Winning and Losing

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation, Mental Retreat, Writing is Hard
Year 14: Prostitutes and Novelists, Villa Tre Colli and Norwegian Wood, Surge of Death, On the Road to Meta, Unbelievable
Year 15: Baseball on TV, Kindness, Murakami in the Asahi Shimbun – 日記から – 1982, The Mythology of 1981

I’ll finish up Murakami Fest this year by returning to where I started: Murakami’s 1978 baseball revelation. I’ve looked at a number of his early accounts but only his 2007 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running when it comes to more recent accounts.

At the Diet Library, I tracked down a 2001 Mainichi Shimbun article Murakami wrote on October 12 ahead of the Japan Series that year. The Swallows played the Kintetsu Buffaloes starting a week later, and Murakami wrote an article on the Culture page about how he became a Swallows fan. He says he doesn’t really know, that he basically realized he was a Swallows fan the day he first walked into Jingu Stadium, but that whenever people ask him about it, he always mentions the few benefits of being a Swallows fan: Jingu is never full, so it’s easy to get a ticket. Beer is 100 yen cheaper than at the Tokyo Dome. And they don’t do the traditional 7th inning balloon release at Jingu, of which Murakami notes “I can’t think of a more meaningless thing to do.”

Here’s what he has to say about the day of his revelation:

I’ve written about this before, but the outfield seats at Jingu Stadium are where I suddenly realized I wanted to write a novel. It was opening day 23 years ago. I think Yasuda [Takeshi] was starting. On October 4 that year, the Swallows won the championship. Matsuoka [Hiromu] was starting and pitched a complete game. I was in the stadium that day as well. It was the first championship for the Swallows, 29 years after being founded, and I happened to be 29 years old. I won the new author’s prize for the novel I wrote that year.

23 years later (so this year), I was in the outfield seats at Jingu on October 4 again, watching Yakult against Hanshin. If they won the game, they would’ve won the series, but they lost. Even though they lost, I wasn’t all that mad. In life, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Somethings things go well, and sometimes they don’t. There wasn’t anything I could do, I realized. It made me happy to see Inaba [Atsunori] sprint at full speed out to his spot like a shrewd black cat (not a black panther), [Roberto] Petagine spin the bat behind his head, and Takatsu [Shingo] flare his nostrils widely on the mound (which you could even see from the outfield). That’s what baseball is all about. It’s not just about winning and losing. That’s something else I learned at Jingu Stadium.

前にも書いたことがあるが、僕が小説を書こうと唐突に思いついたのは神宮球場の外野席だ。23年前のシーズンの開幕ゲームだった。たしか安田が先発していたと思う。その年の10月4日にヤクルトは優勝を決めた。松岡が先発して完投した。そのときも僕は球場にいた。スワローズ球団創設以来29年目にして初めて手にした優勝で、僕もたまたま29歳だった。そのとき書いた小説で僕は文芸誌の新人賞をとった。

その23年後(つまり今年)同じ10月4日に、神宮の外野席でヤクルト・阪神戦を見ていた。勝てば優勝決定という試合だったけど、負けた。でも負けてもとくに腹も立たなかった。人生ってい勝つときもあれば負けるときもある。うまく行くときもあれば行かないときもある。しょうがないじゃないか、と思った。稲葉が機敏な黒猫(黒豹じゃなく)のように全力疾走をして守備位置につき、ペタジーニが頭のうしろでバットをぐるぐる振り回し、高津がマウンドの上で鼻の穴を思いきりふくらませているのを見るだけで(外野からでも見える)、いつもどおり幸福だった。野球というのはそういうものだろう。勝ち負けだけがすべてじゃない。それも僕が神宮球場で学んだことのひとつだ。

Not noted here is that the Swallows did end up clinching, advancing to the Japan Series, and then going on to win after the publication of this article.

So we have all these accounts, and in only one of them does Murakami claim he was watching on TV. I’m willing to attribute it to the journalist doing the interview, especially given that it wasn’t formatted as a clean transcript. And given that a year earlier in the 対談 with Murakami Ryu, he’d given a very detailed account of the basic story that he’s stuck to over the years. It would have to have been a fairly significant slip up for Murakami to relax enough to deviate from a constructed story, if indeed it was false.

That said, it’s definitely an interesting wrinkle.

Assuming he did actually have the revelation at the stadium, what actually happened that day, on the other hand, is more up in the air, and there’s not much that can be done to definitively prove anything, short of someone finding Murakami in the background of a photograph in Jingu Stadium or in a photograph of Kinokuniya. Now that’s something I’d love to see happen.

Bizarrely enough, the Yakult Swallows are at the top of the standings this year behind the powerhouse hitting of Murakami Munetaka. They play the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien on Sunday. Maybe I’ll look into getting tickets…

Hope y’all have a great year. See you in 2023 for Murakami Fest 16!

The Mythology of 1981

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

This week I’m looking at one of Murakami’s earliest appearances in the culture magazine Brutus. Murakami was featured in the February 1, 1981 issue, which had the title ブルータスの予言’81 (Brutus’ Predictions for ’81).

Murakami was one of several writers who contributed a page-long “prediction,” with his titled 1981年のミソロジー (The Mythology of 1981) which focuses on F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s kind of a strange way to play the assignment, but Murakami is a huge fan of Fitzgerald, so maybe it isn’t a surprise.

The piece starts by discussing all the odes to Fitzgerald in other works of art as well as writers who have admitted their admiration for him. Murakami then gives a short summary of Fitzgerald’s brief rise to the top and quick plummet, after which point he’s forgotten for several decades.

He ends the piece with these three paragraphs:

I’m not confident I can get you to appreciate Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction. To put it another way, I can’t predict whether the myth of Fitzgerald is symbolic or creatively compelling in Japan of the 1980s.

However, if you’re able to detect something (you might even call it a warm sense of understanding) in his works that’s been left out of contemporary fiction or if you’re able to sense something in Fitzgerald’s presence as a writer that’s so real it surpasses reality, to even the slightest degree, then the world around you will start to change.

To borrow a phrase from The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Do you believe in magic?”

