Haruki Murakami Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Haruki Murakami (myur-ah-kah-mee) is also an accomplished writer of short fiction, and English translations of his many stories are collected in The Elephant Vanishes (1993), Kami no kodomotachi wa mina odoru (2000; After the Quake: Stories, 2002), and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2006). Murakami is also a translator of international reputation, translating the works of American writers such as Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Raymond Chandler, Tim O’Brien, and Paul Theroux into Japanese. Finally, Murakami’s significant contributions as a journalist should not be overlooked, particularly Andaguraundo (1997; Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, 2000), his moving account of the 1995 sarin gas attack in a Tokyo subway by members of the religious group Aum Shinrikyo. Considered to be journalistic literature, Underground includes a series of interviews with victims and perpetrators of the attacks.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In 1994, for his three-volume novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami won the Gunzo Literature Prize; he also won the Noma Literary Prize for New Writers for his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, and the Yomiuri Prize for Literature—a prestigious Japanese literary award whose previous recipients included Yukio Mishima and Kb Abe. The Yomiuri Prize was awarded to him by Nobel Prize winner Kenzabur e, who had long been critical of Murakami. Murakami also received the Tanizaki Prize in 1985 for Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and he was a teaching fellow at Princeton University and Tufts University in the United States.

Murakami was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize from the Czech Republic in 2006 for Kafka on the Shore, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award from Ireland in 2006, the Asahi Prize from Japan in 2006, and honorary doctorates from the University of Liège in 2007 and Princeton in 2008. In 2007, Murakami won the Kiriyama Prize—a literary award given annually to books that encourage greater understanding of and among the peoples and nations of the Pacific Rim and South Asia—for his collection of short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman; he declined the award “for reasons of personal principle.” Murakami’s works have been translated into more than forty languages, including Arabic, Estonian, Icelandic, Russian, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Teenagers appear in several of Haruki Murakami’s novels. What does he seem to be saying about growing up?

Compare the protagonist of Kafka on the Shore to Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951).

Compare the identity theme in two or more of Murakami’s novels.

Murakami’s fiction is said to resemble the works of American writers. Beyond the references to American films, literature, music, and products, what is especially American about Murakami?

Animals play central roles in several of Murakami’s works. Explain how he uses animals to develop his themes in one novel or short story.

Many Murakami protagonists live alone and have little contact with friends or relatives. What does he seem to be saying about loneliness, or is it fair to call the condition of these characters loneliness?

Explain how one or more Murakami works have musical qualities beyond simple references to music.

Is Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World a parody of or a tribute to detective stories and science fiction?


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Amitrano, Giorgio. The New Japanese Novel: Popular Culture and Literary Tradition in the Work of Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana. Boston: Cheng and Tsui, 1996. An accessible introduction to the work of Japan’s most famous contemporary novelists, Murakami and Yoshimoto Banana.

Japan Foundation. A Wild Haruki Chase: Reading Murakami Around the World. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2008. A collection of essays exploring the “Murakami phenomenon,” namely, how Murakami is read and translated throughout the world.

Napier, Susan J. The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature: The Subversion of Modernity. Florence, Ky.: Routledge, 1996. An examination of the fantastic in contemporary Japanese fiction, film, and comics and how it relates to the nation’s anxieties and fears. Part of the Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies series.

Rubin, Jay. Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words. New York: Random House, 2001. Rubin, a professor of Japanese literature at Harvard and one of Murakami’s translators, takes an exhaustive look at Murakami’s life and works. A concise and complete critical introduction to Murakami’s books.

Seats, Michael. Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanese Culture. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006. Seats discusses the relationship between contemporary Japanese culture and Murakami’s fiction, concluding that there are glaring comparisons to be made between Murakami’s works and Japanese modernity and technology.

Strecher, Matthew. Dances with Sheep: The Quest for Identity in the Fiction of Murakami Haruki. Flint: University of Michigan, Center for Japanese Studies, 2002. Strecher’s critical study argues for Murakami’s relevance (rejecting the notion of Murakami as a pop author). Relying heavily on theory, Strecher aims to begin a serious critical discussion of Murakami’s work.

_______. Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”: A Reader’s Guide. New York: Continuum International, 2002. An accessible and informative guide and companion to Murakami’s best-received novel.

Suter, Rebecca. The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki Between Japan and the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, Asia Center, 2008. Discusses Murakami’s role as a kind of “mediator” between Japanese and American literature.