The State of 文芸誌

The newsletter is online, which means so is the podcast:

This month I wrote about the 文壇 (bundan, literary world), which is most easily accessible in monthly literary journals. These journals have somehow survived in print, unlike just about every literary journal in the U.S. which are now mostly small-run projects other than the New Yorker. I looked but can’t seem to find any statistics about publishing numbers for 文芸誌 (bungeishi, literary journals). The eye test does suggest that if these magazines aren’t thriving, they at least aren’t going extinct; you can find massive volumes (several hundreds of pages each) with serious writers at every bookstore in the country, and volumes like the 120th anniversary edition of 新潮 (Shinchō) that I mention in the episode seem to be selling out online. I’d recommend running to a physical store if you’re still looking for a copy. (And it’s kind of a shame that these magazines aren’t digitized.)

This reminds me of when I was studying abroad in Tokyo. One night I was walking home from Shinjuku to the apartment where I was temporarily staying near Waseda. I came upon a stack of magazines illuminated by a street light. The one on top was a copy of 文藝春秋 (Bungeishunjū), the copy with the Akutagawa Prize-winning stories from Wataya Risa and Kanehara Hitomi that I’d just read that semester.

I took it home with me and eventually brought it back to the U.S., but sadly I threw it out while moving at some point between New Orleans, Chicago, Yokohama, and Osaka. It’s kind of nice to know that I could always get a new copy for 400 yen on Mercari if I wanted to, which seems to be the going rate.

The latest copies of Shinchō seem to be going for around 2,500 yen or so. Probably netting just a few hundred yen minus fees and shipping. I’m not sure why the 転売ヤー (tenbaiyaa, resellers) would even bother at that point. I imagine that prices will probably settle down at some point, so if you make it to a physical bookstore and they aren’t there, just give it a little time, and I’m sure you’ll get one for a reasonable price.

There are likely other magazines with 随筆 (zuihitsu, miscellaneous writing/essays) available, but even if you have to go to the library to peep some of these, it’s probably worth it.

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!

Intermediate Reading Recommendations

Reading Japanese is hard…until it isn’t. Finding the right material for that period of time when you’re moving from advanced beginner to intermediate is critical. You need to find something that’s not going to make you want to defenestrate the text itself or the device you’re reading it on but that will at the same time push you to learn new words and phrases.

Looking back on my own experience, I read the Murakami collection “Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round” while I was on a spring break trip. I think that was the first real book I read on my own, and it was just about the appropriate level. I could basically understand what was going on, and being on a trip meant I often just read past things I didn’t understand fully, trying to get a sense of the meaning from context. This is an important skill to practice, something you’re likely doing in your native language without realizing it.

I jumped into a couple of novels after that with the help of a professor, and I’m glad I had that help because there’s something about the first few pages of Japanese 純文学 (junbungaku, “pure literature”) that’s fairly dense and difficult. The text often settles down after this.

There are places to find the texts you need, online and for free. Here are a few reliable resources:

NHK’s Easy Japanese News

The news! But easy! For example, instead of 少数民族 (shōsū minzoku, minorities), the headline for this article uses 人口が少ない民族 (jinkō ga sukunai minzoku,people with a small population). There’s also a feature to turn furigana off and on. The bonus is that you’ll be keeping up with the latest news from Japan.

Ogawa Mimei

Someone is determined to upload all of Ogawa Mimei’s writing to Aozora. His stories just keep on popping up on the list of newly added works. They all have furigana and are written in a fairy tale/children’s literature style, so the grammar and vocabulary is relatively simple. We’ve been reading one for the Japanese Reading Group that’s been a lot of fun. Highly recommended.

Itoi Shigesato’s 今日のダーリン 

You might recognize Itoi Shigesato as the mind behind Mother (EarthBound). He was also the editor who got Murakami to write the series of super short stories that were collected in 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, The Night of the Spider Monkey). He maintains a website ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞 (Hobo nikkan Itoi shimbun, Nearly Daily Itoi Times), which has a short essay on the front which self-destructs each day and is not archived (although it does look like he makes the previous day’s essay available now?). They’re relatively short and pretty casual. The title of the series is 今日のダーリン (Kyō no dārin, Today’s Darling). Worth a read!


