Dazai Osamu’s “Dispatch From Tokyo”

I was in the Japan Times this week with a curated look at Aozora Bunko, a great source for public domain literature in Japanese: “Blue Sky Books is a literary treasure trove.”

My encounters with Dazai Osamu on Aozora Bunko have been revelatory. I’d only ever read him in translation previously, and nothing ever really struck me (for which I’ll blame youthful ignorance), but I remember a friend at Waseda saying that she loved his sentences, and I can now say that I know what she was talking about.

To try to give you a good example of this, I’ve translated one of his shorter nonfiction pieces on Aozora titled 東京だより (Tokyo dayori, Dispatch from Tokyo). I don’t think I do him full justice, but it was a fun exercise:

Dispatch From Tokyo

Dazai Osamu

Tokyo is currently full of working girls. Morning and evening, on their way to and from the factories, the girls march through the streets of Tokyo in double-file columns singing the songs of industrial soldiers. They wear almost exactly the same clothing as boys. However, the straps of their geta are red, and this lone point leaves them with an aura of femininity. All of the girls have the same look on their faces. You can’t even tell clearly how old they are. When offered up to the Emperor, perhaps all humans are cleanly stripped of all facial features and age. This isn’t only when they march through the streets of Tokyo; when I see these girls laboring or working, each of their features lost and their so called “personal circumstances” also forgotten, it’s even easier for me to understand that they’re exerting themselves for their country.

Just the other day, a friend of mine who is an artist was drafted to work at a factory, and I had to see him about something, so I visited the factory three times. This something was that he is going to draw the cover for one of my fiction collections that should be published soon, but in truth I always make fun of his works, and in the past he asked several times to draw the cover of my collection, but I rejected him outright and said, if I let you draw the cover, even one of my books that wasn’t considered any good to begin with would get even worse and would never sell a single copy, so, yeah, I’ll pass. Actually, his drawings were really bad. But he got in touch with an incredibly solemn request and said he was going into the factory and now was precisely the moment to try to draw the cover for my collection with a fresh mindset, so I quickly set out for the factory to ask him to draw the cover. I didn’t care if it was crap. I didn’t care if the collection was reviewed poorly. None of those things mattered. If drawing the cover for my boring collection lifted his spirits at the factory, then nothing would make me happier. I received his touching correspondence and quickly set out for the factory where he works. He greeted me with great joy and told me about his various plans for the cover. Each and every one was unsatisfactory. It shocked me how cliched and sentimental they were, but, yet, given the situation, the quality of the drawing was not the problem. My next collection might be ruined due to his drawing, but, nevertheless, I couldn’t have cared less about it. Didn’t someone once say, do unto others? He excitedly told me about his boring ideas and then the next time he showed me even more boring drafts of the drawings, so I was frequently summoned and had to go to his factory.

I passed through the gate of the factory, showed the guard the letter from him, and entered the administrative office, where ten girls were quietly attending to administrative duties. I told one of the girls the reason for my visit and had her phone his guard room. He slept in one room of the factory, so he had made sure to inform me of his break times in his letter, and I was able to make a short visit during those break times. Until he got to the office, I sat in a small chair in one corner and stared off into space as I waited, but actually I wasn’t that spaced out. I was surreptitiously observing the ten girls who were working right in front of me. They had already, in almost beautiful fashion, cooly ignored my presence. I’ve been accustomed to being ignored by girls since my childhood, so I wasn’t particularly surprised, but the way they ignored me showed no trace of arrogance; they all simply looked downward and diligently attended to their duties without a shift in attitude revealed on any of their faces, and there was no sign of any change in the quiet atmosphere due to the coming and going of visitors—it was an incredibly pleasant scene; I could hear only the crisp sounds of the abacus and the turning of pages in the ledgers. There weren’t noticeable expressions on any of the girls faces, which made them seem like identically colored butterflies quietly lined up on the branch of a flower, but there was one who, for some reason, had an unforgettable impression. This is a rare phenomenon when it comes to working girls. I stated previously that there weren’t even slight distinguishing features between each of the working girls, but there was the one in the administrative office of that factory who had a completely different sense from the other girls. There was nothing all that different about her face. It was longish and tan. There was nothing different about her clothes either. She was wearing the same black work uniform as everyone. There was nothing different about her hairstyle either. There was nothing different about anything about her. Nevertheless, she was beautiful and vividly different from the others, as though a green butterfly was mixed in amongst black swallowtail butterflies. Yes. She was beautiful. She wasn’t wearing any makeup. Still, she was completely different and beautiful. I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I must confess that while I waited for the artist in that office, I was looking only at that mysterious girl’s face. I settled myself down and came to the most plausible conclusion that it was her bloodlines. Her father or mother had noble blood for many generations in the distant past, therefore she gave off this strange scent despite having no discernible features. I sat alone intrigued and sighed thinking of how important bloodlines are for humans, but I was wrong. My lone conclusion was completely off. The reason she was so prominently, mysteriously beautiful lay within a solemn—even sublime—urgent reality. One evening, when I was leaving through the front gate of the factory after completing my third visit, I happened to hear the girls singing behind me and turned around to see them come out from the factory courtyard in double-file lines, loudly singing the songs of industrial warriors. I stopped to watch the energetic group go by. And then I was astonished. The girl from the office came walking with crutches, slightly behind everyone else. As I watched, my eyes began to burn. The girl who should’ve been beautiful, her legs were deformed from birth. Her right leg right around her ankle—no, I can’t bring myself to say it. She passed by me silently on the crutches.

