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.

Murakami-san no tokoro

Murakami’s new advice column/blog is online: http://www.welluneednt.com/

The site is titled 村上さんのところ (Murakami-san’s place)—pretty standard—but the domain name is curious. I was disappointed that I didn’t recognize it from the jazz standard “Well, You Needn’t,” a 1944 Thelonious Monk composition.

In my defense, I haven’t been listening to as much Monk lately (mostly “Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington,” which may be the greatest album of all time), but I think the real culprit is the iPod-ification of all music. When I only carried 5-10 CDs in my car in rural Japan in 2005, I could’ve told you all the track names for “Thelonious Alone in San Francisco,” “Thelonious Himself” and “Solo Monk,” but alas, no longer. First I had an iPod classic with hundreds of albums, dozens from Monk, and now I have an iPhone that can stream just about anything (as long as I have wifi).

But back to the main point of this post: Murakami’s new column/blog. It’s nice. The design is simple and straightforward. The illustrations are well done. It’s easy to see the questions that Murakami has answered and to ask your own question. So far it’s very similar to some of the Murakami Asahido material and other public projects Murakami did (way before blogs were even a thing).

One of the most interesting things about the page is the “Categories” for the types of questions you can ask. Here is the list with my translation following:

1. 村上さんにおりいって質問したいこと・相談したいこと
2. 村上さんにちょっと話したいこと
3. 私の好きな場所・嫌いな場所
4. 「猫」あるいは「ヤクルト・スワローズ」関連

1. Things I want to ask Murkami/consult with him about
2. Things I’d like to tell Murakami about
3. Places I love/hate
4. (Things) related to cats or the Yakult Swallows

Very interesting. It seems like Murakami is looking for a pretty wide range of material. Questions and consultations, sure, but also just some randomness from his readers, things he can kind of bounce his thoughts off of and produce funny/quirky/interesting/readable material.

Obviously you sign away all rights when you ask a question. This stuff is going into a book in the not too distant future. You can ask questions until the end of January, and the site will be online until the end of March.

He’s going through questions at a pretty intense pace: He responded to six different inquiries on a Sunday (1/18)! I read through all of the entries through 1/17 and did some quicky translations on Twitter of interesting posts. Here are the results:

And when you ask a question, you get a very cool confirmation email with this graphic from the website:

murakamiCheck my Twitters for more translations in the coming weeks. I’ll plan to read through the posts as he answers…I want to see if he answers my question.


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.

The National Diet Library and Yoru no kumozaru


Sometimes when an experience is particularly unique and irreplaceable it feels to me like a sort of premature nostalgia, if that makes any sense. It’s qualitatively different from knowing that you likely won’t be able to do something again. It’s calmer, less wistful, and more powerful. And—at the risk of enraging linguists everywhere—more unique.

My trip to the National Diet Library in December of 2008 was one of those experiences. It was a crisp Saturday, and I got up early so that I would have time to walk up the hill from Shimbashi past Hibiya Park and arrive at the library around the time it opened at 9:00. I listened to the B.S. Report on my iPod Mini on the walk, and the area was almost empty of other people.

At the library, I made a user ID and a card, and I put my bag into a locker—you’re only allowed to have transparent plastic bags inside the library. I spent a few hours in the morning researching a random topic (that so far has been inconsequential), and then I had lunch in the 食堂 on the top floor.

I wish I could remember what I ate. I think it was either curry rice or beef bowl, but those feel like a cross between what I would order now and the defaults options on the menu at places like that. They had a transparent display of food items rendered in plastic and a machine that dispensed tickets which you present to workers wearing aprons and hats.

I ate alone. I did everything alone that day. I was lonely at the time, but that day it was a more satisfying kind of loneliness than usual.

After satisfying my need for food, refueling so I could focus again, I headed down to the basement which houses the periodical section and the photocopy request area. It’s full of an interesting crowd. This isn’t like the crowd that you’d see at a public library in the U.S. or even in Japan; those places are often homes for lonely itinerants. The National Diet Library houses everything ever published in Japan, including manga, so there were some serious otaku checking out rarities otherwise difficult to obtain (「今となっては漫画一冊8000円とかするような、絶版の超レア漫画が普通に読めるからいいよな」).

I was there to take out old issues of Shincho from 1992 to check out the original serialization of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. It’s surprisingly short and makes up the first book of the three-book set. I made photocopies but haven’t taken a close look at it yet.

