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.


Chapter 26 “Power Station” has very few cuts but many examples of how generous Birnbaum is as a translator. In the chapter, Boku and the Librarian wander out to the Power Station near the entrance of the woods in search of a musical instrument.

Here’s a quick cut. This is Birnbaum’s version:

We encounter beasts scavenging for food in the withered grasses. Their pale gold tinged with white, strands of fur grown longer than in autumn, their coats thicker. Yet their hunger is plain; they are lean and pitiful. Their shoulder blades underscore the skin of their backs like the armature of old furniture, their spindly legs knock on swollen joints. The corners of their mouths hang sallow and tired, their eyes lack life. (276)

And the original with my translation:

枯れた草の上を獣たちが食べ物を求めてさまよっている姿にも出会った。彼らは白みを帯びた淡い金色の毛皮に包まれていた。その毛は秋よりはずっと長く、そして厚くなっていたが、それでも彼らの体が前に比べて遥かにやせこけていることははっきりと見てとれた。肩の上には古いソファーのスプリングのようにくっきりとした形の骨がとびだし、口もとの肉はだらしなく見えるまでにたるんで下に垂れ下がっていた。眼には生彩がとぼしく、四肢の関節は球形にふくらんでいる。変わっていないのは額から突き出た一本の白い角だけだった。角は以前と同じように、まっすぐに誇らしげに空を突いていた。 (400)

We also come upon the beasts wandering about the withered grass in search of food. They are covered in light gold hair tinged with white. The hair is much longer than in autumn, and it’s gotten much thicker, but it is clear from looking at them that they are far skinnier than before. The bones on their shoulders stick out clearly like the springs in an old sofa, and the flesh around their mouths sags so that they appear disheveled. The luster in their eyes is gone, and the joints on their limbs are swollen. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the single white horn projecting out from their foreheads. The horn is, as before, straight and pointed proudly into the sky.

It’s kind of a strange cut. I imagine he does so to maintain the kind of somber, winter mood as they head out. It’s also not essential info that needs to be kept. You can tell from my plain translation that Birnbaum is working very hard to render a poetic version. The word “armature” is a great example of this.

Birnbaum does this throughout the chapter. Here’s another example, followed by the Japanese:

We decide to walk around the building. The Power Station is slightly longer than wide, its side wall similarly dotted with clerestory vents, but it has no other door. (278)

我々は建物をぐるりと一周してみることにした。発電所は正面よりは奥行の方がいくぶんながく、そちらの壁にも正面と同じように高く小さな窓が一列に並び、窓からあの奇妙な風音が聞こえていた。しかしドアはない。 (403)

“Clerestory vents” is the much more literal 高く小さな窓 (“small, high windows”) in the original. This passage also shows how he is still making small cuts as necessary.

Just a tiny little chapter. Now back to Hard-boiled Wonderland. Fortunately it looks like the next chapter isn’t that long.

And the Oscar goes to…

It took me long enough, but I finally finished Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Chapter 25 “Meal, Elephant Factory, Trap,” a 31-page monstrosity during which the scientist explains exactly what he did to Watashi: install a new cognitive system (an edited version of his core identity) into his head which was used as a black box for shuffling data. Unfortunately, because his laboratory was destroyed, the scientist no longer has the ability to remove Watashi from the extra circuit he installed, which means Watashi will be stuck in that circuit (in his story called “The End of the World”) when the junction between the circuits breaks.

The chapter is a lot of pseudo-sci-fi mumbo jumbo, and I think I enjoyed it more when I first read it. The good news is that it’s more fleshed out than the “Little People” from 1Q84. And Birnbaum does some remarkable work in translation. There are minor cuts here and there as well as a few colorful renderings.

The most interesting cut comes toward the end of the chapter. Here is Birnbaum’s version:

“No, not annulled. Your existence isn’t over. You’ll enter another world.”

