Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year Eight: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness, Back Issues
Year Nine: Water, Snæfellsnes


This week I’m looking at the third essay in Murakami’s 2015 collection of travel writing. The piece is 「おいしいものが食べたい」 (“I want to eat something delicious”), originally from 2008, and in it Murakami writes about two famous American Portlands—that of Oregon and that of Maine.

The essay is only okay. Not much of it sticks with me, now that I think back about it—it’s really just a magazine fluff piece, to put it bluntly. He gives a brief historical introduction to both cities and highlights the abundance of restaurants in both, driven by an influx of young people. Then he introduces a few restaurants he visited and describes the food. It sounds like a decent trip to make, one that would give you an interesting look at the U.S.

(On a side note, I’ve resumed making notes in the margin of my text, which I did not do for the first two essays. This is an easy technique to use to improve retention of Japanese texts.)

The passage I’m translating comes from the end of the essay. Enjoy:

僕はボストンに住んでいるときに、車を運転してちょくちょくこのポートランドの街を訪れたが、そのひとつの目的は家具職人のマルゴネッリさんの工房を訪れることであり、もうひとつは市内の某中古レコード屋で、古いジャズのレコードを買い込むことにあった。店主のボブ・ワーツさんはCDなんぞ絶対に扱わないという頑固にして几帳面なLP原理主義者で、そういうところで僕と話があう。この日も話をしながら、ついついたくさんのレコードを買ってしまった。キャノンボール・アダレイの「サムシン・エルス」(ブルーノート)のファースト・エディションのぴかぴかの美品が20ドル。どうです、安いでしょう。よくわからない?LPなんかもう聴かない?そうですか、すみません。 (82)

When I lived in Boston, I drove over to visit Portland pretty often. One reason was to visit the workshop of the furniture craftsman Margonari, and the other was to buy up old jazz records at a certain used record store in the city. The owner is Bob Watts, a die-hard LP extremist who would never carry the likes of a CD. Today, again, I bought record after record while we talked. A pristine first edition of Cannonball Adderley’s “Somethin’ Else” (Blue Note) was twenty dollars. How about that? Pretty cheap. Oh, you’re not sure? You don’t listen to records anymore? Well, excuse me.

I really only chose this passage because of the great jazz recommendation. I checked out the album and listened to it while writing this post, although I listened on Spotify, not an LP.

It’s a solid album. The Wikipedia page for the album is worth a read. The lineup is killer: Adderley, Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sam Jones, and Art Blakey. *shiver* Adderley would feature again with Miles one year later on Kind of Blue…damn.

Murakami’s tone there at the end is kind of funny. He doesn’t take it any further than that, and this is the only instance of a technique like this, at least in this essay, and so far in this collection. It seems pretty ordinary Murakami and really only stands out because of the plain, guide-like style of these essays.

(Note: Apparently there’s no copyright on the album cover because it’s so simple…which seems kind of strange to me.)


Another quick note before this week’s post:

Last week I forgot to mention the importance of “projects” in Japanese study. Little projects—like this annual Murakami exercise or even something smaller as resolving to read an entire book or a certain number of pages every day—are very helpful language study devices. I’ve had this Murakami collection since January but haven’t had a chance to read it yet, and now I’ve forced myself to. Accountability is important.

So, yeah, I recommend setting up some kind of project, maybe even an annual project, and then really committing to it. It doesn’t have to be in as public a forum as this, but making it public does make it more difficult to avoid.

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, Back Issues
Year Nine: Water


This week I’m looking at the second essay in the collection: 「緑の苔と温泉のあるところ」 (“The Place with Green Moss and Hot Springs”). Murakami travels to Iceland for a writer’s conference and travels around a bit. The first part of the essay reads like a Wikipedia article, and Murakami does have a tendency to wonder wide-eyed at things that he deems strange about the country: they use credit cards very frequently, restaurants all decorate with plastic flowers, everyone seems to like to paint. But he does hit some high notes when writing about the scenery and with a side trip he takes to see the care for abandoned puffins.

