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Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki

Selected Writings


B orn January 12, 1949, in Kyoto, Japan; son of teachers; married Yoko Takahashi, 1971. Education: Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan, 1975.

Addresses: Contact—c/o Knopf Publishing Group, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Home—Tokyo, Japan.


O wner/operator, Peter Cat jazz club, Tokyo, 1974-82; published first book, Kaze no uta o kike (Hear the Wind Sing), 1979; visiting scholar, Princeton University, 1991-93; writer-in-residence, Tufts University, Medford, MA, 1993-95.

Awards: New Writer’s Award, Gunzo journal, for Kaze no uta o kike (Hear the Wind Song), 1979; Noma Literary Newcomer’s Prize, for A Wild Sheep Chase, 1982; Tanizaki Literary Prize, for HardBoiled Won-derland and the End of the World, 1985; Yomiuri Literary Prize, for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1995; Ku-wabara Takeo Academic Award, for Underground, 1999; Franz Kafka Prize, 2006; World Fantasy Award for best novel, for Kafka on the Shore, 2006.


F or more than 25 years, Japanese author Haruki Murakami has been spinning out quirky, yet strangely compelling surrealist fiction that has made him popular both at home and overseas. Embraced abroad, Murakami’s novels have been translated into 40 languages. He is well-read in China, South Korea, and Germany. Kafka on the Shore, translated to English in 2005, was a bestseller in both the United States and Russia. In 2006, he received the Franz Kafka Prize, an international literary award given annually to an author whose work appeals to readers across the globe. Many winners of the prize have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature— and fans hope that Murakami will be among them. Of all contemporary Japanese writers, he is the most well-known and read.

Murakami was born on January 12, 1949, in Kyoto, Japan, though he grew up in Kobe. Murakami’s grandfather was a Buddhist priest, while his mother and father both taught Japanese literature. Murakami’s parents raised him in a household with strong cultural traditions and a reverence for the past, which he questioned early on. His parents also exposed him to Japanese writers, but Murakami never felt a connection to their work. “My parents were always talking about Japanese literature and I hated it,” Murakami told the Guardian’s Richard Williams. Murakami was fascinated with books, though, and loved to travel into distant lands on the backs of words.

“So I read foreign literature, mostly European writers of the 19th century—Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Dickens,” Murakami told the Guardian. “They were my favorite authors. Then I took up American paperbacks. Hardboiled detective stories. Science fiction. Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, Truman Capote. After I studied English, I began to read those books in English. That was quite an experience. It was like a door was opening to another world.” Fascinated with American culture, Murakami received further indoctrination through his transistor radio, which introduced him to tunes from Elvis, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles.

A defining moment occurred in 1964 when Mu-rakami received a ticket to see Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers for his birthday. Blakey was a popular post-World War II American jazz drummer. Murakami was taken with the group’s blissful be-bop style set against a backdrop of laid-back indifference. It was the most amazing music he had ever heard and from that moment on, Murakami was hooked on jazz.

In 1968, Murakami enrolled at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met Yoko Takahashi. They married in 1971. Murakami loved literature, but he did not think he had enough talent to make it as a writer. Instead, he turned to music and dreamed of opening a jazz club, quitting college to pursue that dream. Both he and his wife spent the next few years working—days at record companies and nights at coffee bars. They scraped and saved, borrowed money from friends and relatives and, in 1974, opened a small jazz bar in Tokyo called Peter Cat, named after Murakami’s pet.

Peter Cat was located in a basement rental. During the day, Peter Cat served coffee and at night it served jazz, with young musicians performing live. It was a small operation. Murakami made the drinks, washed the dishes, spun the records, and booked the acts. When business was slow, he read and worked toward finishing his degree, which he completed in 1975.

One day in 1978, Murakami felt the urge to write. In an essay he penned for the New York Times Book Review, Murakami described the epiphany. “When I turned 29, all of a sudden out of nowhere I got this feeling that I wanted to write a novel—that I could do it. I couldn’t write anything that measured up to Dostoyevsky or Balzac, of course, but I told myself it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to become a literary giant. Still, I had no idea how to go about writing a novel or what to write about.”