“Interesting distinction,” I grumbled. “Listen. I may not be much, but I’m all I’ve got. Maybe you need a magnifying glass to find my face in my high school graduation photo. Maybe I haven’t got any family or friends. Yes, yes, I know all that. But, strange as it might seem, I’m not entirely dissatisfied with this life. It could be because this split personality of mine has made a stand-up comedy routine of it all. I wouldn’t know, would I? But whatever the reason, I feel pretty much at home with what I am. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want any unicorns behind fences.” (217)

Here’s the original and my translation with the cuts highlighted in red:


「同じようなものですよ」と私は言った。「いいですか、僕という人間が虫めがねで見なきゃよくわからないような存在であることは自分でも承知しています。昔からそうでした。学校の卒業写真を見ても自分の顔をみつけるのにすごく時間がかかるくらいなんです。家族もいませんから、今僕が消滅したって誰も困りません。友だちもいないから、僕がいなくなっても誰も悲しまないでしょう。それはよくわかります。でも、変な話かもしれないけど、僕はこの世界にそれなりに満足してもいたんです。どうしてかはわからない。あるいは僕と僕自身がふたつに分裂してかけあい万歳みたいなことをやりながら楽しく生きてきたのかもしれない。それはわかりません。でもとにかく僕はこの世界にいた方が落ちつくんです。僕は世の中に存在する数多くのものを嫌い、そちらの方でも僕を嫌っているみたいだけど、中には気に入っているものもあるし、気に入っているものはとても気に入っているんです。向うが僕のことを気に入っているかどうかには関係なくです。僕はそういう風にして生きているんです。どこにも行きたくない。不死もいりません。年をとっていくのは辛いこともあるけれど、僕だけが年とっていくわけじゃない。みんな同じように年をとっていくんです。一角獣も塀もほしくない」 (396)

“No, you won’t stop existing. You’ll just enter into a different world.”

“It’s the same damn thing,” I said. “You know, I get it—without a magnifying glass, my existence is undetectable. It’s always been that way. It takes forever to find me in my graduation photo. I don’t have any family, so if I disappear, nobody will be hard off. I don’t have any friends, either, so no one will be sad when I’m gone. I get that. But, and this may sound strange, I was satisfied in my own way with this world. I don’t know why. Maybe I’ve been able to have some fun with everything because this split between me and my self was a nonstop comedy routine. I don’t know. But being in this world was comfortable. I hate a lot of things that exist in this world, and I think they may hate me as well, but there are some things I like, and the things I like I really like. Independent of whether or not they like me back. That’s how I live. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t need immortality. Getting older is tough sometimes, but it’s not like I’m the only one. Everyone gets older in the same way. I don’t want unicorns or fences.”

Not a massive cut. I wonder what these “things” are. Critics might say they’re the lifestyle choices that Murakami includes in a lot of his fiction, which makes the joke on Watashi…he still hasn’t gotten over having his apartment smashed up by the goons. A more generous reading might call them cultural objects, or art. They don’t feel quite like people.

There’s one other passage worth mentioning at the end of the chapter. There are no cuts, but Birnbaum does drop an F-bomb to show Watashi’s anger. Very interesting translation choice. And as Watashi finally blows his cool, this section also feels like an “Oscar moment” that might win an actor the award or at least a nomination. Here is Birnbaum’s translation:

“As far as I can see, the responsibility for all this is one hundred percent yours. You started it, you developed it, you dragged me into it. Wiring quack circuitry into people’s heads, faking request forms to get me to do your phony shuffling job, making me cross the System, putting the Semiotecs on my tail, luring me down into this hell hole and now you’re snuffing my world! This is worse than a horror movie! Who the fuck do you think you are? I don’t care what you think. Get me back the way I was.” (274)

And the original Japanese:

「だいたいこのことの責任は百パーセントあななにあります。僕には何の責任もない。あなたが始めて、あなたが拡げて、あなたが僕を巻きこんだんだ。人の頭に勝手な回路を組みこみ、偽の依頼書を作って僕に車夫リングをさせ、『組織』を裏切らせ、記号士に追いまわさせ、わけのわからない地底につれこみ、そして今僕の世界を終わらせようとしている。こんなひどい話は聞いたことがない。そう思いませんか?とにかくもとに戻してください」 (397)

As you can see, the “Who the fuck do you think you are?” corresponds to そう思いませんか (“Wouldn’t you agree?”) in Japanese. A pretty dramatic shift in tone there, and not undeserved. Birnbaum gives Watashi a bit more fire and brimstone here.

This is especially notable (and funny) because earlier in the chapter, (in a section that was heavily adjust by Birnbaum [or his editor]) there is an exchange of dialogue where the scientist hesitates to tell Watashi the truth because he is afraid Watashi will get angry. Watashi then says he won’t get angry…a promise he breaks here at the end of the chapter.

