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。

Unbelievable

The final week of Murakami Fest 2021! Here are the previous 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

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The next chapter is メータ村 (Meta). Ubi takes the group off the highway and they drive into the mountains through several small villages. It’s Palm Sunday and everyone walking around is holding olive branches. Ubi gives the background on some of the surrounding villages of Peschiera and San Savino. Despite their proximity to Meta, the people there walk differently and have a different worldview, or so Ubi claims. His father is from San Savino, his mother from Meta.

They see the father’s cottage he keeps in San Savnio, animals that he has around, and then they arrive at Meta, meet his mother at the family house and eat. Ubi’s dad comes in and is clearly a drunk; Murakami describes him as having a red nose like Santa Claus.

They head to a bar and meet the brothers, one who works in trade and another as a town council member. Then they go to the mother’s family home, which is made of stone and has a hidden area where the family secreted away an English pilot who crashed nearby during the war. The Nazis actually came to the village looking for the pilot, and when they couldn’t find him, they took away some of the young men (? – Murakami gives it as 若者) from the town.

The chapter is a return to form, for the most part. It does feel a little scattered, which I’ll chalk up to Ubi being scattered himself. Murakami does a nice job with the dialogue, keeping a running joke with Ubi’s catchphrase シンジラレナイ (“Unbelievable!”).

Here’s the closing section which is pretty nicely penned:

Evening approaches, and Meta gets colder and colder. Ubi and his mother and Usako and me and my wife go up to the old town at the top of the mountain. (Batista is wasted and shuts himself away in his hideaway in San Savino.) All we can see are mountains. And here and there in the mountains, small villages like Meta (but with different outlooks on the world and ways of walking) exist, fixed firmly to the mountain surface. A frigid wind whistles between abandoned homes. I can’t believe the German army made it to a place like this. I’m absolutely impressed. The Germans really are a diligent people.

“You see those mountains over there,” Ubi says and points. “When I was little, I thought that was the end of the world. Honestly no one knew anything about what was beyond. No one told me anything. So to me that was the end of the world. And this—Meta—was the center of the world.”

He puts a cigarette in his mouth in the wind and lights it.

“Shinjirarenai (Unbelievable),” he says. And he laughs.

夕方が近くなって、メータ村はますます冷えこんでくる。ウビさんとお母さんとウサコと僕と女房とで、山の頂上にある古い町に上がってみる(バチスタは飲んだくれて例のサン・サヴィーノの隠遁所に引っ込んでしまった)。山しか見えない。そしてその山のあちこちにメータ村と同じような(しかし世界観と歩き方の違う)小さな村々が山肌にしっかりとへばりつくように存在している。冷やかなな風がひゅううっと廃屋のまわりを吹き抜けていく。よくこんなところまでドイツ軍がやってきたものだと思う。まったく感心してしまう。 ドイツ人というのは本当にまめな人類なんだろう。

「あそこに山が見えるでしょう」とウビさんが指していう。「僕が小さい頃、あれが世界の果てだと思っていた。事実誰もあの向こうのことを知らなかった。誰も教えてくれなかった。だから僕にはあれが世界の果てだったんだ。そしてここが、このメータ村が世界の中心だったんだ」

彼は風の中でタバコをくわえ、火をつける。

「シンジラレナイ」と彼は言う。そして笑う。 (236-237)

This appears to be a fortuitous ending to Murakami Fest this year: This is the end of a section, and in the next section it’s spring and the Murakamis are off to Greece. See y’all in 2022!

On the Road to Meta

Week 4 of Murakami Fest Year 14. Previous 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

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The next chapter is “On the Way to Meta – April 1987 (メータ村までの道中 1987年4月).”

The chapter is a profile piece that Murakami attempts to use to characterize Italian culture. He and his wife are driving to the town Meta with Uvi (not sure if this would be the right spelling – the Japanese is ウビ) and Usako, an Italian man and his Japanese wife. Uvi is a bit tightly wound. He spends most of the trip complaining to Murakami about the Italian government (pensions are too expensive, the country is going to collapse) and Italian people (they don’t work hard enough, they cheat the government out of taxes), talking about past romantic conquests, and reminiscing about the time he spent living in Japan while their wives talk in the back seat.

He also finds time to tell a holocaust joke (!) which Murakami kind of laughs off—not a great look, but I think it could be argued that he’s just trying to present Uvi and all his warts to the audience.