The piece is striking for its variety of sentences. Dazai has total control and jumps back and forth between shorter and longer phrases. There is some repetition of terminology (such as 事務所), but I think they can be chalked up to linguistic differences.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of 男子意気に感ぜざれば. I found a few instances of 人生意気に感ず, which has a few good explanations here and here, so I made up something that seems to fit. Let me know if you see any other blatant mistakes.

Dazai has a long list of shorter pieces on Aozora that are manageable reads in addition to longer works like 人間失格 (Ningen shikkaku, No Longer Human). There are also a number that are related to the war, which are interesting…I don’t think I’d read many primary texts about the war experience in Japan. I think this piece can be read as a subtle critique of the war effort and its effect on the populace.


Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

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: Warmth


In Chapter 19 “Hamburgers, Skyline, Deadline,” Watashi and the Girl in Pink have hamburgers, make it to the old man’s office building, and then prep for another spelunking adventure…after ominously discovering that there are 36 hours left until something bad happens.

A couple of interesting things of note in this chapter. There is one callback to the watermelon metaphor that gets cut by Murakami for the Complete Works version. After Watashi tells the Girl in Pink that he doesn’t think he has any special qualities, she insists that his “emotional shell” is what makes him special and gives him the ability to shuffle. It helped protect him from the procedure they performed on him. Here is the paperback version after that:




“So this guard is basically like the rind of a melon?”

“Put simply, yes.”

“So,” I said. “This antibody or shell or rind or whatever it is, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?”

I’ve borrowed some of Birnbaum’s language from his translation, which is very close to the Complete Works version:


Except Birnbaum keeps the “acquired line” in translation:

I thought this over. “This antibody factor or guard or whatever, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?” (194)

Not a massive change, but a missed callback to the melon stuff from earlier. Always interesting to see what Murakami is doing.

Birnbaum works some of his translation magic as always. When the pair get to the office, it’s been ransacked just as his apartment was, and all the girl’s clothes are strewn across the floor, which gives Birnbaum the chance to work with this line:


An orchestration of pink in every gradation from light rose to deep fuchsia. (195)

And there is also a missed translation…because everyone is fallible. The device to repel the INKlinks (yamikuro) is still working, despite it having been knocked around:

“It’s all right, it works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. Lucky for us, because the mechanism’s so simple, one little whack could have broken it.” (195)

But the Japanese suggests that it could not have been broken so easily:


“It’s all right. It works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. And the mechanism’s so simple that a little bump on the head wouldn’t break it,” she said.

An alternate translation for that last line might be: “And the mechanism’s so simple that it would take more than a little bump to break it.”

But all these are just trivia, for the most part. The most interesting cut has to do again with the Girl in Pink, who becomes far more interesting this chapter. She’s always been overly cute and sensual and a bit frisky, but in this chapter she shows us exactly how smart and skillful she is. She’s learned just about everything from the old scientist: how to dodge taxes, trade stocks, run things for him. She’s completely financially independent. In what seems like a foreshadowing of Creta Kano’s invitation to Toru, she invites Watashi to run off to Europe. The Girl in Pink even suggests that once abroad he could be “reborn” as a “first-rate human being” (一流の人間). Watashi’s response from the Complete Works:


“Hmm,” I said.

