Wandering and Belonging

Welcome to the Tenth 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: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: Vermonters

We’re continuing on with Murakami’s essay collection Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata. This week I’m looking at 「小説を書いていること、スカッシュを始めたこと、またヴァーモントに行ったこと」 (Shōsetsu o kaite iru koto, sukasshu o hajimeta koto, mata Vaamonto ni itta koto, Writing a novel, starting squash, going to Vermont again), a very short essay.

The title basically says it all. Murakami gives another long account of his daily writing routine (go to bed at 9pm, wake up at 5am to write, exercise, have lunch, and then take the afternoon to run errands, relax, or work on other writing projects), talks about how he’s taken up squash, and then visits Vermont with a friend (and talks about the Japanese association of Vermont with curry).

Murakami gives a pretty interesting account of living and writing abroad and notes where he wrote his past novels:



それに僕はこれまで長いあいだ引っ越しマニアな放浪、非定着の人生を送ってきたので(とくに望んでやっていたわけでもないのだが)、他の人に比べて場所の移動というものがあまり気にならない身体になってしまったみたいだ。考えてみれば、これまでに僕が書いた長編小説はそれぞれぜんぶ違う場所で執筆された。『ダンス・ダンス・ダンス』という小説の一部をイタリアで書いて、一部をロンドンで書いたけれど、どこが違うかと訊かれてもぜんぜんわからない。『ノルウェイの森』はギリシャとイタリアを行ったり来たりしながら書いたけれど、どこの部分をどこの場所で書いたかなんてもうほとんど覚えていない。スコット・フィッツジェラルドは『グレート・ギャッツビイ』の大部分を南フランスで書いたが、ここきわめて優れたアメリカ小説について、執筆された場所を今更気にする人もいないだろう。小説というのはそういうものではないか。 (97-100)

However, as I spend days living this introverted life, I have to say that I’m not overwhelmed with the sense that I’m living in a foreign country. Needless to say, I talk with my wife in Japanese in the house (people often tell me, speak English with your wife to improve, but I can’t do that), and I often realize once again, “Oh yeah, oh yeah, I’m in the U.S.” when I go out and hear people I run into speaking English. If you’re sitting at a desk obsessively writing a novel, in the end I’ve come feel like it doesn’t matter where you are.

People often ask me “The novels you can write in the U.S. and the novels you write in Japan, they must be very different, right?” But I’m not sure, I don’t think they are that much. People, especially once they get up to about my age, don’t suddenly change, whether it’s the way they live or the way they write, for better or worse. And for me especially, it isn’t like I decide to set my work in a foreign country because I’m living in a foreign country.

Besides, I’ve lived a wandering, unattached, moving-obsessed life for a long time (not that I really wanted it that way), so compared to other people my body has become unconcerned with change of place. When I think about it, all of the full-length novels I’ve written to this point were written in different places. I wrote one part of the novel Dance Dance Dance in Italy and one part in London, but I wouldn’t have any idea how they differ if asked. I wrote Norwegian Wood while traveling back and forth between Greece and Italy, but I can hardly remember which part I wrote where. Scott Fitzgerald wrote most of The Great Gatsby in the south of France, but now nobody cares about where this superlative American novel was written. Fiction is that kind of thing.

Pretty interesting. I don’t think I knew that he lived in London. (And, ugh, my translation feels stilted on reread.)

And Murakami is still thinking about the organization-individual dynamic, this time finding the benefit of belonging:



)。 (101-102)

One of the nice things about belonging to an American university is that the gym and other fitness equipment is top notch, and on top of that not all that crowded. When I think of the crowd and costs of municipal sports clubs in Tokyo, it makes me think I’m in paradise. Take the pool here. Pick a time and in most cases you can use a lane of a 25m pool all to yourself as long as you want. I haven’t belonged to any organization in my life so far, so I’m planning to enjoy the “joy of belonging” as much as I can. There was a statistic that came out somewhere saying most of the Japanese living in the U.S. study hard and industriously visit museums, art or otherwise, but that in comparison there aren’t many who actively use the gyms. Assuming this is true, I feel like it’s a bit of a waste. But it does make me think back and realize that since I’ve lived in Cambridge, I’ve only been to the art museum one time. (The famous Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I shouldn’t say this loudly,

but it wasn’t that great.


Murakami gets pretty creative with the text here and actually gives that final clause in a smaller font. Pretty nice. It was tough to recreate in html. I’ve done the best I can. Let me know if you know how to fix it so that I can modify the font size without making it a separate <p>.

I’ve said it once already, and I’ll say it again: Murakami writes well for the Internet age. In many ways he was the first blogger…a writer who interacted with readers and played around with his text. The content, too, is nice and light. These are pretty fun reads.


Year Ten! Goddamn. When I began this exercise I was living in a very small room in Tokyo, working at a translation company, using Japanese every day. Today I’m sitting here in my modest Chicago apartment (cool breeze coming in off the lake through my living room windows), working during the week at a Japanese office but using the language very little. My reading group, writing for the Japan Times, and translation exercises here are my main connections to the language. Consistency matters, so we continue, even if my feelings about Murakami have shifted over the years and are as different as my living conditions then and now.

