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:





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.


Well, it took me six months, but I’m back on the Murakami. Chapter 35 of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World “Nail Clippers, Butter Sauce, Iron Vase” is one of my favorite chapters in the novel. I wrote about some of the changes and why it’s my favorite back in 2009 (!) during the second year of Murakami Fest.

In the chapter, Watashi wanders around the neighborhood near the library shopping and picks up the Librarian. They go to an Italian restaurant, gorge themselves, and then head back to her place to listen to music and have sex.

There are a lot of changes in this chapter. Most of the cuts that Birnbaum (or his editor) makes are inconsequential. Small pieces of dialogue or detail that can be eliminated to make the writing more concise and fluid. Even the ones I highlight in the post above aren’t really that substantial, although I’d argue that there’s really no reason to cut them. Birnbaum also adds a number of space breaks (three to be precise), which I have to admit are very effective at punctuating nice moments.

Murakami makes one small change from the original version to the Complete Works version, which I’ll look at just because. Here’s the original, which Birnbaum uses as the basis for his translation:

「サマセット・モームを新しい作家だなんていう人今どきあまりいないわよ」と彼女はワインのグラスを傾けながら言った。「ジュークボックスにベニー・グッドマンのレコードが入っていないのと同じよ」 (267)

And here’s Birnbaum’s translation:

“There aren’t many people who’d consider Somerset Maugham new,” she said, tipping back her glass. “The same as they don’t put Benny Goodman in jukeboxes these days either.” (358)

And the Complete Works edition:

「サマセット・モームを新しい作家だなんていう人今どきあまりいないわよ」と彼女はワインのグラスを傾けながら言った。 (526)

“There aren’t many people who’d consider Somerset Maugham new,” she said, tipping back her glass.

As you can see, he just cuts that last line. Very curious. Maybe he thought the Benny Goodman reference was off? Who knows. It seems very strange to read through a whole chapter and then cut a single sentence. Maybe Murakami was getting tired toward the end of edits on the Complete Works edition of HBW.

One of the more substantial cuts that Birnbaum makes in this chapter is when Watashi and the Librarian discuss the destruction of his apartment. Here’s the official translation:

“It wouldn’t have had anything to do with that unicorn business?” she asked.

“It did. But nobody’d bothered to ask me what I thought from the very beginning.”

“And does that have something to do with your going away tomorrow?”


“You must have gotten yourself caught in a terrible mess.”

“Its so complicated, I myself don’t know what’s what. Well, in my case, the simplest explanation is that I’m up to here in information warfare.”

The waiter appeared suddenly with our fish and rice. (360)

As you’ll see, the translation cuts a few sentences at the beginning of this passage and a large chunk of conversation:















ウェイターがやってきて我々の前にすずきとリゾットを置いた。 (530-531)

“You could play a rugby game in your apartment and it wouldn’t have gotten that messed up.”

“Probably so,” I said.

“Was it related to the unicorn stuff?” she asked.

“I think it might’ve been.”

“Is it resolved?”

“It’s not. At least it isn’t to them.”

“Is it for you?”

“It is and it isn’t,” I said. “There’s no way for me to choose, so it is, and because I didn’t choose, it won’t be resolved. My individuality was ignored from the beginning with this affair. It’s as if a single human was added to a sea lion water polo team.”

“So tomorrow you’re going far away?”

“Something like that.”

“You’ve been wrapped up in a pretty complicated incident.”

“Too complicated for me to understand. The world keeps getting more complicated. Nuclear weapons, the breakup of socialism, the evolution of computers, artificial insemination, spy satellites, lobotomies. It’s impossible to even know what’s going on with passenger side panels for cars. To put it simply, I’ve been caught up in the information war. Basically I’m a stopgap until computers have their own consciousness. A make-do.”

“Computers will have their own consciousness?”

“Maybe,” I said. “If they do, computers will be able to scramble the data themselves, and no one will be able to steal it.”

The waiter came over and placed the sea bass and risotto in front of us.

None of these make a huge difference. It makes the whole thing more concise, clearly. I do like the idea that the narrator is a つなぎ (tsunagi, stopgap), literally a “connection” between the status quo now and the future in which his profession would be expendable (perhaps now?). That’s something that Watashi has expressed elsewhere in the novel but not quite in this language.

Five chapters left!


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:



「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…


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:







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:




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…


Chapter 32 “Shadow in the Throes of Death” (死にゆく影) is a short End of the World chapter in which Boku visits his shadow who is pretending to be sicker than he actually is to trick the Gatekeeper. The shadow tries to convince Boku to leave, Boku says he wants to stay because he has become attached to the town, but in the end he agrees to meet his shadow in three days and escape.

