Lack of Pretense

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

Murakami arrives on Spetses in mid-October, right at the end of the high season while there are still people on the beach. The bars and restaurants are full, there are breasts being bared (and people ogling those breasts), but there is also a transition as some leave and others return to the island during the change in seasons. The island is so small that they take a horse-drawn wagon to the house from the port.

Murakami talks about his jogs and how he discovers the island and how it’s changing. He recounts a time when he forgot to cash traveler’s checks and he and his wife are forced to be frugal over a weekend when the banks are closed—he does this in a funny way, imagining Greek choruses singing the takeaways behind he and his wife. He also recounts a big chunk of history of the island in the form of shipbuilding and war.

He and his wife gradually settle into the rhythm of life on the small, isolated island, and Murakami does what he’s always loved to do during down time: go to the movies. This is another excellent opportunity for him to do some location as character work:

There are two movie theaters in town, one which closes in the fall, and another that’s open year round. The one that closes is named “Cine Marina,” and the one that’s open is named “Cine Titania.” Both are on the outskirts of town, and neither look very much like a movie theater. “So, what do they look like?” you might ask, and I’d be flummoxed. To be perfectly honest, this is due to the fact that they don’t look like anything at all. If I had to describe them, I’d say they have the feel of those stores, ubiquitous in every shopping arcade, that give no hint of what they sell. They are much too narrow to be movie theaters, and the doors look like the doors on a run-of-the-mill general goods shop. The reason you can tell they’re movie theaters is entirely because of the movie posters hung outside the entrance. There are two posters, one labeled “ΣΗΜΕΡΑ (simera, today)” and the other “ΑΥΡΙΟ (avrio, tomorrow).” By which they mean this one is being shown today, and the other tomorrow, but as with most Greek ΑΥΡΙΟs, they weren’t really applicable. Sometimes when we went they showed the same thing as the day before, and other times they showed an entirely different film from what was advertised. So I thought the best policy was to take these as a sort of “rough hypothesis.” However, whatever the case was, the entrances had a total lack of pretense.

This lack of pretense differed slightly in sensibility from that of the movie theaters in the small cities of rural Japan. No matter how small and run down and dirty and reeking of piss a Japanese theater may be, it at least announces itself as a movie theater. The building is a little different from the surrounding buildings, and there’s what might best be called a festive atmosphere to the place, to one degree or another. However, the movie theaters on this island have none of that appearance. There are two posters, one says ΣΗΜΕΡΑ, the other ΑΥΡΙΟ, and that’s the end of the story. It was such a small town on such a small island that there must not have been any need to put out a sign notifying everyone that it was a movie theater.

町には映画館がふたつあって、片方は秋になると閉館し、片方は年間を通して開いている。閉館する方の名前は「シネマリーネ」、開いている方の名前は「ティタニア映画館」である。どちらの映画館も町外れにあるが、どちらも特に映画館らしい格好はしていない。じゃあいったいどういう格好をしているんだ、と聞かれても困る。はっきり言って、どういう格好もしていないからだ。あえて言うならば、どんな商店街の中にも必ずひとつは存在する「何を売っているのか見当もつかない店」という雰囲気である。映画館というにはあまりにも間口が狭く、扉もごく普通の雑貨屋みたいな感じの扉である。これが映画館だとわかるのは、ただひとえに入り口の脇に映画のポスターが貼ってあるからだ。ポスターは二枚あって、ひとつには「ΣΗΜΕΡΑ(シーメラ・本日)」ひとつには「ΑΥΡΙΟ(アーヴァリオ・明日)」という札がぺたんと貼ってある。こっちのは本日上映のやつで、こっちは明日上映のやつですよ、ということだが、大方のギリシャのΑΥΡΙΟがそうであるようにあまりあてにはならない。行ってみると昨日とおなじものをやっていたということもあるし、予告とは全然別の作品を上映していたということもある。だからこういう予告は「ある種のおおまかな仮説」というくらいに考えていた方が懸命であろうと思う。しかしいずれにせよ、全く愛想というものがない門構えである。

こいう愛想のなさは、日本の地方小都市の映画館のありかたとはいささか趣を異にしている。日本の映画館というのはどんなに小さくてぼろくて汚くて小便臭いところでも、一応ここは映画館ですという格好をしている。建物の感じも周りの普通の建物とはちょっと異なっているし、そこには程度の差こそあれ祝祭的とでもいうべき雰囲気が漂っている。ところがこの島の映画館にはそういった構えがまるでない。ポスターが二枚貼ってあって、一方がΣΗΜΕΡΑ、一方がΑΥΡΙΟ、それでおしまいである。どうせ狭い島の狭い町だから、いちいちここが映画館ですと看板を出して断る必要がないのだろう。(90-91)

The section on the theater is quite long and a lot of fun. He and his wife go to see a Bruce Lee movie. The have a bizarre encounter with an old woman at the entrance who insists it isn’t Bruce Lee, but a man shoes them into the theater where they discover it’s someone else reenacting the life of Bruce Lee. A horde of young kids are monkeying around in the theater until some of the adults who stroll in late shout them all down. It sounds like a pretty funny experience, and unfortunately too long to translate in completion here.

And as for the theaters themselves, it looks like they still exist! The photo at the top seems to be Cine Marina from a Wikimedia Commons entry, and there are a number of pages for Cine Titania, which appears much more theater-like these days after a 2017 facelift. The photo above, however, looks much like Murakami describes – a random, rural grocery store somewhere in Japan.

Kiss

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

Nonfiction gives Murakami the opportunity to flex his writing muscles in really interesting ways, one of which is character work. He’s experiencing life in Europe with his wife, and he spends a lot of time with his thoughts (as I think you’ve seen with the first two posts), but once he gets on the road, he actively includes the people he encounters, the first of which is a woman named Valentina who is the realtor or property manager who introduces them to the house where they stay on the island of Spetses. This is their first destination immediately after Spetses.

Murakami does a great job of capturing Valentina and her tendency to draw out the vooooowels of words. She says she’s a writer, too, who writes poems but needs another job to live, and she seems disappointed with Murakami. She expected more, which doesn’t seem to surprise Murakami:

Sometimes I get to thinking that I lack what might best be termed an “aura” as a writer (or an artist). Even in Japan, I often get mistaken for a bakery deliveryman or a supermarket worker. I’ll be shopping and a stranger will ask, “Hey, where’s the red pepper?” (And of course I go ahead and tell them where it is.) But this isn’t entirely because of what I wear. Occasionally I’ll be dressed up nice in a dark suit with a tie on, standing in a hotel lobby, and some old man will say, “Hey you, where’s the Tsuru-no-ma room?” So I couldn’t really fault Valentina. Auras—not that I know what purpose they serve, realistically—are something that’s clearly defined when you have them and totally absent when you don’t. Just like onsen and oil fields.

