Haruki Murakami, by danetta
This is a post about oysters and the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. In a speech delivered to his fans in Fukushima, Japan, the writer used “frying oysters” as a metaphor to writing novels.
I start with the sppech as reported by the Guardian and the Asahi Shimbun, and then make a detour to the origin of Murakami’s J. Press short novels. I conclude with long quotation from the first J. Press short novel “Hotel Lobby Oysters”.
November 2015 (1&2)
KORIYAMA, Fukushima Prefecture–In a rare public appearance, author Haruki Murakami likened the writing of his novels to frying oysters in remarks to about 200 literary fans here on Nov. 29.
Murakami appeared at the local literary conference as a surprise guest along with fellow writer Hideo Furukawa and Motoyuki Shibata, a leading translator of American contemporary literature. (2)
His wife can’t stand the dish, so he has no choice but to cook and eat them alone, he told the audience, according to the Asahi Shimbun.
“I am lonely, but they are delicious,” he added. “Like the relationship between solitude and freedom, it moves in an endless cycle. Picking out single words that are contained within me is also a solitary act so [writing novels] is similar to eating fried oysters by myself.
“When my mind grows pressured when I think that I am writing a novel, I feel more relaxed when I think that I am only frying oysters.” (1)
In 1974, Tokyo-based apparel giant Onward Kashiyama licensed the traditional American gentleman’s brand J. Press for the Japanese market. In the U.S., J. Press was well-known as a campus retailer for the Ivy League and its graduates on Madison Avenue, but in Japan, Onward took the brand to the masses, opening J. Press corners in dozens of department stores across the country. Upon its entry to Japan, the brand quickly became a favorite of Baby Boomers who had grown up on Ivy League style in the mid-1960s and still wanted to wear tweeds, oxford-cloth button down shirts, and khaki pants as adults. J. Press did well in Japan, and in 1986, right smack in the Bubble Economy, Onward bought the American company outright.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Onward spent massive sums on advertising J. Press in the print media. The classic ad format, often seen on the back cover of lifestyle magazine Popeye, showed a Japanese or American man telling a colorful story about their favorite trad clothing item. In 1985, as Japanese pop culture went in more avant-garde directions, Onward came up with a new idea — asking up-and-coming novelist Murakami Haruki to write a very short story inside each month’s advertisement for magazines Popeye, Box, and Men’s Club.
Onward approached Murakami about the J. Press ads through writer, editor, and legendary game designer Itoi Shigesato. According to Murakami’s afterword in Yoru no Kumozaru (『夜のくもざる』), the collected edition of the works, he was given license to write whatever he wanted. “Just have fun with it,” Itoi told him. So once a month from April 1985 to February 1987, Murakami wrote a “short short” (短い短編), which was set on its own page with an illustration by famed artist Anzai Mizumaru at the top and a small J. Press logo in the lower left corner.
The J. Press Stories (translations are by Morales unless otherwise noted):
1. Apr 1985 – “Hotel Lobby Oysters” 「ホテルのロビー牡蠣」
2. May 1985 – “The Party” 「”THE PARTY”」
3. Jun 1985 – “Elephant” 「象」
4. Jul 1985 – “Picnic” 「ピクニック」
5. Sep 1985 – “French Horn” 「ホルン」
6. Nov 1985 – “Pencil Sharpener (Or Watanabe Noboru as Fate)”「鉛筆削り (あるいは幸運としての渡辺昇)」(translation Jay Rubin)
7. Dec 1985 – “Julio Iglesias” 「フリオ・イグレシアス」
8. Jan 1986 – “Time Machine (Or Watanabe Noboru as Fate Part 2)” 「タイム・マシーン (あるいは幸運としての渡辺昇 ②)」(translation Jay Rubin)
9. Mar 1986 – “Croquette” 「コロッケ」
10. Apr 1986 – “Cards” 「トランプ」(translation Jay Rubin)
11. May 1986 – “Newspaper” 「新聞」
12. Jun 1986 – “Donut-ization” 「ドーナツ化」
13. Jul 1986 – “Antithesis”「アンチテーゼ」
14. Sep 1986 – “Eel”「うなぎ」
15. Oct 1986 – “Takayama Noriko and My Libido”「高山典子さんと僕の性欲」
16. Nov 1986 – “Octopus”「タコ」
17. Dec 1986 – “Wrench”「スパナ」(translation Jay Rubin)
18. Jan 1987 – “Donuts, Again” 「ドーナツ、再び」
19. Feb 1987 – “Attack of the Mushikubo Old Guy”「虫窪老人の襲撃」
Murakami shoots to global fame with his 1987 novel Norwegian Wood.
Hotel Lobby Oysters
Here’s the first J.Press ‘short short’, Hotel Lobby Oysters:(3)
At the time I was sitting on the hotel lobby sofa and vaguely thinking about oysters. Not lemon soufflé, not pencil sharpeners – oysters. I don’t know why. I just suddenly realized that I was thinking about oysters.
The oysters I was thinking about on the hotel lobby sofa were different from oysters thought about anywhere else. They were shaped differently, they smelled differently, and their color was different, too. They weren’t oysters harvested in some cove. They were pure oysters harvested in a hotel lobby.
After thinking about oysters for a while, I went to the sink to wash my face, then retied my tie and returned to the sofa. When I got back, the oysters had already disappeared from inside my head. Again, I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I washed my faced or because I retied my tie. Or maybe the hotel oyster season is extremely short.
When the girl came 17 minutes after our appointed time, I told her about the hotel lobby oysters. The image was so distinct I felt like I had to tell someone about them.
“You want to eat oysters?” she asked.
“No, these oysters, they were purely oysters as a concept, unrelated to my appetite,” I explained. “The oysters came into being as the very essence of oys—“
“But you do want to eat some, right?” she said.
When she mentioned it and I settled down to think about it, I certainly had developed an incredible desire to eat oysters. We went to the hotel restaurant and ate 25 oysters while drinking wine. Sometimes I think my appetite originates from a really strange place.
- Librarians in uproar after borrowing record of Haruki Murakami is leaked, The Guardian
- Haruki Murakami reveals that frying oysters helps him write novels, The Asahi Shimbun
- Selling Out: Murakami’s ‘Short Shorts’, Peach Fuzz
- Murakami Haruki’s Advertorial Short Stories, neojapanisme