How to Japanese Podcast – S03E04 – Murakami Novel Power Rankings

It’s finally time – here are my Murakami Novel Power Rankings! I spent the last two months re-reading Murakami’s novels, and I feel prepared to put them in order from least successful to most successful. Obviously this is a subjective exercise, but I would also argue that this is the correct order.

Even as recently as a year or two ago, I would have had my personal favorite Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World at the top of the list, so regular readers may be surprised to learn that it is not. Take a listen to see where I ranked it.

One thing that became clear to me while re-reading these novels is that the central dynamic in Murakami’s writing is immediacy vs controlled narration. He often puts the reader in the driver seat with the narrator, following them around during routines or waiting long periods of time for something to happen. I’ve noticed this a lot in genre fiction, which I think may partially explain why Murakami has a ravenous following and why many readers love books like Kafka on the Shore, which I would argue over rely on immediacy to generate reader interest.

Many readers are looking for that kind of experience, of following around a character having weird experiences. But I think there’s an exhaustion in this technique, which even Murakami himself recognizes. He has the instinct to vary this, even in his earliest novels; in Pinball, 1973 he alternates between the immediacy of the Rat’s experience struggling with life with more controlled narration of his Boku narrator’s implied grief for the loss of Naoko. Kafka also gets this alternating treatment as well as Hard-boiled Wonderland, and in both cases one half of the narrator is steeped in immediacy while the other has more controlled narration.

Given that Murakami is likely delivering an extension of Hard-boiled Wonderland next month, it will be very interesting to see what choices he makes with immediacy in the book and whether he decides to vary the narration as he did in 1985.

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E03 – Murakami’s Origin Story

This week, I take a look at Murakami’s famous origin story with the help of writer and translator Matt Schley. We looked at ten different accounts of the day that Murakami was inspired to become a writer:

Thanks again to Matt. Check out his translation of Soda Kazuhiro’s Why I Make Documentaries: On Observational Filmmaking available via Viaindustriae Publishing.

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E02 – The Murakami Season

Well, I’ve had a week to mull over the title announcement for the new Murakami novel, and I’m still just as stunned as I was last week. Here’s the intro episode for this season of the podcast. Stay tuned for more!

And here’s the blog post I mention in the episode that includes the passage from Murakami’s supplementary commentary included with the Complete Works.

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E01 – Emergency Murakami Podcast

We have the title for the new Murakami novel due out on April 13! It’s the same title as a 1980 novella that Murakami disavowed as a “failed work” but later rewrote as Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Here’s what we know about that novella, and here are my best guesses about what we could be getting next month.

SWET Event – Blogging, Podcasts, and Translation

Last minute notice, but I’ll be participating in an event for SWET (Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators) this Saturday Japan time (Friday evening U.S. time). Really excited to talk about this topic, given that starting this website basically changed my life and set me on the path that guided me to my current career. Without it, I’m not sure what I would’ve ended up doing. It’s difficult to believe that I’ve been posting here for 15 years as of this month/next month. Here’s to 15 more.

Check out the link to the event here to register.


A bit late, but 新年おめでとうございます!

The newsletter went out a couple weeks back, and I wrote a little about 甘える (amaeru), a word that is extremely difficult to define in English absent of context. Give it a read!

One additional 甘える wrinkle I wasn’t able to get to was 甘えたい. I think this is difficult for a couple reasons. First, when the speaker/convey of 甘える is the person who also wants to 甘える, then it can complicate the equation for who is doing what action to whom; in other words, sometimes it’s easier to understand when the speaker is talking about someone else doing the 甘える. It always takes a second for me to calculate who is doing what in any case, and 甘えたい makes calculation more complicated.

Second, I think part of the reason 甘えたい feels complicated might be due to the fact that 甘える is, in general, a somewhat negative idea. It does have neutral nuance, as I think some of the examples in the newsletter show, but by and large the idea of being dependent on someone or trying to manipulate someone into acting a certain way is negative. So why would someone want to 甘える?

