Anime, manga and Haruki Murakami may form an unlikely trinity, but outside of Japan they're responsible for filling Japanese Studies departments and sprawling convention halls with generations of the devoted. They're at the core of Japan's global allure, the center of its soft power, and last month I was immersed in all three in the span of two weeks in two countries: the United Kingdom and the United States.

In Japan, of course, they've all been around a while, yet they continue to draw young audiences abroad. It was 40 years ago that Murakami decided he could write a novel after watching an American baseball player hit a double for the Yakult Swallows, his favorite Japanese team. That novel, 1979's "Hear the Wind Sing," won Japan's Gunzo Prize for New Writers and launched the literary career of a rarity: a bona-fide international best-selling writer who is now short-listed annually for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Twenty years ago, I met Murakami for the first time. Our one-hour interview at his Tokyo office spilled into three hours of free-form conversation that touched upon rare jazz recordings, Japanese youth culture, American individualism — and that epiphanic baseball game.