The knock-on effect of Murakami’s “1Q84” series

April 19th, 2010 by Daniel Morales

Book 3 of Haruki Murakami's

Book 3 of Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84” on sale at a bookstore in Yokohama.

Over the past three decades, author Haruki Murakami has been translated into over 40 languages and become an international superstar. In Japan he debuted in 1979 with “Hear the Wind Sing” and regularly sold thousands and even tens of thousands of copies of his novels, but when he published “Norwegian Wood” in 1987, he was thrown into the pop culture spotlight, selling in the hundreds of thousands and eventually the millions. Internationally, he started to be published in translation in the 1980s but didn’t boom, at least in English, until the late ’90s, by which time the trio of translators Alfred Birnbaum, Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel started to catch up with Murakami’s log of work.

At this point, almost all of his major novels have been published in English and many other languages, which is perhaps part of the reason that the release of his previous novel  “1Q84” in May 2009 was covered so widely in the international press: News of a release in Japan whets the appetite of his loyal overseas readership.

The fact that the book was a runaway success in Japan is also part of the reason. Murakami kept the content of the story a secret (unlike with 2002 “Kafka on the Shore,” the plot of which leaked before publication), which undoubtedly increased interest and expectation in Japan. “1Q84” went on to sell over a million copies of each of the first two volumes in hardcover, and as it was covered in the press on morning news shows and in newspapers and magazines, it became an almost unprecedented trend generator.

At some point in the past year, Murakami decided that the story was not finished, so he produced an additional 602 pages (bringing the total page count to 1,657), which were released as Book 3 on April 16.

Its ripples can already be seen on bookstore shelves. Book 3 of “1Q84” is being flanked by a number of books referred to by the characters, and quite conveniently there is a new translation of George Orwell’s “1984.” Anton Chekov’s “A Journey to Sakhalin” is selling better than it has in years thanks to extensive quotes by one of the book’s protagonists. Most stores also have Murakami’s paperback catalog within reach, hoping consumers who are waiting for a paperback version of “1Q84” might impulsively buy one of his older novels to bide the time.

Leoš Janáček featured on Wikipedia the day after the release of 1Q84 Book 3.

Leoš Janáček featured on Wikipedia the day after the release of 1Q84 Book 3.

Murakami has also generated sales for music. While he is generally known as a fan of jazz, “1Q84” has renewed interest in classical music. The structure of the book itself is based on Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” and Leoš Janáček’s “Sinfonietta” seems to induce mysterious changes in the world of the novel. In the 20 years after “Sinfonietta” was recorded on CD, the album sold 6,000 copies; after the release of “1Q84,” it only took a week to achieve that same number. Additionally, the featured article on Japanese Wikipedia for April 17, 2010, the day after the release of Book 3, was Janáček’s page.

Judging from the first three chapters of Book 3 (at the time of writing, that’s as far as I’ve managed to read), you shouldn’t be surprised if you see OLs, salarymen and college kids lugging around Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” Murakami has also name-dropped the post-apocalyptic Australian novel “On the Beach”; however, it was also mentioned in the first two volumes and hasn’t received much fanfare yet.

In the May 2010 issue of monthly magazine Bungeishunju, translator Jay Rubin writes about his experience translating Murakami and ends his article with the prediction that Murakami “will sooner or later win (the Nobel Prize for literature). But I don’t know when that will be.”

If he does indeed win the Nobel Prize it may be in spite of and not due to his extensive cultural name-dropping. While it has been one of his major characteristics since his early works, it has become notably more blunt and didactic in tone since “Kafka on the Shore.” The practice indeed serves to provide a scavenger hunt of interpretive clues for curious readers, but it has also become fodder for haters and critics who are often eager to shoot down anything that is too popular.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.

RSS

Recent Posts

  • 100 years of Japanese beauty in one minute

    Cut is setting its lens on Japan as it shows the dramatic changes Japanese women have gone through in the past century.

  • Studio Ghibli on a roll with licenses for new toys

    Nibariki has new wind-up toys inspired by Studio Ghibli’s “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.”

  • ‘Japan Sumo Cup’ is possibly the most Japanese thing ever

    In this rhythm game, players choose a real sumo player, ride an actual race horse and compete against characters from “Street Fighter.”

  • YouTubers in Japan with 100,000 fans and counting

    YouTube threw a big celebration for more than 20 YouTubers living in Japan who have over 100,000 subscribers.

  • Finding laughs in translations that have lost the plot

    The Orikaeshi Honyaku Dictionary site, which boasts the catchphrase “from Japanese to Japanese,” roughly translates as “Chinese whispers.”

  • Japan tricks out the Halloween treats

    Halloween is a time to carve pumpkins, enjoy a few scares and, most importantly, shovel as much candy as humanly possible into one’s own mouth. While the practice of door-to-door trick-or-treating may not be a thing in Japan, the custom of eating special Halloween snacks certainly translates. Plenty of companies, both overseas and domestic, are […]

  • Ginza Cozy Corner takes dessert into hyperdrive with ‘Star Wars’ cakes

    One Japanese confectionary vendor is about to find the Force deep within a sweet tie-up. Ahead of the December release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Ginza Cozy Corner, which has outlets nationwide, has made a line of “Star Wars” sweets that are truly out of this world. The treats themselves are all based on people […]

  • Warning: This viral video of high school girls might make you blush

    Cosmetic company Shiseido has recently uploaded a YouTube video that is blowing viewers’ minds with a bona fide twist. In the promo video, titled “High School Girl? — The Makeup Secrets of High School Girls,” the camera weaves through a classroom full of drop-dead cute young women who pout and wink like true pop idols. […]

  • Sharp dials up the fan service to celebrate 20 years of ‘Evangelion’

    For those who have always dreamed of owning an Evangelion robot, this might be the closest you get. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the popular “Neon Genesis Evangelion” animated series, Sharp is releasing a special smartphone that pays homage to the show both in the device’s hardware and software. The phone itself is detailed […]

  • Tokyo plugs into Google Play Music

    If you haven’t heard the latest news from Google Play, you may have missed your opportunity to tune into a Google Play Billboard. From Oct. 8-24, music lovers can head over to Shibuya to, literally, plug into a selection of over 3,500 songs. The Google Play Billboard is meant to give visitors a much-needed chance […]