On the podcast this month, I continued the conversation about value in Japan, specifically looking at the 1,000-yen men’s haircut, which I think is one of the worst values in Japan, and the 2,000-yen men’s haircut, which is one of the better values in Japan.
These are cuts that are available at what I call “value barbers” and “extreme value barbers.” I don’t have a good sense of anything outside these two establishments, other than that anything beyond these two seem to go up in price dramatically quite quickly; there doesn’t seem to be much in that 2,000-5,000 yen range, although I did have the my worst (non-self afflicted) haircut in Japan at what I might call a “value luxury barber” for around 4,000-5,000 yen.
Let me know what you think and whether I’ve missed anything. I was able to give some good advice for getting a men’s haircut in Japan, but I’m especially clueless about the salon experience for women. I’d be curious to know what the customs are like there.
The one kind of “set custom” that I may have forgotten to mention on the podcast is the kind of 義理マッサージ (obligatory massage) that barbers give customers: After applying hair tonic at the very end of a cut, the barber then will rub your shoulders, clamp your hands together, and then give you a quick bump on each side (and maybe the top of the head?). I sometimes feel a little awkward enjoying this.
And over on the newsletter I wrote about the verb まとめる (matomeru, bring things together). I talked about this at the end of the podcast as well. Give it a listen!
I come from a family of thrifters and hoarders. It’s not fatal—we throw out our trash regularly and occasionally sort through the pantry—but we do accumulate stuff. And take pleasure in the hunt. After three big moves in the past 15 years, two of them across the Pacific, I’ve been better about resisting temptation. I managed not to purchase the pristine copy of Final Fantasy VI I came across in a Wakayama thrift store on sale for 1,000 yen on Christmas Day, 2022, but I still remember it vividly.
Recently the website Mercari has served as a sort of thrifting Methadone. I keep a few saved searches (保存した検索条件) but opt out of daily email notices. It’s a great way to fill empty time on the train, pretending to listen to podcasts when I’m really looking through used board games and books.
Browsing Mercari has also made me consider what retains value in Japan and what doesn’t. I have a podcast episode from Season 2 about 車検 (shaken, car inspection) and how that seems to distort the market, at least within the expat community here, depreciating the cost of used cars. And I’ve tweeted multipletimes about how used DVDs and Blu-rays seem to retain their value here while used manga and books do not.
But there are upsides to this, the most recent being that I managed to buy a first edition copy of the Alfred Birnbaum translation of Norwegian Wood on Mercari for just over 2,000 yen. Last fall, on a whim, I searched to see if any were available, and a copy had sold a month prior for just 2,800 yen, which was much less than the $100 I paid on eBay for the copy I have back in the U.S. So I saved the search. For whatever reason, a few copies have popped up on Mercari over the past week. One was up for 4,000 yen, and I tried negotiating it down to 3,000, only to see the first edition get posted for less than that, so I grabbed it. (It’s a mixed pair, actually; once it arrived, I found that Part II is a second edition.)
This is the last Murakami translation that’s difficult to acquire, ever since Kodansha started reprinting the Birnbaum translation of Pinball, 1973 at some point in the late 2000s. I’m not sure whether it’s still in print, but you can get used copies on Amazon Japan for 568 yen when they used to go for $500 on eBay.
I can’t seem to find any announcement of this, or any information at all to be honest. In the course of looking, I did manage to track down this talk with Rubin at Wellesley, which is a fascinating look at Rubin’s thoughts on translation in general and in particular when it comes to Murakami. It deserves far more than the 900 odd views it had when I first encountered it.
We’ll find out more soon; Murakami wrote a foreword to the new translation. But judging from the afterword to his latest novel and how the publication process has worked for this and the translations of Norwegian Wood, Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball, 1973, I’d say he’s looking for another version that will coexist with the original. This new version is coming out via Everyman’s Library Contemporary Classics, not from Knopf or Vintage. And as far as I know, the original translation will remain in print. (Interestingly, the link on the Everyman’s website currently takes you to a page for the Birnbaum translation.)
