Coffee with the Colonel

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 Women


On to Chapter 8. We’re back in the End of the World, and we’re with Boku at his residence where he’s playing chess with the Colonel.

(On a ridiculous side note far too early in this blog post, I’ve always wondered if the Colonel was, by any chance, inspired or influenced by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, notably El coronel no tiene quien le escriba, which is a story about a poor, retired colonel waiting to receive his pension.)

No major cuts, additions, or revisions in this section, but I will take a look at a few places where Birnbaum uses his standard operating procedure.

While they play chess, Boku asks the Colonel about the Town and the Gatekeeper and meeting up with his shadow. Eventually, he asks, “Yet what does he have to fear from me?” (84)

The Colonel pauses and then says, in Japanese:


Birnbaum’s translation:

“He fears that you and your shadow will become one again” (84)

He cuts the second sentence, which should be something like:

“If that happens, he’d have to start over again from the beginning.”

Not a very substantial line, but it is a little more ominous than the official translation allows. It might be the first implication that there’s a point to the separation process, a goal that the Gatekeeper has in mind. Sure, the Gatekeeper’s been gruff and basically wouldn’t admit that he’d let Boku see the shadow, but there was no threat of death to the shadow, or even of a finality of a process. An interesting little line to cut.

In the next section, Birnbaum has, I think, nicely rendered a metaphor that otherwise would have been awkward in English. Here’s the translation first:

“These next few weeks will be the hardest for you. It is the same as with broken bones. Until they set, you cannot do anything. Believe me” (85)

In Japanese, Murakami writes:

「ここのしばらくが君にとってはいちばん辛い時期なんだ。歯と同じさ。古い歯はなくなったが、新しい歯はまだはえてこない。私の意味することはわかるかね?」 (121)

My translation:

“The first little while will be the hardest part for you. Same as with teeth. Your old teeth have fallen out, but the new ones haven’t grown in yet. You get what I mean?”

I feel like a smoother translation might incorporate “baby teeth” somehow, but I’m not sure. At any rate, the broken bones metaphor feels much more natural, and while it may be more of a “localization” than a translation, I guess it works. What do y’all think?

And I have to point out cuts in the final paragraph of the chapter again. Birnbaum (or possibly his editor at Kodansha International?) makes strategic cuts to the final lines to create an in media res ending. Check out the translation:

“Good move,” says the Colonel. “Parapet guards against penetration and frees up the King. At the same time, it allows my Knight greater range.”

While the old officer contemplates his next move, I boil water for a new pot of coffee.

And the original text:



You can see from the size of the second paragraph alone that there’s a lot of additional text in Japanese. I’ll add my translation of it to Birnbaum’s first line:

While the old officer contemplates his next move, I boil water for a new pot of coffee. Countless afternoons must pass this way, I think to myself. There is almost nothing for me to choose here in the Town surrounded by the tall Wall.

I was tempted to get fancy with that last line and write something like this: “There’s almost nothing arbitrary” or something like that. Or maybe “There’s nothing left for me to decide in the Town surrounded by the insurmountable Wall.” But no matter how you render it, nothing is quite as good as ending with Boku going for another pot of coffee. I’ve mentioned the importance of coffee in previous blog posts, and here again it serves to connect the two parts of the story and to suggest an endlessness to the End of the World.

And I guess one final interesting point in the section is Birnbaum’s decision to name the chess piece “Parapet” instead of “Wall.” I like the word choice, which sounds much more like a board game piece, but I don’t like how it dissociates it with the Wall that surrounds the town. It doesn’t matter as much in translation, however, since Birnbaum cuts the last line.

Some very interesting parts of a small chapter.

Review – コーヒーもう一杯 (One More Cup of Coffee)

The Japan Times has a short profile/interview of How to Japonese/me online today! Apparently they will be publishing it in the actual newspaper on Wednesday.

In the interview, one of the questions they ask is what Japanese books are good to read in order to improve spoken Japanese. Well, Murakami’s great and easy to read, of course, but I realized that manga are probably better than fiction since you are basically reading a script with visual cues.

One of my favorite manga is Naoto Yamakawa‘s 『コーヒーもう一杯』 published by Enterbrain. Yamakawa writes short coffee-themed manga and publishes one story a month in 月刊コミックビーム. The stories get collected into annual volumes which he intersperses with short prose poem type stories, also coffee-themed. He begins his first volume with one of these, explaining the title of the collection:

“One More Cup of Coffee” is the title of a song from Bob Dylan’s 1976 album Desire.
I started listening to Bob Dylan when I was a high school student, always listened to him after that, and listen to him even to this day.
When I first heard him I thought, “What the hell is this?” But as I kept listening, I got into the habit of listening to him and really came to like his music.
To give you an idea of how much I like him, sometimes I get on a train, see his name on a hanging advertisement, and get so surprised I almost lose my shit.
But when I look closer it doesn’t say Bob Dylan; it says things like volunteer (ボランティア) or body line (ボディ・ライン).
Beyond the title, this manga has no connection with Bob Dylan, but there are many pages I drew while listening to Bob Dylan.

The introduction perfectly captures the feel of the collection – coffee, like Bob Dylan’s music, is something that might take time to get used to, but once you start to enjoy it, it’s hard to live without. And because coffee is a daily ritual, it ends up being strongly connected to other experiences: people you went to coffee with, conversations shared over coffee, the intricate ritual of brewing coffee. The collection diagrams coffee as a social experience in modern Japan.

Brewing coffee is the theme of the first story of the collection:

But it’s also a love story. The young man making coffee in the image teaches the other man how to make coffee, which puzzles him since he already taught him how when working as his assistant. Through the flashbacks we realize that the young man Mameta (豆太; Yamakawa often uses 豆 in his names as a joke, since it’s the character for “bean”) had a crush on Aoyama’s girlfriend Motsumi. At the end of the story after the two have coffee, Mameta walks Aoyama to a cigarette vending machine where they buy Hope cigarettes, and Aoyama confesses that he’s split with Motsumi. Mameta returns to his small apartment, brews another batch of coffee and sits down to process everything that happened while enjoying a cup:

Yamakawa’s unique, warm drawing style is perfectly suited to the content. The stories are all sort of sad, strange and even nostalgic, but it’s a nostalgia for the present day – Yamakawa’s portraits of urban Japan are so romantic that they approach simulacra. He loves the coffee shops:


Used bookstores:




And streets of Japanese cities:


The illustrations in this series are a refreshing change from the kind of manga that gets translated and shipped abroad. I’ll take the back alleys of Shinagawa-ku over the bright lights of Shibuya any day of the week. I do frequent Dry Dock, after all, which I think is the closest I’ve come to a コーヒーもう一杯-esque location in the flesh.

I discovered the series while hunting for manga to read on a flight. I was actually looking for SOIL, also published by Enterbrain, but since they didn’t have it, I went for コーヒーもう一杯, and I’m sure glad I did. It’s perfect plane flight or train ride manga: the stories are short and manageable, fun to read, and beautiful to look at. Highly recommended.

Bonus link! Yamakawa has his own blog, through which I discovered that Volume 5 of コーヒーもう一杯 is the final volume. Probably for the best. All of the stories are good, but Volume 1 was by far the strongest.