He also breaks out one of his pet words: 引き出し (drawers). This gives me another opportunity to link to the 1Q84 Liveblog. He uses the more usual kanji here (rather than 抽斗) when discussing the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Enjoy:

スナイフェルスネーズ半島は天候はかなり惨めな代物だが、その風景が我々を失望させることはない。広く知られた観光名所みたいなものもとくになく、したがって訪れる旅行者もそんなに多くはないので、いかにも素朴、観光ずれもしていない。南側には比較的平坦な海岸線が続き、海鳥が多く、バードウォッチングに適している。北部沿岸にはいくつかの息をのむような美しいフィヨルドがある。大昔氷河によって削り取られた断崖、ひっそりとした静かな入り江、赤い屋根の小さな教会、どこまでもひろがる緑色の苔、低く速く流れるくっきりとした雲、不思議なかたちをした物言わぬ山々、風に揺れるソフトな草、句読点を打つように思い思いに散らばった羊たち、焼け落ちた廃屋(なぜか焼け落ちた家が多い)、冬に向けてしっかりと束ねられた干し草。それらの風景は、写真に撮ることさえはばかられた。そこにある美しさは、写真のフレームにはとても収まりきらない種類のものだったからだ。我々の前にある風景はその広がりと、そのほとんど恒久的な静寂と、深い潮の香りと、遮るものもなく地表を吹き抜けていく風と、そこに流れる独特の時間性を「込み」にして成立しているものなのだ。そこにある色は、古代からずっと風と雨に晒されて、その結果できあがったものなのだ。それはまた天候の変化や、潮の干満や、太陽の移動によって、刻々と変化していくものなのだ。いったんカメラのレンズで切り取られてしまえば、あるいは科学的な色彩の調合に翻訳されてしまえば、それは今日の前にあるものとはぜんぜん別のものになってしまうだろう。そこにある心持ちのようなものは、ほとんど消えてしまうことになるだろう。だから我々はそれをできるだけ長い時間をかけて自分の目で眺め、脳裏に刻み込むしかないのだ。そして記憶のはかない引き出しにしまい込んで、自分の力でどこかに持ち運ぶしかないのだ。 (53-54)

The weather on the Snæfellsnes peninsula is a miserable thing, but the scenery did not get us down. There aren’t any tourist spots that are particularly well known, and accordingly there aren’t many visitors, so it’s simple and doesn’t cater to visitors. A relatively flat coastline runs along the southern side, and there are lots of birds, which makes it suited for birdwatching. There are several beautiful fjords on the northern coast that take your breath away. Cliffs carved out by ancient glaciers; quiet, deserted inlets; small churches with red roofs; green moss that was everywhere; distinct clouds, low and fast-moving; strangely shaped, taciturn mountains; soft grass shimmering in the wind; sheep scattered about, wandering in search of a sentence to punctuate; the remains of burned down houses (for whatever reason there were a lot of burned down houses); bales of hay bundled tightly for winter. I hesitated over whether I should even take pictures of this scenery. Its beauty wasn’t the kind that could be fit into the frame of a photograph. The breadth of the scenery before us, its almost permanent stillness, the deep scent of the tides, the ceaseless wind blowing over the ground, and the unique flow of time all came into being as an “inclusiveness.” All of the colors there had been produced as a result of being exposed to wind and rain since time immemorial. And they changed, hour by hour, based on changes in weather, the ebb and flow of the tides, and the movement of the sun. Once you capture them through the camera’s lens, once you translate them into a mixture of scientific colors, what’s before you today has already become something entirely different. The mood within almost completely disappears. So all we could do was look at everything with our eyes for as long a time as we could and etch it into our minds. And then put it into our transitory memory drawers and use our own power to carry it somewhere else.

(Photo attribution here.)


Wow. Nine years. That’s kind of unbelievable. I started studying Japanese 15 years ago this summer, so I’ve been doing this silly exercise (writing this only-slightly-less-silly blog) for a good majority of my Japanese studying experience…which is now sneaking up on half my life.

Without further ado…

Welcome to the Ninth 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, Back Issues


This year I’ve done very little preparation. Tonight after I finished up some other work, I brainstormed a couple ideas, tossed most of them in the garbage, and decided to translate passages from the latest Murakami book that I purchased on my trip last Christmas.

The book is 『ラオスにいったい何があるというんですか?』(My contextless translation: What Exactly Do They Say is in Laos?), and it’s a collection of travel essays from various points in his career, many from the magazine AGORA.

The first essay titled 「チャールズ河畔の小径」(“The Path on the Charles”) is from 1995, when Murakami had run the Boston Marathon four times. He’s run it twice more since then, and I saw him run it one of those times in 2003.

The piece is an ode to the Boston Marathon and also to the running path on the Charles. Murakami calls the marathon 大げさに言えば精神的なふるさとのような大会 (“to put it in exaggerated terms, a race that is something like my emotional home”).

