National / Media | Japan Pulse

Who will feed the Haruki Murakami fans online?

by Daniel Morales

Contributing Writer

Haruki Murakami has been an early adopter of technology for quite a while. In “Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words,” Jay Rubin describes how in 1987, after struggling with written copies of “Norwegian Wood,” Murakami made the switch to a word processor. In 1990, while writing at Princeton as a Visiting Scholar, he upgraded to a computer. Even his Web presence was forward thinking: From 1996 to 1999 he wrote a Web site for Asahi Shimbun, the core of which was correspondence with readers. His responses to reader questions have been anthologized in several volumes. So it comes as a surprise then that in recent years Murakami’s Internet presence has been largely corporate, disappointing and at times even ignored.

While the Asahi Web site is now offline, publishing house Shinchosha created a new website for Murakami’s most recent novel, “1Q84,” this past March. The site is, for the most part, a marketing scheme. It includes “blog parts” (an embeddable jpg animation to advertise the novel on websites), a list of Murakami’s previous works (conveniently only those published by Shinchosha) and a blog, which is run by Shinchosha employees. The blog began in March and counted down until the release of the third volume of “1Q84” in April, along the way highlighting the variations in printed advertisements for “1Q84” as well as the release of new paperback versions of Murakami’s older novels.

The site does offer two points of interaction for readers. The first is a Google map marked with locations from the novel, allowing readers to follow along with the adventures of Aomame and Tengo, the book’s main protagonists. The second, and more notable, is a collection of “1Q84″-themed illustrations provided by readers and fans and released every month. Each of the illustrations is the reader’s version of the letter Q and they range from weird to cute, much like the content of Murakami’s fiction.

While the Japanese site is surprisingly corporate, it does have its points of interest. The English site, too, started with a bang but is starting to show its cobwebs. Random House created the site in 2005 and included links to reviews and resources as well as a screensaver for download. The most interesting resource may have been a roundtable between Murakami translators Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, but even that had previously been available on the Random House Web site. The blog-like News section showed promise at first, posting links to forum discussions, information about release dates and other Murakami-related news. Sadly, the section has been ignored for the past few years: There have been no updates since July 2008, and the only updates in 2008 (all two of them) were notifications about the publication of Murakami’s running memoir, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

The most surprising Web-based gaff, however, is the lack of an official Twitter presence. The new medium of social interaction is still relatively young, so we can probably excuse the 61-year-old author for not being aware of how he is being represented there, but it’s almost inexcusable that his publishers have allowed Twitterers to host @haruki_murakami (English) and @Murakami_Haruki (Japanese). (The latter has over 60,000 followers!) Both are unverified and post quotes from his works and other witticisms that fit Murakami’s personality. One example from the Japanese account is “yare yare,” a phrase that many of the author’s narrators use as a sigh of resigned acceptance; clearly these must be accounts run by fans of the author who are having a laugh. The English account has only posted a dozen or so tweets, but the Japanese account updates in spurts once a week.

This is especially surprising given the fact that there are clearly people keeping an eye on Murakami’s Web representation. In February 2010, Will, author of the blog Wednesday Afternoon Picnic, was posting his own translations from a collection of short stories titled “Yoru no kumozaru” (“Night of the Spider Monkey”). He was contacted by representatives of Murakami and asked to remove the translations as they were unauthorized and “amount to copyright infringement.” While it’s understandable that Murakami would seek to protect his representation in English, it’s also ironic given that Dimitry Kovalenin released his Russian translation of “A Wild Sheep Chase” online in 1996 before he was able to have it published in 1998.

This Murakami Web paradox shows that in the last decade Murakami may have withdrawn even further from the rest of the world. He had long been known as reclusive, especially after 1987 when “Norwegian Wood” thrust him into the pop cultural spotlight, but the real shame is that editors and publishers around him have not provided Web-savvy advice about how to create an effective Internet identity.