Then I started taking out old issues of Men’s Club to see the original Yoru no kumozaru short shorts. I determined the original order of publication, compared how Murakami changed that for the collected edition, and read the stories that he had chose to cut, my favorite of which is “Hotel Lobby Oysters.” Somewhat insanely, I had color photocopies made of every story from 1983 to 1985, as well as a few random pages I thought were funny, such as a photo spread the magazine did of Yale.

While my photocopy request was in the queue, I had a coffee at the cafe in the library. I have these vivid memories of an expansive area that overlooked the cafe, but they’re blurry, so I’m not sure.

I looked through the second half of the stories in Taiyō, but at that point I had already spent nearly $50-60 on photocopies, which I felt was enough, and it was getting late in the day, so I copied the title story and a couple of the ones that Murakami cut.

When I left it was already dark. I walked down the hill and thought about drinking beer, about the konbini near Nishi-Ōi Station where I would buy the beer, about the apartment I was sharing with five others where I would drink the beer. Everything after that has been erased from my memory—just another night of drinking beer, I guess. Murakami has said that one of the most satisfying things about writing his first novel was when a friend told him it made him want to drink beer. I think that somehow applies to this memory, or the way I think of it today.

I’ve finally gone back through the Murakami short shorts with David Marx over at Neojaponisme and looked at what the intersection between art, commerce, and fashion might mean: “Murakami Haruki’s Advertorial Short Stories.”

After going through the stories again, I’ve realized that there is still one story that I haven’t read! The very last Taiyō short is titled 「最後の挨拶」(Final Message). So maybe I will have a chance to go back to the National Diet Library someday. I highly recommend it as an activity, and I especially recommend the periodical section. Try and have something in mind that you want to take out, even if it’s (just?) the first issue of Shonen Jump.

According to old emails I’ve checked, David and my piece on Murakami has been in the works for five years. I think I was still a bit defensive about Murakami’s career back in 2009 and hesitant to come to some of the conclusions that David wanted to make from a style/fashion point of view, but they’ve become more apparent to me. In the interval between then and now Murakami has put out more and more works that feel like pastiche of his early material…or at least of his writing process, which I think he really crystallizes in these short-shorts.

Art courtesy of Neojaponisme and Ian Lynam.


Welcome to the Seventh 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


Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil,” part three. Watashi and the Girl in Pink head into the hatch in the laboratory and continue on their way to the INKling sanctuary. Watashi thinks a bit more about feeling detached from his body in the darkness. Then, in the Birnbaum translation, we have this passage:

The path wormed left and right but kept going further and further down. There were no steep inclines, only a steady, even descent. Five minutes later, we came to a large chamber. We knew this from the change in the air and the sound of our footsteps. (212)

There’s nothing in particular about the passage that stands out as strange on its own (other than the further-farther mistake?), but there is a massive cut hidden between the second and third sentences. As we’ve seen in the past few posts, Birnbaum made cuts that eliminated some of the more overtly sexual banter between the two and also Watashi’s warm reaction to a peck on the cheek. The reason for those cuts ultimately might have been because he chose to cut this scene here. The Complete Works edition followed by my translation:
















The path snaked left and right, branched off on numerous occasions, and continued down, down into the ground. The grade wasn’t all that steep, but the path descended incessantly. It felt as though the bright surface world was being torn from my back step by step as we went.

Along the way we hugged just once. She stopped suddenly, turned around, turned off her light, and put her arms around me. Then she searched for my lips with her fingers and pressed her lips against them. I put my arms around her as well and gently pulled her closer. It was strange to hug her in the pitch dark. Stendhal wrote something about hugging in the dark, I thought to myself. I’d forgotten the title of the book. I tried to remember it but could not. I wonder if Stendhal ever hugged a woman in the dark. If I managed to get out of here alive, and if the world hadn’t already ended, I resolved to find the title of that Stendhal book.

The melon scent of her eau de cologne had already disappeared from the nape of her neck. In its place was the smell of a seventeen-year-old girl. And beneath her smell was my own smell. The smell of my life was ingrained in my Army surplus jacket. The food I’d made, coffee I’d spilled, and sweat I’d sweated. All of it had just fixed itself there and was ingrained. As I stood there in the darkness underground in an embrace with a seventeen-year-old girl, that life felt like an illusion I’d never return to. I could remember that it had existed once upon a time, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever returning to those circumstances.

For a long time we just stood there hugging. Time ticked away, but it didn’t feel like a serious problem to me. By embracing we were able to share how scared we were with each other, and that was most important right now.

Finally she pressed her breasts firmly against my chest, opened her lips, and slipped her soft tongue and warm breath into my mouth. The tip of her tongue flicked against my tongue, and she ran her fingers through my hair. But after ten seconds or so, she stopped and suddenly separated herself. I was overcome with the bottomless despair of an astronaut abandoned in outer space.