And here’s a passage I thought was nice, one that made me think of my twice daily bus rides that take me along Lake Michigan:

僕は思うのだけれど、たくさんの水を日常的に目にするというのは、人間にとってあるいは大事な意味を持つ行為なのではないだろうか。まあ「人間にとって」というのはいささかオーヴァーかもしれないが、でも少なくとも僕にとってはかなり大事なことであるような気がする。僕はしばらくのあいだ水を見ないでいると、自分が何かをちょっとずつ失い続けているような気持ちになってくる。それは音楽の大好きな人が、何かの事情で長いあいだ音楽から遠ざけられているときに感じる気持ちと、多少似ているかもしれない。あるいはそれには、僕が海岸のすぐ近くで生まれて育ったということもいくらか関係しているのかもしれない。 (14)

I think that the act of seeing a large amount of water every day may be, for humans, very meaningful. Well, it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say “for humans,” but I feel like it’s an incredibly meaningful thing for me at least. If I go for a while without seeing water, I start to feel as though I’m continuously losing something little by little. It might resemble to a certain extent how someone who loves music feels when, for some reason, they are separated from music. Or it might have something to do with me having been born and raised closed to the coast.

The photo at the top is of the sakura on the Charles, which Murakami mentions blossom in May, much later than the cherries in Tokyo and southern Japan.

I’ll start reading through a few more of these essays and hopefully turn up some more interesting passages for the coming weeks. As always, よろしくプリーズ.

(Photo attribution here.)



Just a quick post for fun. I had surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn labrum in my hip. It was my first major operation since I had a hernia repair when I was four.

I was curious about how to say “labrum” in Japanese, and it turns out the word is 股関節唇 (kokansetsu-shin). (Note: This blog post strikes me as a glimpse into the rich, multilingual inner lives of Japanese doctors.) I remember learning 股関節 (hip joint) in my yoga class in Tokyo, but I’d been using 軟骨 (nankotsu) instead of 唇 (shin) to explain it to Japanese speakers.

This reminds me of a good study strategy: Prepping vocab that you know you’ll likely have to talk about. I am mostly good at this but occasionally lousy. When I was a CIR on the JET Program, I had to interpret for some Lithuanian artists in my town, and I neglected to look up the word for statue and sculpture (彫刻), which was a big mistake. I did not look like a very good interpreter at their welcome party, which was disrupted by a massive Aizu snowfall. Good times.

I’m certain I’ll have to explain my surgery in further detail to coworkers and friends, and now I’m armed with the vocabulary to do so.

Bonus Link: I wish I knew more about medicine to understand this article, which seems to suggest that Japanese have more labral tears in normal shaped hips. (Some labral tears are due to congenital formations that impinge on the cartilage.) Maybe because of all the 正座 and squatting?

So far my recovery is going smoothly.

Oysters and Chopsticks Etiquette

Hello! I’m just back from visiting Mexico for the first time. I haven’t used my Spanish for 15 years, so I was pleasantly surprised with how much I was able to understand. Need to work on the speaking part. I was throwing out tons of けどs and ああ、そうs in my effort to make conversation.

While I was away, I had another Bilingual article in The Japan Times. I took a look at a 1965 エチケット事典 (Etiquette Encyclopedia): “A Japanese guide to dealing with gentleman callers and unruly dogs.”

It’s a pretty amazing text, and I look forward to reading through it more thoroughly. I wanted to share a couple of fun sections here. Under food, the author provides a list of 食べにくい一品料理 (tabenikui ippin ryōri, Difficult-to-eat items), one of which is 生かき (namakaki, raw oysters). Here are the instructions for eating them:


They are always accompanied with lemon. You squeeze this on top, but when you squeeze the lemon, it is always polite to cover it with your left hand so the juice doesn’t spray the surroundings. After adding the lemon juice, hold the shell of the oyster with your left hand, scoop out the oyster with an oyster fork, and eat it in one bite.

A couple of cool linguistic things to note here:

The first is the way エチケット gets used here to end the second sentence. Very interesting. A more literal translation would be “it is etiquette to cover it with your left hand.” I guess there’s a way to get closer to the Japanese than my translation. Something like “etiquette calls for…” or maybe “the etiquette is…”

Second, 貝の殻 is pretty interesting in that both characters can mean shell. 貝 seems to be referring to the meat of the oyster in this case, and it can mean shellfish more broadly whereas 殻 only refers to the shell or other kinds of outer coverings.

And if the oyster instructions didn’t convince you that this book is precise and prescriptive, check out some of the guides to 箸を上手に使うマナー (hashi o jōzu ni tsukau manā, Manners for using chopsticks well). In addition to the typical instructions, they provide this photograph for the section 器を持ったまま取る時 (ki o motta mama toru toki, taking them while holding a dish):


And the instructions:


Hold the dish with your left hand and take the chopsticks from above with your right. Slip the chopsticks between your ring finger or pinky and hold the dish with your right hand. Conversely, if you’re picking up a teacup or bowl while holding chopsticks, hold the chopsticks between your right palm and ring finger or pinky with the tips facing out and take the teacup or bowl with your thumb, index finger, and middle finger.

