Recently the cover of the British magazine The Economist showed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama in kimono (with an erupting Mount Fuji in the background), to illustrate its feature story, “Turning Japanese: Debt, default and the West’s new politics of paralysis.”
Domestically, particularly in the aftermath of the March 11 quake and tsunami, there has been a “Galapagos” trend of turning away from the wider world.
Countering such images of Japanese stagnation and inwardness is the presence of such Japanese global citizens as Ms. Yoko Ono as she received the 8th Hiroshima Art Prize for her peace efforts, Mr. Seiji Ozawa actively conducting once again, and Mr. Ryuichi Sakamoto organizing a project to replace school musical instruments lost in the earthquake and tsunami.
As a leading global citizen, however, none can touch Mr. Haruki Murakami. Since his breakout best-seller “Norwegian Wood” in 1987, his works have been translated worldwide, and he has been honored with several international prizes.
French-Vietnamese film director Mr. Tran Anh Hung released his adaptation of “Norwegian Wood” in 2010, and a multimedia stage show of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”made its official premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival this month, as fans in Britain and the United States eagerly await the English-language publication of “IQ84” on Oct. 25.
What lies behind such international appeal?
Part of it is Mr. Murakami’s accessible style influenced by American writers such as Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver. In an interview several years ago in Paris Review, he stressed the importance of humor and an interesting narrative.
As there is no leisure class in modern society to plod through long novels, he says, contemporary writers must use techniques from other fields such as jazz or video games to grab readers.
Surely, though, the main reason is that, while writing about Japanese living in Japan, Mr. Murakami has touched a universal chord of postmodern rootlessness, where urban singletons, divorced from traditional family and community ties, grope for a new way of living.
His protagonists bravely search, in his words, for reality in a world of fake news, fake government and fake war, a consciousness obviously felt worldwide.
Obviously Japan still has much to contribute worldwide, as shown by global citizens such as Mr. Murakami.
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