Thus, without further ado:

Welcome to the Tenth 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: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonball, Distant Drumming

This year I’m (lazily) looking at essays from the collection 『うずまき猫のみつけかた』 (Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata, How to Find Tabby Cats). This is a spiritual successor to 『やがて哀しき外国語』 (Yagate kanashiki gaikokugo, Foreign Languages, Sad in the End [?]), which Murakami wrote while he was in Princeton. He wrote and published the essays in Uzumaki neko in the magazine SINRA from the spring of 1994 to the fall of 1995. He was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and working (I think) as a writer in residence at Tufts University.

The essays are chronological and read a lot like extended blog posts. I’m not quite sure which essay generated the title, as I haven’t read the whole collection. I’m picking out essays here and there to read, and it seems like cats figure somewhere in most of them, but never as the central character.

The first essay I’m looking at is from the summer of 1994 and is titled ダイエット、避暑地の猫 (Daietto, hishochi no neko, Diets, Summer Resort Cats). Murakami is back in Tokyo briefly, suffering from the heat, before he returns to Boston and then takes a summer trip to Vermont. Here are some passages:


ある暑い日の午後、新宿のデパートの展示会場に永沢まことさんのトスカナの絵の個展を見にいって、そこにあった宮本『世にも美しいダイエット』美智子さんのパネルを読んでいたら、「年をとって酒を飲むのはろくなことではない」というようなことが−もちろんもっと丁寧な表現で−書いてあった。それで「確かにそうだな、僕もビールを飲むのを少し控えなくてはな」とそのときは思ったのだけれど(この人の説明にはすごく納得力がある)、一歩外に出たらもう暑くて暑くて、とにかく冷たいビールを飲むことしか考えられない。というわけで、いや、やはり飲んでますね。今年の夏は僕はおおむねキリンのラガービールを飲んでいた。とくに銘柄の好みが保守的なわけではないのだが、日本に帰ってくるたびにわけのわからない見慣れないビールが次から次へと酒屋の棚に並んでいるし、暑くてどれにしようかいちいち考えるのが面倒だったからだ。 (064)

I don’t mean to over-insist, but summer in Japan was hot. Hot enough to kill a man. I was pretty dumb to schedule a return trip to Japan during this period, even if I had things to take care of. I wasn’t motivated to do anything so I gave in and drank beer every day.

One hot afternoon, I went to see Makoto Nagasawa’s solo exhibit of Tuscany paintings at a Shinjuku department store, and I read a panel displayed there for Michiko “A Beautiful Diet” Miyamoto that read “Drinking alcohol isn’t great for you as you age,” of course expressed in much nicer language. I thought to myself at the time, “That’s true, I should cut back on the beer” (her explanation was really persuasive), but I took one step outside and it was so damn hot that all I could think about was having a cold beer. So, of course, I drank. This summer I mostly drank Kirin Lager. I’m not really a stickler about the brand I drink, but when I was back in Japan, there were so many unfamiliar beers on the shelves of liquor stores and it was so hot that trying to consider all of them was a chore.

It’s interesting to see Murakami’s take on beer. This was in 1994, right after the laws were changed to allow smaller breweries. I don’t know much about Miyamoto. It must’ve been a short-lived fad diet, although Murakami sees similarities between her and himself:

僕らのようにどこにも属していない人間は自分のことはとにかく一から十まで自分で護るしかないわけだし、そしてそのためには、それがダイエットであるにせよ、フィジカル・ワークアウトであるにせよ、自分の身体をある程度きちんと把握して、方向性を定めて自己管理して行くしかない。 (65)

People like us who don’t belong anywhere have to protect ourselves in every way, and in order to do that, you have to have a somewhat firm grasp on your body to manage yourself and determine your direction, whether it’s through a diet or through physical fitness.

There are some sections that read similar to Hard-boiled Wonderland and some of his political speeches about “individuals versus the system” and how the system generally wins.

And here’s one final passage with an unflattering look at the ladies in Vermont:

ヴァーモントには素敵なカントリー・インが数多くあって、そのような旅館を泊まり歩くのも楽しみのひとつである。まあなにしろアメリカだから、トスカナみたいに目から鱗が落ちるほど料理がおいしいとは言えないけれど、素材は新鮮だし、空気が美味くて知らず知らずお腹が減るので、ご飯は楽しく食べられる。ただし、ヴァーモントは乳製品とメイプル・シロップとが名産品なので、おいしいおいしいといって食べていると、これは確実に「世にも美しくない」ことになってしまう。実際にヴァーモントで出会った女の人の八十五パーセントまでは完全な「トド体系」であった。みんなで揃ってよくこんなに肥れるよなあと感心してしまう。腰のまわりなんか布団を巻いて歩いているんじゃないかというくらいむくむくしている。アメリカも方々をまわったけれど、こんな肥った人が多い地方も初めてである。みんなに宮本さんの本を読ませてあげたいと思ったくらいである。あって、毎日昼御飯を抜いていたのだが、それでも食事はけっこうヘビーだった。旅行するのは楽しいだけれど、トシを取ってくると、毎日外食を続けることがだんだんきつくなってくる。 (73)

There are many pleasant country inns in Vermont, and hopping around between these lodgings is also fun. It’s the United States, so the food isn’t going to blow you away like it might in Tuscany, but the ingredients are fresh, and the air is clean, and before you know it you’re hungry and can enjoy eating the meals. However, Vermont is known for dairy products and maple syrup, so while they’re delicious, you definitely end up “Not Beautiful.” About 85% of the women I actually met in Vermont were total “walruses.” I was impressed that everyone was able to get so fat. They’re so ponderous when walking around it looks like they have futon strapped to their waists. I’ve been all over the U.S., and this is the first time I’ve seen this many fat people. I wanted to make them all read Miyamoto’s book. This the case, I went without lunch every day, but even so the food was fairly heavy. Traveling is fun, but it gets harder and harder to eat out repeatedly as you get older.