Very few changes in this one. A couple of very minor cuts, which I’ll show just to complete this blog post. They aren’t of much interest.

In the first, the Gatekeeper leads Boku into the area where his shadow is being kept:

The Gatekeeper takes his key ring off the hook and unlocks the iron gate to the Shadow Grounds. He walks quickly across the enclosure ahead of me, and shows me into the lean-to. It is as cold as an icehouse. (331)

The Japanese and my version:


The Gatekeeper takes a ring of keys from the wall and opens the iron door that leads to the Shadow Plaza. He then cuts briskly across the plaza in front of me, opens the door of the Shadow Shed, and lets me in. The shed is empty without a single piece of furniture, only a frozen brick floor. A cold wind comes in through a gap in the window, freezing over the air inside, like an ice house.

Probably just cut because it’s unnecessary. There weren’t many other cuts for space in this chapter – it’s only seven pages long in the Japanese.

The second cut is from the section when the shadow is trying to explain the Town:

“When the Dreamreader’s shadow dies, he ceases to be the Dreamreader and becomes one with the Town. This is how it’s possible for the Town to maintain its perfection. All imperfections are forced upon the imperfect, so the ‘perfect’ can live content and oblivious. Is that the way it should be? Did you ever think to look at things from the viewpoint of the beasts and shadows and Woodsfolk?” (336)

And the original and my version:

「影が死ねば夢読みであることをやめて、街に同化する。街はそんな風にして完全性の環の中を永久にまわりつづけているんだ。不完全な部分を不完全な存在に押しつけ、そしてそのうわずみだけを吸って生きているんだ。それが正しいことだと君は思うのかい?それが本当の世界か?それがものごとのあるべき姿なのかい?いいかい、弱い不完全な方の立場からものを見るんだ。獣や影や森の人々の立場からね」 (490)

“When your shadow dies, you stop being the Dream Reader and become incorporated into the Town. That’s how the Town cycles within an eternal loop of perfection. It forces all imperfections onto the imperfect and lives off the rest. Do you think that’s right? Do you think that’s the real world? Do you think that’s the way things should be? Listen, look at things from the perspective of something weak and imperfect. From the perspective of the beasts, shadows, and the people in the forest.”

The cuts here are a bit more interesting. うわずみ is a difficult word to translate. It means the clear upper portion of a solution once the sediment has dropped out, which makes more sense when you see the kanji: 上澄み. Birnbaum handles it strikingly well with an 意訳.

Only eight chapters left now…



Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Chapter 31 “Fares, Police, Detergent” has many of Birnbaum’s (or his editor’s) usual cuts:

– Section- and chapter-ends are often pared down to end on a better line of dialogue, a more dramatic action, or a more wry tone.

– Parts that could be considered excess or unnecessary are cut back.

– Sexy and questionable bits are cut.

This chapter has a huge amount of this final cut, which we have seen a couple times previously.

In this chapter, Watashi and the Girl in Pink make their way back into the city through the subway, have a snack at a grocery store sandwich stand, and then clean up at his apartment. The sexy parts start when they are waiting for their food and they share an abandoned newspaper. Here is Birnbaum’s translation:

The girl claimed the back pages. Some seedy article which addressed the question “Is Swallowing Semen Good for the Complexion?”

“Do you like having your semen swallowed?” the girl wanted to know. (323)

The original Japanese version goes on at greater length. My translation follows:



The girl said she wanted to read the back pages, so I took them out and handed them to her. She seemed to want to read an article titled “Does swallowing semen make your skin more beautiful?” Beneath it was an article titled “I was trapped in a cage and forced to have sex.” I had trouble imagining how exactly you would go about having sex with a woman in a cage. There must be some sort of clever way to go about it. But it would require a good bit of effort. Nothing I could ever manage.

“Hey, do you like having your semen swallowed?” the girl asked.

This cut seems understandable. Murakami is going for a joke, and I don’t think it’s all that successful. I guess it’s a little funny in a kind of Seinfeld-esque way? But the text isn’t diminished by its absence.