When I turned on my light, she was standing there. She turned on her light.

“Let’s go,” she said. She did an about face and began walking at the same pace as before. The sensation of her lips remained on my own. I could still feel her heartbeat on my chest.

“I was pretty good, wasn’t I?” she said without turning around.

“Not bad at all,” I said.

“But something was missing, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Something was missing.”

“I wonder what’s missing.”

“I don’t know,” I said.


After five minutes we had descended the slope and came to a large, empty room.

Makeout scene! I can’t believe this was hidden in the original version. It seems much more natural to leave the relationship completely unconsummated: It’s satisfyingly unsatisfying. Kind of tantalizing in a sexy way. It’s more satisfying to linger in the possibilities. She’s also half his age.

Not that the kiss is much of anything, and I do think it’s well written—probably better than some of Murakami’s more recent sexy writing, which has earned him the infamy of an award nomination.

This passage felt very typically Murakami. Experience and interiority overlap. Unlike the previous reaction to the peck on the cheek, Watashi is sent into his associations: by the darkness and embrace into Stendhal and by the smell into his everyday life. Then she leaves him floating in the darkness alone. The astronaut metaphor is nice.

Not much else to say about this one. Hugging and embracing both felt like pretty awkward renderings of 抱きあう, but I left it hugging for the most part.

This is probably the last official Murakami Fest post, but there will be two more posts about Chapter 21. That may seem like overkill, but there’s one more section that gets cut related to this post’s passage and another section that’s just kind of curious and has differences between the Complete Works and paperback versions.

That’s all for this year. Best of luck with the Nobel, Murakami!


Welcome to the Seventh 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


Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” continues. Watashi and the Girl in Pink make it through the waterfall and to the laboratory, but it’s been ransacked like everything else. Watashi is convinced that they took the old man as well until the girl goes into the closet to show him the secret exit. Birnbaum’s translation:

The girl went to the closet in the far room and threw the hangers onto the floor. As she rotated the clothes rod, there was the sound of gears turning, and a square panel in the lower right closet wall creaked open. In blew cold, moldy air.

“Your grandfather must be some kind of cabinet fetishist,” I remarked.

“No way,” she defended. “A fetishist’s someone who’s got a fixation on one thing only. Of course, Grandfather’s good at cabinetry. He’s good at everything. Genius doesn’t specialize; genius is reason in itself.”

“Forget genius. It doesn’t do much for innocent bystanders. Especially if everyone’s going to want a piece of the action. That’s why this whole mess happened in the first place. Genius or fool, you don’t live in the world alone. You can hide underground or you can build a wall around yourself, but somebody’s going to come along and screw up the works. Your grandfather is no exception. Thanks to him, I got my gut slashed, and now the world’s going to end.”

“Once we find Grandfather, it’ll be all right,” she said, drawing near to plant a little peck by my ear. “You can’t go back now.”

The girl kept her eye on the INKlink-repel device while it recharged. (210)

It’s been a while since I last read this book, so I was a little surprised at this point to see that she actually kisses him. I remember her being a horndog, but I didn’t remember any physicality. Here is the Complete Works version and my translation:






The girl went to the closet in the far room, threw out all the hangers, and began to rotate the stainless steel bar with both hands. As she turned it, there was the clink of gears engaging. She continued turning the bar in the same direction, and a square of about 70cm or so popped open in the lower right section of the closet wall. I peeked in and beyond the opening I could make out a darkness so thick I could’ve scooped it up into my hands. A musty chill blew into the room.

The girl turned to me with the bar still in her hand. “Pretty impressive, huh?” she said.

“It certainly is,” I said. “Normal people would never expect an escape hatch in somewhere like here.”

She came over to me, stood on her toes, and gave me a peck just beneath my ear. When she kissed me, my body grew warmer, and it felt like the pain in my wound also faded slightly. Maybe there was some kind of special point just below my ear. Or maybe I simply hadn’t been kissed by a 17-year-old girl in a long time. It had been 18 years since I’d last been kissed by a 17-year-old-girl.

The girl stared at the charge on the INKling repelling device and finally said, “Let’s go.” The charging was complete.

Interesting. Birnbaum (or his editor) cut the interiority after the kiss. It’s just a peck and then she keeps talking. He thinks nothing of it.

