Haruki Murakami interviewed by Paris Review

I love reading Murakami interviews like this one one from Paris Review (warning: pay wall; you might be able to find a way around it by going to archive.is and pasting the URL into the bottom box).

This one is the source of his fairly well known quote about what his typical, highly rigorous (to say the least) workday looks like:

Murakami: When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

I reread this last night and made an effort to try the Murakami system today. I did successfully set an alarm for 4 AM (that counts for something right?), but didn’t manage to drag myself out of bed until 5. Not on target, although compared to my usual baseline, I’ll take it. 10 km run still and afternoon jazz still TBD.

Joking aside, there’s a lot to be said here about the level of discipline it takes to produce such a comprehensive body of work. The quote above came out after the interviewer asked Murakami about writing and revision timelines:

Interviewer: Is that one of the main purposes of revision, then—to take what you’ve learned from the end of the first draft and rework the earlier sections to give a certain feeling of inevitability?

Murakami: That’s right. The first draft is messy; I have to revise and revise.

Interviewer: How many drafts do you generally go through?

Murakami: Four or five. I spend six months writing the first draft and then spend seven or eight months rewriting.

Interviewer: That’s pretty fast.

Murakami: I’m a hard worker. I concentrate on my work very hard. So, you know, it’s easy. And I don’t do anything but write my fiction when I write.

A little over a year to produce books of that length and calibre is incredible. By comparison, we’ve been waiting on The Winds of Winter for literally more than ten years.

Sometimes you get the feeling that Murakami’s playing it coy. He makes becoming a writer sound like an accident:

Murakami: I’m not intelligent. I’m not arrogant. I’m just like the people who read my books. I used to have a jazz club, and I made the cocktails and I made the sandwiches. I didn’t want to become a writer—it just happened. It’s a kind of gift, you know, from the heavens. So I think I should be very humble.

Interviewer: At what age did you become a writer? Was it a surprise to you?

Murakami: When I was twenty-nine years old. Oh yes, it was a surprise. But I got used to it instantly.

Interviewer: Instantly? From the first day of writing you felt comfortable?

Murakami: I started writing at the kitchen table after midnight. It took ten months to finish that first book; I sent it to a publisher and I got some kind of prize, so it was like a dream—I was surprised to find it happening. But after a moment, I thought, Yes, it’s happened and I’m a writer; why not? It’s that simple.

Similarly, he’s never seen Spirited Away?! You practically have to be living under a rock to accomplish that feat, especially living in Japan (mind you, this interview was fifteen years ago):

Interviewer: Have you seen Hayao Miyazaki’s anime film Spirited Away? It seems to me there are certain similarities to your books, in that he also manipulates folk material in contemporary ways. Do you enjoy his movies?

Murakami: No. I don’t like animated movies. I saw just a little part of that movie, but that is not my style. I’m not interested in that kind of thing. When I write my books, I get an image, and that image is so strong.

And one last anecdote about not liking Tokyo (again, how?!), but living there anyway for the anonymity of the metropolis:

Interviewer: But you were born in Kyoto. Is that right?

Murakami: Yes, but when I was two we moved to Kobe. So that is where I’m from. Kobe is by the sea and next to the mountains, on a kind of strip. I don’t like Tokyo; it’s so flat, so wide, so vast. I don’t like it here.

Interviewer: But you live here! I’m sure you could live anywhere you liked.

Murakami: That’s because I can be anonymous here. It’s the same as in New York. Nobody recognizes me; I could go anywhere. I can take the train and nobody bothers me. I have a house in a small town in the suburbs of Tokyo, and everybody knows me there. Every time I take a walk, I get recognized. And sometimes it’s annoying.

Haruki Murakami interviewed by Paris Review

September 7, 2021

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