あなたにスコット・フィッツジェラルドの小説を気に入っていただけるかどうか、僕にはあまり自信がない。言い換えれば、1980年代の日本においてフィッツジェラルドの神話がどれだけの象徴性と創造性を持ち得るものか、僕には予言することはできない。

しかしもしあなたが彼の作品の中に現代の小説がどこかに置き忘れてきた何か(温かい合意のようなもの、とでも言えばのだろうか)を見出すことができたとしたらあるいはスコット・フィッツジェラルドという一人の作家の息づかいを現実以上に現実的に身のうちに感じることができたとしたら、ほんの少しずつでも、あなたのまわりの状況は変わっていくはずだ。

ラヴィング・スプーンフル流に表現するなら、<あなたは魔法を信じるだろうか?>

It’s a bit of a filler piece, and the ending is basically just a hand wave, but overall it’s not poorly penned. Murakami is relatively early on the Fitzgerald bandwagon, although not the earliest. In the first half of the essays, one of the authors he mentions is C.D.B. Bryan:

Another great admirer of Scott Fitzgerald was the American author C.D.B. Bryan (Friendly Fire) who used Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as the model for his novel The Great Dethriffe, which was not a bad book at all.

同じくスコット・フィッツジェラルドに心酔したアメリカの作家C・D・B・ブライアン(『友軍の誤射』)はフィッツジェラルドの『グレート・ギャツビイ』を下敷にした『グレート・デスリフ』という決して悪くない小説を書いた。

Bryan came up in Murakami Fest 2020 in part of Distant Drums. Murakami was just finishing up his translation of The Great Dethriffe while in Europe. So this is an unexpected way to close the loop on that. The Great Dethriffe was published in 1970. Murakami somehow read it between then and 1981, and then translated it five years later while he was writing Norwegian Wood.

That’s pretty impressive. There’s a good chance Murakami read it well before he became a writer, sat on his admiration of the novel for years, and then once he became a writer, was finally in the position to translate it, 10 years after it was initially published. As I mentioned in the blog post two years ago, the book is pretty widely recognized as being not very good, despite Murakami’s opinion, but it shows impressive dedication on Murakami’s part.

Murakami in the Asahi Shimbun – 日記から – 1982

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

I swore I’d look at a shorter piece of writing after reading a lengthy 対談 last week, and to a certain extent I did: Murakami’s writing for the Asahi Shimbun’s 日記から (Nikki kara, From my journal) column are probably less than 400 characters each. The column ran six days a week in the evening edition, and different writers were commissioned for various lengths of time. Murakami wrote 12 pieces over two weeks from March 29, 1982 to April 10, 1982.

The quality of writing varies. There are a few gems, and others where Murakami just spins his wheels.

Rather than pick out one representative, I thought I’d give an overview of each and a few quotes here and there. That feels more helpful to characterize this moment in time. The series as a whole is an interesting look at Murakami early in his career. Before diving in, take a minute to think about the context here. This is Murakami writing a micro-essay in the paper of record (albeit the evening edition) for two weeks straight, six months before A Wild Sheep Chase, his third novel, would be published and draw the attention we saw with the conversation with Itsuki Hiroyuki last week. I imagine the editors had a need to fill word count, but it’s still pretty remarkable.

March 29, 1982
力の論理 (The Logic of Power)

Murakami begins by talking about how discrimination in Japan is invisible until you actually experience it. As an example, he writes about trying to rent an apartment as a bar owner and being associated with prostitution. This transitions to a discussion of public vs private power, and that the fight for power is what inevitably led to the atom bomb. He quotes from Itoi Shigesato here (「そーゆー意味なら、原爆がいっちゃん強いわ」, “By thaaat reasoning, the A-bomb is the trumpiest card”), but I can’t track down where it’s from.

March 30, 1982
まねき猫 (Maneki-neko)

This is one of my favorites. Here’s the first paragraph with a deep Murakami v Murakami trivia:

The Abyssinian kitten I got last summer from Murakami Ryū has become enormous. Its appetite and physical strength are astounding, which has given the other cats a bit of a complex.

昨年の夏に村上竜のところから来たアビシニアンの仔猫がすっかり固太りして大きくなった。食欲も体力も相当なものなので他の猫は少々ノイローゼ気味である。

Murakami goes on to talk about his maneki-neko collection and how he responds to people who ask about what the raised hand means (“A raised right hand means they take cash, and a raised left hand means they take checks.”)

March 31, 1982
アイシテマース (Ai shitemaasu)

Murakami was listening to a record of Quincy Jones at the Budokan, and toward the end Jones turns to the audience and says:

“Ai shitemaasu, ai shitemaasu, dōmo, dōmo”
「アイシテマース、アイシテマース、ドーモ、ドーモ」

Murakami has opinions about this; he understands why Jones is saying it and what the goal is, but: “It’s courtesy, but it’s a little strange” (「愛敬ではあるが、ちょっと変だ」)

When musicians say “I love you” it’s “I love you” as recognition of a shared experience. Basically it’s sexy. “Ai shitemaasu” isn’t sexy. It’s fundamentally a mistake. “Ii yo, Ii yoo” is actually closer.

ミュージシャンの発する“I LOVE YOU”は共有体験を確認するための“I LOVE YOU”である。要するにセクシーなのだ。「アイシテマース」はセクシーではない。そこが根本的に間違っているのだ。「イイヨ、イイヨオ」の方がまだ近い。

In a typical essayistic 展開, Murakami shifts this to a bigger picture idea:

For something on the level of “Ai shitemaasu,” courtesy is the conclusion. However, taking something that isn’t an equivalent and giving it a place as an equivalent is a dangerous line of thinking. “Japanese spirit with Western learning” is the most extreme example. The extreme Europeanism in modern Japan and the ultra nationalist response are, at once, the cost of mistakenly hitting this button.

「アイシテマース」程度なら愛敬で済む。しかし等価に置き得ないものを等価に置いて対峙させるというのは危険な発想である。たとえば「和魂洋才」などという座標軸はこの最たるのである。日本近代における極端な欧化主義とその反動としてのウルトラ・ナショナリズムは、ともにこのボタンのかけちがえの代償である。

April 1, 1982
感性の思想 (The Idea of Taste)

A pretty boring piece here. Murakami talks about different senses/aesthetics/tasets and how he hates when people shut down conversations by saying, “We have totally different tastes.” His main point here:

Taste isn’t a status symbol, but rather an entrance ticket to wider self recognition. The act of taking that step is the same for everyone. Everything after that is the problem.