Back Issues

Welcome to the Eighth 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: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year Eight: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness

I dedicated a previous Murakami Fest to excerpts from “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” (see “Year Three” above), the 1980 story that Murakami later rewrote for Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Murakami discusses the story at length in the 自作を語る for Hard-boiled Wonderland. Despite claiming that he viewed his previous stories “as documents that hold meaning as a sort of fixed-point observation,” Murakami declined to include “The Town” in the Complete Works, which he explains here:


I had only a very faint image of the structure of the novel at the point when I started writing. I had only decided to rewrite and expand “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall,” a novella (or maybe a long short story) that I wrote for Bungakukai a little while before, but when it came to the direction I would take in rewriting, I had developed no plan. I wrote the story “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” after Pinball, 1973, but it was too soon for me to write on those themes. I wasn’t yet equipped with the abilities to write so much. This I knew myself immediately after I finished writing it. I was disappointed with what I myself had done. I think I probably shouldn’t have published it. But in a different light, my desire to somehow rewrite it and make it into something more respectable might have gotten stronger precisely because I put it into print. If I hadn’t put “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” into print at that time, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World might have become an entirely different book from what it is now. For the publication of this Complete Works, my publisher requested that I include “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall”, but I did not want to. Even if it was a failed work that had intention (and the writer hoped that it did), a failed work is a failed work, and I did not want it to be exposed to public scrutiny once again. I would ask that readers who must read it please find the back issue of Bungakukai in the library and read it there.

I’ve read the story, and it’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. It feels disjointed, and it doesn’t really wrap up neatly, but there is some magic there at the End of the World. I’m surprised Murakami is so self-conscious about it.

It’s at least worth a trip to the National Diet Library for Murakami treasure hunters, and if you’re internet savvy, you can have them copy it out and send it to you (at a Japanese address)…which is what I did when I accidentally left my heavily annotated copy on a bus on the way back to Tokyo from Fukushima. Rest in piece, my original copy. The fresh copy I had sent from the NDL is nice, but I wish I still had my vocab notes.

This is the final post in Murakami Fest this year! The announcements begin next week, and as usual the Literature date has not yet been set.


After an extended break for ten days of travel through Bavaria and Bohemia (it was excellent; see Twitter/Instagram for details), I’m back at Hard-boiled Wonderland. In Chapter 24 “Shadow Grounds,” Boku visits the Gatekeeper and then has a catch-up with his shadow.

Most of the translation changes in this chapter feel relatively standard for Birnbaum’s style, but they are still evident even from the first few sentences. Here is the official translation:

Three days of clear weather have come to an end. I know it as soon as I awaken. I open my eyes with no discomfort.

The sun is stripped of light and warmth, the sky is cloaked in heavy clouds. (242)

Here is the Japanese with my translation following:


Three days of perfect weather are over when I wake up. The sky is covered with a thick, faultless layer of darkly colored clouds, and the light that manages to make its way through that covering has been robbed of most of its original warmth and brightness.

As you can see, the official translation is much more minimal than the original Japanese, yet Birnbaum (or his editor) adds a few details to help re-establish the scene (Boku and his eyes) in the End of the World. Maybe this is for the best after the lengthy Hard-boiled Wonderland chapters. I immediately looked at the paperback version of the book to see whether Murakami might have cut the sentences from the Complete Works edition, but the two are the same.

I did spot one cut by Murakami later in the chapter. Boku and his shadow sit under an elm tree, kicking their heels in the frozen ground. The shadow draws a circle in the ground to represent the perfection of the Town in the End of the World. They discuss plans for escape and the difficulties of living in the End of the World:

“My confidence is going, it’s true,” I say, dropping my eyes to the circle on the ground. “How can I be strong when I do not know my own mind? I am lost.”

“That’s not true,” corrects my shadow. “You are not lost. It’s just that your own thoughts are being kept from you, or hidden away. But the mind is strong. It survives, even without thought. Even with everything taken away, it holds a seed—your self. You must believe in your own powers.”

“I will try,” I say. (248-249)

And here is the original paperback version:




“I definitely feel confused,” I say as I lower my eyes to the circle drawn in the ground. “It is as you say. I’m unsure of where I should be heading. Or of what kind of person I was in the past. How strong can a mind without a self actually be in the end? Especially in a town with such power and strong standards of value. Ever since winter arrived, I just keep losing confidence in my mind little by little.”