The subsequent sexy cut feels designed to make Watashi seem like less of a perv. After they make it to his apartment, Watashi draws a bath. Here is Birnbaum’s version:

I suggested that the chubby girl bathe first. While she was in the tub, I changed into some salvaged clothes and plopped down on what had been my bed.” (325)

Short and simple. There is a huge cut within this. The Japanese and my translation:






彼女が風呂に入っているあいだに私はシャツと濡れたズボンを脱いで残っていた服に着替え、ベッドに寝転んでこれから何をしようかと考えた。 (473-473)

As the tub filled, I told the girl to take the first bath. She put a bookmark in the pages of the book, got off the bed, and fluidly took off her clothes in the kitchen. The way she removed them was so natural that I remained there sitting on the bed, idly watching her nude figure. Her body had a strange build that seemed part child, part adult. There was a large amount of soft-looking white flesh stuck to her, as though someone had taken a normal person’s body and plastered it uniformly with some kind of jelly. It was all so incredibly balanced that unless you were paying close attention you would almost forget the fact that she was fat. The areas around her arms, thighs, and belly were also wonderfully full and taut like a whale. Her breasts were moderate bulges, not all that large compared with the rest of her body, and the flesh on her butt stuck out sharply.

“My body isn’t bad, right?” she said in my direction from the kitchen.

“Not bad,” I responded.

“It took a lot of work to put on this much flesh, you know,” she said. “I had to eat a ton of all sorts of food. Cake and fatty foods, all sorts.”

I nodded silently.

While she was in the bath, I took off the wet shirt and pants I was wearing, changed into my remaining clothes, lay down in the bed, and thought about what to do next.

It’s a little weird that Watashi is staring at this seventeen-year-old girl and enjoying it. But I guess it’s a little prudish to cut it. The girl does have a very erotic feel, even in translation, so it doesn’t lose too much, other than a small amount of direct explicitness. I wonder if editors demanded that it be cut or Birnbaum himself made the suggestion.

The final sexy cut, however, is the most extreme. Here is Birnbaum’s translation:

I popped open my eyes and rubbed my face between my hands. It was like rubbing someone else’s face. The spot on my neck where the leech had attached itself still stung.

“When are you going back for your grandfather?” I asked. (328)

You’d never notice anything without looking at the original. Here’s the Japanese and my version:






























「君はいつおじいさんのところに戻るんだ?」と私は訊ねてみた。 (479-481)

I opened my eyes and rubbed my face with both hands. Because I’d shaved for the first time in so long, the skin on my face was dry and stiff like a drumhead. It felt like I was rubbing someone else’s face entirely. The areas where the leeches had gotten me still hurt. It seemed like those two leeches had taken a good bit of blood out of me.

“Hey,” the girl said and put the book by her side. “So, you really don’t want me to swallow your semen?”

“Not at the moment,” I said.

“You don’t feel like it?”


“And you don’t want to sleep with me either?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Is it because I’m fat?”

“Not at all,” I said. “Your body is really nice.”

“Then why won’t you sleep with me?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know why, but I do feel like I shouldn’t sleep with you right now.”

“Is it for some moral reason? Does it go against your lifestyle ethics?”

“Lifestyle ethics,” I repeated. The words had a strange ring to them. I stared up at the ceiling and thought about them for a moment. “No, that’s not it,” I said. “It’s something else entirely. Instinct or intuition, something like that. Or maybe it has something to do with my memories receding. I can’t explain it well. I actually really want to sleep with you right now. But that something is preventing me. It’s telling me now’s not the time for that.”

She put her elbows on a pillow and stared at me.

“Are you lying to me?”

“I wouldn’t lie about this kind of thing.”

“That’s what you really think?”

“That’s what I feel.”

“Can you prove it?”

“Prove it?” I repeated, a little taken aback.

“Something that can convince me that you want to sleep with me.”

“I have a hard on,” I said.

“Show me,” she said.

I hesitated for a moment but in the end decided to drop my pants and show her. I was too tired to argue any further, and I didn’t have much much time left in this world; I didn’t think me showing a seventeen-year-old girl my healthy, erect penis would become some massive social issue.

“Hmm,” she said as she looked at my engorged penis. “Can I touch it?”

“Nope,” I said. “But this proves it, right?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s fine.”

I lifted my pants and stored my penis inside them. The sound of a large moving truck passing by slowly rumbled up from the window.

“When will you go back to your grandfather?” I asked.

Hey now! What a scene to cut. Nothing changes drastically without this scene, of course, but it does give the girl a good bit of sexual agency that isn’t present in the translation. And it’s funny! The dialogue is a great back and forth, very strong. Also, it’s just a massive piece of text to remove, but as we’ve seen, this is how Murakami was translated at first.

