Hard to believe that 2020 is finally coming to an end…or is it?
I’ve had a couple of tweets do prettywell the past week, and I’m going to attribute most of the success to sheer luck. I happened to be transcribing a 悩み (nayami, problem/distress/sorrow) from Higashimura Akiko’s podcast (same episode I mentioned in the newsletter this month, just an earlier call) the other day and came across the great compound 悠々自適 (yūyūjiteki), which felt incredibly appropriate to share:
This is definitely my personal goal for 2022, although I do feel like it’s a luxury to be able to completely tune out the outside world. Once I get through the program I’m in, I’m planning to make phone calls for the governor’s races in Georgia and Florida, and I hope you contribute time or money as well.
As for Japanese language study, I do think it’s incredibly helpful to transcribe native Japanese audio from time to time. I find myself doing this for my writing every now and then, usually from NHK or Higashimura-sensei’s podcast, which provides good balance between 報道 (hōdō, broadcast) language and more natural language. It’s obviously helpful to listen to these without transcribing to practice your listening skills at a native pace, but transcription forces you to get in there and confirm particles and verb forms in a way that enables you to then implement the patterns more accurately. It’s not fun work, but if you can set a schedule to do this once a month or so, I promise that you’ll find yourself improving.
I hope that you all find the time to take a breath at the end of the year. I was really looking forward to spending the New Year’s holiday in Japan. There’s really nothing like relaxing in Japan during that period. I will admit that I’ve enjoyed the 80F/24C days in New Orleans I’ve had the past 10 days, and I’m also looking forward to returning to my monastic existence in Chicago. I’m probably putting together a virtual hang for New Year’s Eve, so if you’re a friend of the blog, reach out and I’ll share the link. Otherwise, 良いお年を！
For whatever reason, the sounds all just stood out. う and さ do so much work despite each being just a single syllable. It gave me an intense appreciation for all the time I’ve spent doing Japanese, and at the same time it made me wonder what was the best way to communicate this phenomenon to students who are just starting their studies. There’s such an emphasis on learning what the language looks like visually that the importance of the sounds sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.
Please also enjoy this introductory paragraph that got lost on the drawing room floor:
There’s something comforting about the infamous English textbook phrase “This is a pen”: It’s so physical and definite, not to mention the nearly one-to-one correspondence with the Japanese equivalent これはペンです (Kore wa pen desu). You can imagine students on any side of the Pacific, desperate to cement their understanding of the language, wrinkling their brows with focus as they stare at a pen clutched in their hand.
So that’s where my mind was when I wrote the article. I think there’s a way to do “flashcards for sounds.” I’m not sure exactly how it would work. Maybe it’s something that teachers could implement as as short activities alongside regular coursework. Drilling sounds. The one thing I remember doing to train my listening was transcribing things that the teacher said.
I also had an article about 敬語 (keigo, polite speech): “Let the verbs do the work when it comes to pronouns and polite speech in Japanese.” Something that clicked for me at some point was the idea that pronouns are naturally built into Japanese speech patterns. Polite speech is pretty complicated, but one thing that’s easy to understand is that certain verbs correspond to people of different social status (e.g. the Emperor gets his own special verbs) and make it so that you don’t actually have to say their names.
And here’s a paragraph that got cut from this article as well:
Keigo is extremely useful in situations that might require you to be a little nosy. For example, if you need to politely ask for someone’s name (either for the first time or because you can’t quite remember it), you can take the versatile verb 伺います (ukagaimasu, to ask/to visit/to go) and use it in a sentence like お名前をお伺いしてもよろしいでしょうか (Onamae o o-ukagai shite mo yoroshii deshoo ka, May I ask your name?).
This will be my last post on this side of the Pacific for a bit: I’m heading to Japan in just over a week! Stay tuned here, on Twitter, and over at my newsletter for any insights I encounter. I’m sure there will be many.
I was on Translation Chat, Jenn O’Donnell’s new podcast about translations! Check out the podcast here.
This was so much fun. We talked about Alfred Birnbaum and Elmer Luke’s 1991 translation of Haruki Murakami’s 1985 “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World,” so I had a chance to review my six-year Hard-Boiled Wonderland Project—my close blogging of a comparison with the original Japanese and a look at the changes that Murakami made in revision for his Complete Works edition.