Birnbaum’s translation leaves a vestigial tale of the original paperback text:

“Hmm.” Not a bad offer. (192)

In the original, the narrator deliberates a good bit longer and in doing so captures the mindset of many Murakami protagonists:


“Hmm,” I said. Not a bad offer. This incident had put me in a tight spot as a Calcutec, so a leisurely life abroad did have its charms. However, I wasn’t confident I could ever become a first-rate human being. Usually first-rate human beings become first rate because they have strong conviction that they can become first rate. There aren’t many human beings who became first rate just caught up in the current of things, the whole time thinking they weren’t first rate.

Not exactly critical information, but kind of the arm-chair philosophy/wordplay that has generated fanboys and girls for Murakami. And endearing, for sure…at least to me. It builds up the narrator as more of an underdog.

This passage feels like Murakami digging into his subconscious. He basically jetted off to the Mediterranean shortly after publishing this book, and he worked on Norwegian Wood while he was there (1985-1987 or so). He had a decent readership by the time Hard-boiled Wonderland was published, but I bet he wondered what level of success he’d achieve. He published Norwegian Wood in 1987 while still living abroad, and when he came home, he was a celebrity. Quite a rebirth.

More Investigations

Back to the real point of this blog – yeah, it’s a Murakami blog these days despite my two recent posts on the Japanese language. If you’re a new reader, here’s the idea: Haruki Murakami’s 1985 novel Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World presents an interesting case study in translation and author revision. Alfred Birnbaum translated creatively (perhaps too creatively at times), and Murakami himself made changes in the text for the version that appears in the 1990 Complete Works box set. Birnbaum’s translation was published in 1991 by Kodansha International.

Chapter 15 “Whiskey, Torture, Turgenev” does not have many changes. Birnbaum makes a few creative leaps here and there, but nothing outside of a translator’s regular poetic license. In this chapter, the goons cut Watashi’s belly, his coworkers from the System come check him out, he gets sewn up at the hospital, he reads some Russian literature, has a nap, and then gets a call from the granddaughter.

There is one paragraph that gets cut between the two Japanese versions. Take a look at the 1985 version:




And now the 1990 version, which is clearly missing a paragraph:



Strangely, Birnbaum’s translation includes aspects from each of these versions. I’ve marked the matching segments in red and blue above and below:

I shut the book and bid the last thimbleful of Jack Daniel’s farewell, turning over in my mind the image of a world within walls. I could picture it, with no effort at all. A very high wall, a very large gate. Dead quiet. Me inside. Beyond that, the scene was hazy. Details of the world seemed to be distinct enough, yet at the same time everything around me was dark and blurred. And from some great obscure distance, a voice was calling.

It was like a scene from a movie, a historical blockbuster. But which? Not El Cid, not Ben Hur, not Spartacus. No, the image had to be something my subconscious dreamed up.

I shook my head to drive the image from my mind. I was so tired.

Certainly, the walls represented the limitations hemming in my life. The silence, residue of my encounter with sound-removal. The blurred vision of my surroundings, an indication that my imagination faced imminent crisis. The beckoning voice, the everything-pink girl, probably. (164)

Birnbaum’s translation includes the paragraph about movies from the 1985 version (although Birnbaum cuts The Ten Commandments (十戒) and The Robe (聖衣) to fit the English “rule of three”), but it also includes the line that Murakami uses to replace that daydream: 私は頭を振ってそんなイメージを追い払った。私はつかれているのだ。Birnbaum gives them their own paragraph.

This seems to suggest one of two things: Either Birnbaum was translating based on both the original and revised versions, or Murakami made his revisions based on Birnbaum’s “adapted” translation.

Based on publication date alone, it seems like the former must be true, but I’m not so sure. The translation easily could have been completed in 1988 and then taken three years to finalize. We know from Jay Rubin’s book Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words that Rubin was asked to vet Hard-boiled Wonderland in Japanese for a publisher and that Birnbaum had already been selected to translate the book (and perhaps he already had). That would have given Murakami time to look over his own manuscript, especially if Birnbaum had cleared changes with him and pointed out locations he adapted.

