Earlier this month, we talked about a piece of not-so-helpful advice celebrated author Haruki Murakami gave to a fan about what makes a great writer. Murakami just his write-in website this month, though, and given that he’s sort of new at dishing out direct advice to his admirers, maybe we should cut him a little slack while he’s still getting the hang of it.
Then again, we’re not sure even the most experienced advice columnists could come up with considerate and helpful responses to some of the oddball questions Murakami has been getting. Thankfully, even if he can’t always help out those who write to him, he can at least give a laugh to everyone else who reads his responses. Even better, if you act quickly, you could ask him a question of your own, even if you don’t speak Japanese.
We’re not sure if Murakami is working through a case of writer’s block or if maybe he’s just reached a level of success where he doesn’t have to be producing novels unless he feels like it. In any case, he’s got enough time on his hands that, since January 15, he’s already answered more than a dozen inquiries through his Murakami-san no Tokoro (“Mr. Murakami’s Place”) website, posting as many as five responses a day.
The author accepts correspondence in one of four categories:
1. I have a question for, or would like advice from, Mr. Murakami
2. I have something I’d like to talk about with Mr. Murakami
3. Questions about places Mr. Murakami likes or doesn’t like
4. Questions about cats, or the Yakult Swallows professional baseball team
While topics three and four are pretty specific, numbers one and two are broad enough that just about anything would be applicable. But just because you have a question doesn’t mean Murakami has a definite answer, or even necessarily the desire to help you out of your jam. Take, for example, the following request he received.
“I’m thinking of writing a novel, but, can you suggest a good title? If you could help me with the synopsis, too, I’d really appreciate it.”
Considering this is the same man responsible for such memorable titles as Hear the Wind Sing, Norwegian Wood, and 1Q84, it’s understandable that the would-be author would want to borrow a little of the respected one’s talent. However, Murakami seemingly wasn’t in the mood to lend a hand, and for a pretty valid reason.
“Just what’s going on in your head? You said you’re planning to write a novel, right? Even if it’s tough, please figure out the title and synopsis by yourself.”
Sometimes, though, the flow of information runs the opposite way, and Murakami is the one who learns something, such as when another fan wrote in with:
“By the way, in your writing, you often use the phrase, ‘or perhaps rather.’ Do you use it as often when you’re speaking?”
Apparently this was an entirely unintentional pattern to Murakami’s prose, prompting him to respond:
“I wasn’t really aware of that. But now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ll probably be self-conscious about it, and that will be your fault. From now on, I’ll frequently use the phrase, ‘or maybe’ instead.”
Hey, writing can be a delicate art. The same goes for mending a broken heart, although once again Murakami seems like he’d rather take a pass on getting deeply involved with the problem of the man who wrote in to ask:
“I have a beautiful girlfriend, and every day is so much fun. But I’ve been writing for three years now to the girl I loved before, and she won’t respond to my emails. What should I do?”
Even though the complicated love affairs of Murakami’s novels would suggest he’s not entirely without empathy for romantic entanglements, he fired back:
“What an odd question. You have a beautiful girlfriend, and are having so much fun, so why do you keep sending emails to the girl you liked before? Do you have some kind of unresolved feelings for her? In any case, just what sort of advice are you asking me for?”
▼ Maybe he was hoping Murakami would offer to ghostwrite a love letter to his ex.
Actually, in spite of the tragic endings of some of his in-novel romances, the author seems to receive a number of questions pertaining to matters of the heart, such as when a high school student wrote in asking for advice on how to meet members of the opposite sex. This time, Murakami did provide the lovelorn teen with a straight answer, although its unflinching commitment to the author’s personal experiences may not have gelled with the high schooler’s expectations.
“It’s different for every person. The set pattern of ‘Do this and you’ll meet someone’ doesn’t exist. Meeting a potential romantic partner is almost always a chance encounter. It’s like getting into a traffic accident. When you get a little older, sometimes, just when your eyes meet someone else’s, you’ll know ‘This is it.’ Sometimes you can just tell by the way they smell.”
▼ Does love smell like freshly baked cookies?
By the way, the fun of Murakami’s write-in website isn’t limited to people who can read and write Japanese. While he’s best known for the novels he’s written, Murakami is also an accomplished translator, and also fields questions and writes responses in English. Recently, he was asked about his favorite cafes, and gave his answer in English, which flowed talking about how much he misses Dunkin’ Donuts.
“In America, donut shops are full of old guys and beat cops. But in Japan, they are full of high school girls and mothers with children. Do you know the reason for that difference? I miss Dunkin’ Donut. Their donuts were ‘harder.’ They disappeared from Japan some time ago and I don’t know the reason for it.”
“It is not easy to find a good café where you can read books comfortably in my neighborhood. I’m still searching.”
If you’d like to pick Murakami’s brain, you only have until January 31 to do so, since that’s when he’ll be shutting down his short-lived question-and-answer blog. The question form can be found here, and while Murakami seems as happy to answer questions in English as in Japanese, if you really want a rapid response, it probably wouldn’t hurt to curry favor with the author by sending a box of Dunkin’ Donuts to him through his publisher.
▼ Or maybe a dozen from the Donut Man, if you live on the American West Coast