Looking back at my close reading, it’s clear that I was working on limited information. Of note, I did not know when the translation was completed in relation to the Complete Works edition.
Well, I have that information now. David Karashima mentions it in his book, and apparently I missed it my first time through. I re-read the chapter about HBW in preparation for the podcast, and it’s very clearly stated that the translation was completed in 1991 and actually took longer than anticipated. At that point, the Complete Works version had already been published. Actually, Murakami mentions in his pamphlet essay included with the Complete Works volume that the book was in the process of being translated but had not yet been published. He also notes that the publisher wanted to title it “Hard-boiled Wonderland,” and of course he said no.
This has pretty cool implications: Birnbaum and Luke were translating based on two versions of the original text. I’m fairly certain that they had access to the 1985 original and Murakami’s revisions. Take a look at Chapter 15, for example. There’s a short stretch in English that includes lines from the 1985 version that were cut from the 1990 version and a sentence from the 1990 version that was not originally in the 1985 version.
This makes me very curious to see what Jay Rubin does with his translation. Yes! He’s working on a new translation. I somehow neglected to mention this during the podcast.
It’s so cool to get all of my HBW knowledge out there in audio format. I did a re-read of the book for the episode, and it was the first time in over ten years that I actually did a relaxed read of (mostly) just the English translation. It really is an incredible piece of art. It’s not perfect, but neither is the original. That’s actually something that really struck me: Murakami’s original is very flawed, but I’d also argue it strikes a better balance between ambition and execution than The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
Murakami admits the book has flaws. In the Complete Works commentary, he writes about recognizing the 参ったな部分 (literally: “the places where I thought ‘Oh damn’”) as he was re-reading it and about its 完成度 (degree of completion) not being what it could be. So he couldn’t stop himself from making revisions. But by and large they are cosmetic changes.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I discussed the Murakami Complete Works on the How to Japanese podcast episode with Molly Des Jardin. We didn’t get into it too deeply, but it’s fascinating to think what a true Murakami Complete Works could look like. There would be so much MORE writing in it!
Fortunately for us, Osakabe Yoshio is (was?) the biggest Murakami fan on the planet and kept a very detailed track of everything that Murakami published early in his career. (I believe he even ran a marathon with Murakami at one point!) His Geocities website is gone but is archived on Archive.org (see here: 村上春樹全作品リスト Part 1 and Part 2). I would recommend saving a PDF copy if you want to make sure it sticks around. I have one that maybe I’ll try to translate and put online sometime. Maybe a good project for a vacation sometime next year. For now, I’m going to give it another close look and cross my fingers that I have a chance to make it to the National Diet Library if and when I make it to Yokohama.
The next chapter is メータ村 (Meta). Ubi takes the group off the highway and they drive into the mountains through several small villages. It’s Palm Sunday and everyone walking around is holding olive branches. Ubi gives the background on some of the surrounding villages of Peschiera and San Savino. Despite their proximity to Meta, the people there walk differently and have a different worldview, or so Ubi claims. His father is from San Savino, his mother from Meta.
They see the father’s cottage he keeps in San Savnio, animals that he has around, and then they arrive at Meta, meet his mother at the family house and eat. Ubi’s dad comes in and is clearly a drunk; Murakami describes him as having a red nose like Santa Claus.
They head to a bar and meet the brothers, one who works in trade and another as a town council member. Then they go to the mother’s family home, which is made of stone and has a hidden area where the family secreted away an English pilot who crashed nearby during the war. The Nazis actually came to the village looking for the pilot, and when they couldn’t find him, they took away some of the young men (? – Murakami gives it as 若者) from the town.
The chapter is a return to form, for the most part. It does feel a little scattered, which I’ll chalk up to Ubi being scattered himself. Murakami does a nice job with the dialogue, keeping a running joke with Ubi’s catchphrase シンジラレナイ (“Unbelievable!”).
Here’s the closing section which is pretty nicely penned:
Evening approaches, and Meta gets colder and colder. Ubi and his mother and Usako and me and my wife go up to the old town at the top of the mountain. (Batista is wasted and shuts himself away in his hideaway in San Savino.) All we can see are mountains. And here and there in the mountains, small villages like Meta (but with different outlooks on the world and ways of walking) exist, fixed firmly to the mountain surface. A frigid wind whistles between abandoned homes. I can’t believe the German army made it to a place like this. I’m absolutely impressed. The Germans really are a diligent people.