More investigations are required.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how nice a chapter this is. It’s long, but Murakami plays the Murakami game and lets his narrator get drunk and ramble with charm about Turgenev, Stendahl, and Dostoevsky before the thought process comes full circle and links both halves of the book. Magic.

On the Rocks

suntory red

(Photo from this cool retro blog, which I found via this excellent blog post waxing nostalgic about Japanese whiskey.)

お待たせしました! and 明けましておめでとうございます!

Apologies for the long delay between posts. Thanksgiving to New Years is a long blur, but I have, in exchange for that delay, a hefty post looking at more hidden Murakami passages in both translation and revision from Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Without further ado…

Chapter 13 is in the Hard-boiled Wonderland section of the novel. Watashi wakes up from shuffling, goes to meet the chubby granddaughter after she calls in a panic, kills time at a supermarket waiting for her, and then—when the girl doesn’t show up—returns home to sleep and to confront the oddly sized thugs looking to break into the information black market. They trash his place, end of chapter.

There are small cuts in this chapter (sadly one of the やれやれs gets axed) and there are enormous cuts. The two most sizable cuts happen for basically the same reason: superfluous characterization. Strangely enough, they are both cut from both the 1990 Murakami revision and the 1991 Birnbaum translation. Hmm…

I’ll give them to you in reverse order, otherwise known as the order of increasing interest and the order of increasing length.

In the 1985 version, we get more details about the background of the dwarfish thug. He advises Watashi to give up his beer habit but then admits to two vices of his own: smoking and sweets:





I nodded in agreement.

The man took out another cigarette and lit it with his lighter.

“I grew up next to a chocolate factory. That’s probably why I ended up with a sweet tooth. I say chocolate factory, but I’m not talking Morinaga or Meiji or anything big like that. Just a tiny, no-name neighborhood chocolate factory. A place that makes the gross crap that ends up in the bargain bin at the supermarket. In any case, it smelled like chocolate every day. That chocolate smell got into all sorts of crap. The curtains, pillows, the cat, shit like that. Which is why I still like chocolate to this day. When I smell chocolate, I think of my childhood.”

The man glanced at his Rolex.

This is, perhaps, a typically Murakami-esque detail in that it links the mind and body and seeks to explain the compulsions of human behavior. But it’s also totally unnecessary: these guys are supposed to be caricature, not fleshed out characters. Although perhaps growing up alongside a crappy little chocolate factory is a perfect caricature-like detail.

(On a side note, here’s a clue as to why the guy might be associating cigarettes and chocolate, other than them both being bad habits:



At any rate, Murakami thought better of it the second time around and cut it out of the 1990 version:


男はローレックスの文字盤にちらりと目をやった。 (184)

I nodded in agreement.

The man glanced at his rolex.

But he also cuts the cigarette line, which results in a phantom cigarette a few pages later. It’s like those scenes in movies where the costume people forget what someone was wearing and it suddenly changes in the next scene: the thug is suddenly ashing a cigarette he never lit on the floor.

Birnbaum takes care of this easily in his translation:

He lit another cigarette, and glanced at the dial of his Rolex. (135)

The second passage is much more substantial and very “improvised.” Whenever I see passages like this, it always reminds me of the comparisons that Murakami always gets to a jazz soloist. And then I remember that I hate John Coltrane (most Coltrane). I think this technique works in more controlled bursts (“The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema”), but it can be distracting in novels.

This passage is fun enough, I guess. Take a look:






ポスターを眺めているうちに六時になった。が、太った娘はまだ現れなかった。 (219-221)

I looked at the cigarette poster on the opposite wall. A shiny-faced young man holding a filter-tip cigarette looked absentmindedly askance into the distance. I wondered how the models for cigarette ads are always able attain that thought-free I’m-not-looking-at-anything look in their eyes.

