Haruki Murakami’s Daily Routine: Up at 4:00 a.m., 5–6 Hours of Writing, Then a 10K Run

Pho­to via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Haru­ki Muraka­mi has been famous as a nov­el­ist since the 1980s. But for a decade or two now, he’s become increas­ing­ly well known around the world as a nov­el­ist who runs. The Eng­lish-speak­ing world’s aware­ness of Murakami’s road­work habit goes back at least as far as 2004, when the Paris Review pub­lished an Art of Fic­tion inter­view with him. Asked by inter­view­er John Ray to describe the struc­ture of his typ­i­cal work­day, Muraka­mi replied as fol­lows:

When I’m in writ­ing mode for a nov­el, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the after­noon, I run for ten kilo­me­ters or swim for fif­teen hun­dred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and lis­ten to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this rou­tine every day with­out vari­a­tion. The rep­e­ti­tion itself becomes the impor­tant thing; it’s a form of mes­merism. I mes­mer­ize myself to reach a deep­er state of mind. But to hold to such rep­e­ti­tion for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of men­tal and phys­i­cal strength. In that sense, writ­ing a long nov­el is like sur­vival train­ing. Phys­i­cal strength is as nec­es­sary as artis­tic sen­si­tiv­i­ty.

This stark phys­i­cal depar­ture from the pop­u­lar notion of lit­er­ary work drew atten­tion. Truer to writer­ly stereo­type was the Muraka­mi of the ear­ly 1980s, when he turned pro as a nov­el­ist after clos­ing the jazz bar he’d owned in Tokyo. “Once I was sit­ting at a desk writ­ing all day I start­ed putting on the pounds,” he remem­bers in The New York­er. “I was also smok­ing too much — six­ty cig­a­rettes a day. My fin­gers were yel­low, and my body reeked of smoke.” Aware that some­thing had to change, Muraka­mi per­formed an exper­i­ment on him­self: “I decid­ed to start run­ning every day because I want­ed to see what would hap­pen. I think life is a kind of lab­o­ra­to­ry where you can try any­thing. And in the end I think it was good for me, because I became tough.”

Adher­ence to such a lifestyle, as Muraka­mi tells it, has enabled him to write all his nov­els since, includ­ing hits like Nor­we­gian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chron­i­cle, and Kaf­ka on the Shore. (On some lev­el, it also reflects his pro­tag­o­nists’ ten­den­cy to make trans­for­ma­tive leaps from one ver­sion of real­i­ty into anoth­er.) Its rig­or has sure­ly con­tributed to the dis­ci­pline nec­es­sary for the rest of his out­put as well: trans­la­tion into his native Japan­ese of works includ­ing The Great Gats­by, but also large quan­ti­ties of first-per­son writ­ing on his own inter­ests and every­day life. Pro­tec­tive of his rep­u­ta­tion in Eng­lish, Muraka­mi has allowed almost none of the lat­ter to be pub­lished in this lan­guage.

But in light of the vora­cious con­sump­tion of self-improve­ment lit­er­a­ture in the Eng­lish-speak­ing world, and espe­cial­ly in Amer­i­ca, trans­la­tion of his mem­oir What I Talk About When I Talk About Run­ning must have been an irre­sistible propo­si­tion. “I’ve nev­er rec­om­mend­ed run­ning to oth­ers,” Muraka­mi writes in The New York­er piece, which is drawn from the book. “If some­one has an inter­est in long-dis­tance run­ning, he’ll start run­ning on his own. If he’s not inter­est­ed in it, no amount of per­sua­sion will make any dif­fer­ence.” For some, Murakami’s exam­ple has been enough: take the writer-vlog­ger Mel Tor­refran­ca, who doc­u­ment­ed her attempt to fol­low his exam­ple for a week. For her, a week was enough; for Muraka­mi, who’s been run­ning-while-writ­ing for near­ly forty years now, there could be no oth­er way.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The Dai­ly Habits of Famous Writ­ers: Franz Kaf­ka, Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Stephen King & More

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Trans­lates The Great Gats­by, the Nov­el That Influ­enced Him Most

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

Why Should You Read Haru­ki Muraka­mi? An Ani­mat­ed Video on His “Epic Lit­er­ary Puz­zle” Kaf­ka on the Shore Makes the Case

Read 12 Sto­ries By Haru­ki Muraka­mi Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • Carol pearlman says:

    That’s love­ly, but who does the shop­ping cook­ing and clean­ing, Does the laundry,And all the restOf the admin­is­tra­tion of dai­ly life?

  • Mildred says:

    I like the com­par­i­son of “life” to a “lab­o­ra­to­ry” where you can try any­thing. It’s a quote I will use to moti­vate myself to go for unchart­ed waters.

  • Toddbert says:

    Car­ol Pearl­man with the vital, hard hit­ting ques­tions exca­vat­ing the truth.

    Does man who runs and writes also laun­der? He sure­ly can­not. And if he can­not, he is but a worm.

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