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 Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphors, Eight-year-olds, dude.

As promised, this week I want to take a look at Book 3. One of the interesting/strange things that Murakami does with Book 3 is to add an additional narrative perspective – the book suddenly starts with a chapter from the point of view of Ushikawa, a creepy messenger/errand boy for the cult in the novel.

The name Ushikawa might be familiar. I can’t believe I didn’t realize it sooner (as in, when I was writing one of my two reviews of the novel), but Ushikawa was also a character in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. He sneaks into Toru Okada’s house in Chapter 13 of Book 3, he makes another house call in 16, and in 19 they talk on the phone.

And that’s the last we see of him for the entire novel.

He’s nothing more than a device that Murakami uses to advance the plot: he delivers a threatening message from Noboru Wataya – cut ties with “the Hanging House,” the residence where Cinnamon and Nutmeg are set up – which gradually becomes less and less threatening until eventually he just helps Toru get in touch with Kumiko via computer and disappears. We get long blocks of dialog that show what a poor bastard he is, but as best I can tell, he doesn’t really serve any other purpose in the novel.

He’s described similarly in both novels – disheveled, bald, an uncanny ability to track down information, clearly a lackey for someone powerful – but he doesn’t appear to be the exact same character. Just the same trope.

In 1Q84, too, Ushikawa is one sad bastard. In Book 2, he’s again used mostly as a plot device, but because he’s the narrative point of view in Book 3, we get extended information about how sad his life is in Book 3, so much so that I even started to feel bad for him – of all Murakami’s characters, he seems to get a raw deal.

And Murakami seems to revel in making him more and more miserable. I noted one passage in particular on 202. Ushikawa is riding around Tokyo on trains, hunting down information about Tengo and Aomame, and as he does, he’s thinking through the different possible connections in his head (connections that we as readers have known for hundreds of pages). Here’s the part just before a space break:

Ushikawa thought about this the entire time he was on the train from Ichikawa to Tsudanuma. He grimaced and sighed and stared off into space, probably without even realizing it. The primary school student sitting across from him was watching him with a strange look on her face. Out of embarrassment he smiled and rubbed the top of his lopsided bald head with his palm. However, that just seemed to scare the girl. She stood up all of the sudden right before Nishifunabashi Station and quickly ran off somewhere.

I felt like this was a bit overkill. We know he’s ugly. We know he’s a sad bastard. Does he really have to frighten primary school kids? Oh well. I guess that’s Ushikawa for ya.

One little language nugget of note: “lopsided” is いびつ in Japanese, and it appears over and over again in the novel. It’s one of those words that Murakami fixates on and uses a lot like 胡散臭い, 具わっている, and 惹かれる. He uses it a lot to describe the new moon that appears in the 1Q84 alternate reality: the new moon is smaller and more lopsided. I probably would have used a word like warped or irregular, but a teaser from Knopf shows that Rubin went with lopsided, which is a far superior choice. So I borrowed that for this week’s translation.

Eight-year-olds, dude

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 Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: More Drawers, Phone Calls, Metaphors.

More of 1Q84 Book 2 this week. I’m not quite sure why I’m stuck in Book 2. I promise to check out Book 3 next week.

The big Murakami news of late was that a school in New Jersey decided to ban Norwegian Wood because it has naughty bits. The naughty bits were distorted by parents playing the telephone game: lesbian sex became lesbian statutory rape. This is ironic because it’s exactly what happens in the book – a thirteen-year-old girl tricks the neighbors into believing that Reiko abused her when it was actually the girl who took advantage of thirty-one-year-old Reiko. Reiko snaps from the pressure, divorces her husband, and ends up in the mental hospital with Naoko.

So this week, rather than picking a random section based on the notes I took above the pages, I sought out the naughty bits of 1Q84. The bits I found aren’t the naughtiest, I don’t think, but they do a nice job of obfuscating other important plot details, so there will be no spoiler. Book 2, page 242:

Aomame said, “You’ve raped countless young girls. Girls who were barely ten years old.”

“You’re right,” the man said. “By conventional wisdom, that’s how it would be taken. Judging by the laws of the world, I am a sinner. I had physical relations with girls who hadn’t yet reached maturity. Even though it wasn’t what I wanted.”

Aomame just sighed deeply. She didn’t know how to suppress the intense convection of emotions running through her body. Her face distorted, and her right and left hand seemed to be demanding something different entirely.

