Haruki Murakami (村上 春樹, Murakami Haruki, born January 12, 1949) is a Japanese writer. His books and stories have been bestsellers in Japan as well as internationally, with his work being translated into 50 languages and selling millions of copies outside his native country. The critical acclaim for his fiction and non-fiction has led to numerous awards, in Japan and internationally, including the World Fantasy Award (2006) and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award (2006). His oeuvre received, for example, the Franz Kafka Prize (2006) and the Jerusalem Prize (2009).
Murakami's most notable works include A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), Norwegian Wood (1987), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994–95), Kafka on the Shore (2002), and 1Q84 (2009–10). He has also translated into Japanese English works by writers ranging from Raymond Carver to J. D. Salinger. His fiction, still criticized by Japan's literary establishment as un-Japanese, was influenced by Western writers from Chandler to Vonnegut by way of Brautigan. It is frequently surrealistic and melancholic or fatalistic, marked by a Kafkaesque rendition of the "recurrent themes of alienation and loneliness" he weaves into his narratives. He is also considered an important figure in postmodern literature. Steven Poole of The Guardian praised Murakami as "among the world's greatest living novelists" for his works and achievements.
Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, during the post–World War II baby boom and raised in Shukugawa (Nishinomiya), Ashiya and Kobe. He is an only child. His father was the son of a Buddhist priest, and his mother the daughter of an Osaka merchant. Both taught Japanese literature.
Since childhood, Murakami similarly to Kōbō Abe has been heavily influenced by Western culture, particularly Western as well as Russian music and literature. He grew up reading a wide range of works by European and American writers, such as Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Richard Brautigan and Jack Kerouac. These Western influences distinguish Murakami from the majority of other Japanese writers.
Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko. His first job was at a record store, much like Toru Watanabe, the narrator of Norwegian Wood. Shortly before finishing his studies, Murakami opened a coffee house and jazz bar, the Peter Cat, in Kokubunji, Tokyo, which he ran with his wife, from 1974 to 1981. The couple decided not to have children.
Murakami is a serious marathon runner and triathlon enthusiast, though he did not start running until he was 33 years old. On 23 June 1996, he completed his first ultramarathon, a 100 km race around Lake Saroma in Hokkaido, Japan. He discusses his relationship with running in his 2008 memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
Trilogy of the Rat
Murakami began to write fiction when he was 29. "Before that", he said, "I didn't write anything. I was just one of those ordinary people. I was running a jazz club, and I didn't create anything at all." He was inspired to write his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing (1979), while watching a baseball game. In 1978, Murakami was in Jingu Stadium watching a game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp when Dave Hilton, an American, came to bat. According to an oft-repeated story, in the instant that Hilton hit a double, Murakami suddenly realized that he could write a novel. He went home and began writing that night. Murakami worked on Hear the Wind Sing for ten months in very brief stretches after working days at the bar. He completed the novel and sent it to the only literary contest that would accept a work of that length, winning first prize.
Murakami's initial success with Hear the Wind Sing encouraged him to continue writing. A year later, he published a sequel, Pinball, 1973. In 1982, he published A Wild Sheep Chase, a critical success. Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973, and A Wild Sheep Chase form the Trilogy of the Rat (a sequel, Dance, Dance, Dance, was written later but is not considered part of the series), centered on the same unnamed narrator and his friend, "the Rat." The first two novels were not widely available in English translation outside Japan until 2015, although an English edition, translated by Alfred Birnbaum with extensive notes, had been published by Kodansha as part of a series intended for Japanese students of English. Murakami considers his first two novels to be "immature" and "flimsy," and has not been eager to have them translated into English. A Wild Sheep Chase, he says, was "the first book where I could feel a kind of sensation, the joy of telling a story. When you read a good story, you just keep reading. When I write a good story, I just keep writing."
In 1985, Murakami wrote Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a dream-like fantasy that took the magical elements of his work to a new extreme. Murakami achieved a major breakthrough and national recognition in 1987 with the publication of Norwegian Wood, a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality. It sold millions of copies among young Japanese.