“No, you’re wrong,” my shadow says. “You haven’t lost your self. They’ve just hidden your memories. Which is why you feel confused. However, you’re not totally off. Even if you lose your memories, your mind will continue on in its original direction. A mind has inherent principles of movement. And that is, in other words, your self. Believe in your own strength. If you don’t, you’ll be thrown off course by powers outside of yourself.”

“I’ll try,” I say.

As you can see, it’s still quite different from Birnbaum’s translation. Lengthier, to be sure, but Birnbaum keeps many of the elements from the paperback. In the Collected Works edition, Murakami edits the shadow’s response:


“No, you’re wrong,” my shadow says. “You haven’t lost your self. They’ve just hidden your memories. Which is why you feel confused. However, you’re not totally off. Believe in your own strength. If you don’t, you’ll be thrown off course by powers outside of yourself.”

Gone is the section about the mind and its “principles of movement.” It’s an interesting idea, but perhaps felt a little unwieldy when Murakami looked it over again? That’s the only thought I have now.

As I mentioned at the top, no major adjustment changes, but now that I’ve written this post, the English version does seem more intrusive than I initially thought. The compressions illustrated in the passages above are uniform throughout the chapter. But I guess this isn’t a big surprise: This is how Murakami was initially translated, and it’s not like the final product is a disaster. On the contrary, it’s pretty strong. Just a translation, innit?

In terms of language notes, I struggled with 間違っちゃいない and eventually resorted to help on Facebook after doing some googling and still not being totally sure about the meaning. The word is a contraction, of course, for 間違ってはいない, and I think it gave me fits because it seems to contradict with the 違う at the beginning of the passage. There is also a kind of “set phrase” feel/tone to the word and certain circumstances in which it gets used. As a native speaker Facebook friend noted, it means “you’re not (entirely) wrong (either)”

Now it’s on to the next 30-page Hard-boiled Wonderland behemoth. I’ll try to get through it quickly.

A Questionable Cut

When I first read Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, I preferred the odd-numbered chapters with the data agent. I visited a few colleges that summer as I was reading it, and because of the book I was convinced I wanted to study cognitive neuroscience. Obviously I was a moron. What I really wanted was to live in the world of the data agent. Back then the End of the World chapters were speed bumps. I’m a slow reader, but I tore through those chapters to get on with the longer, more convoluted parts about memory, INKlings, and the chubby girl in pink.

Now it feels like the opposite, most likely because I’m reading in Japanese. It takes me forever to read through the odd-numbered chapters only to reveal another short episode in the End of the World, which I really savor. Also I’ve realized the End of the World chapters are much stronger. They’re lean compared to Murakami’s normal style, but just as tense and suspenseful and even more mysterious. It’s almost like a totally different author wrote them.

Chapter 23 “Holes, Leeches, Tower” is another massive speed bump chapter in the data agent Watashi’s world, and Birnbaum really pares down the Japanese throughout, rendering only the absolute necessities to get Murakami’s point across. It feels like he’s only writing three sentences for every five in Japanese. It’s a generous translation, though, and very funny.

Watashi and the Girl in Pink spend the chapter running through the underground area more, this time away from a tidal wave of water, and then climbing a massive altar. As in previous chapters, Watashi wants nothing to do with his circumstances, so he ends up daydreaming quite a bit. Birnbaum does a fantastic job of bringing out this element.

Most of these changes are not worth looking at closely, but Murakami does make one cut between the original and the Collected Works edition. Birnbaum, however, includes the cut section in the English translation. So this should show us something about Murakami’s work as an editor. Here’s the passage in Birnbaum’s version:

The next thing I realized was that my body was missing from the waist down. I reassessed the situation. My lower half was there, just unable to feel anything. I shut my eyes and concentrated. Trying to resurrect sensations below the belt reminded me of trying to get an erection. The effort of forcing energy into a vacuum.

So here I was, thinking about my friendly librarian with the gastric dilation and the whole bedroom fiasco. That’s where everything began going wrong, it now struck me. Still, getting a penis to erect itself is not the sole purpose of life. That much I understood when I read Stendhal’s Charterhouse of Parma years ago.

