All Growns Up

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: Jurassic Sapporo, Gerry Mulligan.

Murakami Fest continues, and we remain with Boku and the receptionist (whom we will later learn is named Yumiyoshi, a name that Boku doesn’t ask for until page 107, and even then she refuses to tell him – strange, but this is Murakami so we don’t ask too many questions). We remain in Chapter 7, a very long chapter indeed. So long that it required numerous cuts. We looked at a minor one last week. This week we look at three longer cuts.

After arriving at the bar, Boku sips on his J&B and water (coincidentally, the preferred drink of a certain investment banker from the 80s) until Yumiyoshi arrives. She’s tense from a long day at work but also from the mental preparation it’s taken to gear up to tell the story of her encounter with the Sheep Man on the sixteenth floor – the encounter was frightening. With that out of the way with, she and Boku continue on to more pleasant conversation about themselves. We learn that her family runs a ryokan in Asahikawa and that she worked in Tokyo at a hotel. Boku then remarks that that must be the reason why she looked like “the spirit of the hotel” when he first saw her. She shrugs it off and says she could never be that. Then we get these lines:

“I’m sure you can, if that’s what you want,” I smiled back.

She thought that over a while, then asked to hear my story. (49)

A quick cut away from her to Boku. In Japanese, however, the “thinking over” is much more drawn out:







「あなたの話をして」と彼女は言った。 (82)

My quick and dirty version:

“I’m sure you could, if you give it a shot,” I said with a smile. “But no one stays at a hotel forever. Would you be alright with that? Everyone arrives and then just passes straight through.”

“This is true,” she said. “But I feel like it’d be kind of scary if something actually stayed. I wonder why I feel that way? Maybe I’m just depressed chicken? Everyone arrives, and they leave. But it’s a relief. That’s strange, isn’t it? To think like that. Ordinary girls probably don’t think like that, right? Ordinary girls want something more definite, no? But I’m not like that. I dunno why.”

“I don’t think you’re strange,” I said. “It’s just that nothing’s been set for you yet.”

She looked at me strangely. “How do you know?”

“I dunno,” I said. “I can just tell.”

She thought about that for a second.

“Tell me about you,” she said.

First the language issues. You say 泊まる I say 留る; interesting decision to switch away from 泊まる which has been used earlier in the chapter. I translated as “stay forever,” although I’m sure there’s an option more nuanced than that. Not confident about my translation of 定まっていない, so I stayed pretty literal. Also not confident about the rendering of 臆病. Is she saying that she’s depressed? Or that “it’s a depressing thought,” it being the previous sentence?

Interesting section to cut. It doesn’t really add much, I don’t think, but it does play on typical Murakami themes, notably the “passing through” theme that Murakami mined in Wind-up Bird.

Boku goes on to give a rundown on his own life, emphasizing how pointless his current line of work is – he compares it to “shoveling snow”:

“Shoveling snow, huh?” she mused.

“Well, you know, cultural snow,” I said. (49)

And then there’s a space break. After the break, the translation picks up with, “We drank a lot.” In Japanese, however, there’s no space break. Just a continuation:

















僕らはけっこう酒を飲んでいた。 (83-84)

In translation:

“Shoveling snow,” she said.

“Shoveling cultural snow,” I said.

Then she wanted to know about my divorce.

“It wasn’t like I got divorced because I wanted to. One day she just up and left, with another guy.”

“Were you hurt?”

“Wouldn’t anyone feel pretty hurt in that position if they were a normal person?”

She put her chin on the table and looked me in the eyes. “I’m sorry. That was a strange way to ask. I just had trouble imagining how *you* hurt. What’s *your* pain like? What do you get like when you hurt?”

“I put a Keith Haring button on my coat.”

She laughed. “That’s it?”

“What I’m trying to say,” I said, “Is that it happens constantly. Everything gets caught up in the day to day and it’s impossible to tell what’s painful and what isn’t. But it’s in there. That’s what pain is. I can’t pull it out and say, ‘Voilà, here it is.’ Anything I could show you wouldn’t be all that painful.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”


“I might not look like it, but I’ve been hurt by a lot of things, really hurt,” she said in a soft voice. “A bunch of stuff happened and I ended up quitting the hotel in Tokyo. That hurt. It was tough. There are certain things that I’m just not able to process like other people.”

“Hmm,” I said.

“It still hurts. Even now when I think about those things sometimes I suddenly just want to die.”

She took off her ring again and again put it back on. Then she took a sip of her Bloody Mary and fidgeted her glasses. Finally she broke a smile.

We had a lot to drink.

Another interesting cut. I think this section goes mostly just because it can go. There’s nothing vital, but the discussion about pain/what it means to hurt is well penned, and it is interesting to see the beginning of the deeper connection between the two that Boku remarks upon in the next section as they drunkenly make their way into a taxi and on the way to her apartment. (“Maybe we really did have something in common, the two of us.” 50) And as they do, Boku gets the name of the magazine that ran an article about the suspicious history of the Dolphin Hotel (the alleged plot purpose for Yumiyoshi’s involvement).