Ha. What gives with the body shaming, Murakami? Maybe we can chalk this up to a 1990s lack of political correctness? Murakami doesn’t seem to realize that not everyone can/could just up and run a marathon like he does/did. Or maybe he does and attributes his fitness to a strength of character, which borders on paranoia at times. “This is what I do to maintain my independent sense of self, to maintain my direction and focus.” If there’s a weakness to this system of beliefs, I think it’s a tendency to see oneself (or the system) as flawless. I think most artists need a good portion of this attitude in order to complete any project, but too much of it can perhaps lead to an inability to self-correct…which is maybe what we’ve seen recently with Murakami.

This collection, on the other hand, seems to be one of those side projects that Murakami takes on between larger fiction projects. It’s necessarily more casual than his other work. We’ll see more next week!


Well, it took me six months, but I’m back on the Murakami. Chapter 35 of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World “Nail Clippers, Butter Sauce, Iron Vase” is one of my favorite chapters in the novel. I wrote about some of the changes and why it’s my favorite back in 2009 (!) during the second year of Murakami Fest.

In the chapter, Watashi wanders around the neighborhood near the library shopping and picks up the Librarian. They go to an Italian restaurant, gorge themselves, and then head back to her place to listen to music and have sex.

There are a lot of changes in this chapter. Most of the cuts that Birnbaum (or his editor) makes are inconsequential. Small pieces of dialogue or detail that can be eliminated to make the writing more concise and fluid. Even the ones I highlight in the post above aren’t really that substantial, although I’d argue that there’s really no reason to cut them. Birnbaum also adds a number of space breaks (three to be precise), which I have to admit are very effective at punctuating nice moments.

Murakami makes one small change from the original version to the Complete Works version, which I’ll look at just because. Here’s the original, which Birnbaum uses as the basis for his translation:

「サマセット・モームを新しい作家だなんていう人今どきあまりいないわよ」と彼女はワインのグラスを傾けながら言った。「ジュークボックスにベニー・グッドマンのレコードが入っていないのと同じよ」 (267)

And here’s Birnbaum’s translation:

“There aren’t many people who’d consider Somerset Maugham new,” she said, tipping back her glass. “The same as they don’t put Benny Goodman in jukeboxes these days either.” (358)

And the Complete Works edition:

「サマセット・モームを新しい作家だなんていう人今どきあまりいないわよ」と彼女はワインのグラスを傾けながら言った。 (526)

“There aren’t many people who’d consider Somerset Maugham new,” she said, tipping back her glass.

As you can see, he just cuts that last line. Very curious. Maybe he thought the Benny Goodman reference was off? Who knows. It seems very strange to read through a whole chapter and then cut a single sentence. Maybe Murakami was getting tired toward the end of edits on the Complete Works edition of HBW.

One of the more substantial cuts that Birnbaum makes in this chapter is when Watashi and the Librarian discuss the destruction of his apartment. Here’s the official translation:

“It wouldn’t have had anything to do with that unicorn business?” she asked.

“It did. But nobody’d bothered to ask me what I thought from the very beginning.”

“And does that have something to do with your going away tomorrow?”


“You must have gotten yourself caught in a terrible mess.”

“Its so complicated, I myself don’t know what’s what. Well, in my case, the simplest explanation is that I’m up to here in information warfare.”

The waiter appeared suddenly with our fish and rice. (360)

As you’ll see, the translation cuts a few sentences at the beginning of this passage and a large chunk of conversation:















ウェイターがやってきて我々の前にすずきとリゾットを置いた。 (530-531)

“You could play a rugby game in your apartment and it wouldn’t have gotten that messed up.”

“Probably so,” I said.

“Was it related to the unicorn stuff?” she asked.

“I think it might’ve been.”

“Is it resolved?”

“It’s not. At least it isn’t to them.”

“Is it for you?”

“It is and it isn’t,” I said. “There’s no way for me to choose, so it is, and because I didn’t choose, it won’t be resolved. My individuality was ignored from the beginning with this affair. It’s as if a single human was added to a sea lion water polo team.”

“So tomorrow you’re going far away?”

“Something like that.”

“You’ve been wrapped up in a pretty complicated incident.”

“Too complicated for me to understand. The world keeps getting more complicated. Nuclear weapons, the breakup of socialism, the evolution of computers, artificial insemination, spy satellites, lobotomies. It’s impossible to even know what’s going on with passenger side panels for cars. To put it simply, I’ve been caught up in the information war. Basically I’m a stopgap until computers have their own consciousness. A make-do.”

