Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Korean Translation of the New Book is Out -- So What Are Those City Walls Like After All?

The Korean translation of Murakami's newest novel appeared on September 7. It has been translated by Hong Ǔnju (Eun-Ju), who also translated Killing Commendatore, and published by Munhak dongne Publishing ( Korean translations of Murakami always appear soon after the original work, and this one, which came out after just under five months, is no exception to the rule. Apparently, due to numerous pre-orders, the book was an immediate bestseller even before its publication date. According to Yahoo News, it is already in its third printing. 130,000 copies have been printed as of September 7.


One thing I am interested in is how different translators will handle the title. The Japanese title is 「街とその不確かな壁」(Machi to sono futashika na kabe), which we assume will become "The City and Its Uncertain Walls" in English, since that's what it says on the book's Japanese cover. When reading the novel (spoiler alert!), it becomes clear that the protagonist is not quite sure - uncertain? - where the city walls are. His attempts to draw a map of the city fail and there is even an occasion when the walls suddenly appear in front of him to block his passage. I take this to suggest that the walls are "uncertain" in the additional sense of being not easily identifiable (as in "uncertain origin"). "Uncertain walls" in English could also be interpreted to mean walls that are not very solid. Yet the walls in the book do appear very solid, and yet (another spoiler alert!) the protagonist is able to go through them. They are not "uncertain" in terms of crumbling easily or seeming unstable. 


Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The New Murakami Novel Is Out - So How Many Pages Is It After All?

My copy of the new Murakami novel arrived today. I am very excited to read it. But before I start, I want to correct something I wrote last week about the page count. 

On the Shinchosha page announcing the novel it said that the text would be "1200 mai long" (mai is a counter for flat things like sheets of paper, plates, etc.). English language internet started talking about "1200 pages" and without thinking about it very much, I wrote the same in the last post. But then I saw the news of the book's release and it looked like it was just one volume, not two - which is what one would expect at 1200 pages (as was the case with Killing Commendatore, for example).

Once I received my copy of the book, though, I found that the book is only 655 pages long, not counting a 4-page afterword. So where does "1200 mai" come from?

By my count, there are about 800 characters per page in the new novel. If we subtract the empty pages between the seventy chapters and three parts of the book, we get a total number of actual pages of text closer to 600. If we then multiply 600 pages by 800 characters, we get 480,000; and if we divide that by 1200 -- the number of mai quoted in the Shinchosha announcement and on the obi (or "belly band," the strip of paper wrapped around the book to help with advertising) -- we get the magic number of 400. Which means that what the publisher is referring to by mai is the number of genkō yōshi in Murakami's manuscript, not the number of printed pages (which I should have realized having read the word mai, not péji for "page...").

In Japan people still count the length of a manuscript using a 400-character page unit called a genkō yōshi 原稿用紙 (lit., "manuscript draft sheets"). Before word processors became popular in in the early 1990s, nearly everything - school essays, novels, PhD dissertations - was written on these standardized sheets, which all were ruled with 20 columns of 20 boxes each, for a total count of 400 characters per sheet. When telling someone how long a given text was, the common measure used was the number of genkō yōshi. 

The pictures below show a clean genkō yoshi and a model I found on Wikipedia instructing people how to properly use this kind of writing paper.

Of course, we know that Murakami writes on his Mac, and not in pen on paper (unlike John Irving, James Patterson, or Lin Shaohua, one of Murakami's Chinese translators, who opt for writing in longhand), and what he delivered to the publisher was almost certainly a manuscript in electronic form. However, old habits die hard. So when promoting the novel to readers, Japanese publishers continue to divide the total number of characters by 400 to get a genkō yōshi page count that they know everyone will understand.

Bottom line: the new novel is more like 600 pages, not 1200. On the one hand, this is good news, because it means that translators just have one (thickish) book to translate instead of two, and that non-Japanese readers will get the book that much sooner. On the other hand, this may come as a disappointment for those readers who were hoping for another two-volume Murakami magnum opus.

On a side note, Polish publishers, like Japanese publishers, have their own old-fashioned unit for figuring out the length of a manuscript. This unit is called an arkusz (or arkusz wydawniczy) which could be translated as a "plate" or "publishing plate" or "publishing sheet." An arkusz (of a work of prose) measures 40,000 characters, including spaces. Although I should be used to it by now, I am still surprised when an editor asks me, "How many arkusz will it come to?"

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

A New Murakami Novel Coming out on April 13!

