The Closet Massacre

Welcome to Year 16 of Murakami Fest! This year, as hinted in last month’s newsletter and podcast, I’ll be continuing my look at 遠い太鼓 (Distant Drums), Murakami’s travel memoir from his years living in Europe.

Patras Station, 1981. A bus is brought in to replace the broken down Patras-Athens train. Via Wikimedia.

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, Winning and Losing

The next chapter is “Easter Weekend in Patras and the Closet Massacre – April 1987” (パトラスにおける復活祭の週末とクローゼットの虐殺 1987年4月).

The Murakamis are returning to Greece from Italy, relieved to be going back to a familiar place. Murakami begins by noticing the different variety of backpackers, their appearances, and their travel styles. The northern Europeans in particular are looking to suffer while traveling during their youth—staying in the cheapest hotels, avoiding restaurants, barely spending money. There are few Italians who backpack. He notices a few on the ferry, and they’re loud and rowdy, and he eventually watches them board a group bus.

They spend the night at the port town of Patras rather than kill themselves trying to make it all the way to Athens in one day. The rest of the chapter is a really nice little story of staying the night there and then finally making it to Athens.

Murakami begins this section ominously: パトラスでは幾つかの出来事があった (There were a number of incidents in Patras) (245).

The first is the titular “closet massacre.” Murakami got into the habit of locking his camera in the closet while in Italy, and when they return to the room, the key snaps off in the lock. A woman from the hotel comes and first tries pulling, kicking, and slamming into it to no avail (and to the unease of Murakamis). She says she’ll go get a “tool” and returns with a grapefruit-sized rock that she pounds on the closet handle.

“I think things are worse than when we started,” my wife said.

“I was thinking the same thing,” I said.

“Maybe they should call a locksmith?”

“There’s no way they could get someone like that on Easter weekend,” I said. There was zero chance they’d be able to ring up a locksmith and have them bolt over here on Easter weekend. It’d even be unlikely on a weekday with nothing going on.

As we were saying all this, the woman came back with a new rock. This time she had a solid block of marble. It looked powerful. She showed it to us with a proud smile. We couldn’t help but smile back. What else were we supposed to do?

Then the woman energetically began the closet massacre. She slammed the marble like the graphic text on the “Batman” TV show: CRASH! BOOM! BLITZ! Pieces of wood flew in the air. A giant hole opened in the door, and we finally got our camera back. It was very simple. But I wondered what the people who stayed in this room after us would think happened here when they looked at the closet door and saw this massive hole. That said, I thought further, come to think of it, I had seen holes like that in other hotel rooms before.






それからおばさんは元気いっぱいクローゼットの虐殺にとりかかる。テレビの『バットマン』の吹き出しみたいにCRASH! BOOM! BLITZ! と石を叩きつける。木片が飛び散る。戸に大きな穴が開き、我々はやっとカメラを取り戻す。とてもシンプルである。でも僕は思う、これから先この部屋に泊まる人々はこのクローゼットの戸に開いた大きな穴を見ていったい何を考えるのだろうか、と。でも、と僕は更に思う。そういえばこういうタイプの穴を、どこか別のホテルで前にも見たことあるな、と。 (246-247)

The woman later knocks on the door in the middle of the night, this time to give them Greek Easter bread (which must be tsoureki).

Murakami ends the chapter really nicely. They end up eating the bread during a break in their bus ride the next day. The weather is perfect; spring has arrived in Greece, and everyone is grilling sheep to celebrate. He relays a conversation with a young English woman on holiday, and when the bus eventually breaks down, she and the Murakamis hail a cab while the drivers are just staring at the dead bus:

A wide variety of things died on Easter weekend, 1987.

Tens of thousands of sheep, a closet at the Adonis Hotel, and the engine of a bus to Athens. None of it was my fault.


数万頭の羊たちと、アドニス・ホテルのクローゼットと、アテネ行きのバスのエンジン。僕のせいじゃない。 (249)

Check back next week to see where the Murakamis are off to next.

How to Japanese Podcast – Episode 42 – のだ

I remember vividly learning how to use んだ in Japanese. My third year teacher did a section on storytelling/explaining, and she had us tell different stories over and over again using んだ as a sort of emphasis/explanation when we were setting up some of the details of the story.

This んだ is actually のだ and it has its own dictionary definition. I wrote about it in the newsletter this month and discussed it on the podcast. I found some examples from Murakami (more of which I’ll be looking at during Murakami Fest next month).

These aren’t the best examples. I need to track down some examples from more argumentative/formal writing where the のだ really helps clearly present a conclusion based on a set of reasoning, but I think these examples will help get you into using this pattern both in written and spoken Japanese.