Murakami bought a fountain pen and some paper and started writing. For the next six months, he wrote late into the night, sharing passages and ideas with his wife. The work resulted in 1979’s Kaze no uta o kike or Hear the Wind Song, which won the Gunzo journal’s new writer’s award. The book—its title borrowed from a Truman Capote short story and featuring Beach Boys lyrics on the back cover— became an instant success among the average young Japanese reader. With an oddball sense of humor and impassive tone, the book covered student dissent and coming-of-age through the eyes of an unnamed narrator.

Murakami credits music with inspiring his writing. In a New York Times Book Review essay, Murakami described how he always felt there was music swirling around in his head so he decided to see if he could transfer that into words. “Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music—and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody—which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. Next is harmony—the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside.”

In 1980, Murakami’s second novel, Pinball, 1973, hit the shelves in Japan. Around this time, Murakami decided to close the jazz club to concentrate on writing. A Wild Sheep Chase followed in 1982. A standout, this novel revealed the depth of Murakami’s unique style. The fantasy-mystery-comedy follows the exploits of a divorced Japanese yuppie on the hunt for a mystical sheep. The book’s translations garnered international attention and sold more than a million copies worldwide.

Murakami wrote A Wild Sheep Chase without any predetermined plot. He simply sat down and his unique, off-the-cuff style emerged. Murakami prefers to write this way. “It’s kind of a free improvisation,” he told the Guardian. “I never plan. I never know what the next page is going to be. Many people don’t believe me. But that’s the fun of writing because I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m searching for melody after melody. Sometimes once I start, I can’t stop. It’s just like spring water. It comes out so naturally, so easily.”

During his free time, Murakami translates English novels into Japanese. He often works with Motoyuki Shibata, a professor of American literature at the University of Tokyo. Over the years, Murakami has translated Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, Tim O’Brien, and Grace Paley so his fellow Japanese readers can enjoy the works that so inspired him. As Murakami’s fame grew, demand for his translated books grew as well and the authors he translated gained popularity in Japan.

By the late 1980s, Murakami was living in Rome and working on Norwegian Wood. Published in Japan in 1987, the book sold approximately two million copies its first year and catapulted Murakami into pop-icon status. Norwegian Wood diverged from Murakami’s previous efforts. The novel was written in a more straightforward, sentimental style and attracted a new demographic of readers—teens and women in their 20s.

Norwegian Wood delves into the life and psyche of an emotionally detached 37year-old who is delivered back to his college days when he hears a Muzak version of the Beatles song this book is named for. The book covers his journey toward adulthood and the women he loved and lost. Like many of Murakami’s works, the book references American culture, conjuring up everything from The Great Gatsby to Thelonious Monk. While the book proved to be a hot seller, Japanese critics dismissed it because it bucked many literary conventions and contained what they thought was too much sex.

Murakami became so popular he decided to leave Japan again because he did not like the attention. In the early 1990s, he lived in the United States, serving as a visiting scholar at Princeton University from 1991-93 and as a writer-in-residence at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts from 1993-95. During the time Murakami was away from Japan, the country experienced enormous change. In the early 1990s, Japan’s economic bubble burst and a recession hit. In 1995, an earthquake in Kobe killed thousands. That same year, the country witnessed its first act of domestic terrorism when a dissident group attacked the Tokyo subway system by releasing sarin gas. Twelve people died and more than 1,000 were injured.

After these events, Murakami felt an urge to do something for his own country, for his own people. He returned to Japan and began work on 1997’s Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, a journalistic look at the sarin gas attacks. Murakami spent a year interviewing 63 victims who were on the train that day. In an interview with Salon, Murakami discussed the project. He said the victims were “very hardworking people, ordinary people, ordinary Japanese, and they were attacked with poison gas for no reason at all. It was ridiculous. I just wanted to know what happened to them. Who are those people? So I interviewed them one by one. It took one year, but I was impressed to find who those people are.”