It seems as if the pandemic should have been a perfect time for blog writing, but for some reason I abandoned it for almost two years, which seems hard to believe. Sorry if this has created any disappointment. The flip side is that I have many things I want to post about. 

Let me start with the newest: there is a brand new Murakami novel due to appear in two days. This is the first novel since Killing Commendatore, and people are really excited about it. 

Shinchosha, the book's publisher, made the first announcement on January 31 (pictured below, left), which says only that the book will appear on Thursday April 13, that it is completely new, 1,200 pages long and that it is his first full-length novel in six years. Within a few hours of seeing this announcement, I heard from a number of friends who had seen it on different social media and online newspapers. The Polish Murakami publisher, Muza, also wrote to me, quite enthusiastic about the prospect of a new Murakami coming out.

About a month later, on March 1, came the reveal of the title -- Machi to sono futashika na kabe -- and the cover (pictured below, right). The appearance of the English title in the center of the cover, The City and Its Uncertain Walls, doesn't mean that the book is already available in English. It is just that in recent years, when released in Japanese, some of Murakami's new books have had English titles included on the covers. Shown below atr two pictures of the Japanese versions of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and Killing Commendatore, both of which feature a title in English. Of course, it would take a couple of years before the English translations of these books appeared under these titles. One wonders if including the English title on the Japanese cover is in preparation for translation, or whether it is simply to make it easier for people outside Japan to talk about a new book before it is available in English (or any other language). 

If The City and Its Uncertain Walls sounds familiar to some of you, it is because a short story, or rather a novella, with the same title (with an additional comma after machi to) appeared in 1980 in the literary magazine Bungakukai. It was later included in Murakami's collected works (Murakami Haruki Zensakuhin 1979-1989), but it has not been translated into English. 
Because it is believed to be a story from which Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was developed, I am really curious to see in what direction this new novel will go. It's worth noting that in Alfred Birnbaum's translation of Hard-Boiled Wonderland, machi is translated as "town" (the Town). The new cover uses the word "city." Is it the same machi as in the novella, or a different one? Or has the Town grown into a "city"?  I wonder how this will be handled in English translation. 

The newest teaser from Shinchosha that came this morning (April 11) features a quote from Murakami explaining that he started writing the book in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, and that it took him almost three years. He hardly went out, didn't take long trips, and worked steadily on the novel:

Probably a bunch of us Murakami translators will be working on the new novel at the same time. I am already looking forward to the exchange of ideas. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Enjoying the Playful Poetry in First Person Singular

To continue from the previous post (sorry for the three-month interlude!), here are seven translations of a short fragment of the poem "Outfielders' Butts" from the Murakami story, "Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection." I want to thank fellow Murakami translators Elbrich Fennema, Ursula Gräfe, and Mette Holm for sending these to me!

The original poem again, to refresh your memory:  

    広島カープのシェーン のお尻の形は





Here is the English translation by Philip Gabriel again:
    The butt of the Hiroshima Carp's player Shane 

    Is deeply thoughtful, cerebral.

    Reflective, you might say. 

    People really should have called him by his full name,
    If for nothing else, then to show respect for that one-of-
        a-kind butt. 

Below is the German version by Ursula Gräfe, who said that she tried to give the lines a bit of a rhythm:
        Shane von den Hiroshima Carps

        hat ein Gesäß, so klug und weise,
        besinnlich könnte man es heißen.
        Scheinblum sollte man ihn rufen,
        Denn das ist sein wahrer Name.
        Und wenn nur als Hommage an seinen Hintern.

This is the Dutch version by Elbrich Fennema:                                                            
De vorm van Shane's kont - van de Hiroshima Carps
is diepzinnig en intellectueel.
        Misschien is bedachtzaam het goede woord?

        mensen zouden hem bij zijn volle naam

        moeten noemen: Scheinblum.

        Al was het maar uit eerbied voor zijn kont. 

And the Danish version by Mette Holm:
        Og Shane fra Hiroshima Carps 

        har tænksomme og intellektuelle baller.

        Ja, de er ligefrem meditative.

        Folk burde kalde ham Scheinblum,

        når det nu er hans navn,

        om ikke andet så for at vise hans baller respekt.


The two pictures below allow us to see Shane's butt as it might have appeared to Murakami (on the left in the left picture). 



Next follows the Norwegian version by Ika Kaminka:                                                            

        Baken til Shane på Hiroshima Carps
        har en form som er ettertenksom, klok og

        sjelegranskende, for å si det sånn.