I couldn’t kill as much time staring at the cigarette poster as I had with the Frankfurt poster, so I turned around and looked over the empty supermarket. At the front of the displays, cans of fruit were stacked into huge piles like enormous anthills. There was a mountain of peaches, a mountain of grapefruits, and a mountain of oranges, three altogether. In front of all that, there was a table for samples, but the day had only just dawned, so they weren’t doing the sample service. No one comes to try fruit at five forty-five in the morning. On the side of the table, there was a “USA Fruit Fair” poster. There was a white garden chair set in front of a pool, and a girl was there eating from a fruit platter. She was a beautiful girl with blond hair, blue eyes, long legs, and a dark suntan. Photos for fruit ads always use blondes. No matter how long you stare at the girls, though, the second you look away, you can’t even remember what they looked like – that’s the kind of beauties they use. That kind of beauty exists all over the world. Just like grapefruits, you can’t tell them apart.

Alcohol sales had a separate register, but there was no clerk there. Because decent folks don’t do things like go shopping for booze before breakfast. So there were no customers or employees in that whole section, which made the bottles of booze seem lined up quietly like bonsai pines that had just been planted. Thankfully, the wall in this section was covered in posters. I counted them up: there was one each of brandy, bourbon, and vodka, three of both scotch and Japanese whiskey, two for sake, and four for beer. I didn’t know why alcohol was the only thing that had so many posters. Maybe it was because it provides the most festive personality of all the different types of food and drink.

However, they were perfect for killing time, so I started at the side and looked at the posters one by one in order. As I looked at those fifteen posters, I realized that of all the boozes, whiskey on the rocks is the most visually appealing. To put it simply, it’s photogenic. Throw three or four big chunks of ice into a wide-bottomed glass, pour in some viscous, amber whiskey, and there’s this moment just before the ice melts and light-colored water mixes with the amber when the ice swims lithely in the liquor. It’s a sight to see. If you pay attention, you’ll realize that most whiskey posters are photos of whiskey on the rocks. I guess whiskey and water looks too weak, and straight must feel like something is missing.

I also realized that there weren’t any posters with beer snacks. None of the drinkers in any of the posters were eating anything. Everyone was just drinking. Maybe this is because they thought the booze would lose its purity if it shared the spotlight with snacks. Or that the snacks would stereotype the booze. Or that the viewers of the posters would focus on the snacks instead of the beer. Those are things I could understand. There’s always a reason behind things.

As I was looking at the posters, it turned six o’clock. But the fat girl still hadn’t appeared.

I’m not totally confident with the entire translation (especially with the last line in the penultimate paragraph – there must be something better than that), but hopefully it’s good enough to give you a sense of the original and what Murakami is doing…which is going on and on about how he feels the world works. In this case, he’s breaking down poster theory. Not exactly critical to the book. And, again, Murakami notices this in time for the revision:


そんな風に店に貼ってあるいろんなポスターをぼんやりと眺めているうちに六時になった。が、太った娘はまだ現れなかった。 (175-176)

I looked at the cigarette poster on the opposite wall. A shiny-faced young man holding a filter-tip cigarette looked absentmindedly askance into the distance. I wondered how the models for cigarette ads are always able attain that thought-free I’m-not-looking-at-anything look in their eyes.

And as I was gazing at all the different posters on the wall of the store, it turned six o’clock. But the fat girl still hadn’t appeared.

Birnbaum, too, takes an axe to this ginormous aside; he cuts even more than Murakami:

I turned my gaze to the poster on the opposite wall. A shiny-faced young man holding a filter-tip was staring obliquely into the distance. Uncanny how models in cigarette ads always have that not-watching anything, not-thinking-anything look in their eyes.

At six o’clock, the chubby girl still hadn’t shown. (130)

But he’s nicer than I am to the girl – “chubby” is a more sympathetic choice than “fat.” Probably the right choice.

It may still be too soon to say (I know that there are more whiskey-related scenes later in this book), but I’m not sure these asides will pay off. It will be interesting to see. The watermelon cut from earlier, for example, I think works because of the way Murakami wove the idea of watermelons into the first chapter as a metaphor for the brain. Here we will have to wait and see.

Sex With Fat Women

Now begins the Sixth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

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

For those of you who don’t know how this works, check out the past five years:

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 Sapporo, Gerry Mulligan, All Growns Up, Dance, Mountain Climbing

This year I’ll be even lazier than normal and just continue my close comparison of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World with its translation. I’ll be looking at a chapter a week.


