Write Through the Wall
In April, Haruki Murakami, author most recently of the epic, intriguing novel IQ84, was about to return home to Japan when the Weekly met him in his office at UH Manoa, where he had been artist-in-residence since September. Tanned and fit, wearing an orange polo shirt, cutoffs and sneakers, the novelist extended his hand with an inquiring gaze and trace of a smile.
Have you been doing much running in Honolulu?
I run every morning in Manoa, mostly in the mountains, hills. I run to Paradise Park and up Tantalus.
What’s the rest of your schedule like?
I attend Japanese literature classes sometimes and talk to students. I’m too busy to teach; I don’t have to grade [smiles].
Have you been writing fiction here?
IQ84 took three years. I’ve been doing translations. But recently I started to write my own stuff.
You seem to enjoy writing.
It’s fun, like meeting new friends, new girlfriends. I’m discovering something new every day. I’m thinking through writing. It’s getting better when I’m revising–my thinking is getting deeper and deeper. So I would say revising is more important than writing. It’s fun when it’s getting better so it’s my joy.
Have you ever written about Hawaii?
I love Hawaii very much. We lived in Rome one winter, in an apartment with no significant warming sources. What I could do about it was to write about Hawaii. I was working on Dance, Dance, Dance. In some chapters the place is Hawaii. While I was writing about Hawaii, I got warmer.
Do you like Alice in Wonderland?
I loved that story. To go through that world to get to a different world. Through the looking glass. When I write I found I could go through a stone wall. So that feeling–I like to move readers from one place to another.
In the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the narrator falls down a well. He’s a baby boomer like yourself. But how did you inhabit the World War II vet?
When I’m writing, I [access] collective memories, a collective mind. In Wind-up Bird, the old guy went to war–when I’m writing fiction, in my collective memory, I remember the war. It’s not a special ability.
Do you feel more alive when you’re writing?
Oh, yes. I write for 4-5 hours a day. I go down into my own world. Going down the well is just what I’m doing.
What did you think of the film of your novel Norwegian Wood?
The director is a friend. He read the book in French. We are talking in English. Cultural confusion–I enjoy that very much.
And Hawaii culture?
This place is sweet, culturally. In some places (I lived in Princeton), it’s thought to be impolite to ask people’s origins. But in Hawaii everybody’s talking about it. Everybody has his own story about his origin. They’re very open about that.
Governor Abercrombie [told me] that he’s always a minority when elections are held. I like that. . .
Do you feel alienated from Japanese society?
When I’m thinking or writing I’m always using just Japanese. My identity as a person, as a writer, I’m a Japanese person.
But your characters don’t feel especially at home there.
I was born in Kyoto in Kobe, western Japan. Urban, middle class, boring. I liked the Beatles, Rolling Stones, jazz music.
In my teens and twenties, I hated society, especially Japanese society. It’s very tight. I was kind of suffocating as a young man so I just wanted to [get] out. I was in college in 1968-69, a time of chaos in education.
I was a bad boy, you know. When I made my debut as a writer, I hated the establishment. I didn’t respect the older writers, Mishima, Kawabata. I thought they were boring. And I said that.
How did living abroad affect your writing?
To be independent, to be individual, is a very hard thing to do in Japan, but very natural in Europe or the U.S.
I had to think about my identity. I had nothing to say no to. I think my story began to change. I was in my 30’s or early 40’s and no rebel anymore, no bad kid anymore.
What American writers do you like?
I like Scott Fitzgerald. I translated five or six books of his. Salinger’s Catcher. I like Truman Capote. I introduced Raymond Carver [to Japanese readers]. I met him before he died. Grace Paley–I like her style–stubborn, hard, humorous, bitter.
Does writing fiction come easily for you?
I have not experienced any writer’s block. Rule No. 1: I write when I want to write. I don’t write when I don’t want to. I do translations instead.
Will your new novel be influenced by Hawaii?
It might be. But when I write I just look at the story. To be honest with you, I like to make up that place in my mind. I made up a story about Thailand, but I was never in Thailand. In Wind-up Bird Chronicle I wrote about Mongolia, where I had never been. When I finish a book, I go to the place, and I find déjà vu.
Maybe from your research?
I don’t do research. It’s boring. These days you can research on the internet. I don’t trust the internet. They don’t teach you what you want to know, really.
I’m old-fashioned. I trust the imagination.