        Folk burde bruke hele navnet hans,
        og vise respekt for denne rumpa.


and the Italian by Antonietta Pastore:

        La forma del sedere di Shein degli Hiroshima Carp
        Pensandoci bene

        Haqualcosa di intelligente.

        Anzi, dovrei dire di riflessivo.

        Avrebbero dovuto chiamarlo Scheinblum

        Col suo nome intero.
Anche solo per mostrare rispetto al suo sedere.


The last version is my own, Polish version:  
        Kształt tyłka Shane’a z Hiroshima Carps 
        jest jakby rozważny i inteligentny. 
        Może należałoby powiedzieć – refleksyjny. 
        Ludzie powinni byli używać 
        jego pełnego nazwiska – Scheinblum,
        choćby po to, by okazać szacunek temu tyłkowi.
One final image of "baseball butts" to bring up the rear!

 On another topic, I have missed the Korean translation, which appeared in November 2020 from Munhak Tongne. The translator is
Hong Ŭnju. Usually the Korean version is the one appearing first after the publication of the book, but this time my Polish one beat if by a few days. Not that it is a race - I am just always impressed by how fast the Korean translators, editors, and publishers manage to get Murakami translatiions to Korean readers. Here is the very pretty cover (with no monkey! - or is it a monkey in the top left corner?). 


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova, or Not Just Another Monkey

The American version of First Person Singular came out today from Knopf in Philip Gabriel's translation. When I saw the book, I thought to myself, "Oh, another monkey," remembering the many European cover designs featuring monkeys that I shared in a previous post. I had seen the cover on Amazon before, but holding the book in my hands, I discovered that there are in fact even more images of monkeys on the back cover and inside.


Having checked that the book was designed by the very creative Chip Kidd, I was a little disappointed until I took off the dust jacket. This is what is underneath:

This is in fact the jacket of the non-existent album Murakami made up in the story "Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova!" I love this cover - and I loved the story. It turns out I was not the only person who loved it. 

The Polish translation inspired composer and producer Miłosz Konarski (picured left) to create a new album with saxophonist Wojtek Rejdych (pictured below). The album has the same title and was released today, on the day the English version of the book came out. You can read more about the album or stream it at: (which is where the pictures came from).

What I probably enjoyed most when translating this collection were the poems from the story "The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection." These funny, clever compositions were supposedly written by the narrator - Murakami - when watching games played by his favorite team, the Yakult Swallows. The poem I found most amusing was titled "Outfielders' Butt," and I was thinking that maybe some baseball-related element would make it to the cover. 

The poem includes some great lines, like these: 

        The butt of the Hiroshima Carp's player Shane
        Is deeply thoughtful, cerebral.
        Reflective, you might say.
        People really should have called him by his full name,
        If for nothing else, then to show respect for that one-of-a-kind butt.

For the next post, I will try to collect translations of these lines into a few languages. 

Incidentally, it seems that Murakami is not the only one pondering on outfielders' butts during boring games. A simple Google search under "baseball butts" produces quite a lot of results with ranking lists of "best butts in baseball," "10 best butts in baseball," or "major league baseball best butts." I didn't know baseball butts were a thing...  .

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Murakami Monkeys in Europe: First Person Singular out in a Few European Countries

Murakami's latest short story collection, First Person Singular, has been published in several European countries. The new translations include German, Norwegian, Italian, Dutch, and Danish versions.

The first two, which appeared in January, were the German translation by Ursula Gräfe (Dumont) and the Norwegian version by Ika Kaminka (Pax). The Norwegian cover seems to be inspired by the story of the Shinagawa monkey.

March brought three more translations, all of them featuring monkeys on their covers, albeit each quite different in terms of color and style. The Italian version came out on March 9. The translator is Antonietta Pastore and the publisher Einaudi. The Danish translation appeared just a few days ago, on March 26, in Mette Holm's translation from Klim. Mette says that the first reviews are good.
The translator of the Dutch version, Elbrich Fennema (Atlas Contact), decided to promote the book herself; with the help of a grant from the Dutch Literature Foundation, she produced a book trailer. The purpose was to explore new ways of reaching readers during the pandemic. Here is the link to the trailer on Vimeo and the front and back covers of the Dutch version. 

The Vimeo page also gives a link to Elbrich's webpage, where one can find information about her writing, translations, etc. as well as her reactions to reviews (they can be read using Google Translate!).

