9 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Japanese Novelist, Haruki Murakami

A brief glimpse at a writing career.

Although Haruki Murakami is one of the most popular authors in translation around the world, he’s also quite secretive. The Japanese author, who prefers to keep to himself and remain out of the public eye in order to focus on his writing, is a bit of a mystery, but that doesn’t mean we know nothing about the man behind the critically acclaimed Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore.

Recent interviews to discuss his latest work, Killing Commendatore, as well as a surprise appearance at The New Yorker Festival, have put a new focus on Murakami as an author while revealing quite a bit about the mysterious man and his writing process. To help you gain a greater understanding of Haruki Murakami to fill the void left behind after reading his work (or just to satisfy your curiosity), we’ve rounded up little-known facts about the music obsessed, cat loving author.

haruki murakami jazz club

It was never his intention to write.

If you’ve done any research on Haruki Murakami, you’re already aware of the fact that it was never his goal to become a critically acclaimed author. Discussed briefly on his personal website, and in more depth in the introduction of one of his lesser-known works outside of Japan, published in the U.S. as Wind/Pinball, the author was struck by inspiration to write while attending a baseball game in 1978.

Up until then, Murakami and his newly married wife struggled to make ends meet, while the author avoided the expectations of the society he lived in (which consisted of college, followed by a salaryman lifestyle) by combining employment with one of his many passions – jazz music; the couple opened up a small jazz club in Tokyo.

Despite having published fourteen novels, which have been translated in over fifty languages, Murakami, to this day, does not understand his fame, according to a recent interview with The Guardian.

Although Japanese is his native language, he began writing in English.

Most authors will tell you that writing is never easy, and Murakami is no exception. Writing requires preparation, concentration, and inspiration. Even the best authors will tell you that some days are harder than others, so when it came to drafting his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, it comes as no surprise that even Murakami struggled.

Bogged down with the question of style and the idea of replicating what was expected of him as a Japanese novelist, Murakami created his unique writing style by turning toward English, as he discussed in the introduction to the translation of Wind/Pinball.

Needless to say, my ability in English composition didn’t amount to much. My vocabulary was severely limited, as was my command of English syntax. I could only write in simple, short sentences. That meant that, however complex and numerous the thoughts running around my head might be, I couldn’t even attempt to set them down as they came to me. The language had to be simple, my ideas expressed in an easy-to-understand way, the descriptions stripped of all extraneous fat, the form made compact, and everything arranged to fit a container of limited size. The result was a rough, uncultivated kind of prose. As I struggled to express myself in that fashion, however, step by step, a distinctive rhythm began to take shape.

After writing a chapter with limited prose that allowed him to express himself freely, Murakami sat down and penned the entirety of his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing by hand.

To this day Murakami struggles to with creativity, according to The New Yorker.

Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can write easily, no matter what they do—or don’t do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work. Unfortunately, I don’t fall into that category. I have to pound away at a rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of my creativity. Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another hole.

He has a daily writing routine.

His hectic, workaholic lifestyle during the period in which he owned a jazz club with his wife lead him to embrace a more structured routine after his first two novels were written, according to the New Yorker essay, “The Running Novelist.” Tired of a hectic writing schedule, Murakami closed his jazz club and embraced a new philosophy, “get up early, go to bed early, exercise every day” which allows him to “write strong things.”

Murakami rises early, writes for five to six hours a day, during which he produces at least ten pages, followed by at least six miles of running. The remainder of his time is used to produce short stories, non-fiction, and translation, in addition to other hobbies, which include listening to music and reading.

He writes solely for himself.

Anyone who has read a Murakami novel knows that anything can happen. From talking crows and flying fish to ideas made real, Murakami’s works are surreal, to say the least. The author has referred to himself as a story watcher rather than a storyteller and claims to write from his subconscious. Murakami often runs with his surreal ideas, which have no clear meaning.

And you know, if that’s what comes to me, maybe there’s something right about that – something from the deep subconscious [that resonates with] the reader. So now the reader and I have a secret meeting place underground, a secret place in the subconscious. And in that place, maybe it’s absolutely right that fish should fall from the sky. It’s the meeting place that matters, not analysing the symbolism or anything like that. I’ll leave that to the intellectuals.