感性はステータス・シンボルではなく、より開かれた自己認識への入場券である。入場するという行為は等価である。それから先が問題なのだ。

April 2, 2022
不思議猫の存在 (The Strange Existence of Cats)

I think this is probably my favorite piece. It reads like a piece of fiction. In the first paragraph, Murakami claims his Siamese cat was talking in her sleep and said, “Didn’t I tell you so” (
「だってそんなこと言ったって」).

He goes on:

You may not believe me, but it’s the truth. I was sitting next to her reading a book and was momentarily taken aback, unable to respond.

When I thought about it later, I realized it must have just sounded that way. There’s no other explanation.

信じてもらえないだろうが、これは事実である。僕は隣で本を読んでいたのだが、しばらく呆然として口もきけなかった。

あとになって考えてみれば、偶然そんな風に聞こえたんだろうということになってしまう。それ以外に考えられないからである。

The rest of the piece is dedicated to cats’ strangely surreal presence.

April 3, 1981
表札とモラトリアム (Name Plates and Moratoriums)

Murakami starts by noting three things he doesn’t like spending money on: cars, TVs, and nameplates for houses, so he’s never purchased any of these. (There’s a funny aside on picking up a TV off the street only to return it.) He goes on to describe how a friend guilts him in to buying a nameplate (“You don’t go to cabaret clubs or travel abroad. That’s too extreme. The least you can do is buy a nameplate.”) He goes to a department store but doesn’t find any he likes, so:

There wasn’t anything else to do, so I had a Shōkadō bento and went home. As I sat there by myself eating a Shōkadō bento in a department store, I felt keenly that I’d become an adult. However, I still didn’t have a nameplate.

仕方ないから食堂で松花堂弁当を食べて帰ってきた。デパートの食堂で一人で松花堂弁当を食べていると、僕も大人になったんだなとつくづく思う。しかし表札はまだない。

A nice little Murakami moment.

April 5, 1982
山羊座の宿命 (The Fate of Capricorns)

Murakami’s take on horoscopes. He’s a Capricorn, which always gets him characterized as hardheaded. Here’s the main line:

I’d be fine with, I don’t like that you’re hardheaded. However, people who say, You’re hardheaded because you’re a Capricorn and I hate it, are completely hopeless.

ムラカミは頭が固くてダメだ、というのはいい。しかし、ムラカミは山羊座だから頭が固くてダメだ、というのでは救いようがないではないか。

April 6, 1982
グンニーリク田島

This is a funny little meditation on Japanese font printed on vehicles. I had so much trouble deciphering the title until I started reading and realized that it’s spelled backwards. The essay has a funny final line about the dry cleaners referred to in the title:

However, it would be a surprise if it was actually a second-generation Norwegian.

しかし意外に本当のノルウェーの二世だったりするのかもしれない。

April 7, 1982
長距離型せっかち (The Long-distance Impatient)

Murakami writes about how he’s impatient/hasty (せっかち, sekkachi) by nature. He always meets deadlines, sometimes writes articles before leaving on a trip to do reporting, is always early for appointments, etc. He divides impatient people into two categories – long-distance and short-distance – claiming that he’s in the first category. He’s not short tempered. He likes running marathons and prefers writing novels to short stories. His wife is short-distance impatient. For example, she checks the garden the day after planting seeds.

This is a nice little essay, but I didn’t feel the need to quote anything.

April 8, 1982
教師という存在 (The Idea of Teachers)

Murakami writes that he’s always had a distrust of teachers because his father was one. He has studied more as an adult than as a student, but he does remember two particularly good teachers. The first was a high school English teacher:

In high school, my grades in English were bad, but I had a teacher who explained the meaning of the word “appreciate” so incredibly lucidly that it opened my mind and I thought, “So that’s what English is.” After that, I learned how to read English.

高校時代は英語の成績が悪かったのだが、ある先生がappreciateという単語の意味を極めて明快に解説するのを聞いて「そうか、英語とはこういうものか」と目の前がさあっと開ける思いをしたことがある。それ以来英語が読めるようになった。

And the other was his thesis professor, whom he met for the first time when he turned in his thesis (those were the times, he notes):

That teacher said, “Have you considered a career involving writing?” At the time I thought it was impossible, so I laughed it off, but when I turned 29, I happened to remember what he said and felt like trying to write. When I tried, I somehow managed to write.

その先生に「君は文章を書く職業についたらどうだい」と言われた。まさかと思ったからその時は笑ってごまかしたのだが、二十九になった時にふとそれを思い出して文章を書いてみる気になった。書いてみたら、なんとか書けた。

In the final line, he shouts out the teachers by name. I wonder if they ever saw it!

April 9, 1982
図書館雑観 (Thoughts on Libraries)

Murakami starts by talking about how embarrassing it is to find a book you wrote in a library (not to brag, lol), but then says he loves libraries and goes on to say he prefers paying taxes for services like that as opposed to the JSDF. He ends by wondering if the guards at bases have guns with live rounds and whether they have the authority to fire them.

Eh, it’s fine. No need to quote it.

April 10, 1982
モラル・マジョリティー (Moral Majority)

Murakami writes about how Reagan’s “moral majority” has started to go after The Catcher in the Rye. The explanation is basic but necessary for a Japanese audience. He talks about curse words, how the rhythm and meaning are difficult to translate into Japanese, and then introduces a line from the Japanese translation of Vonnegut’s Slapstick that he thought captured the original. The translation includes the word おまんこ, which I would not recommend Googling at work. He thus ends his two week in a pretty vulgar way. Here’s the final sentence:

The word “Omanko” is pretty cute, don’t you think? Maybe not?

「おまんこ」という言葉はなかなか可愛いと思いませんか?駄目かな。

So that’s where Murakami is as a writer, almost three years exactly since he won the prize for his first novel (May 1979). He’s ironing out his sense of humor (arguably), but he’s got a knack for capturing the ennui of modern Japan in very little space.

Kindness

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

For Week 2 of Murakami Fest this year, I’m looking at the February 1983 issue of 小説現代 (Shōsetsu gendai), which includes a 対談 (taidan) conversation between Itsuki Hiroyuki and Murakami with the translation-defying title 言の世界と葉の世界 (Koto no sekai to ha no sekai, perhaps, “The world of deeds and the world of leaves”?).