The English version, translated by Philip Gabriel, is due to come out on April 6.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

First Person Singular in Polish and in English (in April 2021), and Pinball, 1973 in Turkish

 Breaking news from the publishing front: my translation of Murakami's latest story collection, Ichininshō tansū (First Person Singular), has just appeared in Polish bookstores. Here's what it looks like

The publisher, Muza, used the same cover design template now so well known to Polish readers since the first Muza Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase, in 2003 (the very first Murakami in Polish was published in 1994 by another publisher). That original design and the first few covers were done by the talented Agnieszka Spyrka. After her untimely death, the new designers have been asked to keep the same general form, with Murakami's name written vertically against a backdrop of bold colors. 

The English-language version of First Person Singular, in Philip Gabriel's translation, is scheduled to come out on April 6, 2021 from Knopf/Random House and Harvill Secker. The book can already be pre-ordered on Amazon. This is the description from the Amazon page.

"The eight stories in this new book are all told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator. From memories of youth, meditations on music, and an ardent love of baseball, to dreamlike scenarios and invented jazz albums, together these stories challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world. Occasionally, a narrator may or may not be Murakami himself. Is it memoir or fiction? The reader decides. Philosophical and mysterious, the stories in First Person Singular all touch beautifully on love and solitude, childhood and memory. . . all with a signature Murakami twist."

The Penguin Random House page, on the other hand, says:

"A riveting new collection of short stories from the beloved, internationally acclaimed Haruki                     Murakami.The eight masterful stories in this new collection are all told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator, a lonely man. Some of them (like "With the Beatles," "Cream" and "On a Stone Pillow") are nostalgic looks back at youth. Others are set in adulthood--"Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova," "Carnaval," "Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey" and the title story, "First Person Singular." Occasionally, a narrator who may or may not be Haruki himself is present, as in "The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection." Is it memoir or fiction? The reader decides. The stories touch beautifully on love and loss, childhood and death . . . all with a signature Murakami twist."

While both end on the same note ("Is it memoir or fiction? The reader decides"), the two descriptions are in fact quite different. Amazon seems to appeal to readers' expectations about Murakami's style, referring to "boundaries between our minds and the exterior world," "dreamlike scenarios," and the "classic Murakami narrator," while  Penguin Random House seems to hope it can sell the book simply by using generic adjectives like "masterful," "beloved," and "internationally acclaimed." 

The US (Knopf) and the British (Harvill Secker) covers were introduced on Facebook on the same day, October 14 of this year. Both feature a monkey, no doubt referring to the story, "Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey," but as usual, the difference in style between the two covers is striking. 



I also wanted to announce the publication of the Turkish translation of Pinball, 1973 by Ali Volkan Erdemir. The publisher, as with other translations by Volkan, is Doǧan Kitap. Though the title is given as Pinball, 1973 on the publisher's page, the comma seems to be missing from the cover (a very cool cover design, by the way). Perhaps Volkan can shed some light on this apparent mystery?

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Mystery of the Ace of Spades and Dance, Dance, Dance in Turkish

Good news for Turkish readers! Ali Volkan Erdemir's translation of Dance, dance, dance was just published by Doǧan Kitap.

Volkan shares below some thoughts about his experience with this translation:

"I have been translating Murakami's works into Turkish since 2015 and Dance Dance Dance is my tenth translation. Published in 1988, it is one of my favorites. While translating, I felt connected most of the characters such as "boku," Yuki, and Dick North, but the Sheep Man is always special for his pure heart. Just as the Sheep Man finds peace in his own world, I find peace in Murakami's world. Hopefully my bond will always continue with future translations."

In this same e-mail, Volkan mentioned that he would be translating Pinball, 1973 next. This reminded me of some translation-related problems I ran into when I working on that book, which required me to contact a number of Polish pinball aficionados for help with terminology for different parts of pinball machines. Never having played pinball before, I also went to an arcade to be able to see for myself how pinball machines work (it turns out I was not very good!). And as I was reading about different types of machines in the novel, I searched for some of them by name on the Internet to see what they looked like. Here I ran into a problem with the ace of spades.

 Here is the problematic passage in question, in two English translations:

Alfred Birnbaum (1985):
"Kings and Queens," a model with eight roll-over lanes.  A beautifully mustached, crewcut, nonchalant-looking Western gambler, with an ace hidden behind his spur."