My lower half seemed to be stuck in some halfway strait. Or cantilevered out over empty space or…dangling off the edge of the rock slab. It was only my upper half that prevented me from falling. That’s why my hands were clinging to the rope so desperately. (232)

It’s clear that Birnbaum’s translation is clearly pretty slim without even looking at the original, but here it is with my re-translation:





Maybe my lower body is gone, I thought. The shock from being thrown to the ground must’ve torn my body in two right around my wound, and my lower half was blown off. My legs, I thought, my toes, my stomach, my penis, my testicles, my… but the more I thought about it, it just didn’t seem right. If I’d lost all of my lower body, I would be in a lot more pain than I was right now.

I tried to reassess the situation with a level head. My lower half still existed. It was just in a state of not being able to feel anything. I sealed my eyes shut, fought off the never-ending waves of pain that surged in my head, and focused on my lower body. I realized that trying to focus on a lower body that felt like it didn’t exist was somewhat similar to trying to force a penis that wouldn’t get hard into an erection. It was like trying to put force into a space with nothing in it.

In the process, I remembered the girl with long hair and gastric dilation who worked at the library. That went spectacularly, I thought. For whatever reason I’d been unable to get an erection the moment I got into bed with her. That was right around when everything started to go off the rails. But I couldn’t keep thinking about it. Being able to successfully produce erections isn’t the only reason for living. That’s something I’d realized when I read Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma ages ago. I cleared my mind of hard-ons.

At any rate, I managed to confirm that my lower body had been placed in some sort of halfway state. For example, maybe it was dangling in air or… That was it. My lower body was dangling in the air over the side of a cliff, and my upper body was only just barely preventing me from falling. And that’s why my hands had a firm grip on a rope.

Ugh. My translation feels ugly and bloated and 直訳 compared with Birnbaum’s.

For the Complete Works edition (pages 333-334), Murakami chose to cut the entire third paragraph (highlighted in red) for some reason. It’s the only cut he chose to make for 25 pages (30 in the paperback)! What gives? There’s dozens of other lines that could have gone, and—trust me—Birnbaum finds them. There are entire passages that get dismissed in favor of moving the narrative along.

Was it the Stendhal reference? Or the Librarian? It can’t be the erections—he kept a few of those. I’m baffled by this one.

What say ye, reader?

Booty Call, As It Were

Chapter 22 “Gray Smoke” is back in the End of the World. The Gatekeeper continues to burn the beasts, and Boku is blinded by the reflection of the sun off fresh snowfall. His eyes are in such pain that he is almost unable to work that night, so he and the Librarian talk and then look in the Collection Room for a musical instrument after Boku realizes that her mother used to sing.

This is a nice quick chapter after the beast that was Chapter 21.

One minor side note before I look at the translation: This chapter does give the singing in the previous chapter more context. As I was reading Chapter 21, it all felt unnecessary and kind of random, but I think that’s the point. In this chapter, when Boku tries to remember a song, he says, “I take a deep breath but find no music in my memory.”

It’s almost like he is straining to hear Watashi in the previous chapter. Both he and the Girl in Pink have no trouble just making up lyrics as they go, but Boku doesn’t have it that easy.

There aren’t many big cuts to the translation or in the Complete Works version, but Birnbaum (or his editor) does make the usual changes: Cuts to the narrator’s reactions to make them simpler and starker. As with the previous chapter, there’s a surprising moment of romance/sexuality. Here is the official translation:

“Is there nothing else I can do for you?” she says, looking up unexpectedly.

“You do so much for me already,” I say.

She stays her hand and sits facing me. “I mean something else. Perhaps you wish to sleep with me.”

I shake my head.

“I do not understand,” she implores. “You said you needed me.”

“I do. But now it is not right.” (225)

And here is the Japanese followed by my translation:






「求めているさ。でも少なくとも今は君と寝るわけにはいかないんだ。それは求めるとか求めないというのとはまたべつの問題なんだ」 (322-323)

She lifts her head suddenly and says, “Is there something I can do for you?”

“You already do so much for me,” I say.

She withdraws the hand she was using to wipe the skull, sits down, and looks me square in the face. “I’m not talking about those kinds of things. I mean something more special. For example, I could join you in bed, something like that.”

I shake my head. “No, it isn’t that I want to sleep with you. I’m glad that you would say that, but…”

“Why? You do want me, right?”

