Discover Haruki Murakami’s Advertorial Short Stories: Rare Short-Short Fiction from the 1980s


No pro­file of Haru­ki Muraka­mi, the most glob­al­ly pop­u­lar nov­el­ist alive, fails to refer to the high num­ber of lan­guages (as of this writ­ing, the count has reached 50) in which his 14 Japan­ese-lan­guage nov­els have appeared in trans­la­tion. But out­side Japan, monoglot Murakamists (espe­cial­ly read­ers of only Eng­lish) have a prob­lem: they still can’t read a wealth of Murakami’s oth­er, non-nov­el­is­tic writ­ing, includ­ing the full-length, two-vol­ume ver­sion of Under­ground, his study of the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack; his Por­trait in Jazz books on his favorite music; and most of his many essays and movie reviews.

Even some of Murakami’s fic­tion has remained more or less off-lim­its to glob­al read­ers. I dis­cov­ered this when I came across a col­lec­tion of his I’d nev­er even heard of while book-shop­ping in Seoul. Real­iz­ing that of course more Muraka­mi mate­r­i­al would find its way into Kore­an, a gram­mat­i­cal­ly sim­i­lar lan­guage to Japan­ese, than Eng­lish, I set about check­ing every book­store in the city I knew for oth­er unknown vol­umes. One book of short sto­ries, titled in Kore­an 밤의 원숭이 (Spi­der Mon­key of the Night), par­tic­u­lar­ly delight­ed me with its strange and extreme­ly brief tales, each accom­pa­nied by charm­ing illus­tra­tions.


But where did these sto­ries, with their titles like “Hotel Lob­by Oys­ters,” “Julio Igle­sias,” and “Takaya­ma Noriko and My Libido,” come from? They came, as Neo­japon­is­me’s post on them explains, from the world of adver­tis­ing, and specif­i­cal­ly from a com­pa­ny called “Onward,” which mar­ket­ed the Amer­i­can Ivy League fash­ion label J. Press in Japan:

In the late 1970s and ear­ly 1980s, Onward spent mas­sive sums on adver­tis­ing J. Press in the print media. The clas­sic ad for­mat, often seen on the back cov­er of lifestyle mag­a­zine Pop­eye, showed a Japan­ese or Amer­i­can man telling a col­or­ful sto­ry about their favorite trad cloth­ing item. In 1985, as Japan­ese pop cul­ture went in more avant-garde direc­tions, Onward came up with a new idea — ask­ing up-and-com­ing nov­el­ist Muraka­mi Haru­ki to write a very short sto­ry inside each month’s adver­tise­ment for mag­a­zines Pop­eye, Box, and Men’s Club.

“So once a month from April 1985 to Feb­ru­ary 1987, Muraka­mi wrote a ‘short short’ (短い短編), which was set on its own page with an illus­tra­tion by famed artist Anzai Mizu­maru at the top and a small J. Press logo in the low­er left cor­ner.” Dur­ing that time, out came Murakami’s hit nov­el Nor­we­gian Wood, which rock­et­ed him to a lev­el of fame that effec­tive­ly put him in exile from his home­land. But the adver­to­r­i­al short-short form still appealed to him, and in 1993 he got famous pen­mak­er Park­er to spon­sor 24 new ones.

To give you a fla­vor of all this, below is one of the Eng­lish-lan­guage trans­la­tions float­ing around of “Hotel Lob­by Oys­ters,” Murakami’s first J. Press sto­ry. (You can also read “Miss Noriko Takaya­ma and My Libido,” anoth­er J. Press sto­ry here):

At the time I was sit­ting on the hotel lob­by sofa and vague­ly think­ing about oys­ters. Not lemon souf­flé, not pen­cil sharp­en­ers – oys­ters. I don’t know why. I just sud­den­ly real­ized that I was think­ing about oys­ters.

The oys­ters I was think­ing about on the hotel lob­by sofa were dif­fer­ent from oys­ters thought about any­where else. They were shaped dif­fer­ent­ly, they smelled dif­fer­ent­ly, and their col­or was dif­fer­ent, too. They weren’t oys­ters har­vest­ed in some cove. They were pure oys­ters har­vest­ed in a hotel lob­by.

