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Murakami’s “1Q84″ grips Japan

Jun 15, 2009 05:25 EDT

Bookworms right across Japan are flipping the pages of “1Q84″, the latest novel by Haruki Murakami. The print run of the hardback version has already topped the 740,000 copies of his earlier work “Kafka on the Shore”, and more than 1 million copies are likely to have hit the store shelves by the end of this month.

“If a literary work sells 50,000 copies, we call that a bestseller. With 100,000 copies, that’s a huge success,” Fumiaki Mori, a spokesman for publisher Shinchosha Publishing Co Ltd, told me. “By that standard, reaching this number in about 10 days since sales began is a very fast pace.”

The two-volume novel, Murakami’s first since 2004’s “After Dark”, explores thought control, cults, abuse and other issues and takes place in Tokyo in the year 1Q84.

The title borrows heavily from George Orwell’s “1984″, as the Japanese for 9 is pronounced the same as the English letter Q. Some readers have said that “1Q84” seems to sum up all of Murakami’s works.

I grew up reading Murakami, who made his literary debut in 1979, and was often shocked or confused by his books. But as I grew older and re-read them, I felt some parts were written just for me, especially where the narrator describes a sense of isolation.

I picked up a copy of his new book two days after its release but now it has sold out at many shops, and its success is spilling over to sales of music mentioned in the story as well as to Orwell’s classic.

In the book, the lead characters listen to “Sinfonietta” by Czech composer Leos Janacek, and that CD has sold some 6,000 copies in a week, Tetsushi Koyama of Sony Music Japan International told me.

Orwell’s “1984″ has also sold thousands of copies recently, the publishers of the Japanese translation said.

Murakami has been seen as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature for years — a topic widely covered by the Japanese media, as was his emotional acceptance speech last year for Israel’s Jerusalem Prize following the fighting in Gaza. These reports may have attracted a wider readership, Shinchosha’s Mori said.

Some say that the writers who debuted in the late 1970s to early 1980s, including Murakami, ushered in a new era in Japanese literature. Their work is urbane and written in a way not seen before in Japan, but perhaps more significantly, their sense of identity and consciousness is no longer bound by the family system that was so strong in Japan, or by the experience of losing World War II.

I’ve read Murakami in both Japanese and English, and though I’m Japanese, I feel that sometimes it is easier to read him in English. His style, which sometimes incorporates direct translations of English phrases into Japanese, suits English very well.

Before “1Q84” went on sale, readers and media alike were thirsty for information on the book as the author and publisher revealed nothing.

Now, the book is all over the internet and in the media, with magazine headlines like “Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84′ — read it ahead, read it deep, or skim-read” and “Find out without reading! Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84′”.

I liked it too, but English-speaking readers will have to be patient – the translation may not come out for a year or two.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner


I am a HUGE Murakami fan. I ran across Kafka on the Shore one day when I was in my local library. I was blow away by his writing. I own all of his books (even Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball 1973, his first two novels only released in Japan and the precursors to A Wild Sheep Chase). I simply cannot wait until 1Q84 is translated! Hopefully Jay Rubin will be translating 1Q84, and if we’re lucky Murakami will get involved to speed up the process. Also I IMPLORE Random House not to slap on some BS page limitation like they did with Wind up Bird. It horrifies me that Murakami had to abridge his work just because some suits couldn’t deal with a few more pages!

Posted by Kane | Report as abusive

Yoko, great story. One question: is “Kafka on the Shore” a two-volume work in Japanese? (One volume in English.)

re: ‘In the past seven years, about 740,000 hardcover copies have been printed of Murakami’s two-volume “Kafka on the Shore.”‘

Posted by Brian Cochran | Report as abusive

@Brian: I recently purchased “Kafka on the Shore” in Japanese two-volume paperback version for my girlfriend.


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