“I do. It’s just, I mustn’t sleep with you right now. It’s unrelated to wanting you or not wanting you.”

Yeah, I ripped off that one Birnbaum line “You already do so much for me” but I don’t think it can be improved. More importantly, you can see that BOHE cuts two sentences of dialogue from Boku and opts to have him remain silent when she offers to sleep with him. The cuts have a very interesting effect, not necessarily a bad one.

BOHE also add a dialogue tag for the Librarian. She “implores” Boku.

And perhaps the most curious translation from Birnbaum is his version of あなたのベッドに入るとか. “Perhaps you wish to sleep with me” puts the action back on Boku rather than keeping the Librarian as the subject. It also smoothes over the somewhat unusual (?) Japanese ベッドに入る with the regularly encountered English phrase “sleep with X.” I dunno…maybe BOHE has the right idea, maybe it’s better to not draw attention to it. At any rate, I think “For example, I could sleep with you” would be a more accurate rendering that maintains the Librarian as the subject.

The Birds and the Trees


Final post for Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil,” the final chapter of the first half of the novel.

As we’ve seen in Posts 1, 2, 3, and 4, this chapter is long and isolates Watashi and the Girl in Pink. Birnbaum’s (or his editor’s) cuts in translation simplify her as a character. They eliminate her interests in sex and eliminate some of Watashi’s reaction to her as a sexual being. These might seem like excusable cuts—and many of them are, especially her “Bicycle Song”—but a scene cut near the end of the chapter helps put these seemingly light sections in context.

After the two of them sing to distract themselves, they make it to a plateau and continue onward. Watashi falls asleep, lured by the INKling trap, so they tie themselves together with rope. Watashi briefly goes back into his thoughts, but the Girl in Pink suggests they sing again and then, when Watashi rejects more songs (thankfully), that they have a conversation.

They decide to talk about rain, which leads to her character background: Her family all died in a car accident while she was in the hospital recovering from a heart operation. While she was in the hospital, she watched the birds on a camphor tree outside the window. Watching the birds made her sad.

Birnbaum’s translation of her back story makes some cuts but captures almost everything. Here’s how Birnbaum treats the subsequent passage, which has more cuts:

“It made you sad?”

“Because, like I said, there’s go to be millions of trees in the world and millions of birds and millions of rainfalls. But I couldn’t even figure one out, and I’d probably die that way. I just cried and cried, I felt so lonely. And that was the night my whole family got killed. Though they didn’t tell me until much later.”

“That must have been horrible.”

“Well, it was the end of the world for me. Everything got so dark and lonely and miserable. Do you know what that feels like?”

“I can imagine,” I said.

Her thoughts on rain occupied my thoughts. So much so I didn’t notice that she’d stopped and I bumped into her, again. (220)

And here’s how it looks in the Japanese:

















“Why (did it make you sad)?”

“Probably because the world is full of countless trees and countless birds and countless rainy days, but I felt like I couldn’t even understand a single tree and a single rainy day. And I never would. Like I’d die without being able to understand a single camphor tree and a single rainy day. When I thought about that, I couldn’t help feeling incredibly sad, so I cried by myself. And while I cried, the whole time I kept wanting someone to hold me. But there was no one to hold me.

“So I just cried there on the (hospital) bed, all by myself.

“Eventually the sun set, everything got dark, and I couldn’t see the birds anymore. So I wasn’t able to tell whether it was still raining or not anymore. That night my whole family died. I wasn’t told until much later, though.”

“It must’ve been tough when they told you.”

“I don’t really remember. I probably didn’t feel anything when they told me. The only thing I remember is not having anyone to hold me on that rainy Autumn evening. It was like—the end of the world for me. Do you know what that’s like? To be incredibly sad, in pain, in the dark and to want someone to hold you but not to have anyone around to hold you?”

“I think I understand,” I said.

“Have you ever lost someone you loved?”

“Several times.”

“And now you’re lonely?”

“Not really,” I said as I drew the nylon rope connected to my belt through my fingers. “No one in this world can ever be lonely. Everything is connected somewhere in some slight way. Rain will fall and birds will sing. You might get your stomach cut, but sometimes you get to kiss girls in the dark.”