“Computers will have their own consciousness?”

“Maybe,” I said. “If they do, computers will be able to scramble the data themselves, and no one will be able to steal it.”

The waiter came over and placed the sea bass and risotto in front of us.

None of these make a huge difference. It makes the whole thing more concise, clearly. I do like the idea that the narrator is a つなぎ (tsunagi, stopgap), literally a “connection” between the status quo now and the future in which his profession would be expendable (perhaps now?). That’s something that Watashi has expressed elsewhere in the novel but not quite in this language.

Five chapters left!

Killing Killing Commendatore

I’m in the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “Conquering ‘Commendatore’: Murakami brandishes familiar lexicon in latest novel.”

Hopefully this is the last I’ll have to deal with Killing Commendatore for a while. I didn’t really have a chance to get down and dirty with the text to illustrate all the thoughts I had about it, but I’m not sure the book deserves such a close look. I still haven’t finished reading the translation of 1Q84, and I’m not sure that I’ll get to Killing Commendatore in English either. 23 days is enough. No más.

But we need to have something for the blog post, so here are the other 惹かれる examples that I didn’t get to talk about in the Japan Times article. I marked this phrase throughout the book. I don’t think this is every instance, but it should give you a pretty good idea how Murakami uses this word.

Sometimes it’s simple—attraction:

私が妻に惹かれたのもまさにその目だった (Watashi ga tsuma ni hikareta no mo masa ni sono me datta, What attracted me about my wife were those eyes).

Here it’s closer to inspire, but attract still feels close; the narrator is talking about some style of painting that no longer inspires him:

私はそのようなタイプの絵画にもう心を惹かれなかった (Watashi wa sono yō na taipu no kaiga ni mō kokoro o hikarenakatta, But that type of painting no longer moved me)

The “Killing Commendatore” painting within the novel attracts the narrator quite a bit, as shown in these next two:

その絵は全体としてまた細部として、私の心をそれほど強く惹きつけていた (Sono e wa zentai to shite mata saibu to shite, watashi no kokoro o sore hodo tsuyoku hikitsukete ita, The painting fascinated me both in terms of its general structure and its details)


とくに私の関心を惹きつけたのは、五人の人物たちが顔に浮かべている表情だった (Toku ni watashi no kanshin o hikitsuketa no wa, gonin no jinbutsutachi ga kao ni ukabete iru hyōjō, The looks on each of their five faces especially interested me)

But in the end, it’s all about the money:

もちろん提示された報酬の金額にも心を惹かれた (Mochiron teiji sareta hōshū no kingaku ni mo kokoro o hikareta, Of course I was also impressed by the amount offered as compensation)

There’s a section with an extended discussion of Harusame Monogatari. Menshiki is particularly interested, as we see:

実を言うと、私はなぜか昔からあの話に心を惹かれてきたのです (Jitsu o iu to, watashi wa naze ka mukashi kara ano hanashi ni kokoro o hikarete kita no desu, To be honest, for some reason I’ve been fascinated by that story for a long time).

But as with many of the other references, Harusama Monogatari drops away pretty quickly.

I just got a comment on my post about my review of the book asking this question:

Considering your negative assessment, why on earth write the other piece, which to my recollection, didn’t even mention anything you wrote in your review? It could be seen as a tacit recommendation of the work, which is not what you wrote in your review.

This is a valid question. I guess the simplest answer is I needed something to write about. I felt like looking at the language Murakami uses would be interesting, and I think these examples do show something about how Murakami looks at the world. I probably should have mentioned something about the review, but the word count was a little tight (<—excuse). But I do feel like I managed to get a little warning about the book in the beginning of the piece. Apologies if anyone feels mislead. If you’re looking for a mammoth Murakami to tackle, I’d recommend his travel journal from his time in Europe, 『遠い太鼓』(Tōi taiko, A Distant Drum). I read half of it at some point when I was living in Japan, but got distracted by life and haven’t gotten around to finishing it. That’s a book that deserves a translation. I’m surprised it hasn’t been rendered in English yet.

Review: Murakami’s Kishidanchō-goroshi (Killing Commendatore)

My review of the new Murakami novel Killing Commendatore (騎士団長殺し) is in the Japan Times this week: “‘Killing Commendatore’: Murakami’s latest lacks inspired touch of earlier works

In short, it was not very good. I’ll be very curious to see how it turns out in translation and what the reviews are like. I haven’t seen any announcement of a translator or translation date so far.

The word count of the review prevented me from going into detail, partially because I couldn’t use many quotes and partially because it took so many words to summarize (about 550 of roughly 1000 words). I realize this could be my failing as a writer (although I’m pretty happy with my summary, notably with the absence of spoilers), but the book itself also eludes summary: once you start summarizing, you realize that you’re starting to give away the secrets of the book. Because so very little happens, summarizing any of the reveals gives away bit by bit some of the only development/pleasure of reading the book.

And there are so many secrets being kept in this book. Secrets between the narrator and Menshiki. Secrets between the narrator and Marie. As in 1Q84 (and other books?!), there are several points where the characters actively conspire to avoid involving the police—“They’d never believe us! And it could get troublesome for us.” At one point, the narrator allows an old man to go through what appears to be a tremendous amount of pain without calling for help at an old folks home while he has a conversation about how to proceed with solving the disappearance.