Ted Goossen (2015):
"Gottlieb's Kings & Queens, the model with eight rollover lanes. It featured a Western Gambler with a manicured mustache, a nonchalant expression, and an ace of spades tucked in his suspenders."

In the original Japanese the second sentence says, "Kuchihige o kirei ni kariageta noncharan na kaotsuki no seibu no gyanburā, kutsushitadome ni kakushita supēdo no ēsu."

Literally, this gives us something like, "A Western gambler with a beautifully trimmed mustache, a nonchalant expression, and an ace of spades hidden in (or: under) [his] sock garter."

So where exactly is the ace of spades? 

Let's look at a picture of the machine in question, which shows three none-too-honest players involved in a game of poker:

It appears that the gambler seated in the purple jacket has an ace of hearts hidden in his right sleeve, but if he is wearing sock garters, or suspenders, or spurs, these are nowhere in sight. Looking around the table, though, we indeed find the ace of spades -- hidden in the cleavage of the blonde on the left! 

In such a situation -- where it appears that the author's memory has deceived him -- what should a translator do? Change the text to accord with the image on the machine? Leave it alone and hope that no one catches the mistake? Provide a footnote? (I left it alone in the Polish translation, which came out in 2014, translating the passage as "hidden in his garter," which the editor later changed to "hidden in his sock," feeling that reaching up two one's garter to extract the ace would be too noiticeable)

This experience also reminds me what a difference the Internet makes in a translator's life. When Alfred Birnbaum was translating the book thirty-five years ago, he had no option of just Googling the machine in question. He could only frequent game arcades in the hopes of spotting one, following Boku's example. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The New Short Story Anthology Is Out

The new short story anthology by Haruki Murakami, titled Ichinishō Tansū (First Person Singular), published by Bungei Shunjū, appeared on July 18 in Japan. Note the clever cover design with the same motif repeated on the obi

As I mentioned in an earlier post, seven of the eight stories have appeared previously in Bunkakukai (four of them are available in English). The last story in the anthology, however, is new -- and the collection bears its title. One wonders if the title might be a reference to John Updike's series of essays about his boyhood and youth published in Assorted Prose. They have also appeared in Japanese translation in 1977 (see the image below).

Speaking of John Updike, there is a charming super short story by Murakami called "Jon Apudaiku o yomu tame no sairyō no basho" (The Best Place for Reading John Updike), published in 1986 in Zōkōjō no happiiendo (The Happy End of the Elephant Factory). 

The new Murakami stories are all written in the first person singular; many are reminiscences from his childhood or college years. Interestingly enough, seven of the eight are written by Boku (first person singular pronoun, used mostly by males), and one is written by Watashi (the most universal first person singular pronoun). Also, six of the seven Bokus use kanji to write "boku," while the seventh uses hiragana. One imagines that this difference between pronouns is something that will most likely get lost in translation.
Another potential challenge for translators is that two stories ("Ishi no makura ni" (On a Stone Pillow) and "Yakuruto Suwarōzu shishū" (The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection) include poems - in the first one we find a number of poems in the classical Japanese form of tanka; in the second - free verse).  

Monday, June 29, 2020

A Great New Book on English Translations of Murakami

 I want to recommend an excellent book which will be coming out on September 1 from Soft Skull Press: Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami, by David Karashima. This is a rewriting of a similar book David published in Japanese in 2018, under the title Haruki Murakami o yonde iru toki ni wareware ga yonde iru monotachi. The English version covers much the same territory, but is in a way a whole new book. Here are the two covers:

The title -- both titles -- are an obvious reference to Murakami's book about running (What I Talk about When I Talk about Running), which in turn is a reference to Carver's story, "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love," translated by Murakami. Notice that the Japanese title not only gives Murakami's name in English, but also in the English order (given name first), unlike in Japanese. This is because the book is about Murakami in English. It tells the story of how Murakami's early works were edited, cut, and molded to make him a success in the West - an approach that clearly paid off. David interviewed the main characters involved in this enterprise: translator Alfred Birnbaum and editor Elmer Luke (who used to work for Kodansha International). He also talked to the British editor, to editors at Knopf and The New Yorker, to Jay Rubin, and many others. The book is eye-opening, enabling one to better understand how Murakami became the literary star that he is in the West. It's also a great read.

David Karashima teaches creative writing at Waseda University in Tokyo. He has translated a numbr of Japanese writers, including Hitomi Kanehara, Hisaki Matsuura, and Shinji Ishii.