Photo/IllutrationHaruki Murakami, far right, takes part in an event held at a library in Odense, Denmark, along with his Danish translator Mette Holm, who is sitting next to him. (Photo by Jacob Keinicke)

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on celebrated Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, the recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award 2016. Despite his huge international following, Murakami rarely makes public appearances or talks about his work.


The award ceremony was fittingly held in Odense, the birthplace of Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, in late October.

Murakami, 67, not only attended, but also made appearances at a local library and a university to talk about writing, translating and what he has in mind for future novels.

One event held at a library near a train station was attended by 150 or so people.

"Today I will read a very short piece which I wrote 35 years ago," he said in English.

"I don't read what I wrote in the past," he added. "Everytime I read my novels which I wrote in the past, that embarrasses me. And I think I could write better now. But I read this short piece very often."

He spoke about a work that was included in an early collection of short stories under the English title, "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman."

The very short piece revolves around the protagonist thinking about what he should have really done when he encountered a girl who was 100 percent perfect for him on a sunny April morning.

"Sometimes I read this story, I have an impression that I cannot write like this story anymore," Murakami said. "I could write this because I was young. So I love this."

At the library event, Murakami recited the piece in Japanese while Mette Holm, who translated the work into Danish, sat next to him and read the translated version alternating with Murakami in the two languages.

Murakami explained to the audience, "I used to run a small jazz club in Tokyo before I became an author. So I learned a lot of things from music for writing."

He added, "Rhythm and melody, and the sound is so important for me when writing. I wish you would be enjoying the sound and rhythm of the original Japanese text."

Gesturing with his hands, Murakami continued with the recitation, which was greeted with thunderous applause when it ended.

After the library event, Murakami attended the award ceremony.

The following day, he attended an event at a nearby university where he read his short story "The Mirror." The next day, Murakami was at another venue where he again read the story about the perfect girl.

After that recitation, Murakami fielded questions from the audience.

Perhaps because the reading of the work alternated in Japanese and Danish, many of the questions were related to the task of translation.

One participant wanted to know if Murakami ever became concerned about how his work was being translated into a minor language that he may not be very familiar with.

"I am a translator myself, so I believe in the power of translation," Murakami said. "Of course, something would be missed during the work of translation, but if that story is good, you can enjoy the essence of the story."

Another questioner wanted to know what Murakami considered to be important along the journey he has taken since his very first novel until where he stands today.

He responded, "It's a long way."

After pausing for a moment, Murakami added, "In the first place, I could just write in the first person narrative. The protagonists don't have names. Because I could not put names on characters."

He then went on to explain what he meant using three of his better known works.

"When I wrote 'Hard-boiled Wonderland and The End of the World,' I divided the character into two first person voices, 'Boku' and 'Watashi,'" Murakami said. "Then in 'Kafka on the Shore,' I used 'I' part and 'He' part. In '1Q84,' I used pure third person voice. It is a long way."

He also stoked the interest of fans waiting for his next work.

"But my latest novel which I am writing at this moment, I return to the first voice narrative and no name," Murakami said.

He was also asked about his next work at another event.

He went into somewhat more detail and said, "I am writing a new novel right now. That novel is longer than Kafka on the Shore, but shorter than 1Q84. A very strange story."