The pacing of the book also feels off. The first half is the narrator finding the painting, digging up the hole, and getting to know Menshiki and his mysteries, padded with some background story about himself and his family, which I was not able to address in the review. The second half, rather than beginning to unwind some of the build-up, goes on to introduce new characters and build up more mysteries before a disappearance in Chapter 45 (of 64) and the start of the true “adventure” in Chapter 53. I think the first half of the novel could have been much shorter than it was.

It’s difficult to express exactly how artlessly Murakami incorporates the historical information in this book. He uses his favorite device of having a character go research something at the freaking library, which he’s been doing since Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World at least, although perhaps even as far back as A Wild Sheep Chase? I can’t remember.

On several other occasions, a character says something like “oh, by the way, I found out X” and then proceeds to drop fat blocks of dialogue that have no relation to the rest of their conversation or other plot development.

And Murakami takes the strange step of including a lengthy quote from Samuel Willenberg, survivor of the Treblinka extermination camp, as the entirety of Chapter 32, the final chapter in Book 1. (Which I guess suggests that the narrator chose the quote and decided to include it in his telling of the story?)

The goal seems to be to make a statement about art—the quote, which I believe is from a documentary but have not been able to track down/confirm, suggests that art can change/influence people, which doesn’t exactly jive with the novel. I’m not sure what it is that Murakami wants the reader to understand about art from reading this book.

The retrospective point of narration is equally lazy. This plays a part most noticeably in the first few chapters when the narrator feels very under control of how information is being presented. But it fades away quickly, leaving only vestigial, chapter-ending, retrospective paragraphs that help build some suspense going into the subsequent chapter, but even these fall away as the book progresses! The whole point of telling a story retrospectively is so you don’t have to do a blow by blow other than for the most dramatic incidents, but stream of conscious narration seems to be what Murakami is best at writing or considers most meaningful. He’s obsessed with his characters’ process of living/working, and he details those processes in nearly every book he writes.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. Jay Rubin has written in his book on language about how easy it is for students of Japanese to mistake the pleasure of being able to read/understand Japanese for the literature itself actually being good. I don’t think I’m making that mistake here, as it was not fun to devote 23 days of my life to doing nothing but reading this book, but I do think that it can be difficult to grasp the whole of a work I’ve read in Japanese.

This is why I took loads of notes in the margins. This is why I wrote 28,668 words of chapter summaries. (NOTE: Write the summary immediately after you finish reading the chapter so that it’s a true summary and not just a write-up of your notes. I find it much easier to conceive of the chapter as a whole if I do it that way.) So I’m fairly confident in my evaluation. 1Q84 helped me notice many weaknesses about Murakami’s work, but this one has thrown them into stark contrast. The play-by-play narration works if the narrator is interesting and funny, as in his early works, but here there are just so many unnecessary details that feel given purely for the sake of describing something or because that’s what would have happened.

In my writing workshops, one workshop leader always had participants imagine the work under consideration in its best form at the end of the workshop. I think Killing Commendatore in its best form is a book that makes some kind of statement about art, what it does to viewers, how one makes it, why one makes it, what it means to devote your life to art, and how that can affect artists.

This seems to be what Murakami tries to do with his opening prologue, which is actually very good. The narrator awakes from a nap, and a man without a face is sitting across from him. He’s been here before, and he’s back because the narrator has been unable to draw his portrait. The narrator struggles and again fails. The man disappears with a puff of smoke, promising to return. It feels like this is a good metaphor for a tortured artist trying forever and ever to achieve some intangible, unobtainable goal with their art.

If only that had anything to do with the rest of the book! There are bits and pieces here and there that readers might be able to use to come to some sort of conclusion along those lines, but Murakami is asking readers to do a lot of the work for him.

At any rate, it feels good to have it under my belt, and I’m glad to have had another 1,048 pages of language practice. I read an average of 45.6 pages/day, which is 10 below my pace for 1Q84. This is a little surprising. I wonder if I’ve lost focus, have more going on these days, or if the book was just bad.

やれやれ. (Only one instance of this word in the entire book!) I hope that you all enjoyed following along here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Until next time! (Which I guess will be in 2024 or 2025 if we’re going by long books or 2021 if we’re going by short books.)

Playlist for Haruki Murakami’s Kishidanchō goroshi (Killing Commendatore)

I’m a little late to this game, but I’ve put together a playlist of all the music Haruki Murakami has had his characters listen to or refer to in his recent novel Kishidanchō goroshi (騎士団長殺し, Killing Commendatore). I’ll keep adding to it as I go. I’m currently 15 chapters and 257 pages deep. Only 750 more to go. :/

Oh, and I forgot to include a link to my Japan Times tease for the book in my previous post. Check it out.

I forecasted the wrong words! I wish I had included 惹く/惹かれる because they’ve been used a million times, as in 1Q84. As has 具わっている. I mention these in my review of the book at Neojaponisme. There’s even a bit of 抽斗. Just had the first やれやれ. I’m still convinced that 胡散臭い may make an appearance. We shall see.

