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Who is Haruki Murakami?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Haruki Murakami, born in 1949, is a well known Japanese author and translator, often criticized by the Japanese literary establishment for the popularity of his work. Murakami's work is heavily influenced by Western authors such as Raymond Chandler, Richard Brautigan, and Kurt Vonnegut. His writing style is characterized by surrealism, wistful characters, and flowing language, a marked contrast to traditional Japanese work, which focuses on the elegant use of words and language and is therefore sometimes stiff and compositionally awkward, especially in translation.

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, but he lived most of his childhood in Kobe. His parents were professors of Japanese literature, and he grew up reading Western authors. His work is heavily influenced by his extensive readings outside the genre of Japanese literature.

Haruki Murakami has lived a varied and active life. He studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife. Later, he opened the first jazz bar in Tokyo, Peter Cat, which he ran until 1982.

Haruki Murakami became an author at a baseball game in 1979, when he was suddenly struck with the idea to write a novel, which later turned out to be Hear the Wind Sing. He wrote the novel at the bar during his spare time, leading to what critics have called a choppy and sometimes incoherent narrative flow. Though Hear the Wind Sing was Haruki Murakami's first novel, it has many of the hallmarks of his later work, including a slightly idiosyncratic writing style, strong elements of surrealism, very poignant portions, and strong Western influences. The book was successful, and Haruki Murakami followed with Pinball (1982) and A Wild Sheep Chase (1983), forming the Trilogy of the Rat, so named because the main character in the novels is named Rat. The books were critically acclaimed and set Murakami on the path to skyrocketing popularity in Japan, especially among the youthful counterculture.

In 1985, Haruki Murakami wrote what many critics regard as his best work, Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a novel using parallel narratives as a literary device. The novel took Murakami's surrealist style to a new level, entering the world of fantasy altogether in one of the narratives. Murakami followed Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World with Norwegian Wood in 1987, a novel about adolescent love and nostalgia. The book soon had a cult following among Japanese youth, which embarrassed Haruki Murakami greatly.

Murakami relocated to the Americas, where he taught at Tufts and Princeton while writing several other novels, including Dance, Dance, Dance (1988), South of the Border, West of the Sun (1995), and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (1995), which won him the Yomiuri Literary Award. While Murakami was working on The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, Japan was shaken by the Kobe Earthquake and Tokyo Gas Attack, both of which inspired further works by Haruki Murakami. Underground, Murakami's book about the sarin attacks on the Tokyo Subway, consists of a series of interviews with victims, families, and several members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which was responsible for the attacks. The book marked a more serious turn in Murakami's literature that also appeared in his fictional work, which began to criticize some aspects of Japanese society through his sometimes deeply troubled characters. Haruki Murakami has also translated a number of works by Western authors into Japanese.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon290226 — On Sep 08, 2012

I have a lot of questions about the short stories of murakami.

"A Slow Boat to China" is the first story of murakami that I read. I tried to understand so hard, but I'm very puzzled about it, so I bag you all to give me some clarity, please.

From "Slow Boat to China": What is the main point or purpose of this story? What does baseball memory and five chicks mean? What does the summary in the end mean?

From "A Poor Aunt": What is the main point or purpose of this story? What is the responsibility which the girl mentioned in chapter 1? What does the umbrella standing mean? What does the summary in the end mean?

From "Her Little Dog In the Ground": What is the main point or purpose of this story? What does the summary in the end mean?

By softener — On May 11, 2011

@rjh - Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World as well as Norwegian Wood are often regarded as some of his best novels. Kafka On The Shore is also popular. They're my favorite along with The Wind Up Bird Chonicle.

I really like how his novels are less about telling a specific story than following characters around through bizarre scenarios that somehow still manage to engage you and invoke feelings and emotions.

By rjh — On May 08, 2011

I didn't realize he was often criticized by the Japanese literary establishment due to his popularity although I know he certainly has a pretty large following around the world. I've only read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle which is a weirdly hypnotic and surreal book, I loved it. What should I read next?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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