The Town and Its Uncertain Wall

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Murakami wrote Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World in 1985, but he had the original idea for the “End of the World” sections five years earlier when he wrote the novella (中編小説, literally “medium-length fiction”) “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” (街と、その不確かな壁, English translation of the title borrowed from Jay Rubin’s Music of Words). It was published in the September 1980 edition of Bungakukai.

In the story, an anonymous boku goes to a walled Town (街) in search of the second person kimi (君), the “true self” of a past love. He enters the Town as “the Prophet” (予言者, which Birnbaum translated as “Dreamreader”) and kimi is working in the Library as the librarian. Just as in the novel, boku has his shadow removed by the Gatekeeper when he enters the Town, and the shadow gets weaker and weaker over time. Boku is torn between his happiness in the Town with kimi and his shadow’s desire to escape from the Town’s eerie sense of perfection. Murakami makes very different choices at the end of the story, and I have translated a small portion that may be of interest to anyone who has read Hard-boiled Wonderland (and shouldn’t spoil the book for those who haven’t read it):

The Wall disappears.

“It’s over,” I say. “Want to go?”


We take off our coats and shoes in the snow and then fasten our belts together.

“Don’t get separated. No matter what,” my shadow says. “If we get separated, it’s all over.”

I nod. The two sets of black coats and black shoes are a strange sight on the snow.

“There’s a chance I’m wrong,” my shadow blurts out. “I might have wrapped you up in this for my own convenience.”

“You think?”

“I suddenly had that thought after hearing you talk with the Wall.”

“Don’t get discouraged,” I say. “Everyone makes mistakes.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that. If we make it out to land, let’s get to know each other again.”

We share a firm handshake with our belts attached. Then we take a deep breath and dive together headfirst into the pool, cold as ice.

The next instant I lose consciousness.

Murakami writes the story off as a failure, and it is definitely weak; grammatically he uses the same patterns over and over (notably ばかり and だけ), and there seems to be a lack of editing (on several occasions he lapses back to 彼女 instead of 君). But if you take into consideration that he wrote “The Town” between Pinball, 1973 and A Wild Sheep Chase, it also looks like a young writer boldly expanding his range. Thematically it’s very different from Hard-boiled Wonderland. Murakami is more concerned here with the uncertain nature of language and how that affects human interaction, whereas in Hard-boiled Wonderland he focuses on society and the mind and how the two affect individual existence.

If you are a true Murakami nut and want something cool to read, I recommend ordering a copy from the National Diet Library.