Itsuki is an interesting writer. He’s a member of the rapidly dwindling 焼け跡世代 (Yakeato sedai, Generation of Ashes). He turned 90 this year and put out a new book of essays titled 捨てない生き方 (Sutenai ikikata, Living Without Getting Rid of Things), which seems like a sort of direct challenge to Kondo Marie.

He was born in Fukuoka but grew up in colonial Korea. He dropped out of Waseda and ended up working in radio and advertising in Kanazawa, but eventually lived in Russia and wrote about his travels a lot. He’s been prolific, mostly as a nonfiction writer, but he’s written some fiction as well.

In 1983, Itsuki was 50, an established presence, and Murakami would have been 34, having just published A Wild Sheep Chase, which won an award and took his writing to an entirely different level. Murakami uses keigo throughout the interview, and Itsuki is polite but doesn’t use keigo.

The conversation starts with Murakami’s background (he’s clearly the focus here), but quickly shifts to the jazz bar/cafe that Murakami is still running.

Itsuki I got a postcard once from a reader who was so happy. He’d been a huge fan of this cafe off the Chuo Line, I forget the name. He was a regular, and then it disappeared and he felt so lonely, like he’d lost a home. Then one day he stumbled into a cafe in Sendagaya and had this sense that the guy from the other store had to be the one running it. After looking into it, he realized that you were the one running it. I think that reader had good instincts, but things like that happen. Like running into a girl somewhere who suddenly disappeared on you in point in the past.

Murakami About the cafe—I’m actually really looking forward to closing it.

Itsuki Really now.

Murakami From the start, I always thought I’d close it after a few years. About two months ago I decided to close two months from now. And I’ve actually really been looking forward to it (laughs).

Itsuki It must be a cruel pleasure (laughs)

Murakami Well, I think it’s what my customers want as well. With music, and things surrounding music, everything keeps changing, and change is the truth; sometimes it’s a real kindness to let things go away rather than showing them in their changed state. I might be a little extreme with this line of thinking.

Itsuki That happens. It happened when we were in college. People are more passionate about the places that were around when we were in college and have disappeared than they are about the places that are still around now.

Murakami When I started my cafe, it was a major turning point for jazz cafes.

Itsuki A turning point how so?

Murakami The era of listening to jazz to appreciate it as music had just ended. I started right around ’74, and after that point mainstream culture had shifted to places where jazz was something to listen to while drinking.

五木 中央線沿線の何とかっていう喫茶店が好きで、そこに通っていたら、それがなくなちゃって、自分の居所がなくなったような淋しい思いをしていた。と、ある時たまたま千駄ヶ谷で喫茶店に入ったら、その店は絶対にあの店の人がやっているというふうに思えた、それでいろいろ調べたら、村上さんがやっていた店だったということがわかって、とってもうれしかったという葉書をもらったことがあってね。その読者の人の勘もいいけれども、そういうことがあるんだね。昔の、途中で消えっちまった女に、偶然にほかであったようなもんだったんでしょう。

村上 店というのはね、閉店しちゃうのが楽しみなんですよね。

五木 ほう。

村上 はじめから何年か経ったらもうやめちゃおうと思っているわけです。ふた月くらい前に、二ヶ月後にやめますっていうわけですよね。それがね、わりにたのしみなんですよね(笑)。

五木 残酷な楽しみだな(笑)。

村上 というか、お客の方もね、それを望んでるんじゃないかっていう気がするんですよね。結局、音楽にしても、その周辺のものにしても、どんどん変わっていきますし、変わるのが本当だと思うし、変わったものをみせられるよりは、なくしちゃったほうが本当の親切というもんじゃないか、という気がするんです。まあ、ぼくはわりに極端な考え方する方かもしれないですけど。

五木 それはあるだろうな。ぼくらの学生時代の頃にあって、いまなくなっちまった店を語るのほうが、今も残っている店のことを語るよりは熱があるものね。

村上 ぼくがはじめた頃はちょうどジャズ喫茶の大転換期だったんですよね。

五木 転換期っていうのは、どのへんですか。

村上 いわゆる鑑賞音楽としてジャズを聴く時代がちょうど終わった時だったんです。ぼくがはじめたのは七四年ぐらいで、あとはもう、酒飲みながら聴くと言う感じの店に主流が移っちゃった時代だったんですよね。(223)

Murakami introduces this word 親切 (shinsetsu, kind) that he ends up coming back to throughout the conversation. They talk about “city novels,” and Murakami’s development as a writer, where the word pops up again.

Murakami Even after my first and second novels, I didn’t feel like a novelist. I really wondered whether they were enough or not. Novels should be kinder toward the world. When Murakami Ryu wrote Coin Locker Babies, I found myself thinking the same thing again.

村上 一作目二作目を書いても、自分が小説家という感じはなかったですね。ただ、それだけでいいのか、よくないんじゃないかという気持ちはすごくあったんですよね。小説というものは世界に対してももう少し親切であるべきじゃないかってことですね。ちょうど村上龍が『コインロッカー・ベイビーズ』を書いて、やはり同じようなことを考えていたんじゃないかと思いました。 (225)

The conversation shifts to storytelling vs monogatari, “the world of deeds vs. the world of leaves” – artists living separately from the world to maintain their autonomy (?), the Japanese Constitution and how each generation experienced it differently, the death of the student movement, overcoming ego as a writer, and then how Itsuki began as a writer with an international view and became more focused on Japan. Murakami likens himself to this in an very interesting passage:

Murakami When I myself first started writing, I started by taking the techniques from people like Vonnegut, Brautigan, and Chandler and putting them into Japanese, but I really do feel like I’m heading toward something very Japanese.

Itsuki Looking at how you’ve progressed from Hear the Wind Sing to A Wild Sheep Chase, I think I’ve you’ve really changed a tremendous amount in a short period. Maybe it doesn’t appear that way on the surface, but I can tell that your awareness as a writer is changing.

Murakami I don’t know what that Japanese thing that I’m heading toward is. But I have this vague sensation that I’m working toward something inherent about Japan. Not a return to the Japanese roman or anything like that. I have, at the moment, this extreme desire to first assimilate it into my body. Only things that I’m able to touch are real, and everything else is just an illusion. So I’d like to be as kind as I can to the things I’m able to touch. And then I want writing to be the conclusion of that series of actions.

