Haruki Murakami accused of smearing Japanese town

Residents of Nakatonbetsu, a town of 1,900 people on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, have expressed anger with Haruki Murakami – one of the most influential Japanese writers of his generation, and one of few to have broken through to western audiences – over what they see as a smear on their reputation in one of his novellas.

In Murakami’s Drive My Car – Men Without Women (another Beatles reference from the author of Norwegian Wood), published in the magazine Bungeishunju’s December issue, a character observes a young citizen of Nakatonbetsu throw a cigarette from the window of a car, and thinks to himself ‘Probably this is something everyone in Nakatonbetsu commonly does.’ Neither of these characters are Murakami. Both of them are fictional. RTs are not endorsements.

Having seemingly failed to grasp the concept that Murakami is capable of creating characters whose views do not necessarily reflect his own, because he is a writer of fiction and that’s his job, the town assembly of Nakatonbetsu is now looking for answers from Murakami’s publishers as to why their home has been slurred in such a fashion, with head of the assembly’s secretariat Shuichi Takai telling the AFP: ‘In early spring, the town people gather of their own will in a clean-up operation to collect litter on roads. We also work hard to prevent wildfires as 90 per cent of our town is covered with mountain forests. It is never a town where people litter with cigarettes everyday. We want to know why the name of a real town had to be used like that.’

Nobody as yet appears to have pointed out to the assembly that the person who throws the cigarette from the car window doesn’t exist, so that instance of littering never actually happened and is therefore an unsound basis upon which anyone might form an opinion of the real-world town and its residents, or that to sincerely believe that a writer means every sentiment every one of his or her characters have ever expressed is most likely a sign of madness.

Murakami remains one of Japan’s most popular writers at home and abroad, with his 2013 novel Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage selling a million copies in Japan by the end of its first week of publication and its English translation eagerly awaited in the west.

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