ときどき僕は思うのだけれど、どうも僕には作家としての(あるいは芸術家としての)オーラとでも称するべきものがいささか不足しているようである。日本にいてもよくパン屋の配達人とか、スーパーの店員に間違われたりする。買い物をしていると、知らない人に「ねえ、唐辛子どこにあるの?」ときかれたりする(そてまた、しっかり教えてあげちゃったりもする)。でもそれは服装のせいとばかりは言えないようである。たまにきちんとネクタイをしめて、ダークスーツを着てホテルのロビーに立っていても、どこかのおじさんに「おい君、鶴の間はどこかね?」と尋ねられたりもする。だから僕にはとてもヴァレンティナのことを責めたりはできない。オーラというものは―それが現実的にいったいどういう役に立つのか僕にはよくわからないけれど―あるところにはちゃんとあるし、ないところには全然ないのだ。温泉とか油田とかいったものと同じように。(44-45)

Murakami does go on to ridicule Valentina a little. She draws a very simple map of the island and marks the port and house. Murakami later learns that she’s drawn it upside down (basically) rather than aligned with the cardinal directions. And in a troublesome paragraph, he suggests that Valentina and all women in general value what they can see and experience over the overall impression of a map.

So not a great outing, but he does capture much of the impression that Valentina leaves, sometimes very literally:

When she finished drawing the map and marked the location of the house with a final flourish, she nodded with a very satisfied look on her face. She yelled, “I looooooooove this island!” and pressed her lips firmly against the map. Then she handed me the piece of paper. She had left the distinct mark of her thick lipstick on the map.

Like this:

The island, thus transformed by her distorted view and lack of understanding, was beautifully sealed by her lipstick.

At the time I didn’t know what kind of reaction she expected from such a passionate kiss (and I still don’t), so I just said, “Thank you” as I took the note, glanced at it, folded it in half, and put it in my pocket. Then I tried not to think about the map again.

彼女は地図を書き終え、そこに画竜点睛という風情で家の位置を書き入れると、いかにも満足したという表情を顔に浮かべて頷く。そして「私、この島だあああああああ好き(大好き)」と叫んで、その地図の上にぎゅっと唇を押しつける。そしてその紙を僕に手渡してくれる。地図の上には彼女の濃いルージュのあとがくっきりと残っている。

こんな具合に。

そのように偏見と無理解によってデフォルメされた島は、口紅によって見事に封印されたのであった。

その熱情的なくちづけに対してどのような反応を期待されているのか、僕にはその時まったくわからなかったので(今だってわからないけれど)、まあとにかく「どうも、ありがとう」と言って地図を受け取り、ちらっと見てから二つに折ってポケットにしまった。そしてそれ以上地図については考えいないようにした。 (51-52)

This feels like Murakami just getting started before he really gets into gear in some of the more rural places he visits. A lot to look forward to.

Distant Drums

It’s September: Murakami Fest is upon us! Year 12 of the fest, to be precise.

Here are previous entries:

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

This year I’m looking at bits and pieces of 遠い太鼓 (Tōi taiko, Distant Drums), Murakami’s memoir of traveling in Europe.

(Brief aside: For years I thought the title was inspired by Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, but apparently it is not.)

The book is excellent, some of Murakami’s strongest writing, and I wonder why more of it hasn’t been translated. If he was motivated by money, I’m sure Murakami would publish it, and American publishers would encourage him to publish it, because he’s reached the point where anything with his name on it will sell. So my only guess is that he’s not confident with the writing, much like he was with his first couple novels for a long time.

I’ve looked at small sections in previous years, but I think I may use the next few years of the Fest as an annual motivation to get me through the book. I started reading it back when I was on the JET Program, but something threw me off pace. So I’m starting it up again, and taking more notes this time.

The first section of the book is an introduction written after the trip is complete, looking back at both the trip and the writing process. Murakami was in Europe from ages 37-40. He calls 40 a 節目 (fushime, turning point), noting that a 精神的な組み替え (seishinteki na kumikae, emotional recombination) occurs, after which you can’t go back — you have to go forward.

It feels like Murakami’s midlife crisis of sorts. If he goes past a certain point without having completed some unstated goal, that it would be a waste to him. So he leaves Japan. Spoiler alert: He writes Norwegian Wood while he’s on this trip, the book that launched him into the mainstream. Oh, he also translates a bunch of stuff, writes a ton of short stories and nonfiction for magazines, and lives an amazing life in the Mediterranean. It’s easy to call Murakami privileged, but you can’t ever accuse him of not putting the words on the damn page. He’s a workhorse.

The introduction is compelling because it gives Murakami the opportunity to write to his strengths: the passage of time, the elusiveness of memory, the challenge of pinpointing an objective reality—really the core of the human experience.

Here’s the section that generates the title of the book:

Of course, people go on getting older no matter where they are. Whether they’re in Japan or in Europe, it’s the same thing. That’s what getting older is all about. To put it another way, we maintain some semblance of sanity precisely because we’re able to absorb ourselves in the everyday and go on getting older. At this point—having turned 40—that’s something I believe. But at the time, I thought differently.

It feels very strange to be back in Japan now, sitting here at my desk thinking about those three years. When I look back, I get a mysterious sense of absence. The feel of empty space. A sense of floating, or being within a flow. My recollection of those three years drifts around in the gap produced by levitation and gravity. Those years are lost, in a certain sense. But in another sense, they have a tight grip on the reality within me. I feel the distinct clip of the memories somewhere on my body. The long arm of the memories has reached out from somewhere amongst the darkness of unreality and grabbed the real me. I want to express to someone what that feeling means. But I don’t have the corresponding words to do so. Perhaps like some feelings it can only be expressed as a metaphorical whole.

*

I was turning 40. That was one thing that compelled me to go on a long trip. But it wasn’t just that. There were a number of other reasons I wanted to get away from Japan. That included several positive reasons and several negative reasons. Practical reasons and metaphorical reasons. But I don’t want to get into them now. Because at this point, I honestly don’t care about them at all. They are neither here nor there to me, and likely neither here nor there to the reader as well. No matter what kind of realistic reasons compelled me to travel, the long trip washed away the original reason that generated it. At least in effect.

That is, one day, suddenly, I had to go on a long trip.

To me, that feels like the ideal reason to go on a trip. It’s simple and persuasive. And it doesn’t overgeneralize anything.

One day I woke up, and when I listened carefully, I could hear the sound of drums somewhere far in the distance. The sound of the drums came to me from somewhere far away, from some time long ago. Ever so faintly. And as I listened to them, I felt I had to go on a long trip.