村上 ぼく自身も、最初に書いた時は、アメリカのボネガットだとかブローディガンとか、チャンドラーとか、そういうものの手法をただ日本語に移し替えるというところからはじまったんですけど、自分自身が非常に日本的なものに向かっているんじゃないか、という気持ちがものすごくあるんですよね。

五木 『風の歌を聴け』から今度の『羊をめぐる冒険』に至るまでの小説を見ていると、よく、これだけの短い期間でこんなに変わってきたな、と思うぐらい変わってきているよ。表には、そんなにはっきり見えないかもしれないけれども、作家の意識が変わってきているというのは、すごくよくわかります。

村上 その日本的なものが何か、というのはね、よくわからないんですけれどね。でも、なにか自分が日本の固有のものを目指しているんじゃないかということは、ぼんやり感じるわけです。ただ日本的浪漫への回帰とか、そういうんじゃなくて、自分の体にまず同化したいというところが、今、すごくあります。自分の体がじかに触れているものだけが本来のものであって、それ以外のものは結局のところ幻想なんじゃないかっていうことですね。だから、ぼくは自分が手を触れることができるものに対してはできる限り親切でありたいと思います。そして文章というのはそういった一連の行為の帰結でありたいと思うんです。 (233)

An interesting read. Not sure there’s anything truly groundbreaking, but it was a fun read, and we see Murakami shifting away from the kind of carefree, ironic attitude toward the world that characterized his early novels. At the end, Murakami notes that he “can’t” have kids but then immediately adds that he doesn’t have the confidence (確信がないんです) to have kids, which accounts for another piece of his biography.

It is interesting to see someone of Itsuki’s stature praising Murakami this heavily this early in his career. I think A Wild Sheep Chase deserved the praise, clearly, but Murakami wouldn’t be a truly mainstream writer for another four years when he put out Norwegian Wood. Itsuki must have seen something.

Baseball on TV

Welcome to Murakami Fest 2022! This is my first Murakami Fest in Japan since 2009, which is pretty wild. I kept this ridiculous project going for 12 years outside of Japan. At times it was the driving force behind this blog and a motivation to keep writing. I think it’s paid off. This is also Year 15! Completely bonkers. Here are the past posts:

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

This year I’m taking a little break from 遠い太鼓 (Distant Drums). In June, I had the chance to go to the National Diet Library…twice.

I was partially motivated to go because of the food there. While the famous sixth-floor 食堂 (shokudō, cafeteria) is gone, the other cafes provide an extremely close approximation. My usual pattern is to have a late second breakfast of あんバター (anbatā, anko and butter) toast and then an even later lunch of some sort of 洋食 (yōshoku, western food). This time I did an omelette curry and a Napolitan on my two visits.

Getting back to the main point, I spent my days there digging around in Murakami’s early, largely uncollected bibliography. For me, this is really the most interesting part of Murakami’s history as a writer. From 1979 to 1992, Murakami was insanely prolific. He wrote random one-off essays, articles, profiles, interviews, travel writing, etc, etc. The pace ended up exhausting Murakami and drove him out of Japan to Europe. This much we know from reading Distant Drums. Over the next five weeks, I’ll introduce a few of the pieces I dug up from this period.

Heading to the National Diet Library in search of Murakami is something I probably would have done on my own at some point, but I had a very specific catalyst this year. David Marx shared this Instagram post in his stories a few months ago. Scroll on through to the last image in the post. Recognize that picture?

I managed to zoom in on the image and…what did I happen to see? Well, let me show you.

This is a June 1981 interview/profile of Murakami in the magazine “Checkmate” with the title 二つのことを両立させるのは難しいけど、自分で決めたことだから (It’s difficult to balance both [writing and running a jazz cafe], but that’s what I chose).

The interview finds Murakami at a crossroads. In June 1981, he had written two novels and was, presumably, working on A Wild Sheep Chase, which would be published just over a year later, but he was also running Peter Cat, his jazz cafe, full time. He mentions in the interview that he has almost no downtime. Just enough to go out drinking every now and then. He dreams of paying off his loan and owning the cafe and his house so he wouldn’t have to pay for rent. In ten years or so he wants to live in Hokkaido (sounds like he’s at least started thinking about A Wild Sheep Chase!). He doesn’t want to put out low quality work – he hates amateurism. He doesn’t even watch high school baseball. He wants to break down literature that’s too carefully crafted and move the art forward.

This is all fine, and sounds an awful lot like the Murakami we’re all familiar with, but there’s one thing from this interview that stands out. Here’s the first question the interviewer asks Murakami:

What was your most immediate motivation for writing a novel?

Well, it was basically that I thought I might be able to write one. I was watching baseball on TV. It was a pleasant, sunny April day. I was 29 years old. I wanted to do something before I turned 30.

I got married as a student when I was 21. For the seven years I was studying at Waseda, when I thought about getting a job, it felt like I’d have to hate my wife to not find some kind of work. I loved jazz, and a had I ton of records, so I felt like I might be able to run a jazz cafe, which is why I started one. I really worked to save up money.

——— He responds so nonchalantly: I thought I might be able to write a novel, run a jazz cafe. As the interviewer, I wanted to draw a little more out of him, but when I’ve been interviewed myself in the past, I gave similar responses. I finally was able to see that he embodied the desire to live without a care in the world.

小説を書いた触接動機?

ふとね、書けるかなと思った訳です。TVで野球見ていたんです。気持ちの良い、四月の晴れた日。二十九歳でした。三十になる前に何かやりたかった。

二十一歳のときに、学生結婚したんですよ。早稲田に七年通って、就職のコト考えていたときカミさんがイヤなら就職しないでいいって言う訳。ジャズが好きで、レコード数多く持ってたし、ジャズ喫茶ならやれるかなって、始めた訳です。一生懸命、お金ためましたよ。

――小説は書けるかなって思って、ジャズ喫茶も出来るかなって思って、と答える彼。インタビューをする僕としては、もう少し聞きだしたい気がするのだが、かつて僕自身がインタビューされた時も似た様な答え方をしている。さりげなく生きていこうという気持ちの表れであることがやがて理解できた。

Holy Destruction of the Murakami Myth, Batman! He was watching baseball on TV?! That upends the story that Murakami has been telling about himself for decades. That he was sitting at Jingu Stadium, having a beer, watching the Swallows, and Dave Hilton hit a double, prompting Murakami to think that he could write a novel.

