Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Murakami magic

December 15, 2009

What strikes me about Haruki Murakami is how such a worldwide audience has embraced his novels. People have taken to his writing not for its Japanese-ness, but for its stories and universal themes.

The 60-year-old Murakami is not your typical Japanese author. The jazz lover and triathlete has lived in the United States, Greece and Italy, and his works have been translated into over 40 languages. He is a regular favourite in Nobel literature prize predictions and has won various international awards, most recently from the Spanish government.

I recently had the chance to chat with Murakami for about an hour and a half in his office in Tokyo about his latest novel, “1Q84″ – the two-volume, 1,055-page novel with a title suggestive of George Orwell’s “1984″, as the Japanese word for 9 is pronounced the same as the English letter “Q”. We also spoke about the impact of religious cults and the 9/11 attacks and on his works, as well as about dreams and the Japanese language.


Here are some of the themes I found especially interesting. (You can read the entire Q+A here)
1) The realness of unreal things
“I think people are gradually starting to understand and accept the realness of unreal things. To me, Sept. 11 does not feel like an incident that took place in the real world. There must be a world somewhere that this didn’t happen. I think this mood is shared by everyone, and that would help set the grounds for 1Q84 to be accepted.”

2) Learning to write in the third person, and its influence
“I ‘m a very slow learner… So it took me 30 years to move from a first person narrative to that of the third person. After I started to write in a third person narrative, it became much easier to write women. Many of the women that I had written of were like a medium that linked the real and the unreal… At the same time, I am also writing about very realistic and tough women, like (the heroine of 1Q84) Aomame.”

3) Dreaming and writing
“I hardly ever dream. Maybe I had them, but I don’t remember anything. When I wake up in the morning, it’s all gone. But instead, I can have dreams while I am awake — in other words, that is to write novels.”

I also asked him about being Japanese and the relationship between the language and his stories:

 “I am not particularly conscious of the Japanese elements in the Japanese language. People often say that the Japanese language is beautiful and there are authors like Kawabata and Mishima who tried to be conscious of that beauty as they were writing, but I would like to use it as a tool to write stories.”

“My goal is to use very simple words to tell very complicated stories.”

Fans have more to look forward to. Murakami is now working on the next installment of 1Q84 in Japanese, and “Norwegian Wood” is now being made into a movie by Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung.


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