To be honest, none of it is very compelling, so I think I may just translate a very brief introduction to the chapter Murakami provides before getting into the core of the content:

ボローニャで『ノルウェイの森』の原稿も渡してしまったし、しばらくのんびりと心と体を休めることにする。すごくいい気持ちである。背中に背負っていた荷物をいっぺんに全部おろしてしまったような気分である。 (219)

After I handed over the manuscript for Norwegian Wood in Bologna, I decide to take it easy and rest my mind and body. It feels incredible. It feels like I completely unloaded everything I was carrying around with me.

It’s nothing special, but it’s an interesting little note and somewhat representative of how Murakami treats the book in general; each chapter is mostly independent, but he’ll sometimes tie them all together through loose narratives at the beginning to give readers a sense of how his writing is going.

This chapter was the group on the road to Meta, so next week we’ll look at what they do once they arrive.

Surge of Death

Week 3 of Murakami Fest Year 14. Previous 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

The next chapter “A Small Death at 3:50am (午前三字五十分の小さな死)” is another very short chapter. Murakami introduces the mood he gets into when writing a longer novel—he thinks constantly of death, specifically of avoiding death. He prays almost compulsively for random acts of violence not to happen to him so that he can finish the novel. Not that he expects it to be good, but that it will be a piece of himself. This mindset only happens when he’s writing.

So on March 18, 1987 at 3:50am, he awakes in a cold sweat from a nightmare. Murakami rarely dreams, and he notes this again here. Even if he does dream, he usually forgets it immediately. But this dream feels more real than reality.

He spends a long time describing a gory (but pretty boring) dream about being in a large hangar with decapitated cows. 500 of them, with the heads lined up looking at him and their blood running into rivets, then into a central rivet out of the building out over a cliff into the sea.

Seagulls are flocking, drinking the blood and eating bits of meat, wanting to get in to the building where the bodies of the cows are.

When he wakes up, it’s dark out, and he drinks water and sits in the darkness, wishing he could listen to some music.

The chapter is…fine, I guess. A bit boring compared to the rest of the book where Murakami is looking outward rather than inward. He mentions F. Scott Fitzgerald dying suddenly while still working on The Last Tycoon. And there is a little bit of well imagery. But other than that it’s kind of an unremarkable chapter.

The only interesting detail we have is that this was during the 19-day period when he was working on the second draft of Norwegian Wood from March 7 to March 26. So presumably he was stressed trying to finish up in time.

Here’s the last paragraph, which is somewhat nicely penned:

朝が訪れる前のこの小さな時刻に、僕はそのような死のたかまりを感じる。死のたかまりが遠い海鳴りのように、僕に身体を震わせるのだ。長い小説を書いていると、よくそういうことが起こる。僕は小説を書くことによって、少しずつ生の深みへと降りていく。小さな梯子をつたって、僕は一歩、また一歩下降していく。でもそのようにして生の中心に近づけば近づくほど、僕ははっきりと感じることになる。そのほんのわずか先の暗闇の中で、しもまた同時に激しい高まりを見せていることを。 (218)

In the wee hours before morning breaks, I feel this surge of death. Like the distant roar of the sea, this surge makes me shake. This often happens when I’m writing a long novel. By writing a novel, I slowly plumb the depths of life. I descend a small ladder rung by rung. But the closer I get to the center of life, the more clearly I can sense it: the aggressive surge that death reveals in the same instant in the darkness just in front of me.

Villa Tre Colli and Norwegian Wood

Murakami Fest Year 14 continues. Here are the previous posts in this annual celebration:

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

The next chapter is ヴィラ・トレコリ (Villa Tre Colli), a very short chapter. Just four pages, probably a third of the length of most other chapters in the book. And for good reason – Murakami is dialed in as he finished the first draft of Norwegian Wood. He doesn’t have the time or energy to write anything else, as we’ll see.

He’s staying in Villa Tre Colli, an aged hotel on the edge of the city. It looks out over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building and the Stadio Olimpico, and he can hear the crowds at soccer matches cheering.

Trip Advisor calls Villa Tre Colli the 3,165th of 4,403 hotels in Rome, which basically aligns with Murakami’s review. This YouTube video makes it seem like it’s been turned into a wedding venue.

I felt like this couldn’t be the same place, but the location tracks (it even has a Facebook Page). You can see the Stadio Olimpico and Foreign Ministry on the map, and the Google streetview cuts off at the entrance to the gate, suggesting that once you go through the gate you have to climb a hill. Pretty cool.