Murakami didn’t seek the broad publication of Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 beyond Kodansha International because he wasn’t confident about those books. He didn’t think they were very good. I personally heard him say this at a talk with Rubin in 2003. David Karashima’s book also makes it clear that he had a break with Birnbaum at some point—I’m not sure I’d call it a falling out, but some sort of distancing when Birnbaum moved away from Japan—so it makes sense that he would go with the translator who handled his most recent bestseller (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, 1997) when he decided to do a new, “official” Norwegian Wood translation in 2000. And perhaps he wanted a fresh look for Wind/Pinball when Ted Goosen did those translations in 2015.
This new translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland feels like a different exercise. Partly a nod to Rubin who’s always admitted Hard-boiled Wonderland was his favorite of Murakami’s novels and the singular reason he got so deep into studying and translating the writer for so long. And partly a nod to his own obsession with the novel/the lingering itch that he could never achieve what he wanted to when he first wrote it in 1985. Given that Murakami asked Rubin to do the translation before he started writing The City and Its Uncertain Walls, the two works seem to be linked, and I’ll be very curious to see when the translation of The City gets released. There’s still a chance that they are timed for simultaneous release, given that Rubin notes he submitted the translation 2-3 years ago. I do wonder what Knopf would think of that. From where I’m sitting, it feels like the ultimate marketing coup: Here, check out this new Murakami novel; oh, by the way, it’s based on the same original work as Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, so you should probably pick up a copy of that as well as its new translation so you can compare versions. But maybe publishing companies don’t think that way. Or maybe the translation of The City needs more time.
A couple other interesting notes from the talk:
– Rubin says he translated こころ as “heart” and not “mind”! This will create a very new look/feel for the work and immediately differentiate the two translations. Now we just need a version that uses “soul,” which maybe we can expect in 2065, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of publication?
– Rubin says that the use of “City” instead of “Town” in the title of Murakami’s new novel “took me totally by surprise” and made him wonder whether he should change “town” to “city” in the new translation. The talk went online in April 2023, and he says “I’m not really sure at this point.” There may have still been time for him to make those changes, but I’d be surprised if he did.
The whole talk is worth a watch. A couple of the students ask questions that obliquely hint at the question everyone seems to be asking online these days: Should good translation aim to be good English or to capture the Japanese well? (With the implication that good English misses something from the Japanese.) It’s interesting to hear Rubin’s responses.
There is a real loss here that’s important to acknowledge. Perhaps not an intentional erasure, but the result may be the same. The Birnbaum translations of Hear the Wing Sing, Pinball, 1973, and Norwegian Wood are true thrift store artifacts, so it would be a shame to see his translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World relegated to a similar status. He and Elmer Luke crafted such amazing voice as a translation team. I hope people hold on to them and share them with readers and students. It’s a shame that we’ll likely never see digital versions (at least not anytime soon?) that would more firmly preserve them. This is especially unfortunate given that Murakami recently put his complete catalog on the Kindle platform after a long, long wait. He seems to keep close control over how his works are distributed these days.
We will be getting access—what exactly that means, I’m not sure—to the unabridged version of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle in 2026, as Rubin donated it to the Lily Library at Indiana University, but it doesn’t seem like a given that we’ll get a full publication of it…which is a missed opportunity. (This is noted in the Karashima book.)
In the Karashima book, however, Murakami does mention wanting new translations of those early publications. If there’s an updated version of A Wild Sheep Chase announced in the next few years, that would be the sign for Birnbaum and Luke to take these updates personally. For now, though, I’d recommend running—do not walk—to Mercari to thrift what you can while it’s still there and still affordable. If anyone in the U.S. wants me to mule a copy, get in touch and we can work out a trade. And I’ll make same offer for academic libraries. Every university library with a contemporary Japanese program should have a copy of these translations on the shelves for students.
The market can be fickle. It seems to have crashed for now, at least in Japan. But you never know what buyers will want in the future, especially when you occasionally find wildly overvalued items like this collection of Dazai Osamu writing, which left even Japanese commenters baffled:
For now, though, Mercari remains a reflection of market values in Japan, and the value of printed material doesn’t hold, except in extremely rare cases, so you’ll have no trouble getting a full set of Ōwara Sumito’s 映像研には手を出すな！ (Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!) for just 3,000 yen, if not less.