After think­ing about oys­ters for a while, I went to the sink to wash my face, then retied my tie and returned to the sofa. When I got back, the oys­ters had already dis­ap­peared from inside my head. Again, I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I washed my faced or because I retied my tie. Or maybe the hotel oys­ter sea­son is extreme­ly short.

When the girl came 17 min­utes after our appoint­ed time, I told her about the hotel lob­by oys­ters. The image was so dis­tinct I felt like I had to tell some­one about them.

“You want to eat oys­ters?” she asked.

“No, these oys­ters, they were pure­ly oys­ters as a con­cept, unre­lat­ed to my appetite,” I explained. “The oys­ters came into being as the very essence of oys—“

“But you do want to eat some, right?” she said.

When she men­tioned it and I set­tled down to think about it, I cer­tain­ly had devel­oped an incred­i­ble desire to eat oys­ters. We went to the hotel restau­rant and ate 25 oys­ters while drink­ing wine. Some­times I think my appetite orig­i­nates from a real­ly strange place.

And, for Park­er, Muraka­mi wrote, “Spi­der Mon­key of the Night”:

I was sit­ting at my desk at 2:00 in the morn­ing and writ­ing. I pushed my win­dow open and a spi­der mon­key came in.

“Oh, hey, who are you?” I asked.

“Oh, hey, who are you,” the spi­der mon­key said.

“Don’t copy me,” I said.

“Don’t copy me,” the mon­key said.

Don’t copy me,” I copied him.

Don’t copy me,” he copied me in ital­ics.

Man, this is real­ly annoy­ing, I thought. If I get caught up with this copy­cat-crazed night mon­key, who knows when this will end. I’ll just have to trip him up some­where. I had a job that I had to fin­ish by morn­ing, and I couldn’t very well keep doing this all night.

“Hep­poku rakurashi man­ga tote­muya, kuri­ni kama­su toki­mi wako­ru, paco­pa­co,” I said quick­ly.

“Hep­poku rakurashi man­ga tote­muya, kuri­ni kama­su toki­mi wako­ru, paco­pa­co,” the spi­der mon­key said.

Since I had said some­thing com­plete­ly ran­dom, I couldn’t actu­al­ly tell if the mon­key had copied me cor­rect­ly or not. Well, that was point­less.

“Leave me alone,” I said.

Leave me alone,” the mon­key said.

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in ital­ics that time.”

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in ītal­ics that time.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the i.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the eye.”

I sighed. No mat­ter what I said, the spi­der mon­key wouldn’t under­stand. I decid­ed to not say any­thing and just keep doing my work. Still, when I pressed a key on my word proces­sor, the mon­key silent­ly pressed the copy key. Click. Still, when I pressed a key on my word proces­sor, the mon­key silent­ly pressed the copy key. Click. Leave me alone. Leave me alone.

via Neo­japon­isme

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read 3 Sto­ries from Haru­ki Murakami’s Short Sto­ry Col­lec­tion Pub­lished in Japan Last Year

Read 6 Sto­ries By Haru­ki Muraka­mi Free Online

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Reads in Eng­lish from The Wind-Up Bird Chron­i­cle in a Rare Pub­lic Read­ing (1998)

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Lists the Three Essen­tial Qual­i­ties For All Seri­ous Nov­el­ists (And Run­ners)

In Search of Haru­ki Muraka­mi: A Doc­u­men­tary Intro­duc­tion to Japan’s Great Post­mod­ernist Nov­el­ist

Haru­ki Murakami’s Pas­sion for Jazz: Dis­cov­er the Novelist’s Jazz Playlist, Jazz Essay & Jazz Bar

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­maFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Russ says:

    You’re quite right about Murakami’s short fic­tion, but incred­i­bly wrong about your very first point- Under­ground. This is and has been avail­able in Eng­lish since 2001. A very quick search of Ama­zon would reveal that to you.

  • Steve says:

    It’s not the full-length, two-vol­ume ver­sion though. A quick read of the arti­cle would rev­el that to you.

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