As you can see, though, Murakami makes his own cuts in the Complete Works edition. When there’s smoke there’s fire, so I was super curious to check out the Japanese paperback original for “cabinet fetishist” and to see which parts both BOHE and Murakami cut. Here we go (my translation follows):













娘はじっと発信機の目盛りをにらんでいたが、やがて「行きましょう」と私に言った。充電が完了したのだ。 (361-363)

The girl went to the closet in the far room, threw out all the hangers, and began to rotate the stainless steel bar with both hands. As she turned it, there was the clink of gears engaging. She continued turning the bar in the same direction, and a square of about 70cm or so popped open in the lower right section of the closet wall. I peeked in and beyond the opening I could make out a darkness so thick I could’ve scooped it up into my hands. A musty chill blew into the room.

The girl turned to me with the bar still in her hand. “Pretty impressive, huh?” she said.

“It certainly is,” I said. “Normal people would never expect an escape hatch in somewhere like here. You’d have to be a total maniac.”

“Hey, he’s no maniac,” she said. “A maniac is someone who fixates on a certain thing or tendency, right? Grandfather isn’t like that; he’s superior on all different levels. From astronomy to genetics and even carpentry like this. There’s no one else like Grandfather. There are tons of people who appear on TV or in magazines to try and promote themselves, but they’re all a bunch of phonies. True geniuses are fulfilled by their own world.”

“But even if geniuses are fulfilled, the people around them aren’t. The people around them try to break down the walls of that fulfillment and use their genius for something. And that’s why accidents like this happen. You don’t exist in a world that’s purely your own no matter how smart or how stupid you are. No matter how deep underground you dig, no matter how high of a wall you try to surround yourself with, right? Eventually someone will come along and try to expose you. Your grandfather isn’t any exception. Thanks to him, I got my gut slashed, and the world is going to end in just over 35 hours.”

“Once we find Grandfather, it will all work out.” She came over to me, stood on her toes, and gave me a peck just beneath my ear. When she kissed me, my body grew warmer, and it felt like the pain in my would also faded slightly. Maybe there was some kind of special point just below my ear. Or maybe I simply hadn’t been kissed by a 17-year-old girl in a long time. It had been 18 years since I’d last been kissed by a 17-year-old-girl.

“If you just trust that everything will work out, there’s nothing in the world that can scare you,” she said.

“As you get older, you trust in fewer things,” I said. “It’s like the way your teeth wear down. You don’t get cynical or skeptical, just worn down.”

“Are you scared?”

“I am,” I said. I squatted down and looked in the hole again. “I can’t stand dark and cramped spaces.”

“But we can’t go back. We can’t only keep going, right?”

“In theory,” I said. I gradually started to get the feeling that my body was no longer my own. I occasionally had that sensation when I was playing basketball in high school. The ball moved too fast, and when I tried to make my body keep up, my consciousness got left behind.

The girl stared at the charge on the INKling repelling device and finally said, “Let’s go.” The charging was complete.

So “fetishist” is literally “maniac” in the Japanese. I think Birnbaum’s fetishist is a better translation. I left it as maniac to give non-Japanese readers a better sense of the passage. The only other possibility in English is “zealot,” perhaps.

As you can see, Murakami cuts the discussion of genius in its entirety for the Complete Works edition, and Birnbaum has adapted it somewhat liberally above in his version. It’s too bad that the line about trust gets cut: say what you will about Murakami as a writer, in his younger days he did write compellingly about what it feels like to get older.

And it’s nice to see his pet images the well and the wall in the original paperback version.

I wasn’t quite sure about the implications of 吹聴, but I took it to mean “experts” who are always making appearances on TV or in magazines, partly to share their knowledge but also to build their brand.

As mentioned last week, next week’s cut is a doozy. Can’t wait to take a closer look at it.


Welcome to the Seventh 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: WarmthRebirth, Wasteland


Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” is a beast. It’s the final chapter of the first half of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and spans 38 pages in the Complete Works edition yet is only 17 pages in translation. There are more cuts in this chapter than anywhere else in the novel so far, and they are pretty interesting (I’m actually still coming across them—eight pages left to read). So I’ll tackle the chapter a cut at a time over the next few weeks.

In this part of the chapter, Watashi and the Girl in Pink head back to the laboratory under the waterfall to check on the old scientist.

In a way, this is the perfect Murakami chapter. Nothing happens. They mostly just walk. This gives them plenty of time to have conversations and for the narrator to sink into his thoughts. He actually does this immediately: He has no interest in going through any more of this ordeal, so he imagines himself with the girl wearing bracelets in the Nissan Skyline they saw in the previous chapter after getting hamburgers. (Bonus cut: In Chapter 19, page 188, Birnbaum translates the scene as “music” playing from the radio, but Murakami has them listening to Duran Duran – Hungry like the wolf!) He imagines the woman showering and having sex with only the bracelets on and, yare yare, he ends up with an erection. This is funny because he couldn’t get it up with the librarian earlier.