Norwegian Wood propelled the barely known Murakami into the spotlight. He was mobbed at airports and other public places, leading to his departure from Japan in 1986. Murakami traveled through Europe and eventually settled in the United States.
Murakami was a writing fellow at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During this time he wrote South of the Border, West of the Sun and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
From "detachment" to "commitment"
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995) is a novel that fuses the realistic and fantastic, and contains elements of physical violence. It is also more socially conscious than his previous work, dealing in part with the difficult topic of war crimes in Manchukuo (Northeast China). The novel won the Yomiuri Prize, awarded by one of his harshest former critics, Kenzaburō Ōe, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.
The processing of collective trauma soon became an important theme in Murakami's writing, which had previously been more personal in nature. Murakami returned to Japan in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake and the Aum Shinrikyo gas attack. He came to terms with these events with his first work of non-fiction, Underground, and the short story collection after the quake. Underground consists largely of interviews of victims of the gas attacks in the Tokyo subway system.
Murakami himself mentions that he changed his position from one of "detachment" to one of "commitment" after staying in the USA in 1991. "His early books, he said, originated in an individual darkness, while his later works tap into the darkness found in society and history."
English translations of many of his short stories written between 1983 and 1990 have been collected in The Elephant Vanishes. Murakami has also translated many works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, Truman Capote, John Irving, and Paul Theroux, among others, into Japanese.
Murakami took an active role in translation of his work into English, encouraging "adaptations" of his texts to American reality rather than direct translation. Some of his works which appeared in German turned out to be translations from English rather than from Japanese (South of the Border, West of the Sun, 2000; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 2000s), encouraged by Murakami himself. Both were later re-translated from Japanese.
Sputnik Sweetheart was first published in 1999, followed by Kafka on the Shore in 2002, with the English translation following in 2005. Kafka on the Shore won the World Fantasy Award for Novels in 2006. The English version of his novel After Dark was released in May 2007. It was chosen by The New York Times as a "notable book of the year". In late 2005, Murakami published a collection of short stories titled Tōkyō Kitanshū, or 東京奇譚集, which translates loosely as "Mysteries of Tokyo." A collection of the English versions of twenty-four short stories, titled Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, was published in August 2006. This collection includes both older works from the 1980s as well as some of Murakami's more recent short stories, including all five that appear in Tōkyō Kitanshū.
In 2002, Murakami published the anthology Birthday Stories, which collects short stories on the theme of birthdays. The collection includes work by Russell Banks, Ethan Canin, Raymond Carver, David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, Claire Keegan, Andrea Lee, Daniel Lyons, Lynda Sexson, Paul Theroux, and William Trevor, as well as a story by Murakami himself. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, containing tales about his experience as a marathon runner and a triathlete, was published in Japan in 2007, with English translations released in the U.K. and the U.S. in 2008. The title is a play on that of Raymond Carver's short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
Shinchosha Publishing published Murakami's novel 1Q84 in Japan on May 29, 2009. 1Q84 is pronounced "ichi kyū hachi yon", the same as 1984, as 9 is also pronounced "kyū" in Japanese. The book was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011. However, after the anti-Japanese demonstrations, in China, in 2012, Murakami's books were removed from sale there, along with those of other Japanese authors. Murakami criticized the China-Japan political territorial dispute, characterizing the overwrought nationalistic response as "cheap liquor" which politicians were giving to the public. In April 2013, he published his novel "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage". It became an international best seller but received mixed reviews.
Most of Haruki Murakami's works use first-person narrative in the tradition of the Japanese I Novel. He states that because family plays a significant role in traditional Japanese literature, any main character who is independent becomes a man who values freedom and solitude over intimacy. Also notable is Murakami's unique humor, as seen in his 2000 short story collection, After the Quake. In the story "Superfrog Saves Tokyo", the protagonist is confronted with a 6-foot tall frog that talks about the destruction of Tokyo over a cup of tea. In spite of the story's sober tone, Murakami feels the reader should be entertained once the seriousness of a subject has been broached. Another notable feature of Murakami's stories are the comments that come from the main characters as to how strange the story presents itself. Murakami explains that his characters experience what he experiences as he writes, which could be compared to a movie set where the walls and props are all fake.