Am I the only person who didn’t already know of this technique? The second half of the instructions seem to make more sense to me than the first, which seem a little…precious? Or maybe I’m mistranslating based solely on the image from the text. I’d be curious to hear from readers on this one.

And don’t forget the cool finger vocab listed in the paragraph above!

This is a great text. I might have to buy a more modern version just to see the kind of things that are listed. And I can see myself coming back to this old one for future blog posts.


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.

Cool Tongue Twister – 坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた


I’m in the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “Repetition and role-play are crucial for speaking success in Japanese.”

I was stunned to see that no one had previously written about 早口言葉 (はやくちことば, tongue twisters)…as long as the search engine on the JT can be trusted.

They seem silly at first, but they’re actually really good speaking practice. So is just randomly repeating Japanese phrases while you’re at home alone. Gotta keep those muscles trained, and it’s fine to sound like a clown when no one’s around.

I wasn’t able to include one of my favorite tongue twisters: 坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた (Bōzu ga byōbu ni jōzu ni bōzu no e o kaita, A monk draws a picture of a monk on a folding screen well).

And of course there’s an excellent Yahoo Chiebukuro post where someone asks for the correct phrasing: Is the monk drawing a picture of a monk or ジョーズ (Jaws) or B’s (a band I think?). Someone mentions that only a monk would have existed pre-war. Another guy mentions that it could be regional and that near Universal Studios Japan (Osaka) they used Jaws…which sounds about right. Osaka is known for its sense of humor, but it could also very easily be just an elementary school thing. Those kids love jokes like that.

At any rate, an image search for a 上手坊主 led me to this amazing blog post that takes this absurd phrase to its logical conclusion: 坊主が屏風に描いた坊主が屏風に描いた坊主が屏風に坊主の絵を描いた.

I’ve taken the liberty of borrowing the image from the post (the blog appears to be deceased and originally intended to help old people retain their memory and eyesight?) and reproducing it above, but it’s an interesting read. Go check it out.

TJ(Too Japanese);DR: because of the way Japanese modifiers work, the language itself is easier to read silently rather than out loud. Modifiers (修飾) get stacked up upon a subject, and if you’re reading out loud you must sail only forward through unknown seas, while you may look back and forth if you’re reading silently and you are not slave to the unceasing plodding of your vision? Seems legit?

Y’all have any favorite 早口言葉?

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.

Cool Word – 刀狩


It may be cliche to say it, but there’s nothing quite like your first trip to Japan. For me, it was not only exciting to visit somewhere so new and different, it was also liberating to be in a place with an almost total absence of fear of violence, notably of gun violence.

I grew up in New Orleans and was fortunate to never experience any violence directly, thanks in large part to extremely vigilant parents (whom I probably faulted at the time for being what is now termed “helicopter parents”). But I won’t ever forget when my mom was held up at gun point just as we were moving into a new house. I was a little too young to understand exactly how frightening it must have been for her. She broke down in tears and neither my dad nor my grandmother could do much to comfort her. As the years went by and I grew up through middle school and high school, I gradually took on the fear myself.

So it felt amazing to be free of it, wandering Okayama City in the summer of 2002. My last night in the city we drank at a bar, walked across the city, swam in the castle moat, and then stumbled back.

I wish I could share this feeling with everyone in the United States and then ask them how they felt about gun control laws. I’m sure not everyone would be convinced, but some would see how things could be different, and how appealing that could be.

I’m writing this during the Senate gun control filibuster because for the first time in a long time (perhaps ever), I feel like I have to do something, even if it’s just post on this blog about a cool Japanese phrase – 刀狩 (かたながり).

刀狩 translates easily as “sword hunt.” There were a number of sword hunts (good read in Japanese too) in Japanese history, the most famous of which was Hideyoshi’s in 1588. Obviously, they were initially used as a mechanism for those in power to secure that power and prevent the potential for uprisings, which is why gun rights advocates occasionally use it as an example of why the 2nd Amendment is an important check against tyranny, but I don’t think the sword hunts can be simplified for either side of the gun debate. However, I do think it did set a precedent for getting rid of weapons, which must have made it easy to enact strong gun laws once Japan modernized.

Australia’s equivalent “gun hunt” after the Port Arthur massacre has had success, even without a sword hunt precedent, showing that things can change. We just need to break the mythical, fictional barrier of “freedom” that’s been set up here and somehow entrenched in the past few decades.

So, please, if you’re American and you’ve ever enjoyed your time in Japan, please take a moment to write your elected representatives on all levels (federal, state, city), and tell them that you support the Senate filibuster and that you’d like to see them make as strong a stand.

We don’t need to outlaw guns, but we could do much better than where we are now.