At any rate, here’s what Murakami has to say about finishing the first draft:

小説の第一稿は三月七日に完成した。三月七日は冷え込んだ土曜日だった。ローマ人は三月のことを気違いの月と言う。天候の変化や気温の変化がでたらめで急激なのである。前日はぽかぽかと春のようだったのに、一晩でまた真冬に逆戻りというところだ。この日は朝の五時半に起きて、庭を軽く走り、それから休みなしに十七時間書き続けた。真夜中前に小説は完成した。日記を見るとさすがに疲れていたようで、ひとこと「すごく良い」と書いてあるだけだ。

講談社の出版部の木下陽子さんに電話をかけて、小説がいちおう完成したことを連絡すると、四月の初めにボローニャで絵本の見本市があって、講談社の国際室の人が行くので、そこで原稿を直接手渡してもらえるとありがたいのだがということであった。なかなか面白い小説になったと思うよ、と僕が言うと、「えー、九百枚もあるの?本当に面白いんですか?」と疑わしそうに言う。けっこう猜疑心の強い人なのである。 (209)

I finished the first draft of the novel on March 7. March 7 was a frigid Saturday. Romans call March a crazy month. The changes in weather and temperature are random and sudden. The day before can be a pleasantly warm spring day, yet overnight it will be back to mid-winter. That day I woke up at 5:30, did a quick run in the garden, and then wrote for 17 hours without a break. I finished the novel just before midnight. Judging from my diary, I was predictably exhausted; I wrote just a single sentence: “It went really well.”

I called Kinoshita Yoko with Kodansha’s publishing division to tell her I’d basically finished the novel, and she said there was a trade fair for picture books in Bologna at the beginning of April that someone from Kodansha’s international team would be attending and asked whether I might be able to hand over the manuscript directly to them at the fair. I think the book’s pretty good, I said, and she said “Oh yeaaah? It’s 900 pages? Are you sure it’s that good?” with some doubt in her voice. She’s a bit of a skeptic.

This is pretty awesome detail that Murakami includes. I’m sure Jay Rubin must have written about this in his book, but it’s very cool to read about it in Murakami’s own words.

And just imagine being that Kodansha staff, taking the manuscript in Bologna and then having to transport it back to Tokyo. I imagine that Murakami had his rough draft material, but I wonder whether they would have been able to make a full copy or if the one on the plane back to Japan was the only one in existence.

Speaking of drafting material, Murakami goes on to explain his editing process, which is fascinating:

すぐに翌日から第二稿にとりかかる。ノートやらレターペーパーに書いた原稿を、あたまから全部あらためて書きなおしていくのだ。四百字詰めにして九百枚ぶんの原稿をボールペンですっかり書きなおすというのは、自慢するわけではないけれど、体力がないととてもできない作業である。第二稿が完成したのが三月二十六日だった。ボローニャのブックフェアまでに仕上げなくてはと思ってものすごく急いでやったので、最後の頃には右腕が疲れてほとんど動かなくなってしまった。僕はありがたいことに肩がこらない体質だから、肩の方は大丈夫なのだけれど、腕がやられた。だから暇があると床でせっせと腕立て伏せをやっていた。長編小説を書くというのは、世間一般の人が思っているよりはずっと激しい肉体労働なのである。今ではワードプロセッサー導入のおかげでずいぶん楽になったけれど。 (209-210)

The next day I started on the second draft right away. I took the draft that I’d written in notebooks and on letter paper and rewrote it completely from the beginning. I don’t mean to brag, but completely rewriting a draft of 900 400-character pages with a ballpoint pen isn’t the type of work you can do without endurance. I finished the second draft on March 26. I was really hurrying because I had to finish before the book fair in Bologna, so by the end my right arm was so tired I could barely move it. Thankfully, I don’t usually get tight shoulders, so my shoulders were fine, but my arm was shot. So when I had any down time, I was careful to do push-ups on the floor. Writing a full-length novel is far more labor-intensive than most people might think. Thanks to the introduction of the word processor, it’s gotten a lot easier these days…

I’m not sure what the goal of doing push-ups is. Maybe to keep his arm active, to keep his left arm working as well?

This is really the first close look I’ve gotten at Murakami’s revision process. After the second draft, he goes through it again with a red pen, although he doesn’t mention if it gets another rewrite after that. I would imagine not.

