Apr 30, 2012

Haruki Murakami and American Literature

In the previous entry, I wrote, "Haruki Murakami has been deeply influenced by modern American literature, and he translated many of them into Japanese, for example, Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Raymond Carver, and Raymond Chandler."

I gave a comment to this entry, "I enjoyed reading Haruki Murakami's novel 'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle' very much. ... It didn't feel the least bit "American"."

In Japan, it's the accepted view that Haruki Murakami is influenced by American literature, but in fact I couldn't explain how  "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle" was influenced by American literature. I've easily accepted the stereotype about Haruki Murakami and American literature, but I should think about it by myself again.

Most Japanese critics have pointed out that Haruki Murakami was an outsider of modern Japanese literature, and he's wanted to keep a distance from Japan's literary society. He often talks about how he read modern American literature, but he almost doesn't talk about Japanese literature. I know that he loves Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver, but I don't know which author he likes in Japanese literature.

His debut work "Hear the Wind Sing" is almost like a translation of Kurt Vonnegut's novel, and it was clear that Murakami was influenced by American literature. And then he's been building his own style. Actually, I can hardly point out the influence by American literature in the novels "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle" and "1Q84".

The motif of his novels isn't "American", at the same time it isn't Japanese but his own one. But his style of writing seems to be like a translation of foreign literature works. When I read Haruki Murakami's translation of Raymond Chandler's "Long Good Bye", I felt that it was almost like Murakami's own novel and this work reminded me Murakami's "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World". The motif of Raymond Chandler's novels is different from Murakami's, but the styles of writing are similar especially in Murakami's early works.

But I found that Murakami used many expressions, which could hardly be translated into English, when I translated his speech at Catalonia. It is the plan fact that he talked in Japanese, not in English.

For a long time I've been wondering why Murakami didn't write a novel in English, if he wanted to write a novel like American literature. He has been misleading me into believing that he was influenced by American literature. Although he likes American literature, his works has his own motif and style, and he's been writing in "Japanese".

I'd like to know how the readers enjoy Murakami's novels. Do you find "American style" or "Japanese style" in his novels?


  1. I've not read a great deal of American Literature, so making comparisons is difficult, although recently I read a couple novels by Richard Brautigan who I think Murakami likes, Brautigan's novel The Tokyo-Montana Express is full of episodes which resemble instances and connections that we find in Murakami's novels, if you've not read it before I'd recommend reading this novel!. I'm not sure about influences on The Wind Up Bird Chronicle or 1Q84, perhaps the subject matter in these novels steer it away from making comparisons.

    I'd like to know what Japanese authors Murakami reads, I know he has written introductions for English translations of Akutagwa and Natsume Soseki, and I've read that he is an admirer of Nakagami Kenji, but I wonder which contemporary authors he reads. I think you're also right about translation, many nuances get missed which is a great pity.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I've just ordered "The Tokyo-Montana Express" from amazon.com.

    I didn't know that he wrote introduction for Akutagawa and Soseki. He quoted Soseki's novel in "Kafka on the Shore", and anyone, who reads Japanese literature if only a little, must read Akutagawa and Soseki, so I'm not surprised that he wrote about Akutagawa and Soseki.

    In "A Young Reader's Guide to Short Fiction", which might not be translated into English, he talked about Junnosuke Yoshiyuki, Saiich Maruya, Shotaro Yasuoka, and so on. He must have read a lot of Japanese literature works, but he doesn't seem to be interested in Japanese literature.