Ameblo is Japan’s largest blog network. Recommendations on the top page usually point to active and often illustrated blogs, but you can also search by topic and interest. The best part about these blogs is that you’ll be getting casual, living Japanese, which won’t always be easy to understand but will be useful. Explore! And while you’re at it, why not try creating your own blog?

The real key for any of these is ensuring that you get the repetitions. Having the right reading material matters very little if you’re not actively getting through it. Do whatever it takes (be ruthless) to get those repetitions.

Serenity Nowish

I was in the Japan Times twice late last month, and it’s taken me a little while to get around to posting the links here.

The first is a Bilingual piece: “Getting a party rolling in Japan.”

The origin of this piece is a little depressing…and may have caused the pandemic. I was preparing an MC script for an event in Japan in May. I wanted plenty of time to really familiarize myself with the pronunciation, so I had a full event planned out, and then *gestures vaguely at the universe*

The content actually came from the same place as my article in early March about “emergency Japanese.” Back in February I had already started planning the agenda for the May event and decided to just script out the whole thing and a bunch of emergency language to boot.

So of course the whole thing has been canceled.

I couldn’t fit all of the parenthetical language I was planning to use. In addition to the strict open and closing phrases I introduce in the piece, these are good to gather the troops before you get started and signal that the event is coming to an end:

まもなく、10時半より始まりますので、皆様お席でお待ちいただきますようお願い申し上げます (Mamonaku, jūji-han yori hajimarimasu no de, minasama oseki de omachi itadakimasu yō onegai mōshiagemasu,We will begin the program at 10:30, so we’d like to ask everyone to take their seats.)

そろそろお時間となりました。皆様、本日のコンフェレンス楽しんでいただけましたでしょうか? (Sorosoro ojikan to narimashita. Minasama, honjitsu no konferensu tanoshinde itadakemashita deshō ka? We will momentarily be at the end of our time. Did everyone enjoy today’s conference?)

Very useful phrases, and you can Frankenstein little bits of them to use in all sorts of other ways.

My other article is a review of Automatic Eve by Rokuro Inui: “‘Automatic Eve’ review: Familiar tropes reimagined with brilliant sci-fi originality.”

If you haven’t picked it up yet, this is a great time. I’ve devoured it twice now, and I’m sure I’ll read it again. It’s such a fun world to inhabit. I want to go there.

I was working on the sequel in Japanese but got sidetracked by some other books. The sequel is set in a fictional Chicago just before an exposition modeled on the Columbian Exposition. He’s clearly taken some inspiration from Devil in the White City (which I still haven’t read—I’m a lousy Chicagoan). The sequel is interesting, although maybe not quite as successful as the first book, both structurally, plot-wise, and writing wise. The first book works so well because structure as a set of short stories provides succinct, contained plots with a quick payoff, getting readers into the novel. Inui was able to kind of embed a larger plot within all of this. With the second book, he’s clearly building toward something, but I’ve found it more of a slog…and not just entirely because it’s in Japanese.

But I will admit that’s probably one of the reasons I haven’t picked it up during the pandemic. I just need easy right now. I’m moving some Murakami to the top of my to-read list because that feels accessible, do-able for me. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s his travel journal. Take me away. Serenity now!

Japanese Definitions and Twitter Sleuthing

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at some cool websites that help you define the differences in Japanese words: “使用? 利用? Make use of a dictionary to use your Japanese properly.”

It’s always good to start reading Japanese explanations of things as soon as you are able. The Wool vs. Cashmere explanation is a good example of something that’s pretty interesting, and perhaps not as dull as grammatical explanations.

But we need the dull grammatical explanations, too! This is always a good reminder that the 日本語文型辞典 is an awesome resource. Here’s the full quote from the section I cite about the difference between なければならない (nakereba naranai, must) and なければいけない (nakereba ikenai, must):



However, it’s one thing to read these and another thing entirely to put them into practice. The best advice I can give there is to write out a few example sentences of your own, ideally based on some Google sleuthing, and then mindfully attempting to incorporate them into daily usage.

