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)

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.

Ten Nights Dreaming, trans. Matt Treyvaud


Matt Treyvaud of No-Sword has a new translation of Natsume Soseki’s 夢十夜, titled Ten Nights Dreaming in his version. It is excellent. To borrow a phrase of praise from Pynchon, it comes on like the Hallelujah Chorus done by a hundred shakuhachi players, all suitably off pitch.

I believe I read the First Night in college. It’s a favorite for language teachers because of the play on words with the Japanese word for lily, which is 百合 (ゆり). I won’t spoil why this is a play on words in case you haven’t yet read it, although Matt explains it in his translation, so check out the original here on Aozora before you read his version.

I recently reread the First Night in Japanese for a Japanese reading group that I’ve been running (and meaning to blog about…) through the JET Alumni Association here in Chicago, but I’m not sure I’d previously read any of the other nights.

Highlights of the stories for me include: The entirety of the Third Night, which feels like a ghost story. The creepy image of bearded old man stepping into the river at the end of the Fourth Night. The slow motion plunge in the Seventh Night, and how the latter half of the collection creates a sense of the oddity of life in modern Japan, from Soseki’s perspective. The Tenth Night in particular feels incredibly fresh and lucid in Matt’s language.

Which was always half the problem with reading older Japanese authors, in my opinion. As an undergraduate, the stale language of older translations made reading them a bit like driving a car through a blizzard: It’s hard to enjoy the pleasure of driving when you’re straining just to see the road.

After the stories, Matt even includes “The Cat’s Grave,” a short piece of nonfiction, which is very nicely rendered and a bit sad. Here lies the cat, indeed.

The excellence of this translation shouldn’t come as a surprise to longtime followers of No-Sword. Matt did great work with his version of Botchan, which is also notable as the only Soseki translation (that I know of) which includes a reference to Spinal Tap. Here is a short section from Chapter 3 where the titular Botchan is getting settled in the classroom:


Behold as Matt turns up the translation to the proverbial eleven:

At first, I had the students confused and staring blankly. Ha! Score one for Tokyo. I was just getting into my stride, turning the alpha male knob up to eleven, when a sutdent sitting front and centre—the strongest-looking kid there—stood up and said “Sensei!”
“What?” I asked, thinking, Shit, here it comes.

“We cain’t unnerstan’ yuh none ‘cause yuh talkin’ too fast. Cain’t yuh maybe slow it down none, like?”

Can’t yuh maybe slow it down none, like? That was supposed to be a sentence?

It’s worth adding both to your library and keeping an eye on Matt’s future translation projects.


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.


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

The next volume in the Complete Works includes all of the short stories in Slow Boat to China and Firefly, Barn Burning, and Other Stories. Murakami wrote the stories in the former collection after Pinball, 1973, so I guess this post goes chronologically before the last Murakami Fest post.

Murakami writes in 自作を語る that the experience of rereading the stories for the first time in 10 years was very nostalgic for him. He then writes extensively about the revision process. It’s pretty interesting to read:




For the Complete Works, I corrected a number of stories quite heavily. This is because there were a lot of areas that concerned me as I reread them at this point in time. In principle, once my works have been presented, I don’t alter them at all: Once you start with something like that, there’s no end to the changes, and even if there are slight defects in a work (and the writer doesn’t like those), I believe the original should really be left as it was, as a document that holds meaning as a sort of fixed-point observation. However, publication in the form of a Complete Works was a unique opportunity to provide a separate option different from the original hardcover version, so I decided to go ahead and add the revisions. Some I altered heavily, and others were limited to fixing up certain wordings. Readers might feel differently about these revisions. However, as a writer, my basic objective when revising was to make what I was trying but unable to fully express at that time somewhat more precise. In other words, the present me is lending a hand to my past self. However, there were of course a number of places where despite some problems I felt it was best to leave things as they were and not to interfere. Strangely, it might be best to express some ideas obscurely, just as they are, rather than making them more neat. In the end, that’s the kind of thing that early works are. There are a lot of things that can only be communicated in a poor, obscure way.

However, there were also places where I was disappointed I hadn’t put things in a certain way, and these I rewrote. I got rid of unnecessary sections and fattened up those that were lacking.

After undergoing this repair work, I’ve come to think that I as a human, in other words the majority of the figure of Murakami Haruki the writer, has already been exhibited in this story collection. I’ve definitely seen things from a more multifaceted point of view by growing older in my own way and being able to write about that. I’m more clearly able to see what I want to do. I’m also gradually beginning to grasp what my ability as a writer is at this point in time. However, I feel like my world was, for the most part, presented in all its incompleteness, awkwardness, and imbalance in this virgin collection of stories. It’s safe to say that the basic pattern of things like my style, motifs, and language all appear, more or less. (II-IV)

Very nicely put. Later in the pamphlet, Murakami goes on to note that one of the stories he did not revise was “Firefly,” which formed the basis for Norwegian Wood.