That should be enough, no? I heard distant drums. At this point, that feels like the only honest reason that compelled me to travel. (15-16)

もちろん、どこにいようと、人はだらだらと歳を取ってしまうものだ。日本にいようが、ヨーロッパにいようが、どこでも同じだ。歳を取るというのはそういうことだからだ。そして逆の言い方をすれば、日常にかまけてだらだらと歳を取ることができるからこそ、人はまだなんとか正気を保っていられるのだ。僕も今では—四十になった今では—そう思う。でもその時には、それとは別な考え方をしていた。

今こうして日本に帰ってきて、机の前に座ってその三年間のことを考えていると、とても不思議な気分になる。ふりかえってみると、そこには奇妙な欠落感がある。質感のある空白。ある種の浮遊感、あるいは流動感。その三年間の記憶は、浮遊力と重力の作り出す狭間を流されるように彷徨っている。その年月はある意味では失われている。でもある意味では、それは僕の中の現実にしっかりとしがみついている。僕はその記憶のクリップをはっきりと体のどこかに感じ続けている。記憶の長い手が、非現実の暗闇のどこかから伸びて、現実の僕を摑んでいるのだ。僕はその質感の意味を誰かに伝えたいと思う。でも僕はそれに相当する言葉を持たない。それはある種のこころ持ちがそうであるように、おそらく比喩的な総体としてしか示せないものなのだ。

*

四十になろうとしていたこと。それは僕を長い旅に駆り立てたもののひとつである。でもそれだけではない。日本を離れようと思ったのには、その他にもいくつかの理由があった。そこにはいくつかのポジティヴな理由があり、いくつかのネガティヴな理由があった。いくつかのプラクティカルな理由があり、いくつかのメタフォリカルな理由があった。でも今はもうそれについては触れたくない。今となっては、それは本当にどうでもいいことになってしまっているからだ。僕にとってもどうでもいいことだし、おそらく読者にとってもどうでもいいことだろうと思う。たとえどのような現実的な理由が僕を旅行に駆り立てたにせよ、その長い旅はそれを発生せしめたそもそもの理由なんかどこかに押し流してしまったのだ。結果的に言えば。

そう、ある日突然、僕はどうしても長い旅に出たくなったのだ。

それは旅に出る理由としては理想的であるように僕には思える。シンプルで、説得力を持っている。そして何事をもジェネラライズしてはいない。

ある朝目が覚めて、ふと耳を澄ませると、何処か遠くから太鼓の音が聞こえてきたのだ。ずっと遠くの場所から、ずっと遠くの時間から、その太鼓の音は響いてきた。とても微かに。そしてその音を聞いているうちに、僕はどうしても長い旅に出たくなったのだ。

それでいいではないか。遠い太鼓が聞こえたのだ。今となっては、それが僕を旅行に駆り立てた唯一のまっとうな理由であるように思える。 (15-16)

The End of the World

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

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

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

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

Here are the previous Murakami Fest posts:

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

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

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

影は立ちあがって、たまりの静かな水面をじっと見つめた。降りしきる雪の中に身じろぎひとつせずに立った影は、少しずつその奥行を失い、本来の扁平な姿に戻りつつあるような印象を僕に与えた。長いあいだ二人は黙りこんでいた。口から吹きだされる白い息だけが宙に浮かび、そして消えていった。

「止めても無駄なことはよくわかった」と影は言った。「しかし森の中の生活は君が考えているよりずっと大変なものだよ。森は街とは何から何までが違うんだ。生き延びるための労働は厳しいし、冬は長く辛い。一度森に入れば二度とそこを出ることはできない。永遠に君はその森の中にいなくてはならないんだよ」

「そのこともよく考えたんだ」

「しかし心は変わらないんだね?」

「変わらない」と僕は言った。「君のことは忘れないよ。森の中で古い世界のことも少しずつ思いだしていく。思いださなくちゃならないことはたぶんいっぱいあるだろう。いろんな人や、いろんな場所や、いろんな光や、いろんな唄をね」

影は体の前で両手を組んで、それを何度ももみほぐした。影の体に積もった雪が彼に不思議な陰影を与えていた。その陰影は彼の体の上でゆっくりと伸びちぢみしているように見えた。彼は両手をこすりあわせながらまるでその音に耳を澄ませるかのように、軽く頭を傾けていた。

「そろそろ俺は行くよ」と影は言った。「しかしこの先二度と会えないというのはなんだか妙なものだな。最後に何て言えばいいのかがわからない。きりの良いことばがどうしても思いつけないんだ」

僕はもう一度帽子を脱いで雪を払い、かぶりなおした。

「幸せになることを祈ってるよ」と影は言った。「君のことは好きだったよ。俺が君の影だということを抜きにしてもね」

「ありがとう」と僕は言った。 (590-591)

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

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

“I’ve considered this, too.”

“And you haven’t changed your mind?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

So what have we learned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

____

Update:

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

Window Seats

Murakami Fest 2018, Week 3! The PENULTIMATE chapter of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Here are the previous fest posts:

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

Chapter 39 is titled “Popcorn, Lord Jim, Extinction.” Watashi and the Librarian buy beer and drive to Hibiya Park where they sit and drink and talk about life. She heads off to shop after a bit, and Watashi watches a mother and child feed the pigeons. He drinks more beer, burns his credit cards. He buys popcorn for himself and the pigeons, does more thinking about the fairness of life, and whether fairness matters. He calls his apartment and is surprised to find the chubby Girl in Pink who is going to live in his apartment and promises to freeze him, possibly so her grandfather can bring him back to life later. Watashi drives to the pier where he parks, thinks about happiness while listening to Bob Dylan, and then gives himself over to sleep (and presumably dies).

This chapter has the usual in terms of cuts/adjustments from Birnbaum (or his editor): trimming here and there, a few larger cuts where Murakami gets wordy, and the timely addition of a space break.

But it also has the rare Murakami self-edit! Hooray! I’m so glad we got at least one more of these in the final chapters.

Take a look at this section from the original 1985 version with my translation:

「どうして離婚したの?」と彼女が訊いた。

「旅行するとき電車の窓側の席に座れないから」と私は言った。

「冗談でしょ?」

「J.D.サリンジャーの小説にそう科白があったんだ。高校生のときに読んだ」

「本当はどうなの?」

「簡単だよ。五年か六年前の夏に出ていったんだ。出ていったきり二度と戻らなかった」 (324)

“Why did you get divorced?” she asked.

“She never let me sit in the window seat on the train when we traveled,” I said.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“It’s a line from Salinger novel. I read it when I was in high school.”

“What was the real reason?”

“Simple, really. She up and left the summer five or six years ago. She left and never came back.”

And here is Birnbaum’s official translation, which cuts the reference to Franny and Zooey:

“Why’d you get divorced?” she asked.

“Because she never let me sit by the window on trips.”

She laughed. “Really, why?”