Lately I’ve noticed that Google sleuthing for native phrases isn’t as helpful as it used to be. The Google algorithm seems to be focusing on webpages explaining the phrases rather than random sites that use the phrases.

I’ve been relying far more on Twitter sleuthing, which has been providing excellent results. Let’s see what we can find with the examples above.

A search for なければならない, for examples, gives this example from the great Count Okuma of Waseda University fame:

A loose translation of his quote: The young must hold lofty ideals. And they must have the courage to put them into practice.

Definitely seems worthy of social obligation/necessity.

I found one result of this pattern from an account that seems to have gone private, but I left the tweet open in a tab for so long that I was able to screenshot it:

Coincidentally this is also university related—it’s the beginning of the term there, and the clubs are all out in force inviting frosh to join. One upperclassman has had enough:

Another good example of the fact that everyone has to suffer this 勧誘地獄 (kanyu jigoku, solicitation hell), which is one of my new favorite Japanese terms.

On the other hand, the user B太郎 has to have his morning fried chicken from Family Mart and expresses this individual necessity using なければいけない:

Another user desperately needs some sleep:

I think this shows that Twitter is a pretty reliable source for native phrases. Are there any other sites you use? Maybe blog sites? Anything else?

How to Japanese at (the Entrance to) Keio University

So Keio University used one of my Japan Times articles on their entrance exam this year. That’s a thing that happened.

I wrote a little about it (and writing as a side hustle) over on my personal site.

They used “Japanese humor: more universally funny than you think,” one of my earliest for the JT. I’ve written 50 articles for the Bilingual page now, and this was my seventh, so the style feels a bit awkward at times, the word choice clunky, and the Japanese examples kind of sparse, but there are still some good points.

Here’s what the version on the test looks like:

They did some pretty significant editing and rewriting for the test, which makes sense. The target audience here isn’t native speakers. To be honest, they could have changed more, but their edits make it somewhat more readable by giving each joke a clean introduction. Hopefully that made it less trying for the applicants (to the medical school, which is shown at the bottom of the final page).

The questions are interesting: 1) write an introductory paragraph in English, 2) replace the word in the underlined phrases that doesn’t make sense with a word that does make sense, 3) place the appropriate conjunctions in the blank spots in the text, 4) translate the underlined Japanese sentence into English, 5) translate the marked Japanese phrases into English, and 6) translate “the opposite is true” into Japanese.

That’s an awful lot of work to do for a single reading comprehension passage. I wonder how much time they had to get through it? 20 minutes? 30 minutes? Probably less.

It’s very interesting to learn that Keio did not have to ask the JT permission to use the text on the exam and that in the past they weren’t even citing the author or publication (“Entrance exams breaking copyright law? Academically unethical?”). I wonder how the writer discovered that texts were being used.

I suspect that they were being reprinted in books of past exams which get used as study guides. That’s how I learned my article was used—the publisher notified the JT and was required to pay them usage rights and me author fees. Actually, I’m not certain if it’s required, but they seemed willing to pay the rates.

I wonder how many other JT authors this has happened too. Any readers know of this happening?

“Snow Day” by Kanoko Okamoto

Apropos of plugging my Japanese Reading Group, which is entering its fifth consecutive year (!), and of getting in a November blog post before things get crazy with homebrew club festivals, cider brewing, and the holidays, here is my translation of the reading we did for October, a real gem of a story:

Snow Day

Kanoko Okamoto

One winter we were living in a big, old apartment on Kaiserdamm in Berlin. Outside the snow was falling in waves. Inside, our heater had a large chimney that went through the ceiling, and we kept filling it with firewood. There were only rumbles from the trains and the honk of car horns; not even the dogs were barking in the midday quiet elicited by the snowfall. There was a loud knock at the door. “Who could this be with all the snow?” I thought as I opened the door. A group of three workers trundled in, made up of a young man, a middle-aged man, and an old man.