This week I’m looking at Chapter 7, which is in the Hard-boiled Wonderland section of the novel. Watashi gets home from his job laundering the data, has a sleep, and gets up the next day to do some shopping and consider his new gift from the old man: a unicorn skull (but he doesn’t know that yet). He checks out some books at the library, hits on the librarian, and then has her bring him books on unicorns after it’s clear that Semiotecs are scoping out his apartment and trying to get the skull.

I am a changed man after reading this chapter.

Why? you may ask. It is because, for the first time in my history of reading Murakami (14 years, now), I have DEFINITIVE PROOF that Murakami makes edits to his manuscripts for the Complete Works editions.

But first, let’s look at the translation. Birnbaum is up to his usual techniques in this chapter:

– He compresses where Murakami sometimes goes long. When Watashi returns from shopping, he details how he puts away all his groceries – wrap the fish and meat, put the coffee and bread in the freezer, put the beer in the fridge, throw out the old veggies, hang the clothes, etc. Birnbaum renders this “Back at the apartment, I put away all the groceries. I hung my clothes in the wardrobe” (76). Capiche?

– He cuts possibly unnecessary culture drops. Wilhelm Furtwängler anyone?

– He translates a little more cleverly than Murakami’s Japanese. For example, this passage:


Birnbaum renders this:

Paperclips were indeed used by everyone. A thousand yen will buy you a lifetime supply. Sure, why not. I stopped into a stationery shop and bought myself a lifetime supply. (76)

It’s a neat translation but not precise with the 千円ぶん. He uses the transitive property to translate that as “lifetime supply” rather than “a thousand-yen worth.”

– He cleans up the end of the chapter. Rather than end with a short declarative statement by Watashi (私は喜んで道順を教えた; I gladly told her the way to my place), he ends it on a line of dialogue by the librarian: “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” she said, “but I don’t suppose you’d want to tell me the way to your place” (82). The translation is cleaner and much more suggestive.

This is Birnbaum being Birnbaum. This is why we love him.

I was prepared to write a very different entry because I found what I thought was a very large addition by Birnbaum to the manuscript. On page 73, after Watashi eats lunch at a restaurant, he drinks his post-meal coffee and thinks about the fat granddaughter, then about the last time he slept with a fat girl. I’ll give the section in its entirety here because it’s great:

The last time I’d slept with a fat female was the year of the Japanese Red Army shoot-out in Karuizawa. The woman had extraordinary thighs and hips. She was a bank teller who had always exchanged pleasantries with me over the counter. I knew her from the midriff up. We became friendly, went out for a drink once, and ended up sleeping together. Not until we were in bed did I notice that the lower half of her body was so demographically disproportionate. It was because she played table tennis all through school, she had me know, though I didn’t quite grasp the causal relationship. I didn’t know table tennis led to below-the-belt corporeality.

Still, her plumpness was charming. Resting an ear on her hip was like lying in a meadow on an idyllic spring afternoon, her thighs as soft as freshly aired futon, the rolling flow of her curves leading gracefully to her pubis. When I complimented her on her qualities, though, all she said was, “Oh yeah?” (73)

This passage is nowhere to be found in the Complete Works edition. I was prepared to discuss how this might have been an attempt by Birnbaum to give the book a little more fleshed out (excuse the pun) back story (excuse the pun) and connect it with a Japanese historical timeline. But just to be safe, I decided to pull out my paperback and hardback copies of the book (yes, I have, like, five copies of this book; it’s a sickness).

And there it was. The passage is complete in both of the pre-Complete Works versions. Birnbaum makes a few minor adjustments, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. All within his standard operating procedures. After this paragraph, however, Birnbaum does cut two smaller paragraphs that go on longer about sleeping with fat females.

For what it’s worth, here are those two extra paragraphs in Japanese:



Here’s my translation:

I did also sleep with a fat woman whose body was more evenly distributed. And with a woman who was a total beefcake – muscles all over. The former taught electric organ, and the latter was a freelance stylist. So even being fat has its own little quirks.

The more women you sleep with, the more scientific you end up being about the whole thing. The pleasure of the act of intercourse itself starts to fade away. Of course there’s no science in sexual desire. However, when sexual desire follows its appropriate course, it produces the waterfall of sexual intercourse, and as a result, it does lead to a pool filled by a sort of science. And soon enough, just like Pavlov’s dog, it creates a consciousness circuit that leads directly to that pool. Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting old.