“Quite simple, actually. Five or six summers ago, she up and left. Never came back.” (388)

Pretty minor changes, but still adjusted.

Now take a look at what Murakami did to the manuscript for the Complete Works edition in 1990:

「どうして離婚したの?」と彼女が訊いた。

「簡単だよ。五年か六年前の夏に出ていったんだ。出ていったきり二度と戻らなかった」 (573)

“Why did you get divorced?” she asked.

“Simple, really. She up and left the summer five or six years ago. She left and never came back.”

He cuts the whole joke! I wonder if he thought it wasn’t funny anymore or that the Salinger name drop wasn’t necessary. Kind of a weird little cut, which is similar to some of the other things he’s cut.

There are two weightier sections that Murakami keeps but get trimmed in translation and are worth looking at.

Here’s the Birnbaum translation of a section with Watashi and the Librarian talking. He’s talking about a line from The Brothers Karamazov when Alyosha is telling Kolya Krasotkin about his future:

“When I first read that, I didn’t know what Alyosha meant,” I said. “How was it possible for a life of misery to be happy overall? But then I understood, that misery could be limited to the future.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Neither do I,” I said. “Not yet.”

***

She laughed and stood up, brushing the grass from her slacks. “I’ll be going. It’s almost time anyway.” (389)

As you can see, he does some pretty serious tidying up, using the space break to do a massive cut:

「アリョーシャはいろんなことがわかるんだ」と私は言った。「しかしそれを読んだとき僕はかなり疑問に思った。とても不幸な人生を総体として祝福することは可能だろうかってね」

「だから人生を限定するの?」

「かもしれない」と私は言った。「僕はきっと君の御主人にかわってバスの中で鉄の花瓶で殴り殺されるべきだったんだ。そういうのこそ僕の死に方にふさわしいような気がする。直接的で断片的でイメージが完結している。何かを考える暇もないしね」

私は芝生に寝転んだまま顔を上げて、さっき雲のあったあたりに目をやった。雲はもうなかった。くすの木の葉かげに隠れてしまったのだ。

「ねえ、私もあなたの限定されたヴィジョンの中に入りこむことはできるかしら?」と彼女が訊いた。

「誰でも入れるし、誰でも出ていける」と私は言った。「そこが限定されたヴィジョンの優れた点なんだ。入るときには靴をよく拭いて、出ていくときにはドアを閉めていくだけでいいんだ。みんなそうしている」

彼女は笑って立ちあがり、コットン・パンツについた芝を手で払った。「そろそろ行くわ。もう時間でしょ」 (574-575)

“Alyosha knew all sorts of stuff,” I said. “But when I read that, I had my doubts—whether or not a miserable life could be fortunate on the whole.”

“That’s why you limited your life?”

“Maybe so,” I said. “I should’ve been brained with an iron vase in that bus instead of your husband. I feel like that was really the way for me to go. Direct, fragmentary, a self-contained image. Without a second to think about anything.”

I looked up from my position lying on the grass and looked over at the cloud we’d seen. It was gone. It had been hidden by the shade of the camphor tree’s leaves.

“So, is there room for me in your limited vision?” she asked.

“Everyone is welcome in, and everyone can leave,” I said. “That’s one of the best parts of a limited vision. Just wipe your feet when you come in, and close the door when you leave. That’s what everyone does.”

She laughed and stood up, brushing off a few pieces of grass from her cotton pants. “I’m gonna get out of here. It’s time.”

That feels like a pretty significant cut. This is Murakami exploring his main metaphor for the human condition/human interaction: We only ever encounter others within our self, fundamentally making human interaction limited.

I don’t think my rendering does the passage justice. Birnbaum’s is hilarious and reads really well. But it does leave that little bit out—the Librarian wants into his life, and he lets her in.

It also brings back the kind of throwaway plot detail of the Librarian’s husband and how he bit the dust, which was funny as a non-sequitur.

Birnbaum also makes another significant cut once the Librarian goes and Watashi is left on his own to think about everything:

I closed my eyes, I felt a ripple run through my mind. The wave went beyond sadness or solitude; it was a great, deep moan that resonated in my bones. It would not subside. I braced myself, elbows against the backrest of the park bench. No one could help me, no more than I could help anyone else.

I wanted a smoke, but I couldn’t find my cigarettes. … (391)

Damn. This is such an amazing translation that I’m kind of embarrassed to share my rendering of the scene. But it must be done. Here’s what the original looks like:

私はこの世界から消え去りたくはなかった。目を閉じると私は自分の心の揺らぎをはっきりと感じとることができた。それは哀しみや孤独感を超えた、私自身の存在を根底から揺り動かすような深く大きなうねりだった。そのうねりはいつまでもつづいた。私はベンチの背もたれに肘をついて、そのうねりに耐えた。誰も私を助けてはくれなかった。誰にも私を救うことはできないのだ。ちょうど私が誰をも救うことができなかったのと同じように。

私は声をあげて泣きたかったが、泣くわけにはいかなかった。涙を流すには私はもう年をとりすぎていたし、あまりに多くのことを経験しすぎていた。世界には涙を流すことのできない哀しみというのが存在するのだ。それは誰に向かっても説明することができないし、たとえ説明できたとしても、誰にも理解してもらうことのできない種類のものなのだ。その哀しみはどのような形に変えることもできず、風のない夜の雪のようにただ静かに心に積っていくだけのものなのだ。

もっと若い頃、私はそんな哀しみをなんとか言葉に変えてみようと試みたことがあった。しかしどれだけ言葉を尽くしてみても、それを誰かに伝えることはできないし、自分自身にさえ伝えることはできないのだと思って、私はそうすることをあきらめた。そのようにして私は私の言葉を閉ざし、私の心を閉ざしていった。深い哀しみというのは涙という形をとることさえできないものなのだ。

煙草を吸おうと思ったが、煙草の箱はなかった。… (579-580)

I didn’t want to disappear from this world. I closed my eyes and could clearly make out the palpitations of my heart. It was a tremendous, deep surge, something completely beyond sadness and loneliness, that seemed to be beating from the foundation of my own existence. The surge continued forever. I put my elbows on the back of the bench and endured it. No one would help me. No one could save me. Just as I couldn’t save anyone, either.

I wanted to cry out, but I couldn’t cry. I was too old for tears and had experienced too much. The world contained sadness that you couldn’t shed tears over. The type of thing that you couldn’t explain to anyone and that even if you did, no one could understand it. That sadness never changed shaped and instead just built up quietly in your heart like snow on a windless night.

When I was younger, I tried to put that kind of sadness into words. But no matter how many words I tried, I couldn’t communicate it to anyone, and I don’t think even to my self, so I gave up trying. That’s how I closed off my words and closed off my heart. Deep sadness can’t even take the form of tears.