“We’re here to fix the electrical lines.”

They were all quite friendly looking. I hadn’t expected them, so I was taken aback for a moment, but I quickly came to my senses and showed them inside. I came to like the workers in Berlin soon after arriving there (I got to Berlin at the start of summer). Most of them were cheerful and had a true naïveté. I don’t know how many times I saw workers packed into the back of a truck smile and wave at us foreigners as they passed by. These lovely people had willingly taken on a working life, so whenever presented with the opportunity, we treated them with kindness and never for a moment behaved with the caution typical of some foreigners. At first glance, the workers’ clothes seemed disheveled, but when I looked closer, it was clear they had fastidious German cleanliness—that is to say, their wives or daughters had done an excellent job of washing them and patching them back together.

They finished the electrical repairs. I could see from the window that the snow was still coming down outside. When I offered them a fur rug, they sat down without protest and faced the heater. Unfortunately our maid caught a cold two or three days earlier and had taken off work. My husband the whole time was in the far room, completely absorbed in cartoons he was working on to send to Japanese newspapers. I made tea on my own and offered it to them.

“I’ll get you some cigarettes, Japanese cigarettes,” I said and started to get up to get some Shikijima cigarettes from my husband.

As I did, the middle-aged man said, “We don’t need cigarettes, miss. [Westerners have a tough time telling how old Asians are.] Instead, sing a Japanese song for us.”

“Do you sing songs in Japan, miss?” the old man asked in such a gentle way.

I adjusted the way I was sitting and granted their request right away. I had everyone close their eyes and I sang “Katyusha” in Japanese style without letting my voice quiver. The young man said it was Russian style, which impressed upon me Germans’ nature as a people of music. Next, to prove I could sing a truly Japanese song, I sang, “Quickly, quickly quickly, up and over the waves!*

The middle-aged man complained again: “Miss, that sounds like a men’s college song. We wanted a Japanese woman’s song…something you yourself might usually sing.”

Ah, of course, I thought to myself, and then, with a renewed focus, I sang for them in an unadorned tone: Sakura, sakura, across the spring sky, as far as the eye can see. Is it mist or clouds? Fragrant in the air. Come now, come now, let’s go and see them*.

They stood up happily and praised the elegant, sweet melody. “We’ll tell all our buddies,” they said, complimenting me as they slung their tools over their shoulders. Then they glanced out the window at the snow that continued to fall and fall so evenly and headed for the door. Until—

The young man who had been silent to that point stopped and turned to me with a look of pleading in his eyes.

He said, “Could I have a stamp? Just one Japanese postage stamp. I collect them from around the world.”

I peeled off several stamps from the envelopes of letters dear to me that had arrived from home and placed them into the palm of his poor hand, gnarled and rough from an intense life of labor.

This is such a well constructed short. It starts and ends with vivid images—the quiet of snow-covered streets, filling the stove, the chimney piercing the ceiling (which must’ve been so striking for Japanese at the time), peeling off stamps from letters, and the final zoom into the worker’s palm.

Okamoto is a strangely intertwined figure. Her brother studied with Junichiro Tanizaki, she was close with Yosano Akiko, she married a famous cartoonist, and her son was Tarō Okamoto, a famous artist known for the Tower of the Sun. Sadly she died at 49 of a brain hemorrhage and most of her works were published posthumously.

Check out the other readings for our reading group here, and feel free to contact me about joining us (we meet online via Google Hangouts) the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 CST.

The End of the World

Here we are, the final chapter of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I first read this book during the summer of 1999. I remember the first 100 pages being a slog and then just flying through the second half.

(I was visiting colleges while I read the book, and it had me convinced that I wanted to study cognitive neuroscience, even though the only thing I knew about cognitive neuroscience was the limited perspective of Murakami’s old man scientist. By “I want to study cognitive neuroscience” I basically meant “I really like this book I’m reading right now by Haruki Murakami.”)

I finished the book ravenously as I was on a flight home to New Orleans, worried that we might crash or I might otherwise expire—like our embattled data agent—and not know how the book ended.