Obviously this could be the interviewer’s fault. The article is very clearly a composite. Sections of more or less quoted/lightly paraphrased material Frankensteined together with the occasional comment from the interviewer. It’s been edited for space, and sometimes the transitions don’t make complete sense. It’s highly unlikely the interviewer recorded the conversation, so they were probably going by whatever notes they took.

That said, it’s pretty wild to see the story change. A year earlier, for example, in a conversation with Murakami Ryū he had said he saw the game live, which is the story he’s stuck by since.

The only other notable element is that Murakami takes a moment at the end of the interview to show off his feminist bona fides and notes that the Murakamis split the chores in their household, just like John Lennon did.

I’ll leave you with the interviewer’s final comment, which is pretty nice:

Murakami admits that he doesn’t like writing, which I take to mean that he can’t go easy on himself. The novels this man writes are, at the moment, quietly drawing in readers.

文章を書くことは好きじゃないと漏らしていた村上氏、自分にあまえてはいけないという意味だろうか。そんな彼の書く小説が今、静かに読者をひきつけている。

Review: Murakami’s Kishidanchō-goroshi (Killing Commendatore)

My review of the new Murakami novel Killing Commendatore (騎士団長殺し) is in the Japan Times this week: “‘Killing Commendatore’: Murakami’s latest lacks inspired touch of earlier works

In short, it was not very good. I’ll be very curious to see how it turns out in translation and what the reviews are like. I haven’t seen any announcement of a translator or translation date so far.

The word count of the review prevented me from going into detail, partially because I couldn’t use many quotes and partially because it took so many words to summarize (about 550 of roughly 1000 words). I realize this could be my failing as a writer (although I’m pretty happy with my summary, notably with the absence of spoilers), but the book itself also eludes summary: once you start summarizing, you realize that you’re starting to give away the secrets of the book. Because so very little happens, summarizing any of the reveals gives away bit by bit some of the only development/pleasure of reading the book.

And there are so many secrets being kept in this book. Secrets between the narrator and Menshiki. Secrets between the narrator and Marie. As in 1Q84 (and other books?!), there are several points where the characters actively conspire to avoid involving the police—“They’d never believe us! And it could get troublesome for us.” At one point, the narrator allows an old man to go through what appears to be a tremendous amount of pain without calling for help at an old folks home while he has a conversation about how to proceed with solving the disappearance.

The pacing of the book also feels off. The first half is the narrator finding the painting, digging up the hole, and getting to know Menshiki and his mysteries, padded with some background story about himself and his family, which I was not able to address in the review. The second half, rather than beginning to unwind some of the build-up, goes on to introduce new characters and build up more mysteries before a disappearance in Chapter 45 (of 64) and the start of the true “adventure” in Chapter 53. I think the first half of the novel could have been much shorter than it was.

It’s difficult to express exactly how artlessly Murakami incorporates the historical information in this book. He uses his favorite device of having a character go research something at the freaking library, which he’s been doing since Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World at least, although perhaps even as far back as A Wild Sheep Chase? I can’t remember.

On several other occasions, a character says something like “oh, by the way, I found out X” and then proceeds to drop fat blocks of dialogue that have no relation to the rest of their conversation or other plot development.

And Murakami takes the strange step of including a lengthy quote from Samuel Willenberg, survivor of the Treblinka extermination camp, as the entirety of Chapter 32, the final chapter in Book 1. (Which I guess suggests that the narrator chose the quote and decided to include it in his telling of the story?)

The goal seems to be to make a statement about art—the quote, which I believe is from a documentary but have not been able to track down/confirm, suggests that art can change/influence people, which doesn’t exactly jive with the novel. I’m not sure what it is that Murakami wants the reader to understand about art from reading this book.

The retrospective point of narration is equally lazy. This plays a part most noticeably in the first few chapters when the narrator feels very under control of how information is being presented. But it fades away quickly, leaving only vestigial, chapter-ending, retrospective paragraphs that help build some suspense going into the subsequent chapter, but even these fall away as the book progresses! The whole point of telling a story retrospectively is so you don’t have to do a blow by blow other than for the most dramatic incidents, but stream of conscious narration seems to be what Murakami is best at writing or considers most meaningful. He’s obsessed with his characters’ process of living/working, and he details those processes in nearly every book he writes.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. Jay Rubin has written in his book on language about how easy it is for students of Japanese to mistake the pleasure of being able to read/understand Japanese for the literature itself actually being good. I don’t think I’m making that mistake here, as it was not fun to devote 23 days of my life to doing nothing but reading this book, but I do think that it can be difficult to grasp the whole of a work I’ve read in Japanese.

This is why I took loads of notes in the margins. This is why I wrote 28,668 words of chapter summaries. (NOTE: Write the summary immediately after you finish reading the chapter so that it’s a true summary and not just a write-up of your notes. I find it much easier to conceive of the chapter as a whole if I do it that way.) So I’m fairly confident in my evaluation. 1Q84 helped me notice many weaknesses about Murakami’s work, but this one has thrown them into stark contrast. The play-by-play narration works if the narrator is interesting and funny, as in his early works, but here there are just so many unnecessary details that feel given purely for the sake of describing something or because that’s what would have happened.

In my writing workshops, one workshop leader always had participants imagine the work under consideration in its best form at the end of the workshop. I think Killing Commendatore in its best form is a book that makes some kind of statement about art, what it does to viewers, how one makes it, why one makes it, what it means to devote your life to art, and how that can affect artists.

This seems to be what Murakami tries to do with his opening prologue, which is actually very good. The narrator awakes from a nap, and a man without a face is sitting across from him. He’s been here before, and he’s back because the narrator has been unable to draw his portrait. The narrator struggles and again fails. The man disappears with a puff of smoke, promising to return. It feels like this is a good metaphor for a tortured artist trying forever and ever to achieve some intangible, unobtainable goal with their art.

If only that had anything to do with the rest of the book! There are bits and pieces here and there that readers might be able to use to come to some sort of conclusion along those lines, but Murakami is asking readers to do a lot of the work for him.

At any rate, it feels good to have it under my belt, and I’m glad to have had another 1,048 pages of language practice. I read an average of 45.6 pages/day, which is 10 below my pace for 1Q84. This is a little surprising. I wonder if I’ve lost focus, have more going on these days, or if the book was just bad.

やれやれ. (Only one instance of this word in the entire book!) I hope that you all enjoyed following along here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Until next time! (Which I guess will be in 2024 or 2025 if we’re going by long books or 2021 if we’re going by short books.)

