Read Online Haruki Murakami’s New Essay on How a Baseball Game Launched His Writing Career

wind pinball

For years, it was hard to come across Hear the Wind Sing and Pin­ball 1973, Haru­ki Murakami’s first and sec­ond nov­els, unless one want­ed to pony up some­thing between $250 and $400 at Ama­zon for their Kodan­sha Eng­lish edi­tions. The author has long dis­missed them as juve­nil­ia, though he was far from a juve­nile at that time, and was actu­al­ly man­ag­ing a jazz bar on the out­skirts of Tokyo with his wife and writ­ing his first works at their kitchen table. He was search­ing for a style as a nov­el­ist, and it was once he wrote A Wild Sheep Chase that Muraka­mi became the writer he envi­sioned.

On August 4, Knopf will pub­lish both nov­els in a sin­gle vol­ume with new trans­la­tions by Ted Goossen, so read­ers can make up their own minds on whether Muraka­mi is being too hard on him­self. A lot of the famil­iar Muraka­mi ele­ments and themes are there: a name­less nar­ra­tor who likes his beer and smokes, cats, music, lit­er­a­ture, spaghet­ti, mys­te­ri­ous appear­ances and dis­ap­pear­ances, lone­li­ness, and his poet­ic obser­va­tions of nature.

Now that Muraka­mi has relent­ed on the book’s pub­li­ca­tion, he has penned an intro­duc­tion that explores the begin­ning of his writ­ing career, chance deci­sions, his some­times blind search for a style, and the base­ball game that changed his life:

I think Hiroshima’s start­ing pitch­er that day was Yoshi­ro Sotoko­ba. Yakult coun­tered with Takeshi Yasu­da. In the bot­tom of the first inning, Hilton slammed Sotokoba’s first pitch into left field for a clean dou­ble. The sat­is­fy­ing crack when the bat met the ball resound­ed through­out Jin­gu Sta­di­um. Scat­tered applause rose around me. In that instant, for no rea­son and on no grounds what­so­ev­er, the thought sud­den­ly struck me: I think I can write a nov­el.

I can still recall the exact sen­sa­tion. It felt as if some­thing had come flut­ter­ing down from the sky, and I had caught it clean­ly in my hands. I had no idea why it had chanced to fall into my grasp. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. What­ev­er the rea­son, it had tak­en place. It was like a rev­e­la­tion. Or maybe epiphany is the clos­est word. All I can say is that my life was dras­ti­cal­ly and per­ma­nent­ly altered in that instant—when Dave Hilton belt­ed that beau­ti­ful, ring­ing dou­ble at Jin­gu Sta­di­um.

After the game (Yakult won as I recall), I took the train to Shin­juku and bought a sheaf of writ­ing paper and a foun­tain pen. Word proces­sors and com­put­ers weren’t around back then, which meant we had to write every­thing by hand, one char­ac­ter at a time. The sen­sa­tion of writ­ing felt very fresh. I remem­ber how thrilled I was. It had been such a long time since I had put foun­tain pen to paper.

Each night after that, when I got home late from work, I sat at my kitchen table and wrote. Those few hours before dawn were prac­ti­cal­ly the only time I had free. Over the six or so months that fol­lowed I wrote Hear the Wind Sing. I wrapped up the first draft right around the time the base­ball sea­son end­ed. Inci­den­tal­ly, that year the Yakult Swal­lows bucked the odds and almost everyone’s pre­dic­tions to win the Cen­tral League pen­nant, then went on to defeat the Pacif­ic League cham­pi­ons, the pitch­ing-rich Han­kyu Braves in the Japan Series. It was tru­ly a mirac­u­lous sea­son that sent the hearts of all Yakult fans soar­ing.

You can read the rest of Murakami’s intro­duc­tion over at Lithub. And pre-order the new trans­la­tion of Wind/Pinball here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A 56-Song Playlist of Music in Haru­ki Murakami’s Nov­els: Ray Charles, Glenn Gould, the Beach Boys & More

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

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

A Dream­i­ly Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Japan’s Jazz and Base­ball-Lov­ing Post­mod­ern Nov­el­ist

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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