Fortunately I’ve survived 20 years and finished the book in both languages. Pretty cool.

Here are the previous Murakami Fest posts:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers, Escape, Window Seats

Chapter 40 “Birds” is the last chapter of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Boku and his shadow have arrived at the Southern Pool and stand at its edge quietly for a moment just looking at it as the snow falls around them. When the shadow suggests they jump in, Boku says he’s staying and can’t go. He’s realized he has a responsibility to everything in the Town because he’s created them all; they’re all part of him. The shadow is angry and they discuss what it means to stay—the conversation is treated quite differently in translation than the original. Then the shadow jumps in the pool. Boku turns back toward the town with thoughts of the Librarian and his accordion, and the book ends.

Here’s the conversation the two have in the original Japanese:










「ありがとう」と僕は言った。 (590-591)

My shadow stands up and stares at the calm surface of the Pool. Standing absolutely still in the heavy snow, he gives the impression that he’s gradually losing all of his depth and returning to his original flatness. We are silent for a long while. Only puffs of white breath emerge from our mouths into the air and then disappear.

“I knew it was futile to try and stop you,” my shadow says. “But life in the Woods will be much more difficult than you think. The Woods are entirely different from the Town. It’s tough work to survive, and winter is long and trying. Once you enter, you cannot leave. You’ll have to remain in the Woods forever.”

“I’ve considered this, too.”

“And you haven’t changed your mind?”

“No,” I say. “I won’t forget you. I’ll slowly start to remember things about the old world as well. There are likely many things that I’ll have to remember. Many people, places, lights, songs.”

My shadow crosses his arms in front of him and rubs them together several times. The snow that collects on his body gives him a mysterious shadow that seems to expand and contract over him. He rubs both hands together and tilts his head ever so slightly as though listening for the sound they make.

“I’m going to go,” he says. “But it’s strange to think we’ll never see each other again. I don’t know what to say in the end. I can’t think of the right words to leave things.”

I take off my hat again, brush off the snow, and put it back on.

“I hope that you’ll be happy,” my shadow says. “I loved you. And not just because I was your shadow.”

“Thank you,” I say.

And here is Birnbaum’s official translation, which makes some significant adjustments:

My shadow rises and stares at the calm surface of the Pool. He stands motionless amid the falling snow. Neither of us says a word. White puffs of breath issue from our mouths.

“I cannot stop you,” admits my shadow. “Maybe you can’t die here, but you will not be living. You will merely exist. There is no ‘why’ in a world that would be perfect in itself. Nor is surviving in the Woods anything like you imagine. You’ll be trapped for all eternity.”

“I am not so sure,” I say. “Nor can you be. A little by little, I will recall things. People and places from our former world, different qualities of light, different songs. And as I remember, I may find the key to my own creation, and to its undoing.”

“No, I doubt it. Not as long as you are sealed inside yourself. Search as you might, you will never know the clarity of distance without me. Still, you can’t say I didn’t try,” my shadow says, then pauses. “I loved you.”

“I will not forget you,” I reply. (399)

He’s clearly taken some liberties in dictating through the shadow what it will mean for Boku to stay in the Town. I had to look at the 1985 paperback version twice just to make sure that Murakami himself hadn’t made cuts to the 1990 Complete Works edition; when Birnbaum and the Complete Works editions don’t align, often it’s been because Birnbaum was clearly translating based on the 1985 edition. But that’s not the case here. The “You will merely exist” feels so appropriate for this world, but it’s not in the Japanese.

That said, Birnbaum’s translation is just supreme—“different qualities of light” is such a perfect line.


So what have we learned?

We’ve learned that Murakami made changes to the original version of Hard-boiled Wonderland that was published in 1985 for the Complete Works version that was published in 1990. He cuts some name drops, some random asides, and some jokes. Some changes are a little strange, and sometimes as small as a single sentence in a chapter. I don’t think it’s too farfetched to say that many of these changes were made after Murakami saw the English translation. Too many of the cuts coincide too perfectly with cuts that Birnbaum made in translation.

It’s conceivable that Birnbaum was working based off of the manuscript for the 1990 version, but there are places that Murakami cuts and Birnbaum keeps, which would be strange unless he was actively comparing the two different manuscripts. I think it’s more likely he completed the translation in 1988 or 1989, Murakami saw the translation during the editing process, and then he had time to make adjustments to the Complete Works text. I wonder whether he would have read the English himself or whether the editors noted specifically which sections were being removed from the Japanese.

At any rate, this was a very productive time during Murakami’s career, and we’ve learned that he was recycling themes and images across works, notably from his 1985 short story collection Dead-heat on a Merry Go Round.

We’ve learned that Birnbaum is a brilliant writer and translator. His prose is beautiful and hilarious. He has excellent control over the tone of the work and how that builds the worlds, especially in the End of the World sections.

But we also know that he has several techniques that “improve” the work in translation. He uses space breaks to create dramatic moments and trims the endings of chapters so that they’re either dramatic dialogue or in media res. He adds entirely new lines to make things more dramatic.

He does, however, alter the work at times. He trims sections where Murakami tends to run long in his usual improvisational way, mostly with good results but occasionally something nice gets axed. He tends to cut places where Watashi brings in the outside world, sections that point to a larger context for his feeling of helplessness, and suggest that it refers more broadly to the human condition.

Overall he dials down the sexiness. From the beginning he’s a little less blatant about Watashi’s vision of the Girl in Pink. He dials back on a lovely exchange with the Librarian and cuts some of the sexy encounters between Watashi and the Girl in Pink entirely, including one where he drops his pants to show her his erection (!).

We’ve also learned that even the best translators make mistakes, or are forced into mistakes through their editors.

Hard-boiled Wonderland is really a perfect text to analyze Murakami’s editing process, how Japanese writers were translated during the 80s and early 90s (especially before they had much clout in the publishing industry and before the anime/manga boom really took hold), and the goals of translation more broadly. There are a probably a few other works that present opportunities this rich, notably Dance Dance Dance and Wind-up Bird Chronicle (both of which had extensive cuts in translation, about which Jay Rubin has been very transparent) and Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball 1973, and Norwegian Wood (all of which have been translated twice by multiple different translators). At the very least, I think someone could do a really good paper about Murakami’s preparation of the Complete Works texts.

I wonder whether Hard-boiled Wonderland was the only work he edited for re-publication. I have a feeling that this is not the case.


I was disappointed with the ending the first time I read the book. I wanted Boku to escape and Watashi to live. I wanted him to somehow succeed against everything he was facing—the System, the Factory, the Gatekeeper. I’d even started to wonder whether the Girl in Pink pulled a Psycho move and had him frozen in her apartment. But the ending has grown on me.

We have an approximation of Murakami’s vision of escape from the novella “The Town and its Uncertain Wall,” which was a first draft of sorts for this novel. The narrator escapes and ends up being tortured by nostalgic yearnings of life in the Town. We know nothing about this narrator—it’s not the clearly defined Murakami male persona from Hard-boiled Wonderland—but it’s easy to imagine Watashi in the Hell of a forced continued existence in the modern world, with an itch he’s never able to scratch (presumably after he’s separated himself from that interior world); the whole novel has basically been to show how miserable he has it. Better for him to pass into the tautology of his inner experience.

I do wonder sometimes whether Murakami will write a sequel. He’s left enough threads unfollowed—we have the Girl in Pink freezing the body and the Woods are yet unexplored and filled with different people. But more and more frequently Murakami just repeats “I never remember what I wrote” when asked about past works. More recently, he only seems to write sequels immediately after completion of a book as with 1Q84 and Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

And part of me doesn’t want him to change anything. It’s such an interesting work as is.

I also wonder whether there will be another attempt at translation. I imagine this won’t happen until after Murakami dies, perhaps not even until the work goes into the public domain. We’ll all have expired into our personal Ends of the World by that point. And to be honest, I don’t know that the original Birnbaum translation can be topped—I think this is something else we’ve learned through this project.



I’m realizing now that readers who come across this post may not understand the difference between Murakami Fest and this Hard-boiled Wonderland Project. Although they overlapped at times, I started blogging about untranslated Murakami works once a year around the Nobel Prize announcements in the early years of the blog. In 2012, in an attempt to post on the site more frequently, I started blogging about the translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. You can see an index of all those posts on this page.

Yoshihisa Arai: Floating on Air in Chicago

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a profile of a Japanese ballet dancer here in Chicago: “Yoshihisa Arai: Floating on air in Chicago.”

I don’t have much to add in terms of language other than that “ballet” in Japanese is バレエ and was designated so to differentiate it from volleyball, apparently. There are a lot of Chiebukuro posts about ballet. This is a good read, too.

This is one where I wish I’d had another 1,000 words. I was really impressed not only with his performance but also with all the members of the dance community I was able to speak with for the article and also Yoshi’s own thoughts on art and creation. I guess it makes sense when you consider that he has dedicated the last 18 years of his life to performance and its meaning. (One more year of Japanese study and I’ll be at 18 years…)

You can see video of Yoshi on YouTube discussing The Nutcracker here:

You get a really good sense of the rehearsal space in this video, which is amazing. The Joffrey building is on State Street, and the rehearsal studio has a room-length window looking out over downtown Chicago. The day I went it was snowing and very pretty out.

Here are previews of the latest “Modern Masters” production as well as a look at each of the four pieces in the production:

4koma Coma

Happy New Year! I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at 四コマ漫画 aka 四コマ aka 4koma: “Yonkoma manga: Lives told, lessons learned in four frames.”

I wrote this article before reading’s look at the nominees for the word of 2017. It made me wonder whether the strips I wrote about were a result of うつヌケ うつトンネルを抜けた人たち (Utsu-nuke: Utsu tonneru o nuketa hito-tachi, Utsu-nuke: The people who made it through the tunnel).

But I realized that Utsu-nuke may be a culmination of sorts. Ryu Tamako’s blog began in 2015 with a look at OCD and seems to have been relatively successful. I’m sure there have also been other examples of mainstream pop culture (dramas? novels?) that have helped make the topic of mental health more accessible over the last 10-15 years.

The pixiv strips I looked at are more recent, so maybe they benefited from the Utsu-nuke phenomenon as well as technological advancements (new social media, easily/affordably accessible digital art supplies). At any rate, I think they’re both great, and I think they both capture the artists remarkably well.

I dug around pixiv for a little lagniappe for the blog and I ended up finding this awesome 4koma: 5分でわかる「羊をめぐる冒険」. It’s basically a manga Cliff Notes version of A Wild Sheep Chase, not your prototypical 4koma structure. I can’t tell if it’s finished…seems like there’s more of the story to tell. I really like the art. It’s very clean but not overly simplified. I’ll have to check back in.

The artist also has a more typical 4koma series titled めがね夫婦日乗 (Megane fūfu nichijō, Daily life of the glasses couple…although I’m not sure I understand the nichijō pun). One funny example is this gem which required me to listen to the 1972 song 北風小僧の寒太郎 (Kita-kaze kozō no Kantarō, Kantarō, The North Wind Kid…as translated here) to understand. If you don’t get the joke, I’ll explain it below*.

Judging from the Wikipedia, the song was NHK’s attempt to make 子供向け演歌 (kodomo-muke enka, enka for kids). Pretty interesting. It comes right as the word enka was starting to coalesce into its own style.

Searching for this song also reminded me of the banana song that used to play over the speakers in my grocery store in Tokyo. I don’t really have an excuse to share it (and I think a stand-alone post would be kind of silly…although maybe silly is what I’m aiming for with this), so here it is. It’s an earworm. 甘熟王!

*In the song, background singers repeat Kantarō but the second verse has やってきた in place of Kantarō, and the husband messes this up and goes with Kantarō again, ruining the wife’s perfect rendition and resulting in his subsequent orz. This is only made funnier by the fact that he says he messed it up on purpose. Ha.