Kishidanchō-goroshi Release/Tease

Kishidanchō-goroshi is out in Japan! A description of the book has appeared on the Amazon website. The description is the same for both volumes. I translated it on my Facebook page earlier today. Here it is again:


From May of that year until the beginning of the following year, I lived on top of a mountain near the entrance to a narrow valley. During the summer, rain fell incessantly within the valley, but outside the valley seemed to be clear for the most part…those were supposed to be peaceful, lonely days. That is until the Commendatore appeared.

Very interesting. This makes it seem like it’s set in a fantasy world of some sort. Perhaps even similar to Hard-boiled Wonderland?  A commenter on Facebook noted that Commendatore is a character in Don Giovanni…which normally would suggest a massive culture drop on the part of Murakami, which it could still be, but the Commendatore seems to be an actual character in the book rather than the fictional character.

I’m disappointed that my copy has not yet left Japan! When I ordered the last Harry Potter book, it arrived in Japan on the release date, so I think I actually received it a few hours before many of the launch parties in the U.S. I think the delivery date says Monday. I may have a way to get a portion of the book over the weekend, so stay tuned to my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I’m thinking I may do some kind of live broadcast of me reading the book…this is the natural progression from liveblogging, which has been all but destroyed other than for video game/tech presentations.


In Hard-boiled Wonderland the the End of the World Chapter 34 “Skulls,” Boku treks through the snow to the Library after speaking briefly with the Colonel. He has coffee with the Librarian and confesses that he’s decided to leave the Town with his shadow, despite the fact that he will miss her. He also admits he considered letting his shadow go but staying in this world, exiled to the Woods. Boku is surprised when the Librarian says she thinks she could put up with such an existence if she had mind, which startles Boku since it suggests she has the ability to believe—a sign of the presence of mind. They retreat to the stacks where Boku will attempt to read skulls and retrace some piece of her mind.

There are very few changes in this short chapter, and until I came to the very last line, I wasn’t quite sure what I would write about. Here is my translation of the final exchange of the chapter:



「私の心をみつけて」しばらく後で彼女はそう言った。 (518)

“You realize you’re trying to sort out raindrops that have fallen in a river.”

“Listen, mind is different from raindrops. It doesn’t fall from the sky, and it’s not indistinguishable from other things. If you’re able to believe in me, then believe. I will definitely find it. Everything is here, and nothing is here. And I will definitely be able to find what it is I want.”

“Find my mind,” she says, after a moment.

And here is Birnbaum’s version. Check the final line:

“It is like looking for lost drops of rain in a river.”

“You’re wrong. The mind is not like raindrops. It does not fall from the skies, it does not lose itself among other things. If you believe in me at all, then believe this: I promise you I will find it. Everything depends on this.”

“I believe you,” she whispers after a moment. “Please find my mind.” (352)

The edits in the penultimate paragraph are neither here nor there…I think they probably improve the translation, notably the use of the colon to link the two sentences.

But adding “I believe you” feels like a step too far! I think it improves the translation in that it makes it more dramatic, possibly even cinematic. It also takes the text one step further than Murakami does: It suggests she has the ability to believe, and thus that she has mind.

I wonder what Murakami was getting at with the 何もかもがあるし、何もかもがない。(Everything is here, and nothing is here.) I’m not totally happy with this translation. I think there’s a way to render it more exciting yet not opt for “Everything depends on this.” Is that what Murakami is suggesting?

Six chapters left…


明けましておめでとうございます! Happy New Year! It’s the Year of the Rooster, which apparently is not as lucky for me (a Rooster) as I initially believed…it’s just my responsibility to throw the beans on Setsubun as a 年男. よろしくお願いします!

After an extended break, I’m back on the Murakami with Chapter 33 “Rainy-Day Laundry, Car Rental, Bob Dylan” of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It’s a really nice chapter. Watashi waits at the coin laundry for a dryer to open, throws in the Girl in Pink’s laundry when one opens, kills time walking and shopping around the neighborhood, drops off the laundry, picks up some new clothes, has a couple beers at a beer hall, grabs the unicorn skull from storage at Shinjuku Station, rents a car, and drives off to his date.

He spends a lot of time thinking as he performs these activities, and as you might expect, a lot of these thoughts get cut. There are so many that it’s difficult to pick out just one. For the most part I don’t think the cuts detract, and in some cases they actually improve the translation.

One example I’ve already looked at, actually, when I wrote for Neojaponisme about Murakami’s “advertorial” short stories in Men’s Club. There’s an extra bit cut immediately after the passage I looked at. Here is Birnbaum’s version:

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.

It was still raining, but I was tired of looking at clothes, so I passed on the coat and instead went to a beer hall. (342)

And here is the extended original and my translation:







雨はまだ降りつづいていたが、服を買うのにも飽きたのでレインコートを探すのはやめ、ビヤホールに入って生ビールを飲み、生ガキを食べた。 (500-501)

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.

When I stood up straight, I realized that the left sleeve of the blazer was about half an inch shorter than the one on the right. To be more accurate, the sleeve wasn’t shorter, it was my left arm that was longer. How’d I’d gotten that way, I had no idea. I’m right handed, and I had no memory of ever overusing my left arm somehow. The store salesman advised me that they could have the sleeve adjusted in two days and how would that be, but I of course didn’t take him up on the offer.