“You see those mountains over there,” Ubi says and points. “When I was little, I thought that was the end of the world. Honestly no one knew anything about what was beyond. No one told me anything. So to me that was the end of the world. And this—Meta—was the center of the world.”
He puts a cigarette in his mouth in the wind and lights it.
“Shinjirarenai (Unbelievable),” he says. And he laughs.
The next chapter is “On the Way to Meta – April 1987 (メータ村までの道中 1987年4月).”
The chapter is a profile piece that Murakami attempts to use to characterize Italian culture. He and his wife are driving to the town Meta with Uvi (not sure if this would be the right spelling – the Japanese is ウビ) and Usako, an Italian man and his Japanese wife. Uvi is a bit tightly wound. He spends most of the trip complaining to Murakami about the Italian government (pensions are too expensive, the country is going to collapse) and Italian people (they don’t work hard enough, they cheat the government out of taxes), talking about past romantic conquests, and reminiscing about the time he spent living in Japan while their wives talk in the back seat.
He also finds time to tell a holocaust joke (!) which Murakami kind of laughs off—not a great look, but I think it could be argued that he’s just trying to present Uvi and all his warts to the audience.
To be honest, none of it is very compelling, so I think I may just translate a very brief introduction to the chapter Murakami provides before getting into the core of the content:
After I handed over the manuscript for Norwegian Wood in Bologna, I decide to take it easy and rest my mind and body. It feels incredible. It feels like I completely unloaded everything I was carrying around with me.
It’s nothing special, but it’s an interesting little note and somewhat representative of how Murakami treats the book in general; each chapter is mostly independent, but he’ll sometimes tie them all together through loose narratives at the beginning to give readers a sense of how his writing is going.
This chapter was the group on the road to Meta, so next week we’ll look at what they do once they arrive.
The next chapter “A Small Death at 3:50am (午前三字五十分の小さな死)” is another very short chapter. Murakami introduces the mood he gets into when writing a longer novel—he thinks constantly of death, specifically of avoiding death. He prays almost compulsively for random acts of violence not to happen to him so that he can finish the novel. Not that he expects it to be good, but that it will be a piece of himself. This mindset only happens when he’s writing.
So on March 18, 1987 at 3:50am, he awakes in a cold sweat from a nightmare. Murakami rarely dreams, and he notes this again here. Even if he does dream, he usually forgets it immediately. But this dream feels more real than reality.
He spends a long time describing a gory (but pretty boring) dream about being in a large hangar with decapitated cows. 500 of them, with the heads lined up looking at him and their blood running into rivets, then into a central rivet out of the building out over a cliff into the sea.
Seagulls are flocking, drinking the blood and eating bits of meat, wanting to get in to the building where the bodies of the cows are.
When he wakes up, it’s dark out, and he drinks water and sits in the darkness, wishing he could listen to some music.
The chapter is…fine, I guess. A bit boring compared to the rest of the book where Murakami is looking outward rather than inward. He mentions F. Scott Fitzgerald dying suddenly while still working on The Last Tycoon. And there is a little bit of well imagery. But other than that it’s kind of an unremarkable chapter.
The only interesting detail we have is that this was during the 19-day period when he was working on the second draft of Norwegian Wood from March 7 to March 26. So presumably he was stressed trying to finish up in time.
Here’s the last paragraph, which is somewhat nicely penned:
In the wee hours before morning breaks, I feel this surge of death. Like the distant roar of the sea, this surge makes me shake. This often happens when I’m writing a long novel. By writing a novel, I slowly plumb the depths of life. I descend a small ladder rung by rung. But the closer I get to the center of life, the more clearly I can sense it: the aggressive surge that death reveals in the same instant in the darkness just in front of me.
On the final episode this season, I talk about the importance of celebrating your little victories as you study a language. And in Japanese, I think about how to balance introversion and extroversion as you’re studying. Listen until the end – I provide a short update on one of the episodes from Season 1.