Just make sure to keep control over your 積読 habits. You own the books; they don’t own you.
Check out the newsletter this month for some advice on buying appliances in Japan!
I ran out of space over at the newsletter this month, so I thought I’d share the いろいろ section on the blog instead. Podcast link at the bottom!
– The kanji of the year is 税 (zei, tax). Boring, but topical. Read more here. The only thing I could think of was Mizuki Ichiro yelling ゼーット！ on Gaki no Tsukai’s 笑ってはいけない罰ゲーム. I believe his first appearance was the police-themed 2006 show, but he showed up in a number of seasons after that in increasingly unhinged situations. Check out the video on this tweet before it disappears.
– This is a solid article on the current state of homebrewing in the U.S. A lot of the details ring true based on my experience in Chicago participating in the odd club out in a city full of really well organized brewing clubs. You can make some really good friends through the hobby…which is one idea the article hints at but never really drives home. There’s a similar passion for craft beer here in Japan, but it seems to be dedication to a specific small brewery or bar, and I’m not sure it has the same level of community. I found a great little spot called Buckets in Musashi-Kosugi when I was studying there. It was small enough that when I asked the proprietors where I should go for beers in Osaka, I got a chorus of answers from the other customers. Still looking for the perfect spot in Osaka, but there are some good options.
– The numbers are in: I spent just over 600 hours playing video games this year. 25 whole days, which is a frightening thought to think. Almost an entire month. This is by far the biggest gaming year of my life. What memories stick with me? Spending 40 hours finally finishing the original Final Fantasy VII when I caught COVID in January, only to be disappointed by the remake when I finally got to it in October before my PS+ subscription expired. Floating down into the Depths for the first time in Tears of the Kingdom. Emerging from Stormveil Castle into the serenity of Liurnia of the Lakes. Spending an hour on the character creation screen in Baldur’s Gate 3. I think my gaming goal for 2024 will be to play more mindfully, but 2023 was an awfully good year for games. It’s difficult to hold it against anyone for playing a lot this year.
– What am I looking forward to cramming into the remaining two weeks? More Baldur’s Gate 3. Some co-op Elden Ring here and there, helping folks get by the big bads. Some time with Super Mario Wonder, which I haven’t really started yet, and working my way through Super Mario Brothers RPG. But I’m taking a train ride for New Year’s, and I’ve had this image of playing Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster on the ride. I’m looking forward to it.
– I have not had good 福袋 (fukubukuro, lucky bags) luck this season. I was not selected for Muji’s drawing, and I forgot to enter Kaldi’s. I may have to pick up one at Tully’s or Doutor, but for now I have entered the one at McDonald’s and will see how I fare on Christmas Day.
– I’m moving apartments in January, and I had to fax my contract cancelation notice to the property manager the other day. It cost a mere 50 yen at the closest convenience store. What an astounding deal. You could quadruple that price and I’d still think it was a good deal. I’m not sure where I’d send a fax in the U.S. or how much it would cost, but I’m sure it would be far less convenient than walking 50 meters and dropping a single coin into a machine. I was impressed. Although the other side of this story is that the property manager would not accept a scanned copy of the cancelation notice sent via email.
Ichiro Suzuki was pitching gas!!!! Tour Dates: New York, NY 11/27 Springfield MA 12/8-9 New Brunswick, NJ 12/14-16 Bridgeport, CT 12/21-23 Boston, MA 1/12/24 tickets at chedurena.com Or link in bio #greenscreenvideo
– The Thanksgiving 休日 alignment this year was incredible. I had to do it up. This is what my spread looked like. I don’t think I’d actively take a day off to celebrate, but when it comes around again I’ll be ready, and I can absolutely see putting some of these dishes together again for a special occasion.
– And don’t forget to check out this month’s podcast. I examined the phrase そうこうしているうちに by way of an examination of the state of social media in Japan and their usefulness as language corpora.
I finally managed to see John Wick: Chapter 4. It only came out in Japan in September, six months after it’s initial release. In the newsletter this month, I give some impressions and analyze one specific subtitle that reminded me of the importance of collocations. Check out the newsletter for the definition of collocation in both English in Japanese and some good resources, although there is a spoiler warning because I spoil one major (minor?) aspect of the movie.