“Did you ever play baseball or anything?” the salesman asked as he was giving me my credit card receipt.

I told him I’d never played baseball.

“Most sports will deform your body,” the salesman told me. “For Western-style clothes, it’s best to avoid overexercising or overeating.”

I said thanks and left the store. The world is full of different rules. You discover something new literally every step you take.

It was still raining, but I was tired of buying clothes, so I didn’t look for a raincoat and went to a beer hall to drink beer and eat oysters.

I don’t think the translation loses all that much with the cut, but it’s a good example of the heightened awareness Watashi has on his last day. Birnbaum has cut other “discoveries” in the chapter, which start as an extended meditation on potted plants and a snail at the coin laundry. Murakami also uses the word いびつ (ibitsu, warped/deformed), one of his pet vocab words, twice in quick succession. Here in the cut passage and again in the beer hall when he looks in the mirror after using the bathroom.

The most effective cut in translation comes at the end of the chapter, where we know Birnbaum (or his editor) has been especially adept at making changes for more dramatic endings. Here is the Japanese and my translation:




It took quite a long time to get past the site of the accident, but I had time before I was meeting the librarian, so I just leisurely smoked cigarettes and listened to Bob Dylan. Then I tried to imagine what it would be like to be married to a revolutionary activist. Can a revolutionary activism be considered an occupation? Accurately speaking, of course, revolutionary activism is not an occupation. However, if politics can be an occupation, then revolution should be a modified version of it. But I could never tell very well with things like that.

Would her husband discuss the progress of the revolution over a beer at the dinner table when he got home from work?

Bob Dylan started singing “Like a Rolling Stone,” so I stopped thinking about the revolution and hummed along with the song. We’re all getting older. And it’s as clear cut as the falling rain.

The details about revolutionary activism, which refer back to a high school friend who married an activist and disappeared, feels like a very Watashi Seinfeld-esque aside (“Whats the deal with revolutionary activism?”), and it stands in stark contrast to Birnbaum’s translation:

It took forever to get by the accident site, but there was still plenty of time before the appointed hour, so I smoked and kept listening to Dylan. Like A Rolling Stone. I began to hum along.

We were all getting old. That much as as plain as the falling rain. (346)

Pretty interesting decisions. Seven chapters left…

Distant Drumming

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, Cannonball


Apologies for skipping last week! I’ll make up for the delay with a massive post this week.

This week I’m looking at one last essay in Murakami’s 2015 collection of travel essays. The essay is titled 「懐かしいふたつの島で 」(On two nostalgic islands), and it was originally written in 2011. I’m about half way through the collection, and this is the best one so far.

This is partially due to the fact that reading this essay makes me nostalgic. Murakami visited the two Greek islands Spetses and Mykonos during his three-year sojourn to Europe from 1986-1989, and in this essay he goes back to see them. He wrote about his initial trip in the book 『遠い太鼓』 (A Distant Drum), which I read half of at some point years ago. There are a few scenes I can still remember from the book—the “Zorba” Greeks from the beach; Murakami and his wife walking through one of the towns, low on cash because he forgot to go to the bank before the weekend; Murakami running the original Marathon course; Murakami running in Sicily and being chased by wild dogs.

It’s a great book, one that I really need to finish, one that deserves a full translation into English. (PICK ME! PICK ME!)

So I’ve picked a few of my favorite sections, starting with the introduction:




どうしてそんあ魅力的とは言いがたい季節を選んで我々(というのは僕と奥さんのことだが)がギリシャの島に住むようになったのか?まずだいいちに生活費が安かったから。高物価・高家賃のハイシーズンの時期に、ギリシャの島で何ヶ月か暮らせるような経済的余裕は、当時の我々にはなかった。それから天候のよくないオフシーズンの島は、静かに仕事をするのに向いているということもあった。夏場のギリシャはいささか騒がしすぎる。僕は日本で仕事をすることに当時疲れていて(それにはまあ、一口で言えないいろいろな理由があったのだが)、外国に出て面倒な雑事を逃れ、ひっそり仕事に集中したかった。できれば腰を据えて、長い小説も書きたかった。だから日本を離れて、しばらくのあいだヨーロッパに住むことに決めたのだ。 (85-86)

Nearly 24 years ago now, I was living on Greek islands. Spetses and Mykonos. “Was living” was only about three months total combined, but it was my first time “living abroad” and it turned into a very memorable experience. Every day I kept records in my notebook, and afterward I put them all together into the travelogue Tōi Taiko (A Distant Drum).

I had the chance to go to Greece a number of times thereafter, but I never visited those islands again. So this was my first “return” since then. English has the expression “pilgrimage.” Using that term might be a slight exaggeration, but I followed my steps from a quarter century in the past, so it’s safe to say it was nostalgic. Mykonos especially has a kind of affection within me because it is where I started writing Norwegian Wood.

I arrived in Rome in September 1986 and spent a month in the beautiful light of early autumn before going to Athens and then crossing over to Spetses by boat from Piraeus. I wanted to spend a few months in Greece before settling down in Italy. By mid-October, the Greek tourist season was over, and the exhausted Greeks had started to close up their hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Around this time of year it’s cold despite the fact that it’s Greece, and the weather gradually gets worse. Cloudy days grew in number, cold winds blew in, and it started to rain often. Anyone who has taken a cruise ship through the islands of the sunny Aegean Sea of summer would be surprised to know how quiet (and at times even melancholy) a place it can become once autumn sets in.