Boku thinks about how he could probably sleep with Yumiyoshi, about what it means that he could probably sleep with her, she makes an excuse and says she lives with her sister, but then she reveals that to be false when he accompanies her to the door. Birnbaum creates a nice space break by turning Murakami’s dialogue into more witty repartee:

“It’s not true. Really, I live alone.”

“I know,” I said.

“A slow blush came over her. “How could you know?”

“Can’t say why, I just did,” I said.

“You’re impossible, you know that?”(51)

Space break, cut to the taxi driver waiting for Boku.

The Japanese reveals this to be the most questionable cut of the chapter:














彼女はドアに手をかけたまま深くいきを吸いこんだ。「たぶん」と彼女は言った。そしてまたドアが閉まった。 (87-88)

In translation:

“I dunno why. I just do,” I said.

“You are a bastard,” she said quietly.

“Yeah, maybe so,” I said. “But I don’t hate women who say no, and I never take advantage of anyone. So there was nothing for you to lie about.”

She was confused for a moment but eventually smiled, like she’d given up. “Yeah. I didn’t have to lie.”

“*But*,” I said.

“But it just came out. I hurt like I hurt, as I mentioned earlier. Things happened.”

“I hurt too. I’ve got a Keith Haring button on my chest.”

She laughed. “Why don’t you come in for a cup of tea? I want to talk more.”

I shook my head. “Thanks. I’d like to talk as well, but tonight I’ll go back. I dunno why, but I think it’s best for me to go back tonight. I just feel like it’s best that you and I don’t say too much all at once. Wonder why that is?”

She stared at me with her eyes squinted like she was trying to read the find print on a sign.

“I can’t explain it. That’s just how I feel,” I said. “It’s always best to say things a little at a time when you’ve got a lot of things to talk about. That’s what I think. But I might be wrong.”

She thought about what I said for a second. Then she gave up thinking. “Good night,” she said and quietly closed the door.

“Hey,” I called out. The door opened a few inches, and she stuck her face out. “Is it alright if I ask you out again sometime soon?” I asked.

She took in a deep breath with her hand still on the door. “Maybe,” she said. Then the door shut again.

Whew. What a cut. This one makes more sense. Birnbaum’s decision to cut this section keeps Boku a more suspicious character, and cutting it doesn’t force him to alter the narrative elsewhere in the chapter. The original Japanese breaks the tension by letting us see exactly how nice a guy this Boku character actually is. Yet he refuses the offer and doesn’t press his luck, a true gentleman, now in search of the true answer to his existential dissatisfaction. This does make sense in the order of the Murakami canon; Boku is all growns up.

8 thoughts on “All Growns Up

  1. Wouldn’t 臆病 work fine as “timid” or “chicken” or something there, as usual?

    The thing that really jumped out at me in this post was the original translation of “文化的雪かき” – “Well, you know, cultural snow.” There’s nothing in the original sentence at all corresponding to that “Well, you know”! It’s probably safest to refrain from judgment based on a single line (since it’s no doubt to do with the novel-global characterization of Boku) but the tone of the two strike me as really different. The original is much “cooler,” for want of a better word — he’s not trying to build a report or hedge, just making his witticism and ending the transmission.

  2. Arg, yeah, 臆病 was just a missed reading. I always misread that for 鬱病.

    Nice point about the “Well, you know.” I noticed that while I was translating. Murakami plays it real straight there. The conversation also moves on so quickly! It doesn’t linger on the joke whatsoever. It’s a great lead into a space break, too, which is another reason I imagine Birnbaum cut it there.

  3. I wonder if the medical aspect of 慢性化 might not be important here. That is, the pain becomes a chronic thing, rather than an acute, one-time thing; he can’t isolate it and show it to someone (a doctor, a sympathetic companion) because it’s just always everywhere.

    Once again I’m sad to find that these cuts hide from us some of Murakami’s careful (I insist) cultural name-dropping. The Keith Haring reference definitively sets the story in the mid-’80s, but it might also help explain (from the standpoint of 1988) why he’s associating Keith Haring with chronic pain. Acc. to Wikipedia, that was the year Haring was diagnosed with AIDS. I don’t now how soon that became public knowledge, or if Murakami could have known it when writing this passage. More likely he’s just saying that he responds to pain with a forced, poppy cheerfulness so plastic that it can pass for irony. Still, an interesting resonance that Our Host saves for us after Birnbaum erased it.

  4. Ah, that’s a really good point. I was puzzled by 慢性化. It took me a couple reads to understand that section as well as the とても自然についちゃった section. There’s definitely a way to get “chronic” into the translation naturally.

    And I like the point about Keith Haring as well. He’s a little before my time, but I recognize his art, and the line made a lot more sense once I figured out who he was. I wouldn’t be surprised if Murakami knew, but either way, it definitely adds something to the reference. There’s a really nice scene this reminds me of – when Yumiyoshi visits Boku in his room and just leans on his shoulder for a few minutes. Birnbaum has a great translation – “She needed somewhere to roost.” When I was looking through that section, this passage came to mind.

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