Another quick note before this week’s post:
Last week I forgot to mention the importance of “projects” in Japanese study. Little projects—like this annual Murakami exercise or even something smaller as resolving to read an entire book or a certain number of pages every day—are very helpful language study devices. I’ve had this Murakami collection since January but haven’t had a chance to read it yet, and now I’ve forced myself to. Accountability is important.
So, yeah, I recommend setting up some kind of project, maybe even an annual project, and then really committing to it. It doesn’t have to be in as public a forum as this, but making it public does make it more difficult to avoid.
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: 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
Year Four: More Drawers, Phone Calls, Metaphors, Eight-year-olds, dude, Ushikawa, Last Line
Year Five: Jurassic Sapporo, Gerry Mulligan, All Growns Up, Dance, Mountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat Women, Coffee With the Colonel, The Librarian, Old Man, Watermelons
Year Seven: Warmth, Rebirth, Wasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year Eight: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness, Back Issues
Year Nine: Water
This week I’m looking at the second essay in the collection: 「緑の苔と温泉のあるところ」 (“The Place with Green Moss and Hot Springs”). Murakami travels to Iceland for a writer’s conference and travels around a bit. The first part of the essay reads like a Wikipedia article, and Murakami does have a tendency to wonder wide-eyed at things that he deems strange about the country: they use credit cards very frequently, restaurants all decorate with plastic flowers, everyone seems to like to paint. But he does hit some high notes when writing about the scenery and with a side trip he takes to see the care for abandoned puffins.
He also breaks out one of his pet words: 引き出し (drawers). This gives me another opportunity to link to the 1Q84 Liveblog. He uses the more usual kanji here (rather than 抽斗) when discussing the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Enjoy:
The weather on the Snæfellsnes peninsula is a miserable thing, but the scenery did not get us down. There aren’t any tourist spots that are particularly well known, and accordingly there aren’t many visitors, so it’s simple and doesn’t cater to visitors. A relatively flat coastline runs along the southern side, and there are lots of birds, which makes it suited for birdwatching. There are several beautiful fjords on the northern coast that take your breath away. Cliffs carved out by ancient glaciers; quiet, deserted inlets; small churches with red roofs; green moss that was everywhere; distinct clouds, low and fast-moving; strangely shaped, taciturn mountains; soft grass shimmering in the wind; sheep scattered about, wandering in search of a sentence to punctuate; the remains of burned down houses (for whatever reason there were a lot of burned down houses); bales of hay bundled tightly for winter. I hesitated over whether I should even take pictures of this scenery. Its beauty wasn’t the kind that could be fit into the frame of a photograph. The breadth of the scenery before us, its almost permanent stillness, the deep scent of the tides, the ceaseless wind blowing over the ground, and the unique flow of time all came into being as an “inclusiveness.” All of the colors there had been produced as a result of being exposed to wind and rain since time immemorial. And they changed, hour by hour, based on changes in weather, the ebb and flow of the tides, and the movement of the sun. Once you capture them through the camera’s lens, once you translate them into a mixture of scientific colors, what’s before you today has already become something entirely different. The mood within almost completely disappears. So all we could do was look at everything with our eyes for as long a time as we could and etch it into our minds. And then put it into our transitory memory drawers and use our own power to carry it somewhere else.
(Photo attribution here.)
I hope you keep this tradition going. Murakami may never win the Nobel, but I’ve been following along for a few years.
Have you had the chance to read Murakami’s latest short story collection in Japan? It’s called Men Without Women, which also happens to be the name of a Hemingway book. It doesn’t appear like any Anglophone publisher is going to publish it, but a few of the stories have appeared in the New Yorker, and it’s been translated to a few other languages, including Norwegian, which is how I read it.
As for this particular passage, I’d never call Murakami a “lyrical” writer, but that passage is pretty damn poetic, at least in your translation. I have to disagree with Murakami as regards photographs though. As a trained photographer, I see the act of making a photograph as a form of heightened seeing. But I suppose there’s a difference between art and a vacation snapshot.
Hey Simen, thanks for the nice comment. I did read Murakami’s collection when it came out a few years back. It was ok…there were a couple stories I remember enjoying and a few I thought were meh. Unfortunately I don’t think the market for short stories is all that big, and publishers seem to prefer doing larger collections of stories for Murakami, rather than the EP-like collections he puts out in Japan.
I think I’d have to agree with you with photos in general – there are times when they can definitely elevate a moment. But I’ve also been to places (like the Iya Valley in Japan, and a couple of other very large scenic places) where it just seemed too big to capture a sense of the whole place. Maybe that’s what he’s getting at here?