Yes, dude. Baby raping. Rereading this section reminded me exactly how weird and tedious this book can get at times. This section is getting toward the final quarter of the book. We’re seeing the encounter we’ve been waiting 750 pages to see. And now there’s a long-ass discussion of morality to draw the whole thing out and ruin any sense of movement. If you were wondering why baby raping comes into discussion at all, it seems to be an example of how there is no absolute good or evil in the world – it’s constantly shifting, and things that were good can soon become evil and vice versa. This happens to be exactly what Dostoevsky was trying to portray in The Brothers Karamazov, apparently. Conveniently, both of the characters in this scene have read the book, so they can discuss it at length.

Not that any of this will matter to some people. They’ll just hear the baby raping part and put on their lynching shoes. I’m not sure I have the interpretive abilities to stop them. I’m very curious to read the translation and see the reaction to this part of the novel.

On a side note, Aomame is constantly scrunching up her face. In this case, the Japanese is 彼女の顔が歪められ, the first clause in that last sentence. Her face is described pretty horrifically in the beginning of the book. I’m interested to see how Rubin handles this in English. I can’t say anything about her hands because that would spoiler, but I promise the last clause makes sense in the original.


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 Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: More Drawers, Phone Calls.

We’re looking at Book 2 again on page 336, and this time the note to myself is “world is a big model room – nice.” Let’s check it out:

Aomame slowly looked around the inside of the room again. This is like a model room, she thought. It was clean, had a sense of uniformity, and all the necessary items had been arranged. However, it was cold and lacked any individuality – it was just an imitation. Dying in a place like this probably wouldn’t be a very pleasant way to die. But even with a nicer backdrop, was there really such thing as a pleasant way to die? As she considered this, Aomame realized that the world in which we live is itself something like a giant model room in the end. We come in, take a seat, have some tea, watch the scenery outside the window, and when the time comes we say our thanks and leave. All of the furniture inside is nothing more than makeshift knock-offs. Even the moon shining through the window could be an imitation made of paper.

I can’t remember who I had this conversation with – possibly a translator friend – but I remember talking with someone about Murakami, and that person remarked that the strongest part of Murakami’s writing is his metaphors. He can write damn good metaphors. This one appealed to me when I first read it, and I still think it’s pretty good. It has that ever-present Murakami theme that reality isn’t much more than a place where we eat, live, shit, and fuck before we die. やれやれ.

The passage also refers to the “It’s Only a Paper Moon” epigraph. I can’t remember if he refers to it this specifically anywhere earlier in the novel, but the moon is important throughout the book.

One interesting language note: Murakami mentions that he wrote the book entirely in third person – his first one – but he still has lines like this: もし私がこんなところで死ぬことになるとしたら、それはあまり心愉しい死に方とは言えないだろう. (Which I rendered above as “Dying in a place like this probably wouldn’t be a very pleasant way to die.”) I’m not certain, but I feel like Murakami uses the 私 to show that this is being filtered through Aomame’s consciousness, so I guess it equates to something like free indirect speech in English? It’s first person kind of, but it’s actually third person. The goal is to make it feel like that initial “she thought” (彼女は思った) covers the entire paragraph, which is why I translated it as Aomame might think it to herself in English rather than using the “If I” that you might normally use. Anyone have thoughts on this?

I was also curious about tense. It jumps to present in the “As she considered this” sentence. Does that seem to work?

One last note – papier-mâché is はりぼて in Japanese. The Google Images search makes this pretty clear. The word gets used twice in the passage above. The first usage is just はりぼて, but the second is 紙で作られたはりぼて, which would seem redundant unless there’s another meaning for the word, and Yahoo Dictionary notes the other meaning is metaphorical, so I went with “imitation.”

Phone Calls

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 Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: More Drawers.

Okay, let me set the scene: I’m listening to Zoot Sims, I’ve had a beer (and hell I’ll have another – it’s Murakami Fest and I don’t have class tomorrow), the cats have been fed, and now it’s time to translate a nugget of 1Q84.

Today’s nugget comes courtesy of Book 2 page 125, above which I wrote the note “random phone calls → WUBC & Yoru no kumozaru.” Let’s see what the page has to say – we’re in Chapter 6, so we’re following Tengo, whom you should be familiar with from “Town of Cats”:

The telephone rang just after nine on Tuesday night. Tengo was reading a book while listening to music – his favorite time of the day. He read as much as he wanted before he went to sleep, and when he got tired, he fell asleep right where he was.

It was the first telephone ring he had heard in a while, and it seemed to have a sort of ominous echo. It wasn’t a call from Komatsu. Phone calls from Komatsu had a different sort of ring. For a moment, Tengo wasn’t sure whether he should pick up the phone or not. He let it ring five times. Then he lifted the needle on the record player and picked up the phone. It might have been his girlfriend calling.