This was a very exciting cut to find. We see deeper into Murakami’s sense of humor, how these two characters feel about each other, and how Murakami constructs sexuality in his books. It also shows something about the translation/editorial process back in the early 90s. Compared to some of his more recent works, this would probably be considered very tame. But it was cut for one reason or another, whether taste or style.

I don’t think we have many chapters left with the Girl in Pink. Watashi ends by taking her wet clothes to the laundromat to dry them. I don’t remember exactly what happens when he returns, but I’ll be curious to see if and how their sexual denouement is handled.

Digging Holes


I read Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Chapter 30 “Hole” at least a month ago (perhaps even more…I can’t remember if I read it before or after I went to Japan in March) but didn’t write up a post about it, so I’m only now going through it again and trying to figure out my impressions.

Fortunately it’s a short End of the World chapter. Boku awakes in his room and the old men are shoveling outside, digging a hole purely to dig a hole, according to the Colonel. The Colonel tells Boku that his shadow is dying and that he should go visit, and Boku resolves to do so. It’s just a small chapter to move things along.

Birnbaum (or his editor) make a number of minor cuts here and there, compress a few passages, and rearrange small pieces of the text. I guess the biggest change is the treatment of the musical instrument. In the English translation, Birnbaum has Boku discover the name of the instrument:

The room is now warm. I sit at the table with the musical instrument in hand, slowly working the bellows. The leather folds are stiff, but not unmanageable; the keys are discolored. When was the last time anyone touched it? By what route had the heirloom traveled, through how many hands? It is a mystery to me.

I inspect the bellows box with care. It is a jewel. There is such precision in it. So very small, it compresses to fit into a pocket, yet seems to sacrifice no mechanical details.

The shellac on the wooden boards at either end has not flaked. They bear a filligreed decoration, the intricate green arabesques well preserved. I wipe the dust with my fingers and read the letters A-C-C-O-R-D-…

This is an accordion!

I work it, in and out, over and over again, learning the feel of it. The buttons vie for space on the miniature instrument. More suited to a child’s or woman’s hand, the accordion is exceedingly difficult for a grown man to finger. And then one is supposed to work the bellows in rhythm. (314-315)

Birnbaum did this in the previous chapter as well, but as you can see above it’s a bit more blatant. In the Japanese original, Murakami uses a complex kanji compound for accordion (手風琴) the entire time. He does switch to the katakana version of the word (アコーディオン) in this passage, but the effect is not the same. Here is the Japanese and my translation:



僕がアコーディオンを弾いたのはずいぶん昔のことだったし、それもキイボード式の新しい型のものだったから、その旧式の仕組とボタンの配列になれるにはかなりの手間がかかった。小型にまとめられているせいで、ボタンは小さく、おまけにひとつひとつがひどく接近していたから、子供や女性ならいざしらず手の大きな大人の男がそれを思うように弾きこなすのはかなり厄介な作業だった。そのうえにリズムをとりながら効果的に蛇腹を伸縮させなくてはならないのだ。 (456-457)

Once the room warms, I sit in a chair at the table, take the accordion in my hands, and slowly move the bellows in and out. Now that I’ve brought the instrument to my room and have a chance to look at it, I understand that that it is much more elaborately finished than I thought from my initial impression in the forest. The keys and bellows have colored with age, but the paint on the wood panels has not flaked at all, and the delicate arabesques painted in green remain unharmed. It could pass as a work of decorative art more than an instrument. The bellows have predictably stiffened somewhat and are awkward, but it isn’t enough to impede its usage. It must have been left untouched for quite a long time. However I don’t know what kind of people played it long ago nor how it made its way to that place. It’s wrapped in mysteries.

The instrument’s functionality, in addition to its decoration, is also quite refined. Most importantly, it’s small. Folded up, it could fit cleanly into a coat pocket. Which isn’t to say that that any functionality has been sacrificed; everything you would expect an accordion to have is there.

The sound of the old men digging the hole continues. The noise of four shovel tips biting into the earth turns into a ceaseless, irregular rhythm and echoes with a strange clarity throughout the room. The wind rattles the window every now and then. Outside the window I can see the slope of the hill, covered here and there with snow. I can’t tell whether the sound of the accordion reaches the old men. I imagine it doesn’t. The accordion is quiet, and the wind blows in the opposite direction.

It’s been a long time since I played the accordion, and it was one with a newer style of keyboard, so it takes some effort to get accustomed to the way the old style works and the layout of the buttons. The buttons are small because they’re fit into the compact form, and what’s more they’re extremely close together; I’m not sure about women and children, but it’s incredibly difficult work for a grown man with large hands to have a command of the instrument as he would like. And on top of that I have to make sure to move the bellows in rhythm.

