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Discipline in Jogging and Writing

abstract:Haruki Murakami has a wonderful article in the "Life and Letters" section of The New Yorker magazine (June 9 &16, 2008) that reveals the Japanese novelist's inner workings and how he became both a runner and a writer. It's not surprising that discipline, with a capital D is at the root of both, providing fascinating biographical insights into the author's life, his motivations and his writing. If you're a runner, a wannabe writer, or simply a lover of Murakami's books: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997) Kafka on the Shore (2005) and After Dark (2007) to name three titles for starters... read on.


July 12, 2008
— At the age of 33, specifically in the fall of 1982, Murakami tells us, he had what would resemble an epiphany: he started running on a daily basis. He had been a small jazz club owner and worked tirelessly at building a successful business located first at the Kokubunji Station, and three years later closer to the center of Tokyo. "During the day the establishment functioned as a cafe; by night, it became the bar. On weekends we featured live performances and of course, served decent food." This required the energy of a workhorse, which Murakami admits he physically possessed in spades, along with a commitment around the clock. Despite his friends' predictions of failure - his business thrived. This fact in hand, there is no surprise where his new hobby would lead to, nor is it difficult to grasp the consensus that his writing has come to represent Japan's cultural obsession with success and capitalism. The delight is in how humanly approachable, even logical he makes these traits. As a runner and a writer, I was intrigued with his communication of my own feelings about both activities, and how deliciously inviting.

Runners are divided into several categories. There are the distance runners and the sprinters, the lifers and the weekend warriors. Murakami describes how he started running short distances and gradually increased the length of time he ran each day along with his speed. From day one forward, he has never missed a day. His endurance has transformed his physique into a runner's body and his competitive mindset has lured him into races starting with 5K distances and building to marathons, to which he has completed six so far. He discusses his diet regime, "mostly vegetables with fish as the main protein source... cutting back on rice and alcohol and using only natural ingredients," and considers his body's propensity to easily put on weight as a "blessing in disguise," as it means that he has to maintain his commitments to diet and exercise religiously, or drift back to his pudgy, unhealthy state.

This "lucky me" attitude is exactly the same tack taken in his writing. A self-confessed plodder-at-the-pen he describes another epiphany. "It was 1:30 p.m., April 1, 1978. I was at Jingu staduium, alone in the outfield, watching a baseball game. Jingu Stadium was within walking distance of my apartment at the time, and I was a fairly devoted Yakult Swallows fan. It was a beautiful spring day, cloudless, with a warm breeze blowing. There were no benches in the outfield seating area back then, just a grassy slope. I was lying on the grass, sipping a cold beer, gazing up occasionally at the sy, and enjoying the game... It was the season opener, and the Swallows were taking on the Hiroshima Carp. Takeshi Yasuda was pitching for the Swallows... The lead-off batter for the Swallows was Dave Hilton, a young American player who was new to the team. Hilton got a hit down the left-field line. The crack of the bat meeting ball echoed through the stadium... and it was at just that moment that the thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel."

Of course the rest of the piece is devoted to the fact that his ambition in combination with his daily commitment to the craft results in a 200-page manuscript by fall, which he submits to a writer's contest in the Gunzo (群像) literary magazine. Low and behold his piece is accepted, he gets short-listed and goes onto win first prize. The piece is titled Hear the Wind Sing and the breakout author suddenly finds himself labeled as a new, up-and-coming writer. He continues running his jazz club, and writes a medium length second novel Pinball, and even translates some of works of F.Scott Fitzgerald into Japanese. I could wax-on about the marvels of Murakami, his discipline and supurb simple writing, but why not read it yourself and then pick up a volume or two of his novels for your summer reading?

 The Wind-up Bird  After Dark    Kafka On The Shore

Links & Resources

Wikipedia Entry Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 but spent most of his youth in Kobe. His father was the son of a Buddhist priest. His mother was the daughter of an Osaka merchant. Both taught Japanese literature. Lists education and works.

The Franz Kafka Award is awarded yearly by the Czech Republic and has a list of recipients that echo the Nobel Prize winners list. So it is not surprising that Murikama was "mistakenly" ascribed the "N" award in his home-town. I'm sure his turn will come, but for now take a look at the details of the award he did win back in 2006 for his novel, "Kafka On The Shore".



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