Earlier this month, the reading world thrilled to the news that Haruki Murakami would, in a new column on his official site, take on the role of agony uncle. I, for one, had to look up the term "agony uncle," a term out of British English, a language that surprises me even more often than does Murakami's native Japanese. It means an advice columnist, or more specifically an avuncular type of writer to whom readers can pour out their agonies.
Despite his rare public appearances and few first-person pieces available in translation, readers around the globe have surely sensed the writer's calm manner and sympathetic ear. And when he gives advice straight-up, as when he talks about what makes a good runner or writer (almost the same thing, to his mind) he does it with succinctness and wisdom. And so we have 村上さんのところ, or "Mr. Murakami's Place," where Murakami will, over the next few months, briefly address all manner of reader queries submitted in January.
(Which means that, if you have anything to ask him you've still got a few days left to do so. Though you'll notice that the site appears almost entirely in Japanese, the English-speaking Murakami also answers questions submitted in that language; just consult James Smyth's translation of the question submission form if you want to go that route.)
"Do you think cats can understand how humans feel?" asks a fan named Vivian. "My cat Bobo ran away when she saw me crying." And despite, or because of, having spent a good deal of time rendering cats as literary presences, Murakami feels a bit dubious about the issue: "I suspect that either you or your cat is extremely sensitive. I have had many cats, but no cat has ever been so sympathetic. They were just as egoistic as they could be." "Do you have some places you always stay for a while?" asks a 20-year-old student. "An easy question. In the bed with someone I love. Where else?"
Not only do the Japanese-language questions and answers get slightly more expansive, they sometimes even take the traditional advice-column form. Take, for example, "On the Cusp of 30":
30 is right around the corner for me, but there isn’t a single thing that I feel like I’ve accomplished. When I was young, I thought to be an ‘adult’ must be so wonderful, but my current reality is so far away from what I imagined. And when faced with that reality, I get very disheartened. What should I do with myself?
(Jo & Maca, Female, 28)
I don’t mean to be rude, but I think “to be an ‘adult’ must be so wonderful,” is just wrong. ‘Adult’ is nothing more than an empty form. What you fill that form with is your own responsibility. Accomplishments don’t come easily. When you start to fill your ‘adult’ form little by little, then everything will begin. But 28 is not really ‘adult.’ You’re only just beginning.
My wife quite frequently belches right near the back of my head when she passes behind me. When I say to her, “Stop burping behind me all the time,” she says, “It’s not on purpose. It just comes out.” I don’t think I’m bringing it upon myself in any way. Is there something I can do to stop my wife’s belching?
(ukuleleKazu, Male, 61, Self-Employed)
I hope you’ll pardon me for saying so, but I think belching is far better than farting. Perhaps you should think of it that way.
Murakami has so far weighed in on such other matters of import as disappearing cats [translation], how to deal with rising marathon times [translation], his plans for further non-fiction writing [translation], what to do at age nineteen [translation], waning libido [translation], and his love of Iceland [translation]. Even if you don't care about the novelist's thoughts on these matters, do take a look at the site and its abundance of bipedal cats and sheep, jazz albums, Johnnie Walker figures, and Yakult Swallows memorabilia — in any language, a Murakami fan's delight.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.