“But if there’s no love, that’s the same as the world not existing,” the plump girl said. “If you don’t have love, the world is just wind passing outside of a window: You can’t touch it or smell it. No matter how many girls you buy and how many girls you sleep with casually, it’s not real. None of them are going to hold you tightly.”

“I don’t buy girls or have casual sex all that often,” I protested.

“It’s still the same,” she said.

I guess so, I thought. No one was going to hold me tightly. Nor was I going to hold anyone tightly. I would keep getting older just like that. I would keep getting older alone, like a sea cucumber stuck to the ocean floor.

I drifted off into my thoughts as I walked and didn’t realize that the girl had stopped, so I ran right into her soft back.

Birnbaum (or his editor) has to cut part of this because BOHE already cut the makeout scene earlier in the chapter, which informs all the talk of “being held tightly.”

The Girl in Pink’s back story is pretty made-for-TV, but it makes her more compelling than she is without it, and this cut part in particular makes her seem much more human in all the scenes that were cut previously. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these ideas return in the second half of the novel (and get cut/trimmed there as well). Only one way to find out.

The Bicycle Song


Happy New Year, folks. Yoroshiku and all that jazz in 2015.

Apologies for the delay with the Hard-boiled Wonderland Project. Two more posts in Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” and I’ll be finished with half of the novel. Here comes the fourth and penultimate post.

This chapter is starting to feel longer than it actually is—which is very long, at least in the original Japanese.

The Girl in Pink and Watashi continue their subterranean march. They make it into the INKling sanctuary and then begin their climb up the “mountain” to a plateau. Birnbaum makes some judicious cuts of lengthy introspection about fear, accomplishment, and life. This chapter is so long that Murakami himself also makes some cuts from the original text to the Complete Works version.

First, check out how Birnbaum handles the translation when the pair of them decide to kill time on their hike by singing:

From time to time she called out to make sure I kept pace. “You okay?” she’d say. “Just a little more.”

Then, a while later, it was “Why don’t we sing something?”

“Sing what?” I wanted to know.

“Anything, anything at all.”

“I don’t sing in dark places.”

“Aw, c’mon.”

Okay, then, what the hell. So I sang the Russian folksong I learned in elementary school:

Snow is falling all night long—
Hey-ey! Pechka, ho!
Fire is burning very strong—
Hey-ey! Pechka, ho!
Old dreams bursting into song—
Hey-ey! Pechka, ho!

I didn’t know any more of the lyrics, so I made some up: Everyone’s gathered around the fire—the pechka—when a knock comes at the door and Father goes to inquire, and there’s a reindeer standing on wounded feet saying, “I’m hungry, give me something to “eat”; so they feed it canned peaches. In the end everyone’s sitting around the stove, singing along.

“Wonderful. You sing just fine,” she said. “Sorry I can’t applaud, but I’ve got my hands full.”

We cleared the bluff and reached a flat area. …” (214 − 215)

I won’t bother you with the full Japanese of this section because Birnbaum’s translation is basically spot on. He translates the Japanese song “Pechka” in a pretty clever way, but I think it’s clear if you compare it with a performance of the original Japanese that Birnbaum is going for a more upbeat version:

ペチカ燃えろよ お話しましょ

(Although pechka is a Russian word, the song seems to be a Japanese original by songwriter Kosaku Yamada with lyrics by poet Hakushū Kitahara. Here’s another even more somber version, and if those link fails, there should be some other versions on YouTube.)

But other than that, there isn’t much worth commenting on…until Watashi finishes singing. As you’ll see in this next ENORMOUS section, Birnbaum has cut a number of songs from the translation, and Murakami also makes some cuts. I’ve marked cuts Murakami made in the Complete Works version in red and provided the slightly altered intro to the Girl in Pink’s song in parenthesis. The original text contains all of the following:





























彼女が『自転車の唄』を唄い終えた少しあとで、我々はどうやら崖をのぼりきったらしく、広々とした台地のようなところに出た (377-382)

“You’re pretty good,” she said, complimenting my singing. “I’m sorry I can’t clap for you. That was a great song.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Sing one more,” she prodded.

So I sang “White Christmas.”

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas
With white snowy scenes
A gentle heart
And old dreams
Are the present
I give to you

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas
Even now when I close my eyes
The ring of the sleigh bells
And the bright snow
Fill my heart with memories

“That was nice,” she said. “Did you make up those lyrics?”