I have a spoiler warning on the podcast this month as well. But you can listen to the first part at least, which addresses other content. Including:
In the newsletter this month, I took a look at 非外来語のカタカナ表記 (non-gairaigo katakana notation), which is a complicated way of saying “katakana used to write words that are normally written in kanji or hiragana.” I found a very interesting paper on the phenomenon that’s worth a read if you’re interested.
The main idea is that the visual aspect of katakana can be used to provide extra-linguistic nuance to a sentence. I looked specifically at スミマセン, which is usually written as すみません.
The final post in Murakami Fest 2023 is about the very short chapter “Marone’s Apartment” (マローネさんの家).
The Murakamis are back in Rome and only manage to find an apartment thanks to Uvi’s connections. The apartment is in a private neighborhood in the suburbs outside of Rome surrounded by a wall. It’s owned by a woman from Naples named Marone. She’s married to an Englishman, works in the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and owns three apartments in the neighborhood.
Murakami gives a quick description of Marone, the neighborhood, her daughters, and their dogs before talking about how miserable the apartment itself was: It’s cold, moldy, and it leaks when it rains. They try to find a new place, but it’s hopeless and they end up staying there for 10 months.
I have just a short little passage to share, the last little bit, the only section dealing with Murakami’s work:
“Nothing ever good will come while we’re living somewhere like this,” my wife foretold. And her prophecy was, in a certain sense, exactly right.
While living here, I did a few translations and managed to write the novel Dance Dance Dance. In terms of work, things proceeded smoothly. Facing the prospect of turning 40, I did work I was somewhat pleased with. But in other terms, there were a lot of painful challenges.
That’s a nice way to wrap up this year. We’ll have to wait and see what these challenges are.
This is Murakami at his most productive. Living in less than ideal conditions in Europe, carting around dozens of handwritten notebooks with his most famous writing, somehow passing them off to editors and publishers or flying them back to Japan himself so that he can go over the galleys, only to get back on the plane and isolate himself in Europe. I wonder if he would do anything differently knowing how his career would turn out.
At any rate, I’m already looking forward to reading more and have had to resist the urge to speed ahead. Although, perhaps I will turn this site into a more dedicated analysis of the book at some point, if I ever am badly in need of writing material.
This month I’m talking about the message behind the message, inspired in part by my high school calculus teacher, Dr. Collins. Check out the newsletter for more detailed content about the excellent conjunction それが, which is a very efficient way to express the subversion of expectations.
And here are the tweetsfrom Yuta that I mentioned in the podcast. Pretty interesting food for thought!
Helsinki in 1968, right around when Murakami would have been at Waseda.
Week 4 in Murakami Fest 2023. We’re looking at his travel memoir Distant Drums (遠い太鼓).
Murakami divides the book into another section here titled “1987, Summer to Fall” (1987年、夏から秋), and the first subsection is “Helsinki” (ヘルシンキ). The Murakamis spend five nights in Helsinki en route back to Rome. It’s a chilly September, 8C when they land, equivalent to the end of November in Tokyo.
Murakami notes that the food is plentiful but limited in the winter when the selection drops off. He decides to skip a Bob Dylan-Tom Petty concert because of the weather (which I bet he regrets now!) and makes the funny comment “that guy’s already pretty old” (あの人ももうけっこうな歳だし) (276) when he notes that he’s worried about Bob being out in the weather. Instead he attends the symphony and gives his thoughts on the music choices.
The most interesting part of this section, however, is the very beginning. The Murakamis head back to Tokyo for the summer, returning to Japan for the first time in a year. I thought that he noted they were there for three months, but now I can’t find that passage. He notes that they return in 初夏 (early summer) and then are off to Helsinki in early September. While in Japan, he’s taking care of all the writing and translation work he’s done. Here’s what he has to say:
In early summer 1987, we returned to Japan for the first time in almost a year. I had to go for the galleys of Norwegian Wood. Even the very doubtful YokoKinoshita at Kodansha (although she herself insists she isn’t) said, “The book was really interesting.” Well, that’s good to hear. I’d been worried they’d say something like, “What the hell is this? This is just long.” I also checked the translations of Paul Theroux’s World’s End and [C.D.B.] Bryant’s The Great Dethriffe I did while I was on the Continent (which feels like a very old phrase). Essentially I was handling a year’s worth of publications. Although it’s my job, it was tough with all the things I had do. It ended up eating up the whole summer.