Murakami has described the process of writing as an exploration of self and told The Independent: “I’m a realistic person, a practical person, but when I write fiction, I go to weird, secret places in myself.”

He reads his work in translation, and even translates novels from English to Japanese.

Murakami is a well-known English to Japanese translator in Japan and it was always his goal to translate The Great Gatsby, according to his essay “As Translator, as Novelist: The Translator’s Afterword,” which appears in In Translation. As a translator, Murakami aims to refresh works, and while he inherently believes all translations have meaning, he also feels that “every translation possesses its own ‘best before date’”.

Although numerous literary works might properly be called “ageless”, no translation belongs in that category. Translation, after all, is a matter of linguistic technique, which naturally ages as the particulars of a language change. Thus, while there are undying works, on principle there can be no undying translations.

His desire to translate was in part due to his desire to pay homage to his favorite authors. His desire to translate The Great Gatsby, for example, was due to the fact that he was unsatisfied with current translations on a personal level, as they did not fit his image of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic.

Murakami has also worked on other English to Japanese translations including J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye and Raymond Chandlers novels and short stories, the most recent of which was The Lady in the Lake according to The Asahi Shimbun.

Murakami has revealed that translation is about tearing apart, rebuilding and essentially rewriting a work, which he takes to heart in his own translation, and appears in international translations of his own work. Murakami rarely reads his own work after publication with the exception of English translations, which he has claimed are akin to reading brand-new novels.

He very rarely makes public appearances.

Despite Murakami’s success as an author and translator, he prefers to remain out of the public eye and would rather stay to himself in order to write.

Although he seldom makes public appearances, he recently appeared at The New Yorker Festival in early October, where he answered questions from the audience about writing to which he claimed that he has “never experienced writer’s block” and that writing is his way of contributing to society.

Instead of public appearances, Murakami has started a radio show in Japan titled “Murakami Radio: Run & Songs”.

haruki murakami advice column

He once wrote an advice column, where he answered fan questions.

In 2015, Murakami worked with his Japanese publisher, Shinchosha to respond to reader inquiries in an advice column titled 村上さんのところ, otherwise known as Mr. Murakami’s Place. In just under a month, Murakami received 37,465 queries in different languages and responded to 3,716 which ranged in topic from likes and dislikes, his opinion on the Nobel Prize, and even relationship advice.

Set out with the intention to “exchange emails with readers”, the advice column received official answers from Murakami, which were published by Shinchosha in Japan in an abridged print volume as well as a lengthy e-book that includes answers to every question, spanning eight volumes in total.

There are very few adaptations of his work.

For an author as popular as Murakami, there are many challenges that come with adapting his work. Location, setting, tone – everything matters – which makes adaptations of his work few and far between.

The majority of Murakami adaptations have been for short stories, with Norwegian Wood and Hear the Wind Sing being exceptions. Norwegian Wood, which was met with mixed reviews, was subject to criticism by Murakami himself, who, according to The Guardian, asked to see the script before it was produced.

The most recent Murakami adaptations include those that were developed with the intention of making changes to fit the society for which they were made to prevent harsh criticism and include All God’s Children Can Dance and Burning, which was met with great success.

In comparison to film, Murakami’s surreal stories have been seeing more attention in a theatrical sphere, with the most recent stage adaptation being Sleep.

Although music is one of his passions, he recently donated his record collection.

Earlier this month (November 4), Murakami held a news conference (his first in 37 years in Japan) to announce that he would be donating early manuscripts, translated copies of his work, and his personal record collection to his alma mater, Waseda University, according to The Japan Times.

The donation was made with the intent of providing readers and scholars with a collection of his works and musings in an effort toward the cultural exchange.

Do you have anything to share about Haruki Murakami?

Share your thoughts and opinions on the acclaimed Japanese author in the comments below!

Melissa Ratcliff
the authorMelissa Ratcliff
Senior Staff Writer
Reader, Writer & Translator. Cats, books and video games are my life.