In what is proving to be quite the week for spotting otherwise reclusive authors in the wild, the cultishly adored Japanese writer Haruki Murakami has appeared in public in his native land for the first time in eighteen years. Turns out all you have to do to tempt him into plain sight is to be a noted Jungian psychologist with whom Murakami can empathise from the very depths of his heart, die at 79, then hope that a few years later someone will name a literary prize after you and that Murakami will turn up to aid its launch. Bully for Hayao Kawai then, who did just that, having died in 2007 as a professor emiritus at Kyoto University and a former head of Japan’s Cultural Affairs Agency.
In honour of Kawai and the prize named for him, Murakami was interviewed at the university in front of a lottery-chosen audience of 500 by literary critic Yutaka Yukawa. The conversation largely centred around his latest novel, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which had sold a million copies by the end of its first week of publication in Japan. Of the novel – his first since 1Q84 three years ago – Murakami said: ‘There may be some people who feel I’m going backward from a literary perspective, but for me it’s a new attempt.’
He also spoke of feeling ‘as if I was getting bigger by being guided through an experience’ whilst writing, disavowing his typically allusive style and developing ‘a great interest in expanding on real people. Then the characters started to act on their own. I was intrigued by the relationships between people.’
By all accounts, however, fans shouldn’t expect this kind of appearance to become a regular thing from the 64 year old, who told the crowd: ‘When I woke up this morning I almost thought of taking a bullet train home. It’s not because I have a mental condition or purple spots all over my body. I’m just an ordinary person who lives an ordinary life.’
Murakami famously fled the country for Europe and America after the 1987 publication of Norwegian Wood made him one of the most acclaimed and popular authors in Japan, only returning in 1995, which also marked the date of his last public appearance, at a reading to benefit victims of the Kobe earthquake.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.