I wanted to smoke, but I didn’t have a box of cigarettes. …

Ok, maybe not as bad as I thought, but not as good as “a great, deep moan that resonated in my bones.”

This section, too, feels very Murakami. It doesn’t necessarily fit in this book—since when is our data agent an aspiring writer?!—but it does sound a lot like the narrators in Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, kind of struggling through loss and life, unable to really articulate what they’re going through. It seems pretty funny and telling/true that he reaches for his cigarettes after this.

But it also feels a bit too over the top perhaps from our otherwise relatively stoic data agent. So I can see why it gets the axe.

Hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. One final chapter! Hard to believe…

Escape

Murakami Fest 2018, Week 2.

Previous posts are 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: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers

Chapter 38 is titled “Escape.” Boku reads dreams, searching for bits of the Librarian’s mind, until the light of morning erases the glimmers from the skulls (just like in the Hard-boiled Wonderland section!). The Librarian makes him coffee and then watches over him while he takes a nap. He then goes to the Gatehouse while the Gatekeeper is out burning beasts, steals the key, and then frees his Shadow from the subterranean room where he’s kept. The Shadow can’t walk, so Boku carries him and they make their way to the Southern Pool, which the Shadow believes is the only way out of the Town.

There are a handful of lines cut, but nothing all that dramatic. Just a trimming here and there, some of which comes naturally in the translation process. So it’s a little difficult to pick out a section to highlight, but the paragraph with the most cuts also happens to be the Shadow’s explanation of how he determined that the Southern Pool is the only exit from the town, so these feel like the weightiest cuts. Here’s Birnbaum’s official translation:

“At first, it was only intuition that told me the Town had an exit,” he says. “For the very reason that the perfection of the Town must include all possibilities. Therefore, if an exit is our wish, an exit is what we get. Do you follow me?” (385)

And here’s the original translation with my translation which, as usual, features Murakami’s extended explanation:

「俺がこの街に必ず隠された出口があると思ったのははじめは直感だった。でもそのうちにそれは確信になった。なぜならこの街は完全な街だからだ。完全さというものは必ずあらゆる可能性を含んでいるものなんだ。そういう意味ではここは街とさえもいえない。もっと流動的で総体的なものだ。あらゆる可能性を提示しながら絶えずその形を変え、そしてその完全性を維持している。つまりここは決して固定して完結した世界ではないんだ。動きながら完結している世界なんだ。だからもし俺が脱出口を望むなら、脱出口はあるんだよ。君には俺の言ってることわかるかい?」 (569-570)

“At first I just had a feeling the Town had a hidden exit. But soon enough I was convinced of it: the Town is a perfect town. Perfection as a concept always includes all possibilities. In that sense, this isn’t even a town, really. It’s something more fluid, more wholistic. It presents every possibility, changing constantly, thereby maintaining its perfection. In other words, this isn’t a fixed, complete world. It’s a world that completes itself as it moves. So if I want a way to escape, then a way to escape there is. Do you get what I’m saying?”

I’m not sure I get what the implication of this passage is, other than that perhaps a human self is self-complete, even as it changes and adjusts. It can never not be itself, which is what the Town is. Something like that?

Or maybe it’s just Murakami “completing” his novel by creating the explanation for an escape. The edited English version feels like a fine localization.

And then there were two (chapters)…

Embers

It’s a month delayed this year, but welcome to the eleventh annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

My calendar tells me it’s been almost a full year since I last blogged about Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, so I think I’ll use this year to try and knock out the last few chapters.

Here are the past entries in the fest:

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

I previously used the fest to look at Hard-boiled Wonderland back in 2013 and 2014. This week I’m looking at Chapter 37. You can see the rest of the entries in this series here.

Chapter 37 is titled “Lights, Introspection, Cleanliness.” Watashi is awakened on the couch by the Librarian when she sees that the unicorn skull is emanating lights (just like in the End of the World sections!). They have a couple beers and watch the skull, they talk about how Watashi feels oddly sensitive to small details around him in the world like snails and the way their clothes are piled on the floor. More talk about themselves. They sleep together again (maybe?) and then she falls asleep. Watashi gets up, inspects her kitchen and cooks breakfast while listening to the radio. After they eat, they get cleaned up and ready to head out and Watashi gifts the Librarian the unicorn skull.

There are actually a lot of heavy cuts in this chapter. Birnbaum (or his editor) does his usually thing and adds a space break to provide emphasis. They get rid of the first couple beers they drink; remove most references to the snail which Watashi has noticed and gets fixated on; and cut and adjust lines of dialogue so that it really trims the chapter down.

There’s some wordplay that kind of gets lost in translation. The two keep echoing 悪くない (Warukunai, Not bad, eh?). Birnbaum keeps the first instance but adjusts one in translation and cuts another altogether. This feels like a very Murakami-esque dialogue element, suggesting that, eh, the world ain’t so bad, even though I’ve been screwed over by a massive governmental agency that was experimenting with my brain. Sad to lose the other instances.

And there’s a phrase 清潔で使い道がない (seiketsu de tsukaimichi ga nai, clean and useless) that could be maintained more closely, perhaps.

But then Birnbaum’s prose is just killer in places, such as here:

As dawn drew near, sunlight gradually diminished the cranial foxfires, returning the skull to its original, undistinguished bone-matter state. We made love on the sofa again, her warm breath moist on my shoulder, her breasts small and soft. Then, when it was over, she folded her body into mine and went to sleep. (376)

I mean, damn. You can’t teach that! You can either write like that or you can’t.

Here’s the Japanese…and to be honest, I’m not really sure they have sex again. It seems to be highly suggested based on a clever space break actually provided by Murakami here. Here’s the Japanese:

夜が明けるにつれて頭骨の光は陽光に洗われるようにその輝きを徐々に失い、やがては元の何の変哲も無いのっぺりとした白い骨へと戻っていった。我々はソファーの上で抱きあいながら、カーテンの外の世界がその暗闇を朝の光に奪い去られていく様子を眺めていた。彼女の熱い息が私の肩に湿り気を与え、乳房は小さくやわらかかった。

ワインを飲みほしてしまうと、彼女はその小さな時間の中に身を折り畳むように静かに眠った。… (553)

As dawn began to break, the sunlight gradually washed away the skull’s brilliance, and it returned to its original, smooth, white bone with nothing at all unusual about it. We held each other on the sofa and watched as the darkness of the outside world was lifted by the morning light. Her breath was damp on my shoulder, and her breasts were small and soft.

After she finished the wine, she quickly curled up and quietly fell asleep. …

As you can see, Birnbaum takes a sentence from the subsequent paragraph and combines it with the previous paragraph to kind of complete the narration, whereas Murakami splits it up—in the next paragraph while she falls asleep, he’s wide awake and his attention is on the sounds of the day getting started.

