Winning and Losing

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter 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
Year 14: Prostitutes and Novelists, Villa Tre Colli and Norwegian Wood, Surge of Death, On the Road to Meta, Unbelievable
Year 15: Baseball on TV, Kindness, Murakami in the Asahi Shimbun – 日記から – 1982, The Mythology of 1981

I’ll finish up Murakami Fest this year by returning to where I started: Murakami’s 1978 baseball revelation. I’ve looked at a number of his early accounts but only his 2007 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running when it comes to more recent accounts.

At the Diet Library, I tracked down a 2001 Mainichi Shimbun article Murakami wrote on October 12 ahead of the Japan Series that year. The Swallows played the Kintetsu Buffaloes starting a week later, and Murakami wrote an article on the Culture page about how he became a Swallows fan. He says he doesn’t really know, that he basically realized he was a Swallows fan the day he first walked into Jingu Stadium, but that whenever people ask him about it, he always mentions the few benefits of being a Swallows fan: Jingu is never full, so it’s easy to get a ticket. Beer is 100 yen cheaper than at the Tokyo Dome. And they don’t do the traditional 7th inning balloon release at Jingu, of which Murakami notes “I can’t think of a more meaningless thing to do.”

Here’s what he has to say about the day of his revelation:

I’ve written about this before, but the outfield seats at Jingu Stadium are where I suddenly realized I wanted to write a novel. It was opening day 23 years ago. I think Yasuda [Takeshi] was starting. On October 4 that year, the Swallows won the championship. Matsuoka [Hiromu] was starting and pitched a complete game. I was in the stadium that day as well. It was the first championship for the Swallows, 29 years after being founded, and I happened to be 29 years old. I won the new author’s prize for the novel I wrote that year.

23 years later (so this year), I was in the outfield seats at Jingu on October 4 again, watching Yakult against Hanshin. If they won the game, they would’ve won the series, but they lost. Even though they lost, I wasn’t all that mad. In life, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Somethings things go well, and sometimes they don’t. There wasn’t anything I could do, I realized. It made me happy to see Inaba [Atsunori] sprint at full speed out to his spot like a shrewd black cat (not a black panther), [Roberto] Petagine spin the bat behind his head, and Takatsu [Shingo] flare his nostrils widely on the mound (which you could even see from the outfield). That’s what baseball is all about. It’s not just about winning and losing. That’s something else I learned at Jingu Stadium.



Not noted here is that the Swallows did end up clinching, advancing to the Japan Series, and then going on to win after the publication of this article.

So we have all these accounts, and in only one of them does Murakami claim he was watching on TV. I’m willing to attribute it to the journalist doing the interview, especially given that it wasn’t formatted as a clean transcript. And given that a year earlier in the 対談 with Murakami Ryu, he’d given a very detailed account of the basic story that he’s stuck to over the years. It would have to have been a fairly significant slip up for Murakami to relax enough to deviate from a constructed story, if indeed it was false.

That said, it’s definitely an interesting wrinkle.

Assuming he did actually have the revelation at the stadium, what actually happened that day, on the other hand, is more up in the air, and there’s not much that can be done to definitively prove anything, short of someone finding Murakami in the background of a photograph in Jingu Stadium or in a photograph of Kinokuniya. Now that’s something I’d love to see happen.

Bizarrely enough, the Yakult Swallows are at the top of the standings this year behind the powerhouse hitting of Murakami Munetaka. They play the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien on Sunday. Maybe I’ll look into getting tickets…

Hope y’all have a great year. See you in 2023 for Murakami Fest 16!

3 thoughts on “Winning and Losing

  1. Haha, I’ve had doubts about this story myself. I think it started after I read this passage from his introduction to Soseki’s Miner:

    “Of course one cannot always take a novelist’s anecdotes or confidences about his writing at face value. As a novelist myself, I know about such things. I don’t think there’s a novelist anywhere who tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about how each of his works came into being. We all set up smokescreens to hide inconvenient truths and make up episodes to add a little color. There must be some novelists, too, who enjoy creating little legends about themselves. Or, even if they don’t do it consciously, their memories can undergo spontaneous change while they are engaged in the creation of their works.”

    There was also a very early interview where he was asked what sparked his writing and where he said that he remembered a professor praising the writing of his final thesis at university. Obviously this doesn’t really proof anything, but it’s still funny to consider that he might have just made it up. I then also started to notice other stuff: He said he never experienced writer’s block, but then I read about how he was unable to write for quite some time after the success of Norwegian Wood. He said he never thought about being a writer before his baseball epiphany, but then I read about his earlier attempts during university. He said he never had a physical issue stop him from running, but then he describes how he had to abandon a marathon in the middle because of a cramp. Yes, now it’s getting a little autistic. Language factors might play into this and interviews aren’t the most trustworthy source. Also, why not just let someone make up stories about himself? I mean a writer creates fiction, it’s his area of expertise.

  2. Pingback: How to Japanese Podcast – S03E03 – Murakami’s Origin Story | How to Japanese

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