The experience changed Murakami’s perceptions of his fellow Japanese and he felt compassion toward them for the first time. Murakami never could understand business people and why they worked so hard for corporate entities, but once he heard their stories, he understood their humanity. “They come home at 10 p.m. and their kids are sleeping,” he told Salon. “The only day they see their children is Sunday. It’s horrible. But they don’t complain. So I asked them why not and they said it’s no use. It’s what all the people are doing, so there’s no reason to complain.” In the end, Murakami realized that the businessmen and the Aum Shinrikyo cult members who launched the attack were more alike than different. He believes they all did what they did because they saw no alternative.

Murakami continued writing fiction. He scored another hit with Ubime no Kafka, or Kafka on the Shore, published in Japan in 2002. The book simultaneously follows the journeys of a teenager named Kafka who runs away from home and an elderly man named Satoru Nakata who lost his ability to read after a bizarre childhood accident. He can, however, communicate with cats. The book’s English translation was released in 2005 to rave reviews and, in 2006, won the World Fantasy Award for best novel.

Murakami wrote the book in six months and spent a year on revisions. When he is writing, Murakami follows a strict regimen. He goes to bed at 9 p.m. then wakes up at 4 a.m.—without the aid of an alarm—to start writing. He works until around 11 a.m., producing about 4,000 characters a day, which is equivalent to about two or three pages of English. In the afternoons, he writes a little more or works on translations. He also runs every day and says the physical workouts fuel his writing mind. For more than 20 years, Murakami has run at least one marathon annually.

In 2007, After Dark was released in English. The book, with dark undertones, takes place over the course of a single night and explores loneliness and alienation—two common themes for Murakami. While Murakami’s international popularity among young readers has seen tremendous growth the past few years, older Japanese readers have been slow to accept his style. Some Japanese critics believe Murakami’s popular appeal and continual references to Western culture detract from his work. They say his postmodernist books are devoid of the richness of language and style that traditional Japanese literature offers.

Selected Writings

Kaze no uta o kike, 1979; Hear the Wind Song (first in the “Trilogy of the Rat”), translated by Alfred Birnbaum, Kodansha, 1987.

Pinball, 1973 (second in the “Trilogy of the Rat”), 1980; translated by Alfred Birnbaum, Kodansha, 1985.

Hitsuji o meguru boken, 1982; A Wild Sheep Chase (third in the “Trilogy of the Rat”), translated by Alfred Birnbaum, Kodansha, 1989.

Sekai no owari to hadoboirudo wandarando, 1985; HardBoiled Wonderland and the End of the World, translated by Alfred Birnbaum, Kodansha, 1991.

Noruwei no mori, 1987; Norwegian Wood, translated by Alfred Birnbaum, Kodansha, 1989; translated by Jay Rubin, Vintage International, 2000.

Dansu, dansu, dansu, 1988; Dance Dance Dance, translated by Alfred Birnbaum, Vintage Books, 1994.

South of the Border, West of the Sun, 1992; translated by Philip Gabriel, Vintage, 2000.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1994; translated by Jay Rubin, Knopf, 1997.

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, 1997-98 (issued in two volumes); translated byAlfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel, Vintage, 2001.

Sputnik Sweetheart, 1999; translated by Philip Gabriel, Knopf, 2001.

Ubime no Kafka, 2002; Kafka on the Shore, translated by Philip Gabriel, Knopf, 2005.

After Dark, 2004; translated by Jay Rubin, Knopf, 2007.



Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo, Japan), June 16, 2002, p. 9.

Guardian (London, England), May 17, 2003, p. 20.

Newsweek, April 30, 2001, p. 78.

New York Times, June 14, 2005, p. E1.

New York Times Book Review, July 8, 2007, p. 27.

Washington Post, May 20, 2007, p. BW10.


“Haruki Murakami,” Random House, (January 27, 2008).

Nobel Prize Winner in Waiting?” Guardian,,,496599,00.html (February 21, 2008).

“The Outsider,” Salon, (January 27, 2008).

—Lisa Frick

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