As you can see, BOHE has compressed a good portion of the text, rearranged, and added his own creative touches. It covers most of the bases and the result is a very creative translation. He even treats the simplest sentences with total respect; I’m thinking in particular of “The buttons vie for space on the miniature instrument.” That strikes me as a very generous way to render Murakami in English without going over the line, as perhaps some of the other choices do.

Also notable in this chapter is the appearance of more lines from Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round! Here’s the passage in English:

“They dig holes from time to time,” the Colonel explains. “It is probably for them what chess is for me. It has no special meaning, does not transport them anywhere. All of us dig at our own pure holes. We have nothing to achieve by our activities, nowhere to get to. Is there not something marvelous about this? We hurt no one and no one gets hurt. No victory, no defeat.” (317)

And here is the Japanese followed by a rewritten version of Birnbaum’s translation with the deleted sections added in:


“They dig holes from time to time,” the Colonel explains. “It is probably for them what chess is for me, in principle. It has no special meaning, does not transport them anywhere. But that doesn’t matter. No one needs meaning, and no one wants to be transported anywhere. All of us dig at our own pure holes. We have nothing to achieve by our activities, no progress to accomplish with our effort, nowhere to get to. Is there not something marvelous about this? We hurt no one and no one gets hurt. We overtake no one, and no one is overtaken. No victory, no defeat.” (317)

Pretty interesting. Birnbaum cuts the one sentence that really links it with Dead Heat, and that is the “overtake, overtaken” line.

We should be approaching another Dead Heat reference in the Hard-boiled Wonderland section of the novel as well. I’m looking forward to making some progress on this relatively meaningless exercise. I hope you enjoy following along as I dig my hole.

Dropped Namedrops

Chapter 29 has some clear changes right from the beginning: The chapter title in the Complete Works edition is “Lake, Pantyhose” while in English translation and in the original paperback it is “Lake, Masatomi Kondo, Pantyhose.”

In this chapter, Watashi and the granddaughter swim across the lake, make their way through the subterranean INKling cave, and eventually get to the subway tunnels. This sounds like it could be a very short chapter, but this is Murakami we’re talking about, so we experience it through Watashi’s thoughts, which become ever more distracted as he descends into the End of the World.

Watashi thinks again of the woman wearing bracelets in the Skyline, and he turns the whole thing into an invented movie scene. The translation is really exceptional around this point, pages 305-306 in the English edition. When the granddaughter asks him what he’s thinking about, Murakami name drops some actors, which he cuts from the Complete Works edition. They remain in the English translation and look like this:

“What were you thinking about?”

“Movie people. Masatomi Kondo and Ryoko Nakano and Tsutomu Yamazaki.” (307)

This is the only place where the names are dropped in the chapter, so it’s not surprising it gets cut…unless they pop up somewhere in later chapters.

I had trouble finding Masatomi Kondo until I checked the Japanese version and realized that Birnbaum had mistaken Masaomi for Masatomi. Pretty funny mistake—shows you how important Google is. I’ve been meaning to write something about the new translations of Murakami’s first two novels because Birnbaum has a similar issue there—he makes mistakes with the names of books and movies, likely because they would have been difficult to track down back in the late 80s and early 90s without the Internet.

At any rate, here is Masaomi Kondo in some commercials that might have aired around this time. The car isn’t a Skyline, but I think this is almost exactly what Murakami was imagining. Some great shots of Kyoto back in the day as well in one of the CMs:

And there are no mistakes with Ryoko Nakano and Tsutomu Yamazaki, well known (at least abroad) for his work in Itami Juzo’s legendary Tampopo.

Birnbaum makes liberal cuts throughout the rest of the chapter as well, especially in a section where Watashi spends half a page trying to remember the last time he took a piss (gripping literature). This section is notable, however, for the first appearance of the “merry-go-round” image, which he would go on to use in the collection of stories Dead Heat on a Merry-go-roundNice little easter egg for extreme Harukists.