The next chapter is ヴィラ・トレコリ (Villa Tre Colli), a very short chapter. Just four pages, probably a third of the length of most other chapters in the book. And for good reason – Murakami is dialed in as he finished the first draft of Norwegian Wood. He doesn’t have the time or energy to write anything else, as we’ll see.
He’s staying in Villa Tre Colli, an aged hotel on the edge of the city. It looks out over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building and the Stadio Olimpico, and he can hear the crowds at soccer matches cheering.
I felt like this couldn’t be the same place, but the location tracks (it even has a Facebook Page). You can see the Stadio Olimpico and Foreign Ministry on the map, and the Google streetview cuts off at the entrance to the gate, suggesting that once you go through the gate you have to climb a hill. Pretty cool.
At any rate, here’s what Murakami has to say about finishing the first draft:
I finished the first draft of the novel on March 7. March 7 was a frigid Saturday. Romans call March a crazy month. The changes in weather and temperature are random and sudden. The day before can be a pleasantly warm spring day, yet overnight it will be back to mid-winter. That day I woke up at 5:30, did a quick run in the garden, and then wrote for 17 hours without a break. I finished the novel just before midnight. Judging from my diary, I was predictably exhausted; I wrote just a single sentence: “It went really well.”
I called Kinoshita Yoko with Kodansha’s publishing division to tell her I’d basically finished the novel, and she said there was a trade fair for picture books in Bologna at the beginning of April that someone from Kodansha’s international team would be attending and asked whether I might be able to hand over the manuscript directly to them at the fair. I think the book’s pretty good, I said, and she said “Oh yeaaah? It’s 900 pages? Are you sure it’s that good?” with some doubt in her voice. She’s a bit of a skeptic.
This is pretty awesome detail that Murakami includes. I’m sure Jay Rubin must have written about this in his book, but it’s very cool to read about it in Murakami’s own words.
And just imagine being that Kodansha staff, taking the manuscript in Bologna and then having to transport it back to Tokyo. I imagine that Murakami had his rough draft material, but I wonder whether they would have been able to make a full copy or if the one on the plane back to Japan was the only one in existence.
Speaking of drafting material, Murakami goes on to explain his editing process, which is fascinating:
The next day I started on the second draft right away. I took the draft that I’d written in notebooks and on letter paper and rewrote it completely from the beginning. I don’t mean to brag, but completely rewriting a draft of 900 400-character pages with a ballpoint pen isn’t the type of work you can do without endurance. I finished the second draft on March 26. I was really hurrying because I had to finish before the book fair in Bologna, so by the end my right arm was so tired I could barely move it. Thankfully, I don’t usually get tight shoulders, so my shoulders were fine, but my arm was shot. So when I had any down time, I was careful to do push-ups on the floor. Writing a full-length novel is far more labor-intensive than most people might think. Thanks to the introduction of the word processor, it’s gotten a lot easier these days…
I’m not sure what the goal of doing push-ups is. Maybe to keep his arm active, to keep his left arm working as well?
This is really the first close look I’ve gotten at Murakami’s revision process. After the second draft, he goes through it again with a red pen, although he doesn’t mention if it gets another rewrite after that. I would imagine not.
He settles on the title “Norwegian Wood” two days before leaving for Bologna. This is also a bit surprising, as in recent years I believe Murakami has mentioned that the title of his novels is often a starting point. But we know he was working from the short story “Firefly” in this case.
So what do we know? We know that the Murakamis left for Europe on October 4, 1986 and that he complete the first draft of Norwegian Wood on March 7, 1987. At the beginning of this chapter, Murakami mentions that they’ve been in Europe for four months, so he may have been writing at Villa Tre Colli for that fifth month. No matter how you calculate it, it’s an impressive task. Murakami takes a solid short story and turns it into a generational novel in 150 days. While living abroad. In temporary housing across the Mediterranean, with storms flooding the apartments and drafty walls letting in the cold. Say what you will about his decline in recent years, Norwegian Wood has a pretty cool creation story, and it’s a shame that more of the world hasn’t read about it in Murakami’s own words.
Jens Petersen has been working in real estate in Tokyo for over 13 years. He initially found interest in Japanese independent music. In recent years his interest has also branched out into the art world. We spoke about learning Japanese, finding an immersive environment, and job hunting at job fairs.
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:
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.