“Is this the residence of Tengo Kawana?” a man said. The voice was that of a middle-aged man, deep and soft. It was an unfamiliar voice.

“This is he,” Tengo said cautiously.

“I’m sorry for calling so late at night. My name is Yasuda,” the man said. His voice was very neutral. Neither friendly nor hostile. Neither businesslike nor intimate.

Yasuda? Tengo couldn’t remember anyone by the name of Yasuda.

“I’ve called because there’s something I need to tell you,” the person said. And then he paused for a brief moment, like he was inserting a bookmark into the pages of a book.

And that’s all you get. Otherwise I would spoiler, and spoiler is no fun.

This passage illustrates Murakami’s near obsession with phone calls as well as 1Q84’s unfortunate reliance on phone calls to drive the plot. As noted in my note above, Murakami began his magnum opus Wind-up Bird Chronicle (WUBC) with a random phone call (which also happened on a Tuesday!), and he used it in a number of stories in Yoru no kumozaru, a collection of short-shorts, notably “Eel,” which features May Kasahara, another character from Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

Something about that ability of the telephone to connect people in two completely different places seems to fascinate Murakami, and he uses it often to show how individuals often occupy two entirely different “worlds,” whether they realize it or not. Magically, the telephone can connect these worlds and bring people together, enabling them to communicate in ways they could not before.

Now that I think about it, Norwegian Wood ends with a telephone call between Toru and Midori. I’ve always thought that Rubin’s translation of that final line was interesting. He creatively invokes death:

Again and again, I called out for Midori from the dead center of this place that was no place.

Whereas Birnbaum does not:

I held onto the line to Midori from there in the middle of nowhere.

The Japanese is:


Birnbaum’s translation feels a little awkward. I still haven’t read his translation all the way through, but there were a number of places that made me wonder if the final text had been edited by a non-native speaker.

Okay, I’m rambling now, but you get the idea – phones are powerful symbols in Murakami’s fiction, and 1Q84 continues this trend.

More Drawers

Now begins the Fourth Annual How to Japonese Murakami Fest!

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 Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement.

For those of you who don’t know how this works, check out the past three years:
Year One: Boobs, The Wind, Baseball, Lederhosen, Eels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby Oysters, Condoms, Spinning Around and Around, 街・町, The Town and Its Uncertain Wall, A Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and Weirs, The Library, Old Dreams, Saying Goodbye, Lastly

I thought I’d start with something recent. Murakami serialized another set of essays in AnAn over the past year, and the collected edition, Murakami Radio 2, came out in July. In the introduction to the collection, Murakami continues his recent obsession with the drawer metaphor for writing:

Novelists need lots of drawers inside their heads when they write novels. Little episodes, specific knowledge, vague memories, a personal worldview (or something along those lines) – all these come in handy quite often when writing novels. But if I go and dump all of that material into essays, I’m not able to use it in novels very well. So I’m stingy (as it were) and secret it away into drawers. However, when I finish a novel, there are always a couple drawers I didn’t end up using, and some of those can sometimes make good material for essays.

Drawer is 抽斗, which Murakami mentioned in his interview with Monkey Business before the publication of 1Q84. I noticed it a couple of times in 1Q84, and Matt over at No-Sword examined the origins of the character.

He goes on to compare the collection of essays to “oolong tea made by beer companies” – it’s not his main business, so he’s able to relax a bit (肩の力を抜いて) and write off the cuff.

This is quickly apparent, as the essays are all really short, have no connecting theme, and often start quite lightly with questions for the first sentence: Do you like to drive? Hello, runners – how are you doing? Are you the kind of person that angers quickly? Did you know there are some socks where the left and right are shaped differently? Do you read Dazai Osamu? Have you been to Ireland? Do you know about seal oil?

It’s really a shame that he doesn’t publish this material online – they feel much more like blog posts than essays (as he calls them), and he does have a history of publishing material online. Also, then it would have been free and not 1700 yen.

Speaking of writing off the cuff, for free, and on the Internet – that’s what I do! I’ve been busy with the start of classes and unable to prep my translations this year, so starting next week, I’ll be posting short translations that I pick randomly from 1Q84, an excerpt of which was just published in The New Yorker as the short story “Town of Cats” (arguably the best section of the book). I took notes, so hopefully I’ll be able to find some interesting passages. And if they suck, just remember it was all free.