Photo/IllutrationHaruki Murakami, center, attends the award ceremony for the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award 2016 held in Odense, Denmark. (Shiho Watanabe)

Editor's note: This is the last 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.


Haruki Murakami frequently mentioned "shadows" in his acceptance speech for the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award 2016 in late October.

"Just as all people have shadows, every society and nation, too, has shadows," said Murakami, 67.

While the comment was in reference to a piece by Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen titled "The Shadow," Murakami's oeuvre also contains various elements related to shadows.

Murakami began his acceptance speech in English with "It was only recently that I read Hans Christian Andersen's story 'The Shadow.' Until I read it, I had no idea at all that Andersen had written stories like this."

The protagonist of "The Shadow" is a young scholar. One day he unexpectedly loses the shadow that had always been at his feet. A few years later, the shadow returns and says that from now on he will be the master, while the scholar becomes the shadow. The scholar eventually falls into a desperate situation.

"Andersen is known to most people in Japan as a writer of fairy tales aimed at children, and I was astonished to find he'd written such a dark, hopeless fantasy. In it we can see, I think, how Andersen the fairy tale writer, abandoned the framework he'd worked with up till then, namely writing tales for children, and instead borrowed the format of an allegory for adults, and attempted to boldly pour out his heart as a free individual," Murakami said. "This couldn't have been an easy journey for Andersen, since it involved discovering and seeing his own shadow, the unseen side of himself he would want to avoid looking at."

Murakami explained how he also struggled with his own unseen self in his creative process.

"When I write novels myself, as I pass through the dark tunnel of narrative I encounter a totally unexpected vision of myself, which must be my own shadow," he said. "What's required of me then is to portray this shadow as accurately, and candidly, as I can. Not turning away from it. Not analyzing it logically, but rather accepting it as a part of myself."

Murakami then moved the conversation away from himself and talked to the audience and the larger world outside.

"Just as all people have shadows, every society and nation, too, has shadows," he said. "At times we tend to avert our eyes from the shadow, those negative parts."

Murakami touched on a range of issues affecting the world, such as the exodus of refugees and waves of immigrants as well as historical revisionism.

"No matter how high a wall we build to keep intruders out, no matter how strictly we exclude outsiders, no matter how much we rewrite history to suit us, we just end up damaging and hurting ourselves," he said.

The day after giving the acceptance speech, Murakami visited the nearby campus of the University of Southern Denmark.

He was greeted with cheers from the 500 or so students who crammed a staircase lecture room to listen to him read one of his works in Japanese.

The protagonist in one of Murakami's early short stories titled "The Mirror" faces his own image in a mirror he finds at a school building at night. Much like Andersen's "The Shadow," the image in the mirror of Murakami's story also takes on a life of its own, moving his right hand. While often humorous, the short story also gives a chilling sense of fear to readers.

The story also contains an element of "encountering a totally unexpected vision of myself in a dark tunnel" that Murakami mentioned in his acceptance speech the previous day. His choice of work for the reading on the day after the award ceremony was likely not a coincidence.

At another event held in a different venue, Murakami said, "I think the structure of my novel is a story of two worlds, just one story is above the ground, one story is beneath the ground."

"The Mirror" is not the only work by Murakami in which the story proceeds while the protagonist travels between two worlds. A similar process can be found in, for example, "Hard-boiled Wonderland and The End of the World." In that work as well, shadows play an important role.

The message Murakami passed on in his acceptance speech "to patiently learn to live together with your shadow" is likely deeply tied to the core of his own creativity.

In the award ceremony, Murakami left behind a very serious question, asking all of us if our society has the courage to accept the shadows we may face and change.