Who will feed the Haruki Murakami fans online?

June 28th, 2010 by Daniel Morales

Shinchosha's Web site for "1Q84" is mostly a marketing gimmick but also has a map marked with important locations from the novel.

Shinchosha’s Web site for “1Q84″ is mostly a marketing gimmick but also has a map marked with important locations from the novel.

Haruki Murakami has been an early adopter of technology for quite a while. In “Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words,” Jay Rubin describes how in 1987, after struggling with written copies of “Norwegian Wood,” Murakami made the switch to a word processor. In 1990, while writing at Princeton as a Visiting Scholar, he upgraded to a computer. Even his Web presence was forward thinking: From 1996 to 1999 he wrote a Web site for Asahi Shimbun, the core of which was correspondence with readers. His responses to reader questions have been anthologized in several volumes. So it comes as a surprise then that in recent years Murakami’s Internet presence has been largely corporate, disappointing and at times even ignored.

While the Asahi Web site is now offline, publishing house Shinchosha created a new website for Murakami’s most recent novel, “1Q84,” this past March. The site is, for the most part, a marketing scheme. It includes “blog parts” (an embeddable jpg animation to advertise the novel on websites), a list of Murakami’s previous works (conveniently only those published by Shinchosha) and a blog, which is run by Shinchosha employees. The blog began in March and counted down until the release of the third volume of “1Q84″ in April, along the way highlighting the variations in printed advertisements for “1Q84″ as well as the release of new paperback versions of Murakami’s older novels.

The site does offer two points of interaction for readers. The first is a Google map marked with locations from the novel, allowing readers to follow along with the adventures of Aomame and Tengo, the book’s main protagonists. The second, and more notable, is a collection of “1Q84″-themed illustrations provided by readers and fans and released every month. Each of the illustrations is the reader’s version of the letter Q and they range from weird to cute, much like the content of Murakami’s fiction.

While the Japanese site is surprisingly corporate, it does have its points of interest. The English site, too, started with a bang but is starting to show its cobwebs. Random House created the site in 2005 and included links to reviews and resources as well as a screensaver for download. The most interesting resource may have been a roundtable between Murakami translators Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, but even that had previously been available on the Random House Web site. The blog-like News section showed promise at first, posting links to forum discussions, information about release dates and other Murakami-related news. Sadly, the section has been ignored for the past few years: There have been no updates since July 2008, and the only updates in 2008 (all two of them) were notifications about the publication of Murakami’s running memoir, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

Murakami's English Web site has gone by the wayside: It hasn't been updated for nearly two years.

Murakami’s English Web site has gone by the wayside: It hasn’t been updated for nearly two years.

The most surprising Web-based gaff, however, is the lack of an official Twitter presence. The new medium of social interaction is still relatively young, so we can probably excuse the 61-year-old author for not being aware of how he is being represented there, but it’s almost inexcusable that his publishers have allowed Twitterers to host @haruki_murakami (English) and @Murakami_Haruki (Japanese). (The latter has over 60,000 followers!) Both are unverified and post quotes from his works and other witticisms that fit Murakami’s personality. One example from the Japanese account is “yare yare,” a phrase that many of the author’s narrators use as a sigh of resigned acceptance; clearly these must be accounts run by fans of the author who are having a laugh. The English account has only posted a dozen or so tweets, but the Japanese account updates in spurts once a week.

This is especially surprising given the fact that there are clearly people keeping an eye on Murakami’s Web representation. In February 2010, Will, author of the blog Wednesday Afternoon Picnic, was posting his own translations from a collection of short stories titled “Yoru no kumozaru” (“Night of the Spider Monkey”). He was contacted by representatives of Murakami and asked to remove the translations as they were unauthorized and “amount to copyright infringement.” While it’s understandable that Murakami would seek to protect his representation in English, it’s also ironic given that Dimitry Kovalenin released his Russian translation of “A Wild Sheep Chase” online in 1996 before he was able to have it published in 1998.

This Murakami Web paradox shows that in the last decade Murakami may have withdrawn even further from the rest of the world. He had long been known as reclusive, especially after 1987 when “Norwegian Wood” thrust him into the pop cultural spotlight, but the real shame is that editors and publishers around him have not provided Web-savvy advice about how to create an effective Internet identity.

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5 Responses

  1. I don’t believe Haruki has ‘withdrawn even further.’ Quite the opposite. Last year he braved repeated warnings, political rebuke and possibly violence by flying to Israel to accept the Jerusalem Prize, the nation’s highest literary honor–amounting to a whopping $10,000. “I chose to speak here rather than say nothing,” he explained, and proceeded to deliver a moving speech in English declaring that he remained forever on the side of the oppressed.

    Reportedly, half the room of Israeli VIPs sat on their hands afterward.

    Less than two years ago, I spent several days with Haruki in the Bay Area, where we conducted a 90-minute ‘taidan’/onstage conversation before an audience of 3,000 at UC Berkeley. He met with students and conducted open Q&A sessions in literature classes, signed books both at Berkeley and, for several hours, at a bookstore in downtown San Francisco. He also sat for an interview with a reporter from the SF Chronicle.

    The reason he’s not actively online right now is likely related to writing, specifically writing well, which takes time and enormous concentration.

  2. Abroad he’s been very active – more active than he’s been in Japan. He’s admitted such in interviews (I believe in an issue of monkey business last year), and his reasoning is that he wants to use the position he’s gained to act a sort of cultural representative of Japan. But back home he’s definitely not as active as he used to be.

    I realize that there’s a difference between being as connected as someone like William Gibson (highly active on Twitter, which I guess makes sense given the kind of material he writes) and disconnected along the lines of Cormac McCarthy (still using a typewriter? Also victim to Twitter satire: https://twitter.com/therealcormac ), but I think the best example of the change is the reader interaction on his new website – illustrations of the letter Q which are little more than a marketing gimmick. It’s far from the work he was doing on the Asahi site.

    “Withdrawn” might be a little strong. “Disconnected” and perhaps even “uninvolved” might be closer to the truth. @ourmaninabiko might have said it best when he retweeted this story: “Maybe he doesn’t need to care, tho.”

  3. We are talking about a writer,an intellectual, an artist that needs his own personal world to “produce”. That world is definetely not the Web. Which is very understandable. So, does it matter if he has an updated Webpage or a Twitter presence?

  4. I guess it doesn’t really matter, to be honest, but it is a little strange. This is the Murakami that has hand-crafted his Complete Works. The same one who kept all plot details under wraps and didn’t release review copies of his most recent book. And he isn’t a stranger to the Internet nor to technology in general. Yet he has a somewhat lame Web representation. We also know that people are keeping an eye out for his interests online, to a certain extent. There’s a strange disconnect here. (And yes, what I’d really like is for someone to let ME design his site and run the news section, heh.)

    I wrote a little bit more here: http://bit.ly/9JxRn3

    One other thing to mention is Murakami’s relative distaste for the publishing industry, as reflected in 1Q84 and in the famous short story “The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes.” I’m not sure why the site for 1Q84 is so corporate, then.

  5. Perhaps he has withdrawn from the web these days because he doesn’t want to become part of such obvious marketing strategies?

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