We set the design for three books, I went back and forth at meetings with editors over small details, and once we’d arranged everything so that all that remained was to print them, I left Japan again. I felt like a housewife who cooks and freezes a week’s worth of food in one go. It was a brief trip home, but there was a lot that wore me out. My brain got all wrapped up around itself getting together with people and with the endless, unrelenting appearance of various administrative work. It’s tough that we won’t be able to have good Japanese food for a while, but I guess there’s nothing we can do about it.
And that’s it. That’s the peek we get at what publishing life was like for Murakami pre-Norwegian Wood. No wonder he was exhausted! He knocks out the edits for two translations and his most famous novel over the course of a hot, humid Japanese summer.
It’s interesting that the only little anecdote we get is the small phrase from Yoko Kinoshita. (She came up previously in one other Murakami Fest post and during the Murakami podcast I did; she worked on Hear the Wind Sing and wrote a blog post about that experience. See the links in the translation above.) I guess this book is a travel memoir at its core and any incidents during that trip home necessarily need to be skipped over (I wonder if he wrote about them somewhere else), but it does feel a little surprising that he doesn’t narrate any other stories in Japan. I wonder if it was a choice or if his vision was in a different place. Maybe because he was back in Japan, he turned off that constant state of awareness that’s natural when you’re traveling. I’ll have to look through his bibliography and see what I can find.
The chapter we’re looking at this week is “A Small Hotel in a Small Village on Crete” (クレタ島の小さな村と小さなホテル).
This is a very short five-page chapter with the Murakamis having a quick overnight at an unnamed small town on Crete with one hotel, two restaurants, and one supermarket. This is a great example of how economical Murakami can be when he wants to be. The chapter is six pages and is made up of a handful of anecdotes loosely tied together and cleanly penned.
Murakami notes that the hotel has a library of books in dozens of languages that have been abandoned by travelers. He picks up a copy of Honkytonk Gelato: Travels Through Texas by Stephen Brook, which he pans by calling it “a boring book with an interesting title” (題材が面白くて内容のつまらない本) (265).
The town is so small that there are no locks on the doors, and the door actually opens and closes with the wind, making noise and generating a bizarre dream about Beethoven. After dinner, which includes more delicious local wine, a group of local kids asks him to show them kung fu, which he dutifully performs for them based on his viewings of Bruce Lee.
He then ends the chapter with this great little anecdote, which I think will be familiar to anyone who’s lived in a foreign country where the rules for throwing out garbage are different from their home country:
The next day we waited for the bus to Rethimno while eating lunch at Ioannis Taverna. In the seat next to me, a solo Englishman who looked like a tired, aged David Bowie (so basically, David Bowie these days) ate a gross looking bowl of beef stew atop which floated a thick covering of grease. We had just wine and salad. The bus came, so I paid the bill, quietly placed a worn out pair of Nikes that I’d been unsuccessfully trying to throw out for a week (for some reason, whenever I tried, someone brought them back to me) under the table in a paper bag, and got on the bus. The bus drove off. Finally, I had managed to throw them out. However, it was no good. Ioannis went out of his way to stop the bus. “Kyrios (you), you forgot this. There were my worn out Nike jogging shoes. They clung to me stubbornly like a small mistake I’d made in the past that no one would forget. “Thanks,” I said and took the paper bag.
What else could I have said?
Thus we left the small mountain town in Crete. That town we’d likely never visit again.
When we got to Rethimno, I of course pretended not to notice that I’d shoved the bag with my Nikes under my seat. But I still worried the whole night. That someone would knock on my hotel room door with my shoes. That they’d say, “Kyrios, you forgot this.” But of course no one did. That took long enough.