抱き合う (dakiau, hug/embrace or couple, as in “sleep with”) here could easily be sleep with, I think, but it does feel a little strange that way when combined with the second half of the Japanese sentence, which is “watch the room grow lighter.” I mean…if that’s what he was doing, then the sex must not have been that good? What do you all think about this choice?

BOHE also make a very large cut of references to current events at the end of the chapter. Check out the English translation:

She was still getting dressed, so I read the morning paper in the living room. There was nothing that would interest me in my last few hours. (378)

There’s a lot missing in between those two sentences! Here’s the Japanese:

私は彼女が服を着ているあいだ居間のソファーに座って朝刊を読んだ。タクシーの運転手が運転中に心臓発作を起して陸橋の橋桁につっこみ、死んでいた。客は三十二歳の女性と四歳の女の子で、どちらも重傷を負った。どこかの市議会の昼食に出た弁当のカキフライが腐っていて、二人が死んだ。外務大臣がアメリカの高金利政策に対して遺憾の意を表明し、アメリカの銀行の会議はへの貸付け金の利子について検討し、ペルーの蔵相はアメリカの南米に対する経済侵略を非難し、西ドイツの外相は対日貿易収支の不均衡の是正を強く求めていた。シリアがイスラエルを非難し、イスラエルはシリアを非難していた。父親に暴力をふるう十八歳の息子についての相談が載っていた。新聞には私の最後の数時間にとって役に立ちそうなことは何ひとつとして書かれてはいなかった。 (557)

While she was getting dressed, I sat on the sofa in the living room and read the morning paper. A taxi driver had a heart attack while driving, ran into an overpass support, and died. Two passengers, a 32-year-old woman and a 4-year-old girl, both suffered serious injuries. The fried oysters in the bento lunches at a city council somewhere had gone bad and two people died. The Minister for Foreign Affairs expressed his regret over the United States’ high interest rate policies, U.S. banks were meeting to look into the interest rates for loans to Central and South America, Peru’s Finance Minister was criticizing America’s economic penetration into South America, West Germany’s Foreign Minister was insisting on a correction to the trade imbalance with Japan. Syria was criticizing Israel, Israel was criticizing Syria. There was a letter seeking advice about an 18-year-old son who was violent with his father. There wasn’t anything in the paper that seemed of any use to me in my final hours.

Pretty different! Remember that this book was written in 1985 and the translation released in 1991, so the project spans the fall of the Berlin Wall and very nearly the fall of the U.S.S.R. (which went in December 1991). I guess they make this cut because the information isn’t entirely necessary, but it definitely gives the text an entirely different effect.

I wonder if the reality of the current events detracts from the kind of cyberpunkish Tokyo vibe…which is really only present in the scenes with the old man scientist and the thugs. The rest just feels like Tokyo in the 80s. Personally, I like the original and all its breathlessness. It works.

But one of the most thematically notable cuts this chapter is much smaller. Here’s what happens when they see the skull shining:

I gently disengaged her from my arm, reached out for the skull, and brought it over to my lap.

“Aren’t you afraid?” she now asked under her breath.

“No.” For some reason, I wasn’t.

Holding my hands over the skull, I sensed the slightest ember of heat…

And here’s the original Japanese with my translation:

私は右腕を握りしめていた彼女の手をそっとほどいてからテーブルの上の頭骨に手をのばし、それを静かに持ちあげて膝の上に乗せた。

「怖くない?」と彼女が小さな声で訊いた。

「怖くないよ」と私は言った。怖くない。それはおそらくどこかで私自身と結びついているものなのだ。誰も自分自身を怖がったりはしない。

頭骨を手のひらで覆うと、そこにはかすかな残り火のようなあたたかみが感じられた。 (546-547)

I gently released my right arm from her grip, reached out for the skull on the table, and quietly set it on my lap.

“Aren’t you afraid?” she asked quietly.

“Not at all,” I said. I wasn’t afraid. Somehow, someway it was connected to my being. No one is afraid of their essence.

When I placed my hands over the skull, I could feel a faint warmth, like some sort of embers.

I imagine that an editor made a cut here and got rid of the 私自身, either because it felt awkward and unnecessary or it was too on the nose. It’s not an easy thing to translate well. I think translating it simply as “myself” doesn’t work because perhaps some of us are afraid of ourselves. I wondered if “my self” would work, but that strikes me as something that might confuse the reader and look more like a mistake. Any ideas on how you might address this?

Very interesting stuff this chapter, one that could serve as a microcosm of the translation of the whole novel. Three chapters left!

Murakami Fucks First

Welcome to the Tenth 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: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter

Today I’m looking at one last section of a conversation between Murakami and Anzai Mizumaru, a special pamphlet included with the essay collection Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata.

In this section, they’re talking about the types of customers at sushi restaurants:

村 客の立場から見て、寿司屋で僕がいちばん好きな客っていうと、やっぱり不倫のカップルですね。男が四十代後半から五十代、女が二十代後半っていう感じ。ひそひそっと隅っこで意味ありげな話なんかしてね。いかにも寿司屋らしくていいですよ。サマになるし。だいいち静かだし。

(オガミドリ)へへえ。

村 「これからやるんだな」ってカップルって、雰囲気でわかりますよね。

水 もちろんわかるね、ふふふ。

村 でも僕は個人的には、寿司を食ってからやるよりは、やってからゆっくり食べる方がいいですね。

水 そんなのいないよ、普通は食べてからやるもんだよ。

村 そうかなあ、僕が変なのかなあ。でもさ、やってる最中にこの女はさっきトロとあなごとウニを食ったな、なんて思い出すと感興がそがれませんか?お腹の中にそういうのが入っているのかしら、とかさ。ちょっと生臭くない?

水 そんなこと、誰も思わないよ。それにさ、終わってから寿司食べたりしたら、その方が逆に生々しいよ、ちょっと思い出したりしてさ(笑い)。それじゃブニュエルの世界だよ。

村 でもさ、終わったら腹減りませんか?

水 減らないよ。あとは寝るだけだよ。セックスしたあとで寿司食うなんて、そんな奴いないよ。村上君くらいだよ。

Mura: As a customer, my favorite sushi restaurant customers are definitely the adulterous couples. The ones where the men are in their late-40s to 50s and the women are in their late-20s. They sit in the corner and seem to be whispering conversation laden with meaning. That seems just like a sushi restaurant. So fitting. Mostly because it’s quiet.

(Ogamidori: Hehe)

Mura: You can tell the couples that are going to go do it when they leave.

Mizu: Of course you can, haha.

Mura: But personally, doing it and then taking your time to eat is better than eating sushi and then doing it.

Mizu: No one does that. Usually you eat and then do it.