Back Issues

Welcome to the Eighth 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: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year Eight: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness

I dedicated a previous Murakami Fest to excerpts from “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” (see “Year Three” above), the 1980 story that Murakami later rewrote for Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Murakami discusses the story at length in the 自作を語る for Hard-boiled Wonderland. Despite claiming that he viewed his previous stories “as documents that hold meaning as a sort of fixed-point observation,” Murakami declined to include “The Town” in the Complete Works, which he explains here:

書き始めた時点では、小説の構成については非常に漠然としたイメージしかなかった。しばらく前に『文学界』のために書いた『街とその不確かな壁』という中編小説(あるいは長い短編小説)を膨らませてリライトしようということだけは決まっていたのだが、それをどういう方向に書き直していくかということになると、全く方針が立たなかった。僕はこの『街とその不確かな壁』という小説を『1973年のピンボール』のあとで書いたのだが、このテーマでものを書くのはやはりまだ時期尚早だった。それだけのものを書く能力がまだ僕には備わっていなかったのだ。そのことは書き終えた時点で自分でもわかった。僕は自分がやってしまったことについてはあまり後悔している。発表するべきではなかったんじゃないかと思う。でも考えようによっては、活字にしてしまったなればこそ、なんとかこれを書き直して少しでもまともなものにしたいという思いも強くなったのかもしれない。もし『街とその不確かな壁』をあの時点で活字にしなかったら、『世界の終わりとハードボイルド・ワンダラーンド』は今あるものとは全然違ったかたちのものになっていたかもしれない。今回この全集刊行にあたって『街とその不確かな壁』を全集に収録してほしいという要望が出版社側からなされたのだが、僕としてはそうしたくなかった。たとえそれが志のある失敗作であるにせよ(そうであることを筆者は願っている)、失敗作は失敗作であり、それを改めて衆目に曝したいとは思わない。どうしても読みたいという読者は図書館で『文学界』のバックナンバーをみつけて読んでいただきたいと思う。(V-VI)

I had only a very faint image of the structure of the novel at the point when I started writing. I had only decided to rewrite and expand “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall,” a novella (or maybe a long short story) that I wrote for Bungakukai a little while before, but when it came to the direction I would take in rewriting, I had developed no plan. I wrote the story “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” after Pinball, 1973, but it was too soon for me to write on those themes. I wasn’t yet equipped with the abilities to write so much. This I knew myself immediately after I finished writing it. I was disappointed with what I myself had done. I think I probably shouldn’t have published it. But in a different light, my desire to somehow rewrite it and make it into something more respectable might have gotten stronger precisely because I put it into print. If I hadn’t put “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” into print at that time, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World might have become an entirely different book from what it is now. For the publication of this Complete Works, my publisher requested that I include “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall”, but I did not want to. Even if it was a failed work that had intention (and the writer hoped that it did), a failed work is a failed work, and I did not want it to be exposed to public scrutiny once again. I would ask that readers who must read it please find the back issue of Bungakukai in the library and read it there.

I’ve read the story, and it’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. It feels disjointed, and it doesn’t really wrap up neatly, but there is some magic there at the End of the World. I’m surprised Murakami is so self-conscious about it.

It’s at least worth a trip to the National Diet Library for Murakami treasure hunters, and if you’re internet savvy, you can have them copy it out and send it to you (at a Japanese address)…which is what I did when I accidentally left my heavily annotated copy on a bus on the way back to Tokyo from Fukushima. Rest in piece, my original copy. The fresh copy I had sent from the NDL is nice, but I wish I still had my vocab notes.

This is the final post in Murakami Fest this year! The announcements begin next week, and as usual the Literature date has not yet been set.

Wasteland

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, Rebirth

limestone

Chapter 20 “The Death of the Beasts” is another short chapter. This is the section of the book where the pace really starts to pick up. Part of that is because there is a lot of action in the “Hard-boiled Wonderland” section of the novel, but the other reason is because the “End of the World” sections are shorter in comparison. Chapter 21, for example, is 38 pages in the Complete Works, and Chapter 19 was 18. Chapter 18 and 20, on the other hand, are only 5 and 6 pages respectively.

In 20, Boku gets up one morning to the Town covered in snow and decides to go for a walk. He comes upon the Gatekeeper who says he should watch from the Watchtower as he blows the horn. When he does, it becomes apparent to Boku that many of the beasts have died in their sleep. He runs back to his room, his eyes in pain from the morning light. There the Colonel takes care of him and talks with him about the beasts.

There is just one small cut by Birnbaum (or his editor) in translation. Boku asks the Colonel why the beasts don’t move away to somewhere where they would survive:

“Why, I cannot tell you,” he says. “But the beasts cannot leave. They belong to the Town; they are captured by it. Just as you and I are. By their own instincts, they know this.” (202)

This is an accurate translation, but it leaves a few of the finals sentences out, as BOHE is known to do. I’ve marked these in red and kept Birnbaum’s version for the first half:

「それは私にもわからん」と老人は言った。「しかし獣たちはここの街を離れることはできないんだ。彼らはこの街に付属し、捕われているんだ。ちょうど私や君と同じようにな。彼らはみんな彼らなりの本能によって、この街から脱け出すことがけいないということをちゃんと知っているんだ。あるいは彼らはこの街にはえている木や草しか食べられんのかもしれん。あるいは南に向かう途中に広がっている石灰岩の荒野を越えることができないのかもしれん。しかしいずれにせよ、獣たちはここを離れることはできないんだ」 (277)

“Why, I cannot tell you,” he says. “But the beasts cannot leave. They belong to the Town; they are captured by it. Just as you and I are. By their own instincts, they know that they cannot escape from the Town. Or perhaps it’s because they only eat the trees and grasses that grow in the Town. Or they cannot cross the limestone wasteland they would encounter to the south. Whichever the case, the beasts cannot leave.

BOHE has cut the unnecessary verbiage that attempts to grow the world beyond the Town and left the thought on the more ominous ending: They know this. This cut helps the dialogue flow more smoothly as well. Immediately after this, Boku asks “What happens to the bodies?” There’s no chance for him to get distracted about the limestone or the plants. His real concern is the beasts.

Although perhaps it does miss out on the idea that the Town is the safest option for the beasts, that while there are dangers within, outside is more desolate and dangerous.

