With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement.


Murakami (Do I even need to tell you which one?) lived in Europe for three years between 1986 and 1989. In addition to novels and short stories, he also wrote a lengthy set of travel writings called Tōi taiko (遠い太鼓, A Distant Drum).

During his travels he spent some time on a small Greek island, and the tourists there often sunbathed nude. Apparently only the local Greek men (he calls them "Zorba Greeks") went to the trouble of checking out the boobs. This resulted in a three-page discussion of nude sunbathing and the following moment of complete linguistic genius:


(I was going to write the page number at the end of that line, but when I realized it was page 69, I thought I’d better explain what I was doing.)

The Japanese is so economical that translating it won’t be as great, but here it goes:

If it’s a person’s prerogative to reveal her boobs, then it’s also a person’s prerogative to look at revealed boobs

That kind of expresses what’s going on with the verb. 出す literally means “take out,” but I translated it as “reveal” in order to maintain the verb tenses and still have the sentence sound okay, although, now that I think about it, “taken-out boobs” is a pretty funny phrase.

The major difference between the English and the Japanese is that no people are explicitly involved in the Japanese sentence; all of the subjects are implied, and he uses the loaded word 勝手 (かって). "Prerogative" feels a little complicated, but I guess it does the job. 勝手 is often used as an adverb (勝手に〜) to mean "do ~ however I want" or "do ~ even though I’m thinking only of myself and not the Japanese collective spirit." One word that pops up in the dictionary is "arbitrary." So does "one’s own way" and "selfishness."

So yes, long story short, if you reveal your boobs, do not be surprised when people look at them.



I was fortunate to find a yoga teacher in the neighborhood where I live. She gives lessons out of an apartment just a five-minute walk from where I live – talk about convenient. Most of her students are older women, so the lessons aren’t that intense, but she does try and challenge us. Mostly it’s nice to sit and just focus for 90 minutes and also to meet some people in the neighborhood.

Like most instructors she does some of the pseudo-spiritual talk associated with yoga – prana, chakras, etc. Personally, I do believe in the power of the breath and breath control, but mostly as method of physical and mental fitness.

The best part of the lesson is corpse pose at the end. Just that total sense of relaxation, letting the body go into complete rest and having the brain focus on the breath. The teacher guides us into a nice meditative state by telling us to focus on different parts of the body starting with the toes and moving up the leg, the abdominal area, the chest and then the hands and arms. For some reason it’s super relaxing to lie completely still and move your concentration from body part to body part.

It’s also a useful vocabulary building exercise. I learned all the names for fingers and toes, so I thought I’d share them here:

親指(おやゆび)               thumb/big toe   
人差し指(ひとさしゆび)    index finger
中指(なかゆび)               middle finger
薬指(くすりゆび)            ring finger
小指(こゆび)                  pinky finger/little toe

Unlike English, those names are exactly the same for both fingers and toes, so there’s no difference between “big toe” and “thumb,” basically. Do the other toes even have names in English?

The most interestingly named finger is 薬指 – medicine finger. Wikipedia says this is because long ago, when medicines were all powdered, people used the ring finger to mix and apply different medicines. Apparently it also gets called 紅差し指 (because it is used to apply makeup?), 無名指 (finger with no name), 薬師指 (I guess the whole ‘mixing finger’ thing was institutionalized), and お姉さん指 (because girls don’t have wedding bands yet?).