He settles on the title “Norwegian Wood” two days before leaving for Bologna. This is also a bit surprising, as in recent years I believe Murakami has mentioned that the title of his novels is often a starting point. But we know he was working from the short story “Firefly” in this case.

So what do we know? We know that the Murakamis left for Europe on October 4, 1986 and that he complete the first draft of Norwegian Wood on March 7, 1987. At the beginning of this chapter, Murakami mentions that they’ve been in Europe for four months, so he may have been writing at Villa Tre Colli for that fifth month. No matter how you calculate it, it’s an impressive task. Murakami takes a solid short story and turns it into a generational novel in 150 days. While living abroad. In temporary housing across the Mediterranean, with storms flooding the apartments and drafty walls letting in the cold. Say what you will about his decline in recent years, Norwegian Wood has a pretty cool creation story, and it’s a shame that more of the world hasn’t read about it in Murakami’s own words.

Prostitutes and Novelists

Welcome to Murakami Fest 2021! This year I’ll be looking at five more chapters from 遠い太鼓 (Tōi taiko, Distant Drums), Murakami’s travel memoir from Europe. Another fascinating set of chapters! Murakami is finishing Norwegian Wood and traveling through Italy. We get some great details about the writing process.

This is Year 14 of the fest. Where has the time gone? Here are the previous entries:

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

In 南ヨーロッパ、ジョギング事情 (Southern Europe, The Jogging Situation), Murakami writes about his experience jogging in southern Europe. Jogging is city culture, and even large cities like Rome are slower-paced and not as quick with trends, so the customs here seem to annoy Murakami. People ask him questions about what he’s doing, he gets chased by stray dogs on his way from his housing to areas where he can jog, and the people who do jog seem obsessed with jogging in groups and chatting while they jog, not something Murakami the running fanatic is interested in.

There’s a nice section at the end of the chapter where Murakami talks about how he takes in a city through jogging; driving is too fast, so you lose the details, and walking takes too much time, but with jogging you can cover ground and still get a good sense of the culture. It brings us to this nice passage he uses to end the chapter:

ある種の人々が知らない土地にいくと必ず大衆酒場に行くように、またある種の人々が知らないに行くと必ず女と寝るように、僕は知らない土地に行くと必ず走る。走ることで僕にしか感じられないことを感じようとする。そういうのが上手くいくこともあり、いかないこともある。でもまあ走る。なにはともあれ走ることは好きだし、知らない土地を走るのはとても心愉しいことなのだ。まるで買ったばかりのノートの一ページめを開いたときのように。(203)

Just as a certain type of people always go to local bars when they go to an unfamiliar place and another type of people always sleep with women when they go to an unfamiliar place, I always run when I go to an unfamiliar place. Through running, I try to feel what only I can feel. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. But still, I run. If for no other reason, I love running, so it’s pleasant to run in an unfamiliar place. It’s like opening up a fresh notebook to the first page.

This is a nice passage, but there’s that one line that’s a little off, no? The way some people sleep with a woman whenever they go somewhere new? This feels pretty dated.

There’s an earlier passage in the chapter in which Murakami talks about the Italian approach to jogging. He tells a story he heard from someone in Malta: Other than eating, talking, and seducing women, Italians never try to do anything very hard, his Maltan friend says. They’ll never win a war. After an extensive quote from this source, we get back to Murakami’s opinions:

僕も本当にそうだと思う。そういう意味ではイタリアっていい国なのだ。そしてそういう国では人はあまり無意味に走らないのだ。

ドイツでは娼婦でさえ毎朝ランニングをしているのだ。なんだか村上龍の『ニューヨーク・シティ・マラソン』みたいな話だけれど、僕は実際にハンブルクでそういう娼婦と話をしたことがある。彼女は毎朝オルスター湖のまわりを走っているのだと言った。僕も同じコースを走っていたので試しにタイムを訊ねてみたのだが、まあちょっとしたタイムであった。凄いねと僕が言うと、彼女は肩をすくめてだって体が資本でしょうと言った。そう、娼婦も小説家も体が資本なのだ、よ。 (199-200)

I believe this, too. This is one reason Italy is a nice country. And in a country like this, people don’t just run for no reason.

