick your feet up; these are longwatches:

And apropos of nothing, this week’s piece is my 32nd Bilingual column for the JT! I missed the even, diez-divisible anniversary two articles ago, so I thought I’d take a quick moment to pause and say…damn, I can’t believe I put out that many articles! Thanks as always for reading and commenting. If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, I’d be glad to hear them.

I missed the Murakami Fest post last week due to being busy with freelance work, but I have a big post that I should be able to put up later this week before we hit October, so keep an eye out for that.