Why did we (my wife and I) choose such a difficult-to-appreciate season to live on a Greek island? First, the cost of living was cheap. At the time, we didn’t have the economic leeway to live for several months on a Greek island during the high season with its expensive prices and rents. Also, the off season and its bad weather was quiet and suited for getting work done. Greece in summer can be too rowdy. I’d gotten tired of working in Japan (there were a lot of different reasons for this that I can’t explain in a single phrase), and I wanted to go to a foreign country to escape the bothersome everyday and focus quietly on work. If possible, I wanted to settle down and write a long novel. So I left Japan and decided to live in Europe for a little while.

One thing to note: Murakami arrived in September 1986, and Norwegian Wood was published in September 1987. That’s a pretty impressive turnaround. It’s even more impressive because we know he killed the first month in Athens! He didn’t start writing until he arrived in Spetses:





Would you mind if I looked around inside the place a little? I lived here a little while a long time back. When I asked the old woman who managed the place, she replied, “Sure, look around as much as you like.”

The unit we lived in back then looked the same from the outside. Nothing had changed. Unit 19. White stucco walls and columns painted blue. I wrote the first few chapters of Norwegian Wood here. I remember it being very cold. It was December, just before Christmas. There was only a single electric heater in the room. I wrote while shivering in a thick sweater. I wasn’t yet using a word processor at the time, so I scratched out characters with a ballpoint pen in a college notebook. Outside the window was a ragged field covered with rocks where a small herd of sheep silently munched on the grass. The grass didn’t look all that tasty to me, but it seemed to satisfy the sheep.

When I got tired of writing, I rested my hand, lifted my head and gazed at the sheep. Even now I can still remember the landscape beyond that glass window. A large oleander had been growing along the wall. There had been an olive tree as well. The field outside the window was just as ragged as it had been, but for some reason the sheep were gone.

I would write the novel from the morning through the day, and at night I went out into town for a walk and had a little wine or beer at a bar. After working intently, I needed a change of pace like that. So we went to a bunch of different bars. Mykonos Bar, Somas Bar, and several others whose names I can’t remember. Foreigners (non-Greeks) who had settled on Mykonos hung out at bars like that and had quiet conversations. We were about the only Japanese on Mykonos during that season, and they were quite curious about us. There was a woman working at Mykonos Bar who had very charming wrinkles that gathered when she smiled, and I based the character Reiko on her—or should I say her wrinkles.

This section is mostly just a little trivia, but nice for Murakami maniacs like myself. There’s one more section where his writing comes up, and it’s worth sharing as well:

昔ながらの木造漁船を造る小さな造船所から、とんとんとんという木槌の響きが聞こえてくる。どことなく懐かしい音だ。規則正しい音がふと止み、それから少ししてまた聞こえる。そういうところはちっとも変わっていない。その木槌の音に耳を澄ませていると、二十四年前に心が戻っていく。当時の僕は『世界の終わりとハードボイルド・ワンダーランド』という小説を書き上げ、次の作品『ノルウェイの森』の執筆に取りかかることを考えている三十代半ばの作家だった。「若手作家」という部類にいちおう属していた。実を言えば、自分では今でもまだ「若手作家」みたいな気がしているんだけど、もちろんそんなことはない。時間は経過し、当然のことながら僕はそのぶん年齢をかさねた。なんといっても避けがたい経過だ。でも灯台の草の上に座って、まわりの世界の音に耳を澄ませていると、あの当時から僕自身の気持ちはそれほど変化していないみたいにも感じられる。あるいはうまく成長できなかった、というだけのことなのかもしれないけど。 (106-107)

I could hear the clap, clap, clap of a mallet coming from a small shipyard that built old wooden fishing boats. It was a somewhat nostalgic sound. The even beats stopped and then began again after a moment. This hadn’t changed at all. When I listened carefully to the sound of the mallet, my soul was transported back 24 years in the past. I was a writer in his mid-30’s who had just finished writing Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and was thinking about starting to write Norwegian Wood. I was considered a “young writer.” To tell you the truth, I myself still kind of feel like a “young writer” even now, but of course that isn’t the case. Time passed, and naturally I aged an equivalent amount. It’s an unavoidable progression, as it were. But as I sat there in the grass under the lighthouse and listened carefully to the sounds of the world around me, it didn’t seem like my feelings from that time had changed all that much. Or it might be just that I had not been able to grow very well.

Murakami is generally at his best when writing about himself and things he’s familiar with, stuff he’s experienced. This section is good, and there’s a very nice ending with him leaving on a boat and watching Mykonos fade into the distance.

I don’t think the essay is quite as good as Tōi Taiko, and it’s no A Moveable Feast, but it’s still a nice read. I’d definitely recommend picking up that book before this essay.

And that’s it for Murakami Fest 2016! Thanks for reading. The announcements come next week, as usual. The site says October 3-10, but the Literature date has not yet been set. Keep an eye out. You can stream the announcement live on the website or on YouTube. Maybe this is the year!