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.
That translation comes from an anonymous translator and Murakami fan writing their own English companion blog to the column. It presents another urgent query from a desperate reader as follows:
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.
Haruki Murakami Lists the Three Essential Qualities For All Serious Novelists (And Runners)
A Photographic Tour of Haruki Murakami’s Tokyo, Where Dream, Memory, and Reality Meet
Haruki Murakami’s Passion for Jazz: Discover the Novelist’s Jazz Playlist, Jazz Essay & Jazz Bar
Haruki Murakami Translates The Great Gatsby, the Novel That Influenced Him Most
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.
Nice to have you in my world!
Good to hear from you . I look forward to more questions and your answers.
what to do about a husband who divorced me, and now wants me back because he now knows he loves me?
hi Murakami San,
I have been reading “The Wind up Bird Chronicle” in the last month.
I have felt like Alice in Wonderland.
The day after Mr Okada discovered his mark on the cheek, I walked into a shoe shop and the assistant was an Asian young woman with an ink-black Mark on her right cheek, the size of a baby’s Palm!
The next week, my Chinese friend put a picture of her cat on Facebook. The cat had returned after disappearing for a while!
Two weeks ago, they announced on the news here in Australia that a man had been discovered alive at the bottom of a well!
Since I seem to be a character in your book, I would like some advice. What next?
This is serious, not joking.
Is lying bad?
Alas, the translation site (https://mrmurakamisplace.wordpress.com/) is no more. The site owner says the site will be taken down today, so here’s the posted explanation (with a Jan 22 date), in case you don’t get a chance to see it:
“Hello everyone. Thanks for reading everything thus far. I appreciate all the kind comments.
I have received contact from Mr. Murakami’s representatives very kindly asking me to cease operations here. They were extremely polite about it, so don’t hold it against them, since I was doing this without any kind of permission. But it was fun while it lasted.
This is my final note before I officially close the site later today.”
Thanks for the update, Marsha. Anyone have resources for reading this in English or information on whether Murakami will be offering them himself sometime in the future?
The Wayback Machine has a cached copy of the Mr. Murikami’s Place wordpress site:
The response to the 28 year old is a bit cold. He realises that success does not come easily. I for one do not blame him for his disappointments. Is it wrong to hope and glorify the future, and then share that you realise its imperfections? Think of Waiting for Godot – the characters cannot even keep up with their own speeches. Starkly shows the limits of our brain powers. Arriving somewhere, whether geographical or at a point in a our personal growth is not always possible.
Dear Mr. Murikami,
Your view of the world through your novels has been a wonderfully, fearful trip, but I have persevered and enjoyed. I would like to read a novel by you in which the game of baseball & the positions played make up a part of the story. I’m sure that you would make it a most interesting read. Thanks you for being accessible.
The page with the translations has been deleted
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