Many of his novels have themes and titles that invoke classical music, such as the three books making up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: The Thieving Magpie (after Rossini's opera), Bird as Prophet (after a piano piece by Robert Schumann usually known in English as The Prophet Bird), and The Bird-Catcher (a character in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute). Some of his novels take their titles from songs: Dance, Dance, Dance (after The Dells' 1957 B-side song, although it is often thought it was titled after the Beach Boys' 1964 tune), Norwegian Wood (after The Beatles' song) and South of the Border, West of the Sun (after the song "South of the Border").
Some analyses see aspects of shamanism in his writing. In a 2000 article, Susan Fisher connected Japanese folk religion or Japanese shamanism with some elements of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, such as a descent into a dry well. At an October 2013 symposium held at the University of Hawaii, associate professor of Japanese Nobuko Ochner opined "there were many descriptions of traveling in a parallel world as well as characters who have some connection to shamanism" in Murakami's works.
Prizes for books
- 1979: Gunzo Award (best first novel) for Hear the Wind Sing
- 1982: Noma Literary Prize (best newcomer) for A Wild Sheep Chase
- 1985: Tanizaki Prize for Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
- 1995: Yomiuri Prize (best novel) for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
- 1999: Kuwabara Takeo Prize for Underground
- 2006: World Fantasy Award (best novel) for Kafka on the Shore
- 2006: Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award for Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Murakami was also awarded the 2007 Kiriyama Prize for Fiction for his collection of short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, but according to the prize's official website, Murakami "declined to accept the award for reasons of personal principle".
Prizes for Murakami
In 2006, Murakami became the sixth recipient of the Franz Kafka Prize.
In September 2007, he received an honorary doctorate of Letters from the University of Liège, one from Princeton University in June 2008, and one from Tufts University in May 2014.
In January 2009 Murakami received the Jerusalem Prize, a biennial literary award given to writers whose work deals with themes of human freedom, society, politics, and government. There were protests in Japan and elsewhere against his attending the February award ceremony in Israel, including threats to boycott his work as a response against Israel's recent bombing of Gaza. Murakami chose to attend the ceremony, but gave a speech to the gathered Israeli dignitaries harshly criticizing Israeli policies. Murakami said, "Each of us possesses a tangible living soul. The system has no such thing. We must not allow the system to exploit us."
In 2011, Murakami donated his €80,000 winnings from the International Catalunya Prize (from the Generalitat of Catalunya) to the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and to those affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Accepting the award, he said in his speech that the situation at the Fukushima plant was "the second major nuclear disaster that the Japanese people have experienced... however, this time it was not a bomb being dropped upon us, but a mistake committed by our very own hands." According to Murakami, the Japanese people should have rejected nuclear power after having "learned through the sacrifice of the hibakusha just how badly radiation leaves scars on the world and human wellbeing".
In recent years, Haruki Murakami has often been mentioned as a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Nonetheless, since all nomination records are sealed for 50 years from the awarding of the prize, it is pure speculation. When asked about the possibility of being awarded the Nobel Prize, Murakami responded with a laugh saying "No, I don't want prizes. That means you're finished."
In October 2014, he was awarded the Welt-Literaturpreis.
In April 2015, Murakami was named one of the TIME 100's most influential people. In November 2016, he was awarded the Danish Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award.
Films and other adaptations
Murakami's first novel, Hear the Wind Sing (Kaze no uta o kike), was adapted by Japanese director Kazuki Ōmori. The film was released in 1981 and distributed by Art Theatre Guild. Naoto Yamakawa directed two short films Attack on the Bakery (released in 1982) and A Girl, She is 100 Percent (released in 1983), based on Murakami's short stories "The Second Bakery Attack" and "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" respectively. Japanese director Jun Ichikawa adapted Murakami's short story "Tony Takitani" into a 75-minute feature. The film played at various film festivals and was released in New York and Los Angeles on July 29, 2005. The original short story, translated into English by Jay Rubin, is available in the April 15, 2002 issue of The New Yorker, as a stand-alone book published by Cloverfield Press, and part of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Knopf. In 1998, the German film Der Eisbaer (Polar Bear), written and directed by Granz Henman, used elements of Murakami's short story "The Second Bakery Attack" in three intersecting story lines. "The Second Bakery Attack" was also adapted as a short film in 2010, directed by Carlos Cuarón, starring Kirsten Dunst.