I’m not sure if I’m following Watashi’s thought process here, but that might be the point: maybe he’s supposed to sound like a guy who’s tired and confused, drinking a cup of coffee and thinking about women he slept with, possibly whom he had feelings for…or not.

The passage is more important than I initially suspected. I understand why Birnbaum cut it – Murakami does sound a bit rambly, as is his tendency – but it’s got the consciousness circuit and the waterfalls! As we all know (SPOILER ALERT!), Watashi will fall into an endless consciousness circuit because of his shuffling. And the book is heavy with waterfalls. There were waterfalls in Chapter 1 (Watashi thinks about Houdini going over Niagara Falls while trapped in the elevator), the waterfall covering the old man’s lab, and the sound of the Pool in the End of the World (which he notes is different from a waterfall). Not hugely important in terms of the overall book, but consistent enough to be called imagery and thematically significant.

Which makes me wonder why Murakami cut it in the Collected Edition. Did he think he sounded lazy or imprecise? Or did he cut the two other women because they aren’t as well developed characters, which then required the cutting of the other paragraphs?

Perhaps seeing Birnbaum’s cut in translation convinced Murakami to trim the entire section in the Collected Works manuscript? Or maybe he felt the reference to the Asama-Sansō incident was out of place when he compiled his Collected Works in the the early 90s. We may never know unless the Paris Review lets me interview the man.

Good Ideas

55-65 read and understood. Most of this section was spent in the End of the World, which was awesome. The paragraphs suddenly become longer and denser, and Murakami takes the reader through the buildings of the town for the first time. The text thins out a bit thanks to dialogue once the Librarian gets introduced.

In terms of the translation, I was really interested in some adjustments that Birnbaum makes towards the end of the previous chapter during and after the data laundering process. The old man explains what the data is, how he’ll use it to control sound, and Watashi says that he should be careful that it doesn’t fall into Semiotec hands:

“I know, I know. That’s why I’ve withheld all my data and processes, so they wouldn’t be pokin’ into things. Probably means even the world of science doesn’t take me seriously, but what of that? Tosh, a hundred years from now my theories will all’ve been proved. That’s enough, isn’t it?”


“Okay, son, launder and shuffle everything.”

“Yessir,” I said, “yessir.” (35)

At first I thought that this was an egregious translation, but after I typed it out and thought about it for a while, there’s really only one minor part that Birnbaum cuts, and the rest are just “adjustments”:




「なるほど」と私は言った。 (28)

My humble version:

“I’ve also been keeping that point in mind. Which is why I’m concealing the data and processes; I’ll only be announcing it in theoretical form. Then there’ll be no way they can decipher it. The academics will probably come after me as well, but who cares about that. In a hundred years all my theories will’ve been proven, and that’ll be enough.”

“Hmm,” I said.

“So it’s all up to your laundering and shuffling, ya see.”

“That figures,” I said.

The only line cut (which I’ve bolded), I realized on second read, is the fact that the old man will be presenting his theories, which isn’t apparent in the English. On first read I felt like it made the old man slightly more sinister and interested in the fame and acclaim. I guess it’s not a major change either way, but it does contrast with the English.

The adjustments at the end of the section, however, are more radical. Birnbaum has the old man encourage Watashi and Watashi replies with a simple affirmative, whereas in the Japanese Murakami has the old man place the responsibility squarely on Watashi’s shoulders and then has Watashi reply with the なるほど. I can’t tell how sarcastic this was meant to be; is it on the same level as a やれやれ or slightly lower? I went with “That figures,” (get it, figures? Ha ha.) but I think “Of course” might work too.

Birnbaum also plays with Watashi’s characterization at the very end of the chapter. During a break in the data laundering, Watashi asks about the mute granddaughter, and the old man curses himself for forgetting to return her speech to normal. Then the old man says he needs to go back and return her to normal. Watashi’s response in translation is merely:


But in Japanese, it is this:

「その方がよさそうですね」と私は言った。 (58)

In translation:

“That sounds like a good idea,” I said.

Here again Birnbaum alters one of Watashi’s lines of dialogue at the end of a section making him seem more aloof and less sarcastic in translation. Although as we’ve seen in other posts, he is adding a generous amount of it back in in other places.