This is an interesting tweet I found:

I opted not to dig into it too deeply in the newsletter because I don’t really know the background of the account or exactly what this guy is implying about women here. Essentially he suggests that eldest sisters often want to 甘える, but don’t know how. A kind reading of this would be something along the lines of, “They want to be taken care of, but don’t know how to make themselves vulnerable to do so.”

I also found this example about “The many ways children say ‘I’m tired,’” which seems more clearly deserving of good faith analysis:

One of these ways is 甘えたい, which I think translates to “I want someone to take care of me.”

甘える is a complex verb, but going through the calculations each time to ensure that you’re understanding it is an important step. Eventually you’ll realize that you no longer need to do those calculations, but until that point, I know I at least plan to slow down as I approach this linguistic speed bump.

More on だけ

Quick follow-up on my newsletter from last month about the particle だけ (dake).

I mostly discussed the non-“only” meaning of the word, which can be replaced with くらい (kurai) or ほど (hodo), but I do want to mention an aspect of the “only” だけ that I think is subtle and takes a while to fully digest.

And that point is this: だけ does not imply any value judgement or evaluation. I think in effect this means that, on its own, だけ doesn’t inherently express “merely X”/“no more than X.” It’s a more objective delineater…perhaps closer to “exclusively.”

There isn’t much out there about this particular aspect. The closest I can find is this JLPT website, which compares the usages of だけ and にすぎない (ni suginai, no more than/merely). Take a look:

– 「~にすぎない」と置き換え可能。(例)ちょっと手伝った(〇だけだ 〇にすぎない)よ。

– 名詞の場合は、置き換え不可。(例)アルバイトの給料は、ほんの3万円(×だけだ 〇にすぎない)。

– 「~にすぎない」との違いは、「~だけだ」は話者のつまらない・価値が低いという気持ちを含まない。

But let’s look at the example sentences provided in the first point; I think there’s a slight difference:

ちょっと手伝っただけだよ。 (I only helped a little.)

ちょっと手伝ったにすぎないよ。(I did nothing more than help a little.)

The second point is really critical. This is an unnatural sentence: アルバイトの給料は、ほんの3万円だけだ —> You can’t use だけ to say “I only earn 30,000 yen at my job.” Because it has that evaluation/value judgement aspect, you have to use すぎない.

This is made clear in the third point, the critical part of which I bolded above.

So it’s worth being careful with your だけs. I’ll report back if I can think up any other examples. For now, I think it’s worth mentally substituting “exclusively” for “only” to test the implication of a sentence.

Movies in Japan

I wish I kept better track of all the movies I’ve seen in theaters in Japan.

The first was some sort of French film at a small theater in Okayama with a coworker at the company where I was interning on what she told me was 映画の日 (Eiga no hi, Movie Day). I remember her saying that it was the first of every month, but actually 映画の日 is the first of December, which is this upcoming Thursday. Movie tickets are widely discounted on the first of the month, but apparently only December 1 is actually Movie Day. I think I went to see another movie at the same theater with the same coworker on Ladies Day, but don’t remember which movie it was.

I remember seeing “The Return of the King” at Roppongi Hills when I was studying abroad at Waseda. I’d just finished reading the book. I waited and then went to see the movie. I must’ve seen another movie or two while studying abroad, but I can’t remember what they might’ve been.

On JET, I saw “King Kong” at the Prince in Shinagawa during my first winter break. One of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies at a theater in Koriyama. “Kung Fu Panda,” again at the Prince in Shinagawa. And then I think an anime in 2010 before I moved home, could’ve been Arietty, but I’m not sure. That was also at the Prince.

This time in Japan, I’ve been to see “2046” at Kyoto Cinema thanks to a free ticket from a coworker.

That feels like too few movies for so much time in Japan, but you have to remember that torrents dominated the 2000s and that I was not earning much. I vividly remember finally passing my driver’s license exam and then celebrating by watching five episodes of The Sopranos.