Mura: You think? Maybe I’m weird. But look, doesn’t it turn you off when you realize right in the middle of doing it that this woman was just eating fatty tuna, anago, and uni? That all of that is in her stomach? It’s not a little too fishy for you?

Mizu: Nobody thinks that. And conversely it’s fishier to eat sushi after you finish, thinking about what you did (laughs). That’s like something out of Buñuel.

Mura: But don’t you get hungry when you finish?

Mizu: Nope. I just go to sleep. Nobody goes to eat sushi after having sex. Only you!

This brings to mind a lot of Murakami’s fiction. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (in which characters have a massive dinner—not sushi—and then have sex; and in which the pleasure of taste and sex are both dulled in the End of the World), “The Second Bakery Attack” (in which a couple wakes up in the middle of the night with “an unbearable hunger”), “Nausea 1979” (in which a character becomes nauseous and is unable to keep down food for months at a time, possibly due to his many affairs with the wives of close friends).

There must be some other connections with novels, I just haven’t reviewed them recently. Sex and food are tightly linked as physical pleasures and sustenance in Murakami’s works.

So it’s funny to learn that Murakami is on team Fuck First! This is a term coined by advice columnist Dan Savage (also here, NSFW!). I have to say I’d agree with him. It makes me queasy to do anything too athletic on a full stomach, although I wouldn’t say that sushi in particular makes me feel weird. Usually it’s pretty light fare, so it might be the ideal Fuck After cuisine. Mexican food, on the other hand, is not.

(I was unable to find an image of a 不倫カップル at a sushi restaurant, but I did manage to find this interesting blog post where the writer seems to overhear a couple similar to the one described by Murakami. Worth a read.)

Thus ends Murakami Fest 2017! I’ll be out of the country for the announcement this year, although I’ll be on European time, so perhaps I’ll manage to watch somehow. If not, this will be the first time in 10 (?) years that I’ve missed the announcement live. If he ends up winning this year (unlikely since Dylan won last year), you will hear the やれやれ I emit over the Belgian lambic/French wine/British bitter/Scottish Scotch/Irish dry stout/whatever it is I happen to be drinking during the announcement as it echoes around the world.

Sushi Counter

Welcome to the Tenth 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: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and Belonging, Peter Cat

I’ve finished my quick look at some of the essays in Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata and now for the last two weeks I’ll take tidbits from the extra pamphlet included with the text. Take a look:

Murakami has a short conversation with his illustrator Anzai Mizumaru (neé Watanabe Noboru of Yoru no kumozaru fame) about sushi restaurants. The conversation seems to be recorded by “Ogamidori-san” (also of Yoru no kumozaru fame), who also chimes in at a few points.

The first chunk of the interview is about what they like to order, which is only mildly interesting, but then they get into the restaurants themselves:

村 しかしね、水丸さん、寿司屋は味も大事だけど、客層って大事ですよね。

水 そうそう。客層は大事だよ。たとえば小さい子供なんかが隣で生意気にウニばっかり頼んだりしていると、ちょっとむかっとするよね。

村 蹴飛ばしてやりたいですね。それからけばけばした「光り物」糸の女の人が多いとけっこう疲れますよね。香水なんか強いと、ナマものの微妙な味が死んでしまうね。あれはちょっとなんとかしてほしいよな。

水 青山の「海味」の後ろの席でカウンターが空くのを待っているときなんかさ、ちゃらちゃらした「光り物」糸女の背中見ていたりすると、それだけで頭くることあるよね。

村 だんだん腹が立って来たな(笑い)。それから寿司屋によっては、煙草を吸う人が多いですね。あれも辛いですよ。カウンターはできたら禁煙にしてもらいたいと思う。苦しくて苦しくて、何度も途中で出てきた。

水 寿司屋のカウンターでタバコは遠慮するべきだと僕も思う。迷惑だよ。携帯電話も嫌だね。

Murakami: But Mizumaru-san, the food at sushi restaurants is important, but the clientele is also important, isn’t it.

Mizumaru: Yeah, yeah. The clientele is critical. Like, I get annoyed when there’s a bratty little kid next to me who keeps ordering uni.

Mura: I’d want to punt him out of there. And I get worn out when there are hordes of gaudy, “bejeweled” women. The delicate flavor of raw fish just disappears when their perfume is heavy. I wish they’d do something about that.

Mizu: When I’m waiting on the back seat at Umi in Aoyama for the counter seats to open up, staring at the backs of these “bejeweled” women as they jingle and jangle, that’s enough to get to me.

Mura: I’m starting to get angry (laughs). And depending on the restaurant, there are a lot of people who smoke. That’s also tough. I wish they’d make the counter seats no smoking. There’ve been a number of times when I’ve gotten up and left because it was so, so awful.

Mizu: I also think people should hold off on smoking at sushi counters. It’s a nuisance. I also can’t stand cell phones.

The essays were written from 1994-1995 and published as a collection in 1996, well before the no smoking movement (and even the smoking etiquette movement) gained momentum in Japan. On my first visit in 2002, they still had smoking cars on shinkansen. They may still have them, actually.

I tried to track down a photo of someone smoking at a sushi counter, and the best I could do was find this tweet which includes screen grabs from the 1974 drama 『傷だらけの天使』 (Kizu darake no tenshi, Injured Angels):

Actor Atsushi Watanabe deftly chows down on some sushi with a cigarette between the fingers of the same hand. Ahh, those were the days. Ha.

Back next week with one more excerpt from this interview.

Peter Cat

Welcome to the Tenth 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: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: Vermonters, Wandering and Belonging

The final essay in the collection Uzumaki neko no mitsukekata is 「猫のピーターのこと、地震のこと、時は休みなく流れる」 (“Peter Cat, Earthquakes, Time Flows Ceaselessly”). This feels more like an essay than any of the others I’ve read, and that’s mostly because the large majority of it details Murakami’s first cat Peter rather than a section of his time in America. He uses one page at the end to discuss returning to Kobe to give a reading (one of his few public readings in Japan) to benefit the 1995 earthquake. It’s an interesting end to a mostly uninteresting collection.