Birnbaum (or his editor) cuts liberally throughout, condensing the interiority and some of the dialogue. Then, as they hike, we come to this passage in the translation:

I was ready to turn back, but we forged on. She knew every step of the way and scampered ahead. When I trained my light on her from behind, her gold earrings flashed.

“Tell me, do you take off your earrings when you take a shower?” I spoke up.

“I leave them on,” she slowed down to answer. “Only my earrings. Sexy?”

“I guess.” Why did I have to go and bring up the subject?

“What else do you think is sexy? I’m not very experienced, as I said. Nobody teaches you these things.”

“Nobody will. It’s something you have to find out for yourself,” I said.

I made a conscious effort to sweep all images of sex from my head. (206)

It works well in translation, perhaps better than what Murakami initially wrote. Here is the Complete Works edition with my translation immediately following. To orient you, although the first line of the following passage is dialogue, Birnbaum rendered it above as narration:






















しかしとにかく、私は頭の中から性的なイメージを一掃しようと決心した。私の勃起はまだつづいていたが、こんな地底の真っ暗闇の中で勃起したところで意味はないし、だいいち歩きにくいのだ。 (282-283)

“I don’t care what happens, I just want to get home in one piece.”

But we continued forth along the river. She took the lead, and I followed. When I shined the light on her back, her stamp-sized earrings glittered in the darkness.

“Doesn’t wearing big earrings like that get heavy?” I tried to shout up ahead to her.

“You get used to it,” she answered. “Same as a penis. Does having a penis ever get heavy?”

“Not really. That doesn’t happen.”

“It’s just like that.”

We continued walking in silence for a while. She seemed sure of her footing and proceeding at a quick pace, shining her light all around as she went. I labored on after her, carefully checking each step as I went.

“Hey, do you take off your earrings when you get in the shower or the bath?” I shouted up to her again so she wouldn’t leave me behind. She only slowed down when she was talking.

“I keep them on,” she answered. “Even when I’m naked. Think that’s sexy?”

“Uh, sure,” I said, flummoxed. “Now that you mention it, maybe so.”

“Do you always have sex from the front? Facing each other?”

“I guess. Usually.”

“You must do it from behind sometimes?”

“Yeah. Sometimes.”

“And there are a bunch of other ways too, right? You can be underneath or you can do it sitting down or using a chair…”

“There are lots of people and probably just as many ways to have sex.”

“I don’t really understand sex,” she said. “I’ve never seen it done and never done it. Nobody will teach me anything about stuff like that.”

“You don’t learn that stuff, you find it out for yourself,” I said. “You’ll come to understand all sorts of stuff once you get a boyfriend and start sleeping with him.”

“I don’t like stuff like that,” she said. “I like more…more devastating things. I want to be taken by someone with devastating force, and I want to take it in with equally devastating force. Not just naturally.”

“I think you’ve been with people older than you for too long. Geniuses with devastating intellects. But the world isn’t just filled with that kind of people. It’s filled with ordinary people fumbling their way through the darkness, trying to live. People like me.”

“You’re different. You are gonna be fine. Didn’t I tell you that the last time I saw you?”

For the time being, I resolved to clear my mind of all sexual images. My hard-on continued, but it was meaningless down here in the pitch dark and mostly just made it difficult to walk.

That last line is fantastic, and it’s too bad that BOHE didn’t find a way to keep it. I guess some of the other stuff is a bit ancillary, especially since there were similar scenes the first time they met when the girl comes off as a total horndog. (Although I am currently unable to locate the piece of dialogue she refers to when she says “Didn’t I tell you that the last time I saw you?”)

I like my rendering of “You are gonna be fine” because SPOILER ALERT we know that the narrator will not in fact be fine, but あなたならオーケーよ is probably closer to “You’re OK…(even if everyone else isn’t).”

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with 圧倒的に犯されて、それを圧倒的にうけいれたいの. And maybe that’s the reason BOHE cut the passage. 犯す gets listed as “rape, deflower, taken” in various dictionaries, so it probably has a range of meanings, and I don’t think the girl is asking to be raped, but she seems to be asking for force. Deflower seemed too formal for her, although maybe she needs formal. Any thoughts?

For the most part, as I mentioned above, the cuts are effective. BOHE keeps the key takeaway of the scene—she brings up sex again—but cuts the unnecessary bits. The penis line is especially awkward.

The good news is that all these posts build up to another cool cut—at least this week and next week’s post do. A very interesting cut two weeks from now, but next week is good too. Join me then.