No matter how you weigh it, this is a minor change. More dramatic changes are coming soon. Next week is the 38-page monstrosity that is Chapter 21, which I may have to divide across two (or three?) weeks because of the length and the number of cuts. See you then.

Rebirth

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

mediterranean

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:

「ガードというのはつまりメロンの皮のようなものだね?」

「簡単に言えばそうね」

「それで」と私は言った。「その僕の抗体なり殻なりメロンなりというのは、先天的な資質なのかい?あるいは後天的なもの?」(330-331)

“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:

私はそれについてしばらく考えてみた。「その僕の抗体なりガードなり殻なりは、先天的な資質なんだろうか?」(265)

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:

濃いピンクから淡いピンクまでの見事なグラデーションだった。(266)

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:

「大丈夫よ。ちゃんと動くわ。きっと意味のない機械だと思ったんでしょう。それにこの機械の原理はとても簡単だからちょっとぶっつけただけではなかなか壊れない」と彼女は言った。(267)

“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:

「ふうん」と私は言った。(263)

“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:

「ふうん」と私は言った。悪くない話だった。計算士としての私もこの事件のせいで微妙な局面にさしかかっているし、外国でのんびり暮すというのは魅力的だった。しかし自分が本当に一流の人間になれるという確信が私にはどうしても持てなかった。一流の人間というのは普通、自分は一流の人間になれるという強い確信のもとに一流になるものなのだ。自分はたぶん一流にはなれないだろうと思いながら事のなりゆきで一流になってしまった人間なんてそんなにはいない。(327)

“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.

Warmth

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 Man, Watermelons

skull

From Bill Gracey‘s photostream.

Welcome back! As with last year, my laziness continues. I will pull the starter cord on the rusty (but trusty) lawnmower that is my close reading of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and read through a few more chapters to examine changes that Murakami made for the Complete Works edition and adjustments made by Birnbaum (or his editor) (BOHE) in translation.

Chapter 18 “Dreamreading” is an appropriately short chapter for me to get back in the swing of things. It’s only five pages in the “Complete Works” edition and just a bit longer in the paperback. No major changes between those additions, and BOHE didn’t make many either.

There are a few minor adjustments in translation of course, as there are with any translation, and many of these would vary with any translator. But they’re still fun to look at.

In this chapter, Boku describes his frustrations with the dreamreading process, reads a few dreams, and discusses his frustrations with the Librarian. Her job is to wipe down the unicorn skulls—the dreams—after he has brought them from the stacks and to serve him coffee when he’s finished. Birnbaum renders this in a wonderfully clean translation:

I select a skull from the long shelves and carry it to the table. She helps me, first, to wipe off the dust with a dampened cloth. With meticulous care, she then polishes it with a dry cloth until the skull becomes like sleet. (183)

Murakami’s Japanese, however, is a bit more decorated:

僕は見わたす限りの書架に並んだ古い夢のうちのひとつを手にとり、そっと抱えるようにしてテーブルに運んだ。それから彼女に手伝ってもらってほんの少し水で湿らせた布でほころと汚れを拭きとり、次に乾いた布で時間をかけてごしごしと磨いた。(249-250)

I take one of the old dreams lined up endlessly along the shelves and, cradling it gently, bring it to the table. Then she helps me to wipe off the dust and dirt with a slightly dampened cloth, and then to carefully polish it with a dry cloth.

BOHE simplifies “lined up endlessly along the shelves” to “from the long shelves.” “(just) slightly dampened cloth” becomes “dampened.” And the “cradling” gets cut completely. But he adds in the description of the skull like “sleet.” The result is much sparser, simplified translation. This results in other great passages such as the following:

At the end of each session, she serves coffee. Occasionally we share biscuits or fruitbread she bakes at home. We do not speak as we eat. (184)

That line hit me when I was reading the translation.

There is one very small cut later in the chapter that I think does more damage to one of Murakami’s main themes in this book (and in many others): warmth (ぬくもり).

When they finish in the Library, Boku and the Librarian walk through the Town again:

As always, we sit on the narrow steps that lead from the Old Bridge down to the sandbar. A pale silver moon trembles on the face of the water. A wooden boat lashed to a post modulates the sound of the current. Sitting with her, I feel her warm against my arm. (185)

Again, a great translation, and I think he ends it on a nice point that shows more than tells. Murakami goes on for a few more sentences:

我々はいつものように旧橋のまん中にある中洲に下りるための階段に腰を下ろして、川を眺めていた。冷えびえとした白い月が小さなかけらとなって川面で小刻みに揺れていた。誰かが中洲の杭につないだ細い木のボートが水音を微妙に変えていた。階段の狭いステップの上に並んで座っているせいで僕は肩口にずっと彼女の体のぬくもりを感じていた。不思議なものだ、と僕は思った。人々は心というものをぬくもりにたとえる。しかし心と体のぬくもりのあいだには何の関係もないのだ。(252)

As always, we sit on the steps that descend from the middle of the Old Bridge to the sandbar and watch the river. The frigid, white moon breaks into small pieces and flutters on the surface of the water. Someone has tied up a flimsy, wooden boat to a post on the sandbar, and it slightly alters the sound of the water. Perhaps because we are sitting next to each other on the narrow steps, I feel her warmth in my shoulder the whole time. It’s strange, I think. People always think of the mind as warmth. But warmth of the mind and warmth of the body are completely unrelated.

I’ve maintained Birnbaum’s translation of kokoro here with “mind,” but this is one spot in particular where “heart” might make more sense. Birnbaum has made other modifications to keep his same spartan translation style (for example, moving the “narrow” to the first sentence in the paragraph from the fourth), but he just cuts the final three sentences completely.

In an MFA workshop, those are the sentences someone would have marked as “Show don’t tell” or “Too on-the-nose,” I guess. (There have been a surprising number of references to MFA workshops in the reviews of Tsukuru Tazaki. Mostly in regards to stilted dialogue or strange wordings.)

I also have a feeling that Murakami will address this mind-body divide later in the book, so it might not be totally necessary to introduce it so explicitly right now.

In the end, I attribute this slight change to Birnbaum’s major decision to translate kokoro as mind rather than heart. I think it works perfectly in most of the rest of the novel, but here I think the line “People always think of the mind as warmth” in particular feels a little off. “People always think of the heart as warmth,” on the other hand, feels a little more natural.