One of the most interesting translation techniques is with the following section. The granddaughter is explaining to Watashi about how corrupt the System is, about how the Factory and System are controlled by the same forces to play each off the other for profit. Here is the Japanese original and my translation, in which the granddaughter explains the whole thing in a long piece of dialogue:


“Grandfather realized that as he continued his research at the System. In the end, the System is nothing more than a private corporation that had enveloped the state. The goal of a private corporation is the pursuit of profit. And they’ll do anything to get those profits. The System advertised itself as a protector of informational property rights, but it’s just lip service. Grandfather guessed that if he continued his research, things would only get worse. He said that the state of the world and human existence would would go to crap if the technology to modify and change the brain however you wanted was continued to develop. Controls and restraints were critical, but there were none—not in the System or the Factory. So he left the project. This was too bad for you and other Calcutecs, but he couldn’t allow the research to continue any longer. If he had, there would have been even heavier consequences.” (432)

Birnbaum takes the second half of this dialogue (right when readers would start to get bored) and turns it into Watashi’s thoughts. He cuts here and there and embellishes a little toward the end to get the character in there, but I think it’s effective. Very interesting technique:

“That’s what struck Grandfather while he was in the System. After all, the System is really just private enterprise that enlisted state interests. And private enterprise is always after profit. Grandfather realized that if he went ahead with his research, he’d only make things worse.”

So the System hangs out a sign: In Business to Protect Information. But it’s all a front. If the old man hands over technologies to reconfigure the brain, he seals the fate of humanity. To save the world, he steps down. Too bad about the defunct Calcutecs—and me, who gets stuck in the End of the World. (300)

Abstract Instruments


Chapter 28 “Musical Instruments” is a short End of the World chapter. Boku and the Librarian meet the Caretaker of the Power Station, a quiet young man with a collection of instruments he enjoys looking at. Boku peruses the instruments, tries out an accordion, and then receives it as a gift before leaving.

Just some minor cuts in this translation. Birnbaum avoids translating 煮込み as soup. He also eliminates a chess board as one of the Caretaker’s collection of beautiful objects.

The most interesting cut/revision is Birnbaum’s decision to abstract all the instruments rather than give their names. Here is Murakami’s description of the Caretaker’s room and my translation:


All sorts of musical instruments line the wall of the bedroom. They are all old enough to be considered antiques, and the majority are string instruments. There are things like a mandolin, a guitar, a cello, and a small harp. The strings are rusted, broken, or nonexistent. I’m unlikely to find replacements in the Town.

Birnbaum (or his editor) cuts the sentence with the names and the final sentence:

Arranged along the wall are various musical instruments. All are old. Most of them are string instruments, the strings hopelessly rusted, broken or missing. (293)

This happens elsewhere as well. バスーンに似た形の大型の管楽器 (a large wind instrument resembling a bassoon) becomes “a large tubular instrument, one obviously meant to be blown from the end.” ヴァイオリン (violin) becomes “…a wooden instrument. It is hollow and sandglass-shaped…” And last but not least 手風琴 (てふうきん, accordion) becomes “a box hinged with leather folds.”

This effectively extends Boku’s experience of living in the town to a greater degree than Murakami achieves in the original. Very nicely executed. Birnbaum buys into Murakami’s concept…and I’m tempted to say he translates like a fanboy would write fan fiction (and, oh yes, I’ve considered writing End of the World fan fiction). It’s a very nice touch to this chapter, one that increases the disconnection with a strange world that should be more familiar than it is.

Space Break

Chapter 27 “Encyclopedia Wand, Immortality, Paperclips” may be the shortest Hard-boiled Wonderland chapter in the entire book. In it, the Professor explains what exactly is happening in Watashi’s head and why it means he’ll be expelled from reality into an eternal version of the End of the World.

There are very few changes at all, just two small lines added by Birnbaum (or his editor) to help make a line of dialogue and an instance of “stage directions” (“I said nothing.”) feel more natural in English.

To be honest, the most interesting addition is a sort of non-addition: BOHE adds a space break for dramatic pause on page 286 where there is none in Japanese. This isn’t the first instance of this technique. Here’s what the passage looks like in Japanese:






And in English:

“…But if you act now, you can choose, if choice is what you want. There’s on last hand you can play.”

“And what might that be?”

“You can die right now,” said the Professor, very business-like. “Before Junction A links up, just check out. That leaves nothing.”

A profound silence fell over us. The Professor coughed, the chubby girl sighed, I look a slug of whiskey. No one said a word.


“That…uh, world…what is it like?” I brought myself to voice the question. “That immortal world?” (285-286)

As you can see in the Japanese version, there’s no dramatic pause other than what the narration allows. (Note: There are no asterisks in the English version; I’ve added them to represent the extended space break in the translation.) Birnbaum’s version has minor adjustments, notably in the first paragraph which alters the tone slightly, but I think the space break does more work. It’s a nice effect.