Fat-bottomed Girls

No extensive cuts in the first ten pages of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, just one paragraph and a few minor sentences, but Birnbaum does choose to leave out one really nice line. The elevator door has opened and Boku Watashi is following the plump lady in a pink suit:

The woman was on the chubby side. Young and beautiful and all that went with it, but chubby. Now a young, beautiful woman who is, shall we say, plump, seems a bit off. Walking behind her, I fixated on her body. (7)

Here is the Japanese:


Birnbaum gets everything, for the most part, but leaves out the last sentence for whatever reason. I thought it was nicely phrased:

The woman was chubby. Young and beautiful, sure, but chubby nonetheless. There’s something strange about a young, beautiful woman who is chubby. The whole time I walked behind her, I looked at her neck and arms and legs. It was as though a thick layer of fat had settled there overnight like a silent, heavy snowfall.

My guess is that Birnbaum didn’t want to make Boku Watashi seem like too much of a creeper this early in the novel. He cuts the final sentence and turns the specific target of Boku’s Watashi’s vision into a more general “fixated,” which I think reads smoothly but definitely alters the original.

Mountain Climbing

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 Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: Jurassic Sapporo, Gerry Mulligan, All Growns Up, Dance.

One more post this year, just a quick one due to schedule challenges at Morales Headquarters.

We fast-forward a few chapters. Boku has been hanging out in the hotel, still longing for connection with someone, so he sort of tortures Yumiyoshi a bit. After one incident where he bothers her at the front desk, she calls him in his room to chastise him.

“It’s very upsetting. I told you that. When I’m on duty, I get tense. So please, don’t do anything like that again. You promised not to stare too.”

“I wasn’t staring. I was just trying to talk to you.”

“Well, then, from now on, no more talking like that. Please.”

“I promise, I promise. No talking. No staring and no talking. I’ll be quiet as granite. But you know, while I’ve got you on the line, are you free this evening? Or do you have mountain-climbing lessons tonight?”

There was the sound of a dry laugh, half of it silence, and then she hung up.” (99)

Boku here is poking fun at Yumiyoshi’s “swim club” (in Japanese スイミング・スクール), which previously prevented her from going on another date. In Japanese, this has just a minor cut:








彼女は壁に書かれた字を読みあげるみたいに乾いた平板な声ではははと言った。そして電話を切った。 (150)

I’ll go ahead and translate the whole thing even though Birnbaum includes almost everything (much more successfully than I do). The cut comes close to the end:

“I get nervous. Didn’t I already tell you? I’m always really nervous while I’m working. So I don’t want anyone bothering me. And you promised that you wouldn’t stare either.”

“I wasn’t staring. I just tried talking to you.”

“Well, don’t talk to me like that again. Please.”

“I promise. I won’t talk to you. Won’t stare or talk to you. I’ll be as still and quiet as granite. So, anyway, are you free tonight? Or do you have your mountain-climbing class tonight?”

“Mountain climbing class?” she said and sighed. “That’s a joke, right?”

“Yeah, it’s a joke.”

“Sometimes I don’t get jokes like that. *Mountain climbing* class. Ha. Ha. Ha.” She laughed dryly like she was reading each Ha off a board on the wall where they were written. Then she hung up.

This is a typical Birnbaum cut. He’s going for speed and humor and, in doing so, he uses a translation sandpaper of a courser grit, knocking off the edges here and there. Both his and Murakami’s version help characterize Yumiyoshi, but they do so in different ways. Murakami reveals her naiveté and her sense of humor, whereas Birnbaum cuts to the chase, creating a kind of snarkier version.

I’d be interested to track this throughout the whole book and see how the balance works out. Sadly, though, the Nobel Prize announcement is this Thursday, so it’ll have to wait until next year! Unless this is the year he wins. He’s getting 2/1 odds right now, which is the highest he’s ever been. See y’all at the announcement!

And on a side note, I’ve been using asterisks to symbolize italics within my block quotes because I’m still trying to work out the CSS of my new theme. (The standard setting has all blockquote text in italics, which was clearly programmed by someone who is a computer science major and not a liberal arts major. I managed to prevent that from happening but the result is that I am unable to italicize anything.) The Japanese is, of course, 傍点, which I’m still not sure can be accomplished in CSS…anyone know? It’s difficult to tell, but I bolded the original Japanese.