“I just sang it randomly.”

“Why do you only sing songs about winter and snow?”

“Dunno,” I said. “Wonder why. Maybe it’s so cold and dark down here those are the only songs I can think of.” I dragged myself from hole to hole in the boulders. “Now it’s your turn to sing.” (“Next it’s your turn to sing.”)

“Is it okay if I sing ‘The Bicycle Song’?”

“Sure,” I said.

On an April morning
I got on my bicycle
And headed into the woods
Down a strange path
I’d just bought the bike
And it was pink
The handlebars and seat too
Everything was pink
Even the brakes and the tires
They were all pink

“You’ve really captured your spirit with this song,” I said.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “It’s my song. Do you like it?”

“I do.”

“Do you want to hear the rest?”

“Of course.”

On an April morning
Pink suits me
All other colors
Are no good
My brand-new bike
My shoes were pink
My helmet and sweater too
Everything was pink
My shorts and underwear too
They were all pink

“I’m starting to understand how you feel about the color pink,” I said. “Do you think you could move the story along a little?”

“This part is necessary,” she said. “Hey, do you think they have pink sunglasses?”

“I feel like Elton John has probably worn some at some point.”

“Hmm,” she said. “Ok. I’ll sing the rest.”

On the road
I met an old man
All of the man’s clothes
Were totally blue
He’d also forgotten to shave
And his beard was blue
A deep blue
Like a long, lonely night
Long, long nights are
Always blue

“Is that me?” I asked.

“No, it’s not. It’s not about you. You aren’t in this song.”

Hey you
You shouldn’t go to the woods
The old man said
The rules of the woods
Are for the beasts
And even on an April morning
Water won’t flow in the opposite direction
Even on an April morning

But I still headed for the woods
On my pink bicycle
On a clear April morning
There was nothing that could scare me
And if I never got off my bicycle
That was the color pink
I wouldn’t be scared
Not red or blue or brown
But proper pink

Shortly after she finished singing “The Bicycle Song,” we appeared to clear the bluff and come to a wide open plateau-like area.

I’ve translated the songs pretty literally without much attention to poetics or anything, so I’m sure there are some places that make the Japanese original seem even stranger than it actually is, but WHAT was Murakami thinking with this passage? I mean, he writes it himself: Do you think you could move the story along a little?

My best guess is that Murakami wasn’t thinking when he wrote these sections and that they are examples of his writing style, unadulterated by any editing whatsoever. It’s clear that he’s trying to use them to connect Watashi’s world with Boku’s—there’s the snow, woods, reindeer (which are kind of like unicorn, right?), and beasts—but it’s just too indirect and never goes anywhere. Far too random to be anything but annoying additions that Japanese readers have to slog through. Ugh. And Murakami only chose to cut “White Christmas” in his edited version!

I’m not sure if there’s anything else to mention about this passage other than that Birnbaum’s cuts are significant improvements.

Troglodytes and Yuppie Ad Execs

In my nostalgic reminiscing about the National Diet Library, I forgot to introduce one of the coolest parts of my new essay over at Neojaponisme, “Murakami Haruki’s Advertorial Short Stories”: While I was writing it, I found another cut in the translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Toward the end of the novel, after escaping from the subterranean nightmare, Watashi heads out to get dressed up for a date with the Librarian. The scene has stayed in my mind ever since my earliest reading 15 years ago, perhaps because of Murakami’s fashion sense: Watashi picks out a burnt orange shirt and navy blazer.

So when I needed an example of Murakami’s attention to fashion in his fiction, it was the first scene that came to mind, and I had a feeling that the official English translation might have been altered by Birnbaum (or his editor).

As luck would have it, I was right. This was like the lamest Babe Ruth calling the lamest home run he ever hit in an empty stadium, but privately I took a victory lap and pumped my arm like Kirk Gibson as I did. Check out the English translation:

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. (342)

And here’s the original followed by my translation from the piece:

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。 (500)

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.

Personally I love Birnbaum’s rendering. It’s so concise. He probably could have better captured Watashi’s hemming and hawing, which is funny because these are the kinds of things he’s worried about just before he’s about to die, but you have to love troglodyte and yuppie ad exec. Just perfect.

This passage is from Chapter 33, far ahead of where I am now in the blog, but I should have more posts soon and be able to extract myself from the endless Chapter 21.