Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has done an in-depth interview with The New York Times Magazine. (Thanks to my virtual friend Chris for passing along the link.) The interviewer Sam Anderson has done an excellent job of not only portryaing Murakami's uncanny blend of detachment and depth, surrealism and the ordinary, but also in capturing the Tokyo that Murakami lives in, which is not the one he writes about.
Anderson writes, "I had always assumed — naively, Americanly — that Murakami was a faithful representative of modern Japanese culture, at least in his more realist moods. It became clear to me down there, however, that he is different from the writer I thought he was, and Japan is a different place — and the relationship between the two is far more complicated than I ever could have guessed from the safe distance of translation."
And here's what Murakami in his inimitable style says himself, “I live in Tokyo,” he told me, “a kind of civilized world — like New York or Los Angeles or London or Paris. If you want to find a magical situation, magical things, you have to go deep inside yourself. So that is what I do. People say it’s magic realism — but in the depths of my soul, it’s just realism. Not magical. While I’m writing, it’s very natural, very logical, very realistic and reasonable.”
Anderson offers his interpretation of why Murakami's cultural references are almost always western, and rarely (some novels apparently have none) Japanese. Anderson writes, "You could even say that translation is the organizing principle of Murakami’s work: that his stories are not only translated but about translation. The signature pleasure of a Murakami plot is watching a very ordinary situation (riding an elevator, boiling spaghetti, ironing a shirt) turn suddenly extraordinary (a mysterious phone call, a trip down a magical well, a conversation with a Sheep Man) — watching a character, in other words, being dropped from a position of existential fluency into something completely foreign and then being forced to mediate, awkwardly, between those two realities. A Murakami character is always, in a sense, translating between radically different worlds: mundane and bizarre, natural and supernatural, country and city, male and female, overground and underground. His entire oeuvre, in other words, is the act of translation dramatized."
Questioned about his monastic and strict writing regime, Murakami responds, “Concentration is one of the happiest things in my life. If you cannot concentrate, you are not so happy. I’m not a fast thinker, but once I am interested in something, I am doing it for many years. I don’t get bored. I’m kind of a big kettle. It takes time to get boiled, but then I’m always hot.”
I also learned that Murakami loves to iron, so we have one thing in common. I too love the repetitive soothing nature of ironing. Murakami loves baseball too, because "it's boring." His life-altering writing ephiphany came during a baseball game. Boredom, repetition, routine, who would have expected it from a writer of such bizarre and surprising fiction? And yet, nothing Murakami says should be jarring, since you expect to be startled by him, after all these years of reading his fiction. But still, it is.
Enjoy the whole interview at the link above.