I believe this may be the source of the title as well. I haven’t read all the essays, so I can’t say for certain, but as we’ll see shortly, Peter is a 虎猫 (toraneko, tabby), another way of saying Uzumaki neko:

猫に名前をつけるというのは、英国の先人も述べておられたとおり、なかなか難しいものである。僕は学生時代、三鷹のアパートに住んでいたときに、一匹の雄の子猫を拾った。拾ったというか、アルバイトの帰り、夜中に道を歩いていたら勝手にうしろからにゃあにゃあとついてきて、僕のアパートの部屋にいついてしまったのである。茶色の虎猫で、長毛がかかって頬がふわふわしたもみ上げみたいな感じになっていて、なかなか可愛かった。けっこう性格のきつい猫だったが、僕とすっかり意気投合して、それから長いあいだ二人で一緒に暮らすことになった。

この猫にはしばらくの間名前をつけていなかったのだが(名前を呼ぶ必要もとくになかったので)、ある日ラジオの深夜番組−確か『オールナイト・ニッポン』だったと思うな−を聞いていたら、「私はピーターという名前の可愛い猫を飼っていたのですが、それがどこかにいなくなってしまって、今はすごくさびしい」というリスナーからの投書があった。それを聞いて、「そうか、じゃあ、この猫はとりあえずピーターという名前にしよう」と思ったのである。それだけのことで、名前に関してとくに深い意味はない。

このピーターはすごくしっかりした猫で、僕が大学の休みで帰省しているあいだは野良猫として、そのへんでなんとか自活して生きていて、僕が帰ってくるとちゃんとまたうちの飼い猫になった。そういう生活を僕らは何年にも渡って続けていたわけである。僕がいないあいだ、彼が一体どこでどんなものを食べて暮らしていたのか、僕にはよくわからなかった。しかしあとになって行動を観察しているうちに、彼が食料源の多くを略奪と野生動物の捕獲に頼っていたらしいことがだんだん判明してきた。そのようにして、学校が休みになって僕が帰省するごとに、ピーターはますますたくましくワイルドな雄猫に育って行ったわけだ。

その当時、僕が住んでいたところにはまだ武蔵野の面影が色濃く残っていて、まわりには野生動物なんかもけっこうたくさんいた。ある朝ピーターがなんかをくわえて持ってきて、僕の枕元にはなり出すので、「やれやれ、おまえまたネズミを捕まえてきたのかよ」とぶつぶつ言いながらよく見ると、それは小さなもぐらだった。実物のもぐらなんかみたのは僕も生まれて初めてである。きっとピーターはもぐらの穴の前で夜中じゅうじっと待ち受けていて、出てきたところをすかさずばしっと捕まえたのだろう。そして首をくわえて、「ほら、どうですか」と得意げに僕に見せに来たのである。もぐらには気の毒だと思ったけれど、そこに至るまでのピーターの苦労を思うと、やはり「よしよし」と頭を撫でて、何か美味しいものを与えてやらないわけにはいかなかった。

当時、猫を飼うことの問題点といえば、僕の経済状況が往々にして逼迫していたということだった。飼い主がろくに飯を食べる金もないのに、猫が食べるものなんてあるわけない。僕には当時経済的計画性というものが全くなかったので(今でもそれほどあるとは思えないけれど)、全くの無一文状態が一ヶ月のあいだにだいたい一週間くらい続くことになった。そういうときは、よくクラスの女の子に頼み込んでお金を借りた。僕が金がなくて腹を減らせていると言っても、「知らないわよ。そんなことはムラカミくんの事業自得でしょうが」と相手にもされないのがおちだが、「金がなくて、うちの猫に食べさせるものもない」と言うと、多くの人は同情して「しょうがないわねえ」と言いながら、ちょっとくらいは金を貸してくれた。とにかくそんなことをして、猫と飼い主と二人で必死に貧困と飢餓を耐え忍んだものである。ちょっとしかない食べ物を猫と文字どおり奪い拾ったこともある。今考えても情けない生活だった。楽しかったけど。 (220-224)

The naming of cats, as one of our British predecessors stated, is a difficult matter. During my college years when I was living in an apartment in Mitaka, I found a kitten. I say found, but I was walking along the street at night on the way home from my part time job when he came up behind me meowing and followed me all the way back to my apartment. He was a brown tabby with long hair and fluffy cheeks that made it seem like he had sideburns; he was pretty cute. He was somewhat fierce, but we got along right away, and from then on the two of us lived together for a long time.

I didn’t give the cat a name for a while (I didn’t really need to call him by name), but one day I was listening to a late night radio program—I think it was “All Night Nippon”—and a listener called in and said, “I had a cute cat named Peter, but he’s run off somewhere and I’m really sad.” I heard that and thought, “Ah, well, I’ll name this cat Peter for now.” That’s it, his name doesn’t have deep meaning.

Peter was an incredibly clever cat; while I returned home during university vacation, he managed to survive on his own in the area, and when I got back he was my cat again. We lived that way for a number of years. I didn’t really know what he was eating to survive when I was gone. However, later on as I observed his behavior, it gradually became clear that he relied on stealing and hunting wild animals as his major sources of food. As we lived this way, Peter became stronger and grew into a wilder cat each time university vacation rolled around and I went home.

At that time, traces of Musashino were still relatively pronounced, and there were a lot of wild animals in the area. One morning Peter came in with something in his mouth and dropped it by the bed, so I grumbled, “Great, have you caught a rat?” but when I looked over it was a mole. It was my first time ever seeing an actual mole. Peter must’ve camped out at the mole’s hole the entire night and then pounced on it the second it came out. And then he took it by the neck in his mouth and proudly brought it to show me: “Check this out. Whaddya think?” It was too bad for the mole, but when I thought of the effort that Peter went to, I said, “Good kitty,” pet him on the head, and felt obligated to give him some sort of tasty snack.

At the time the problem of having a cat was that my financial situation was tight every now and then. If an owner doesn’t have money to eat well, of course there won’t be anything for a cat to eat. I had zero financial plan back then (I don’t think I have that much of one even now), so each month there was usually a week or so when I was flat broke. During those times I would often ask girls in my class to borrow money. If I told them I had no money and was hungry, they’d always end up saying, “Whatever. You get what you deserve, Murakami” and wouldn’t pay attention to me, but if I said, “I don’t have any money to feed my cat,” most of them would sympathize, say, “I guess I have to,” and lend me a little money. That’s how a cat and his owner were somehow able to stave off poverty and starvation. Sometimes I literally stole a meager amount of food with my cat. When I think back, it was a pathetic life. But it was fun.

This essay is sweet. Murakami has a true affection for cats, and it comes through here. It’s also interesting to read about what his college life was like and how poor he was…although he came from a well-to-do family and attended a private university, so I wonder how true to life this is. He didn’t get along well with his father, so he might have mostly been on his own during this time, but we do know that he was visiting home.

The rest of the essay is worth tracking down if you’re into cats, and this is a very easy reading collection, so I’d recommend it to intermediate students. It’s also nice because the essays are in chronological order and build on each other as Murakami lives through this time in the U.S.

It also goes to show how much publishable material you can put out if you set it in your mind to journal every day. This is good advice to all aspiring writers. Take down details of events and conversations, what you did and where you went. You never know what kind of work you could turn it into later.

For the last two weeks there’s an (I hope) interesting supplement that came with the book. I’ll hopefully take something from it. Otherwise I’ll dig back through the essays.