Murakami's work was also adapted for the stage in a 2003 play entitled The Elephant Vanishes, co-produced by Britain's Complicite company and Japan's Setagaya Public Theatre. The production, directed by Simon McBurney, adapted three of Murakami's short stories and received acclaim for its unique blending of multimedia (video, music, and innovative sound design) with actor-driven physical theater (mime, dance, and even acrobatic wire work). On tour, the play was performed in Japanese, with supertitle translations for European and American audiences.
Two stories from Murakami's book after the quake—"Honey Pie" and "Superfrog Saves Tokyo"—have been adapted for the stage and directed by Frank Galati. Entitled after the quake, the play was first performed at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in association with La Jolla Playhouse, and opened on October 12, 2007, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. In 2008, Galati also adapted and directed a theatrical version of Kafka on the Shore, which first ran at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company from September to November.
On Max Richter's 2006 album Songs from Before, Robert Wyatt reads passages from Murakami's novels. In 2007, Robert Logevall adapted "All God's Children Can Dance" into a film, with a soundtrack composed by American jam band Sound Tribe Sector 9. In 2008, Tom Flint adapted "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" into a short film. The film was screened at the 2008 CON-CAN Movie Festival. The film was viewed, voted, and commented upon as part of the audience award for the movie festival.
It was announced in July 2008 that French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung would direct an adaptation of Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood. The film was released in Japan on December 11, 2010.
In 2010, Stephen Earnhart adapted The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle into a two-hour multimedia stage presentation. The show opened January 12, 2010, as part of the Public Theater's "Under the Radar" festival at the Ohio Theater in New York City, presented in association with The Asia Society and the Baryshnikov Arts Center. The show had its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival on August 21, 2011. The presentation incorporates live actors, video projection, traditional Japanese puppetry, and immersive soundscapes to render the surreal landscape of the original work.
"Memoranda", a 2017 video game had been inspired by several Murakami short stories, mainly from Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and The Elephant Vanishes, and features several Murakami characters, including Mizuki Ando.
After receiving the Gunzo Award for his 1979 literary work Hear the Wind Sing, Murakami did not aspire to meet other writers. Aside from Sarah Lawrence's Mary Morris, whom he briefly mentions in his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running alongside Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison, Murakami was never a part of a community of writers, his reason being that he was a loner and was never fond of groups, schools, and literary circles. When working on a book, Murakami states that he relies on his wife, who is always his first reader. While he never acquainted himself with many writers, Murakami enjoys the works of Ryu Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto.
Haruki Murakami is a fan of crime novels. During his high school days while living in Kobe, he would buy paperbacks from second hand book stores and learned to read English. The first book that he read in English was The Name is Archer, written by Ross Macdonald in 1955. Other writers he was interested in included Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Murakami also has a passion for listening to music, especially classical and jazz. When he was around 15, he began to develop an interest in jazz after attending an Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers concert in Kobe. He later opened the Peter Cat, a coffeehouse and jazz bar. Murakami has said that music, like writing, is a mental journey. At one time he aspired to be a musician, but because he could not play instruments well he decided to become a writer instead.
Murakami claims that it is natural for China and the two Koreas to continue to feel resentment toward Japan for its wartime aggression. "Fundamentally, Japanese people tend not to have an idea that they were also assailants, and the tendency is getting clearer," he said. In an interview, Murakami stated "The issue of historical understanding carries great significance, and I believe it is important that Japan makes straightforward apologies. I think that is all Japan can do – apologise until the countries say: 'We don't necessarily get over it completely, but you have apologized enough. Alright, let's leave it now."