At any rate, this past weekend I went to see すずめの戸締り (Suzume no tojimari, Suzume Closes the Door), the latest from Shinkai Makoto. So I guess it was probably only the second or third Japanese movie I’ve seen in the theaters, definitely under 10, and likely no more than fifth or sixth, even if there are some gaping holes in my memory. There must’ve been something else that just isn’t coming to mind for me right now.

It was a great movie! Not as good as 君の名は (Kimi no na wa, Your Name), but the experience was better. The theater rumbled like a video game controller, and I ate mentaiko-flavored popcorn that I then rubbed on my mask, turning it not-quite Cheetos orange. I saw “Your Name” at the Music Box in Chicago, which is a historic theater but not as technologically new. Still, I was able to have Dairy Queen for dessert right after and an IPA during the movie, so it wasn’t a bad experience at all.

I didn’t have trouble understanding all that much of the movie. The hardest part were the regional Shikoku and Kyushu accents, which I think were supposed to be difficult to understand. I feel like watching so many J drama have paid off.

It was a wonderful ode to the Japanese islands (minus Hokkaido) and made me want to ride a ferry somewhere in the Inland Sea. Maybe I’m due for another trip to Matsuyama, or Beppu, or Nagasaki. Fukuoka would do.

For now, though, I don’t want to miss anymore movies. I’m making an effort to do more, just whatever I see, whatever looks interesting and unique, especially art exhibits. I’ve been to just about everything interesting within reach, and now I’ll have to keep watch for new exhibits. Which reminds me that I should check back in with Kyoto Cinema. I just got home from a quick trip to Kiyomizu-dera to see the illuminated foliage. If I hustle, I can be in the center of Kyoto by 6:00pm after work, which gives me time to grab a bite and catch a movie without any issue.

What museums, movie theaters, and tourists sights in the Kansai area have I missed? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

If you’re looking for further reading, don’t miss the November newsletter. I wrote up a few thoughts about how I learned the full nuance of だけ.

Monthly Manga

For the newsletter this month, I wrote about reading monthly manga magazines. It’s been a revelation. Like suddenly being subscribed to 20 random Netflix shows you didn’t know existed. That sometimes go on break. For 590 yen/month As a new reader, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the two issues so far.

Cocohana has been good, but I’m not sure if there are any series that I’d go out of my way to catch up on with collected volumes. What I was really looking for was a way to increase the volume of natural Japanese dialogue I was reading, for work purposes, and it’s absolutely providing good repetitions on that front.

Comic Beam, on the other hand, I’m finding really compelling. I mentioned 鳥トマト (Tori Tomato) in the newsletter. She had a one-off piece in the November issue called マイお兄ちゃん that was really complex.

But I’m also finding グリッチ by シマ・シンヤ (Shima Shinya) and アン・グラ by 丸尾末広 (Maruo Suehiro) really interesting. Suehiro seems to be right around the same generation as Murakami, maybe a little younger, and they’re both a generation or so after 楳図かずお (Umezz Kazuo), whom I’m interested to read after seeing an art exhibit at the Abeno Harukas Art Museum.

Maruo and Umezz are a lot more abstract and trippy compared to the Cocohana content, and Shima Shinya is somewhere in between – a standard storytelling style with unique art and quirky sci-fi story content.

I’ve been monitoring Mercari for Umezz Kazuo manga, but I actually just did a quick search on and discovered a set of his manga for 1,000 yen here in Osaka. The post is a bit old, so I have my fingers crossed that it’s still valid because that’s a great price for a complete set and just a few stops away on the train.

So this is your push to find a monthly magazine—any will do—and see what’s in there. You could do the same with literary magazines, to be fair, but the lift would be much heavier than manga. Just thinking about getting through an entire issue of 文藝春秋 within a month makes me break out in a cold sweat!

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!