If you’re not already using んだ in your spoken Japanese, I think it’s one of the easier ways to sound natural, but knowing exactly when to deploy it and what exactly does can be very subtle at times. Let me know if this helps!

How to Japanese Podcast – Episode 41 – Kanji

I have such good memories of the Fourth of July 2021. It was a perfect day in Chicago. Clear and warm but not hot, and when the sun went down there was a crisp breeze off the lake. For dinner, I walked over to The Bar on Buena, a local restaurant with a mix of American food and Mexican food, a solid selection of local taps, and a surprisingly deep bourbon list for a neighborhood spot. I ordered a BLT and a Surly Helles, a seriously bitter Pilsner. Beer memories are always illusive, but for whatever reason I remember Surly Helles so clearly.

After the sun went down, I biked over to Montrose Harbor and then north along the lake, watching families grill and set off fireworks. I stopped around Foster, lay my bike in the grass, and sat down to watch the end of the big fireworks display someone was firing off.

Then I called it a day and biked home.

I didn’t really push it. I remember wanting to wake up refreshed the next day so I could start working on the new materials for the Japanese program I was starting. It was the start of the last school year I’ll ever have, and I had that same giddy excitement that I’ve had almost every year. So much potential. So much new. So much to learn.

This giddy energy is a helpful way to start projects like a new course of study, but they generally take more to sustain. Somehow I managed to keep this particular project going for nearly two years. I wrote about this in my newsletter this month, and talked about it on the podcast, which I’ll be trying to keep up monthly as an audio accompaniment (not a direct transcript of) that newsletter.

Give it a listen, like, and subscribe!

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E10 – Review of The City and Its Uncertain Walls

It took me two months, but I finally got through my review of The City and Its Uncertain Walls. Here are my thoughts. The review itself is online over at Medium. And I added a few more additional nuggets over at Substack, so give that a read as well.

To give the old TL;DR, it is not a good book, unfortunately.

The Stakes in “Tears of the Kingdom”

This year has been a bit of a wash so far in terms of my own productivity. I caught COVID in early January, fell into a Murakami hole from February to May, and am now fully immersed in Hyrule. I can’t recommend Tears of the Kingdom (TotK) highly enough. I probably need to take a break from it (as of May 30, I’m about 50 hours in), but it is…unparalleled in terms of breadth.

If you haven’t played it yet and are trying to avoid spoilers (which I’d recommend if possible), it’s probably best not to read on. I won’t be saying much, but I’ll be saying something.

I’ve been consuming a ton of media about Tears of the Kingdom as well. Polygon’s article “Tears of the Kingdom is saving me from my checklist obsession” captures an aspect of the game that I also felt about Breath of the Wild, which I played and then set aside before eventually picking back up and finishing. I liked it enough to start a second game last fall (which was also derailed by Murakami). I think I enjoyed it even more the second time. I had the right state of mindfulness to enjoy the game for what it was whenever I happened to be playing it. I didn’t force it along the path. I tried to take it as it came. Whether that was doing a quick shrine puzzle at lunch, exploring a landscape and hunting down Koroks in an area I’d never been before, or advancing the story. BotW is mindfulness condensed into game form. (I also played it English. I’ve realized that I need to play games in English first to understand mechanics so that they don’t feel like study.)

TotK feels denser, and some have argued that it doesn’t have the same open, empty, almost lonely “vibes” as BotW. One of these is The Bad End podcast episode about TotK.

I’d agree with that statement for the most part. BotW feels much more, for lack of a better word, wild. The same sense of mindfulness is, I think, critical to enjoying TotK, but the game perhaps doesn’t distill it as purely as BotW.

That said, I do think TotK does have vibes. It’s just that all of the TotK vibes are stored in a single place: The Depths. This is what I hate to spoil for anyone (which is why I won’t post a screenshot). Essentially, Nintendo created an abstract almost blank wilderness in TotK and set it underneath Hyrule, totally confounding all expectations they created for the game; nearly every trailer and promo for the game heavily emphasized the sky islands, and in a true miracle, most everyone writing about and reporting on the game seems to have maintained an embargo for content about the Depths. While the sky islands do play an important part of the game and have their own unique atmosphere (I love the Philip Glass-inspired minimalist brass soundtrack), I think the Depths captures that sense of the unknown, the expansive, the surprising, and the dangerous that BotW offered us for the first time. It doesn’t hurt that the music for the Depths is hands down the best in the game.

I do think that the next Zelda game will have to reboot the series entirely: I don’t know if the center will hold for much longer. I’m sure there’s something that Nintendo could add to expand the game, maybe even to the degree that TotK expands BotW (?!), but I wonder whether that’s the best idea.