In Germany, even prostitutes go for a morning run. It might sound like something out of Murakami Ryū’s New York City Marathon, but I’ve actually spoken to such a prostitute in Hamburg once. She said she ran around the Alster Lakes every morning. I was running the same path, so I decided to ask how long it took her, and it was a pretty respectable time. That’s amazing, I said, and she shrugged and said, my body is an asset. That’s right—for both prostitutes and novelists, their bodies are an asset.

Murakami continues to show his obsession with physical exertion as a metaphor for writing. This is an odd comparison. And the sociological premise also is somewhat questionable. So maybe not his finest work here. Maybe we can chalk it up to being the 80s and Murakami having some culture shock? But some of this is Murakami through and through.

On a total side note, Murakami Ryū has a pretty cool website with a trailer for the book that gets mentioned, which is apparently about a prostitute who attempts to run the New York City Marathon.

Writing is Hard

The last week of Murakami Fest 2020! We get five weeks this year. Hooray!

Previous Murakami Fest 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

On New Year’s Eve 1986, the Murakamis heads from Mykonos to Athens and then to Rome where he spends New Year’s. People are eating lentils and drinking champagne to celebrate. After celebrating, they head to Sicily for a month, which left a definite impression on Murakami — he notes that if they hadn’t already paid the rent and didn’t have a work commitment (an essay for an in-flight magazine), they would have left early. The city is dirty and run down, violent with crime, and noisy.

Not a great writing atmosphere: He goes as far as calling it Hell (地獄). Murakami manages to write, but the stress of Palermo gives him nightmares, which feels exceptional because he’s said he doesn’t dream very much.

The opera and food in town are the highlights for his time there — he sees three operas and eats heaping plates full of ikasumi linguine.

There’s a nice passage about writing at the beginning of the section, right after he describes how miserable Palermo is:

I lived in that city for a month. And the whole time I was writing Norwegian Wood. I wrote about a sixth of the way through that novel here. Unlike Mykonos, I wasn’t able to go out for walks even when the sun was out, which I guess was tough. If I suddenly wanted a quick change scenery, I couldn’t just take one. So we twice left Palermo to go on short trips. We went once to Taormina and once to Malta. Then we returned to Palermo where I confined myself to the room and worked.

It was hard to keep writing the novel every day. There were times it even felt like I was grinding down my bones or consuming my own flesh. (You might say that it isn’t that massive a novel. But to the writer, that was what it felt like.) However, it was more painful not to write. Writing is hard. But writing itself wants to be written. The most important thing when this happens is focus. The focus to throw yourself into that world. And the strength to sustain that focus for as long as possible. If you do this, you’ll find that at some point you conquer the pain. And you have to believe in yourself. Believe that you have the strength within yourself to complete it.

そんな街に一ヶ月住んだ。そしてそのあいだずっと『ノルウェイの森』を書いていた。その小説のだいたい六合めくらいまではここで書いた。ミコノスとは違って、日が暮れてもちょっと外に散歩に出るということができなくて、それが辛いといえば辛かった。さて気分転換をと思っても、それができない。そこで二回ばかりパレルモを離れて小旅行に出た。一度はタオルミナに、もう一度はマルタ島に行った。そしてパレルモに帰ってくると、また部屋にこもって仕事をした。

毎日小説を書き続けるのは辛かった。時々自分の骨を削り、筋肉を食いつぶしているような気さえした。(それほど大層な小説ではないじゃないかとおっしゃるかもしれない。でも書く方にしてみればそれが実感なのだ)。それでも書かないでいるのはもっと辛かった。文章を書くことは難しい。でも、文章の方は書かれることを求めているのだ。そういうときにいちばん大事なものは集中力である。その世界に自分を放り込むための集中力である。そしてその集中力をできるだけ長く持続させる力である。そうすれば、ある時点でその辛さはふっと克服できる。それから自分を信じること。自分にはこれをきちんと完成させる力があるんだと信じること。 (183)

This feels like good advice…to be taken with a grain of salt. Murakami’s writing advice often feels like it will result in “the scroll.” I think this is the recipe for a lot of bad first drafts, which are necessary to eventually produce good writing, but given what we know about Murakami’s later output, I’m not sure how much editing is being done. Murakami is a sixth done with his novel in January/February 1987, and it goes to press in September. Norwegian Wood itself was a revision project, working based on a short story, so maybe that’s why it works better than some of his other projects. He’s not just sitting down to knock out Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Vol. 3.

That’s all for Murakami Fest this year! I’ll be back next year with more chapters. I’m curious to see what other bits about Norwegian Wood make it into these little memoirs.