I just recently bought a new pair of shoes here in Japan. I wear size 13, but strangely enough, this corresponds to 30.5 cm, and there are no half sizes here, so I will occasionally end up buying size 14 shoes. This last time I did, I was relieved that the store took my old pair for me. I don’t think it hurt that I’d bought the last pair from the same store. I definitely worried about leaving the shoes in the trash only to find them sitting by the side of my apartment when I returned home from work. Osaka is forgiving about trash, but I did see two bags marked with “We were unable to collect this” stamps the other day for the first time.
I’m sure Murakami struggled because this was the countryside. Funny to see how universal these things are.
Week Two in Murakami Fest 2023. The next chapter is a bit more substantial, as suggested by the longer title “Going to Crete from Mykonos / The Bathtub Battle / The Light and Dark of the Route 101 Booze Bus” (ミコノスからクレタ島に行く・バスタブをめぐる攻防・酒盛りバス101号の光と影).
It’s just after Easter in Athens. Prime Minister Nakasone is meeting with Reagan. There’s 137 yen to the dollar. Murakami watches Platoon in a movie theater. They head back to Mykonos and stay with Vangelis again, who is glad to see the Murakamis and thrilled that they brought shoes for his grandchild.
Unfortunately, the weather, which was beautiful and perhaps unseasonably warm in Athens, has gotten cold, so they can’t take advantage of the beaches. They are even unable to escape to Crete: The wind grounds planes for the next few days, necessitating a frustrating back and forth between the airport and the hotel due to the lack of information readily available about when the next flight will leave. On the fourth day they finally make it out.
The hotel in Crete is under construction, so unfortunately the bathtub they went out of their way to ensure they would have is rendered useless: There’s no hot water until their final day at the hotel. Murakami goes through a long description of his conversation with the hotel worker and the delays.
While there, they take a bus to the beach where backpackers are kind of wandering around since it’s too cold to actually swim. The bus ride back, however, is eventful. The driver and conductor make a stops at two small villages, acquiring a large bottle of wine and a wheel of cheese. A Greek woman asks the driver if he’s been drinking. He laughs and says he’s been drinking water before encouraging the woman to try some wine. It isn’t long before the conductor is wielding a sharp knife on the bumpy road, distributing cheese and wine to the passengers. Murakami says it’s the best wine and cheese he’s had on the trip, and fortunately they make it to their destination without any issue.
But this isn’t the only encounter with Bus 101. They happen to ride with the same driver, different conductor, a couple days later:
So, the premonition I’d had at the time about the Route 101 party bus ended up being right on the money. While the bus was running, the luggage compartment opened—the conductor hadn’t shut it securely—and two pieces of passenger luggage inside tumbled out onto the road. The bus was going around 100 km/h, and neither the driver nor the conductor realized they’d fallen out, but luckily a backpacker sitting in the back row noticed and yelled out and the bus managed to stop. Then we backed up to collect the fallen luggage. This is probably when I should write “Well that’s nice” or something, but it actually wasn’t nice at all. That’s because those two pieces of luggage were both our luggage. One was a large Millet backpack I carried and the other was my wife’s nylon bag. We got out of the bus to inspect the damage, and the Millet had a hole in it from where it had hit the ground. Of course, I complained to the conductor, but would my complaints result in anything? Of course not. Language would just fruitlessly move the air around. They could barely understand English. There wasn’t anything I could do, so I showed the conductor the hole in the backpack. And then using my body language, here’s what I told him: What the hell are you going to do about this?Look at this hole. The conductor shrugged and spread out his hands. Then he pointed to the door. Look, the door opened up. Come on, man, you don’t have to tell me that. It’s your fault that it opened. You do understand that it’s your fault, I yelled in English and French and Japanese. (When I get angry people can understand my Japanese.) But no matter what I did it was a waste of time. It was like asking an Irish elk I’d run into on the road for directions in Spanish. “Excuse me, Mr. Elk. Where’s the entrance to the forest?” Everything I did and said would be useless. Asking the elk for directions in the first place was a mistake. I wanted to say something but just inhaled and let it out the breath. I shook my head in vain. The conductor shook his head in the same way. Then he patted me on the shoulder as if to say, what a disaster.