The Bad End podcast is one of the very few complex critical voices I’ve seen discuss TotK, and some aspects they are slightly down on are the story (I laughed out loud when they asked why Zelda hadn’t looked in the basement before) and the mechanics (I think asking whether missiles and homing devices and Minecraft dynamics belong in Zelda is a fair question, but the game is still great for these additions).

But I’m not sure I understand the “Permaweird” angle they take. The podcast uses Venkatesh Rao’s article “The Permaweird” to discuss Hyrule as an encapsulation of the (need for a?) permanent state of crisis in the world.

(The theory itself to me feels like an extremely complicated form of bothsidesism, to be honest. It feels like a true crisis when Republicans are actively disenfranchising minority voters, attempting to make it illegal to be part of the LTBTQ community, and continuing to support the gun lobby, so I can’t help feeling gaslit whenever someone tries to criticize the need for collective urgency. The Bad End is using the theory in a different sense, I think, although I’ll admit I may not fully understand their approach.)

I prefer to use “One Punch Man” as a metaphor for TotK. If you haven’t seen the anime, you should drop what you’re doing and watch it immediately (between sessions of TotK, of course), but basically it’s a send up of “Dragon Ball Z” and other famous anime combined with the satirization of trade associations. The central element it criticizes is the relentless need to find a larger threat, a more evil villain, a more pressing disaster, a more intense voice actor.

To a certain extent, the stakes in Zelda—as in superhero movies—will always be 0 or 100. The world will either end or it won’t. Evil will triumph or it won’t. Otherwise, what’s the point, really?

This is why superhero franchises reboot constantly. A reboot allows them to start fresh without needing to one up (One Punch, as it were) the stakes.

For now, however, TotK has miraculously managed to one up the stakes. Nintendo made a shrewd decision when they used Calamity Ganon as the BotW villain. Calamity Ganon is more abstract and cloud-like than Ganon has been in many Zelda entries. TotK seems to surpass this, ironically, by making Ganon more of a human threat.

Maybe there’s another angle they can take, something that would make me want to spend another 100+ hours in a Hyrule that looks and feels very similar to BotW and TotK, but I’m starting to get the sinking feeling that if they did, I might not be pulled back into the world in quite the same way.

Apologies for the lack of Japanese content this month. I can say that TotK enables you to easily select the Japanese language voice track in the settings so that the cutscenes play almost like an anime. And don’t forget that playing the game in Japanese (and “cheating” in Japanese) is a perfectly good way to study.

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E09 – Immediate Reactions to Murakami’s New Novel

Good God, that’s Murakami Haruki’s music!

街とその不確かな壁 (The City and Its Uncertain Walls/The Town and Its Uncertain Wall) launched today in Japan, and holy moly, it’s a wild one. I read the first two chapters and then rapped about it for 20 mins on the podcast in three sections: spoiler free, loose suggestions about content, and spoiler-palooza. Take a listen!

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E08 – Predictions for Murakami’s New Novel

It’s the final podcast before publication of the new Murakami novel! I go over some Murakami vocabulary, predictions I have for the novel, and some comments about potential connections with Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Here are the links I mention:

  • Episode 1 of this season of the podcast, in which I go over everything I know about the novella, 街と、その不確かな壁.
  • My appearance on Translation Chat with Jenn O’Donnell about translation choices made in Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the Word
  • Japan Times article examining Murakami’s language choices in Killing Commendatore
  • Murakami vocabulary:
    • うんざり – unzari – tedious, frustrated
    • 覆う – ōu – cover
    • やれやれ – yareyare – what the hell, oh brother
    • 備わっている – sonawatte iru – gifted with, endowed with, has/have (certain abilities)
    • 惹かれる – hikareru – drawn by, pulled by
    • 引き出し・抽斗 – hikidashi – drawer
    • 流れ – nagare – flow
    • 歪む – yugamu – distort/warp
    • 歪な – ibitsu – misshapen, distorted, warped

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E07 – Murakami Bibliography – 2006-2023

This week is the third part of my look at Murakami’s complete bibliography. See my Google Sheet version of all this information and follow along with the podcast at this link:

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E06 – Murakami Bibliography – 1988-2005

This week is the second part of my look at Murakami’s complete bibliography. See my Google Sheet version of all this information and follow along with the podcast at this link:

Here are the links I mention in the episode:

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E05 – Murakami Bibliography – 1979-1987

This week on the podcast I’m taking a close look at Murakami’s complete bibliography for the first eight years of his career. See my Google Sheet version of all this information and follow along with the podcast at this link:

And here are links that I mention separated out by year: