Welcome to Murakami Fest 2021! This year I’ll be looking at five more chapters from 遠い太鼓 (Tōi taiko, Distant Drums), Murakami’s travel memoir from Europe. Another fascinating set of chapters! Murakami is finishing Norwegian Wood and traveling through Italy. We get some great details about the writing process.
This is Year 14 of the fest. Where has the time gone? Here are the previous entries:
Year 1: Boobs, The Wind, Baseball, Lederhosen, Eels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: 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 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and Weirs, The Library, Old Dreams, Saying Goodbye, Lastly
Year 4: More Drawers, Phone Calls, Metaphors, Eight-year-olds, dude, Ushikawa, Last Line
Year 5: Jurassic Sapporo, Gerry Mulligan, All Growns Up, Dance, Mountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat Women, Coffee With the Colonel, The Librarian, Old Man, Watermelons
Year 7: Warmth, Rebirth, Wasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year 8: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness, Back Issues
Year 9: Water, Snæfellsnes, Cannonball, Distant Drumming
Year 10: Vermonters, Wandering and Belonging, Peter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation, Mental Retreat, Writing is Hard
In 南ヨーロッパ、ジョギング事情 (Southern Europe, The Jogging Situation), Murakami writes about his experience jogging in southern Europe. Jogging is city culture, and even large cities like Rome are slower-paced and not as quick with trends, so the customs here seem to annoy Murakami. People ask him questions about what he’s doing, he gets chased by stray dogs on his way from his housing to areas where he can jog, and the people who do jog seem obsessed with jogging in groups and chatting while they jog, not something Murakami the running fanatic is interested in.
There’s a nice section at the end of the chapter where Murakami talks about how he takes in a city through jogging; driving is too fast, so you lose the details, and walking takes too much time, but with jogging you can cover ground and still get a good sense of the culture. It brings us to this nice passage he uses to end the chapter:
Just as a certain type of people always go to local bars when they go to an unfamiliar place and another type of people always sleep with women when they go to an unfamiliar place, I always run when I go to an unfamiliar place. Through running, I try to feel what only I can feel. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. But still, I run. If for no other reason, I love running, so it’s pleasant to run in an unfamiliar place. It’s like opening up a fresh notebook to the first page.
This is a nice passage, but there’s that one line that’s a little off, no? The way some people sleep with a woman whenever they go somewhere new? This feels pretty dated.
There’s an earlier passage in the chapter in which Murakami talks about the Italian approach to jogging. He tells a story he heard from someone in Malta: Other than eating, talking, and seducing women, Italians never try to do anything very hard, his Maltan friend says. They’ll never win a war. After an extensive quote from this source, we get back to Murakami’s opinions:
I believe this, too. This is one reason Italy is a nice country. And in a country like this, people don’t just run for no reason.
In Germany, even prostitutes go for a morning run. It might sound like something out of Murakami Ryū’s New York City Marathon, but I’ve actually spoken to such a prostitute in Hamburg once. She said she ran around the Alster Lakes every morning. I was running the same path, so I decided to ask how long it took her, and it was a pretty respectable time. That’s amazing, I said, and she shrugged and said, my body is an asset. That’s right—for both prostitutes and novelists, their bodies are an asset.
Murakami continues to show his obsession with physical exertion as a metaphor for writing. This is an odd comparison. And the sociological premise also is somewhat questionable. So maybe not his finest work here. Maybe we can chalk it up to being the 80s and Murakami having some culture shock? But some of this is Murakami through and through.
On a total side note, Murakami Ryū has a pretty cool website with a trailer for the book that gets mentioned, which is apparently about a prostitute who attempts to run the New York City Marathon.