Thursday, June 27, 2013

Finishing Haruki Murakami is a job

Today I ever so reluctantly finished reading Haruki Murakami's new novel, "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage". Why reluctantly? Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I enjoyed it so much and I didn't want it to end. I bought it on my birthday two weeks ago and was reading itsy bitsy amount in bed every night, making sure not to read too much at a time. When I come to think of it, I never look forward to reaching the end of Murakami's books. Usually when I read a book, I can't wait to reach the end, so it's a weird feeling, but I always feel this way when reading Murakami. It's not that I don't want the end to come because I don't want the answers or secrets to be reveled and taken away from me. I never have to worry about that with Murakami. I could pretty much imagine how the ending would be. Abstract, obscure, as blurry as possible, questions remain unanswered, problems remain unsolved, and nothing on its surface changes, just like any other endings in Murakami's books. So why do I not want to finish reading Murakami's books? Because I simply enjoy reading what he has to say, sentence by sentence, word by word. Maybe it's kind of Zen, to enjoy the present moment and savor each word at a time. I like his choice of wording, utterly unrealistic and unnatural that you will have zero chance to encounter anybody conversing that way in Japan. This is why some people can't stand Murakami's books. However, his choice of unrealistic and unnatural wording and peculiar writing convention is perhaps what makes Haruki Murakami an irresistible writer. In "Wild Haruki Chase” (2008), a collection of literary reviews of Murakami works, Murakami states, “I have tried to write my novels using prose that I have constructed by first converting Japanese… into a mock foreign language in my head—that is, by clearing away the innate everydayness of language that lies in my self-consciousness” (p.30). So by "clearing away the innate everydayness", Murakami intentionally chooses to sound non-Japanese. A conversation between Tsukuru and Sara like this obviously is derived from "a mock foreign language" in his head:

"Whew, I didn't even know that such a time existed. So, who died?"
"Nobody has died yet, but I really needed to tell you something tonight."

Though it may sound quite possible and rather natural in English, this is definitely not an everyday typical conversation that you would hear in Japan. I have never met anyone to this day who uttered 「やれやれ」"Whew" in Japanese. I think what keeps us Japanese readers float in the air of Murakami land is this dreamlike-non-everydayness that he creates for us to dive in. Once dived in, it is kind of an escape from everyday life, I suppose, or a kind of dream that we never wish to wake up from.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the title, "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage", when the publisher first announced it. I still wasn't sure about the title or the book itself when I took it in my hand at the bookstore. Even after I bought it and brought it back home, I felt unsettled with my purchase. People around me (including my brother who's the biggest bookworm on earth) didn't seem to have bothered to read it and I hadn't heard the buzz about it on the Internet (Twitter, etc), so unlike the last time when 1Q84 was out in the world, I have to admit that my expectation was fairly low this time. "Nonetheless, it's Murakami, baby!" I needed to say to myself to get pumped up. After I studied the book cover, which is equivalently unimpressive as its title, I turned the page to Chapter 1.

It begins like this:
From July of his second year at college to January the following year, Tsukuru Tazaki lived thinking of almost nothing but dying.

It naturally and inevitably made me think of "No Longer Human" by Osamu Dazai, which is one of my favorite books of all time, thus this very first sentence —despite all the efforts and intention to be dark and depressing—gave me a good feeling and the book suddenly began to seem promising. That feeling was right and stayed until the end. The strangely unimpressive title soon made sense too. Though the ending didn't give any clue on what I was most interesting in finding out, and left it up to the readers, it was well anticipated from the beginning, and I wasn't disappointed at all. Overall, well done, and I'd say it was way better than 1Q84. But whew, or やれやれ、letting him go and closing the door behind this dreamland was so difficult. Finishing Haruki Murakami is a job!

Monday, June 24, 2013

5歳のたんじょうび Happy Birthday, Kana

5 days after I turned 35, Kana, my niece turned 5 years old. June 16th, Sunday. Mike and I left our ryokan in Kyoto early in the morning and took a train to Omi Hachiman to join Kana's birthday party. She had decided to have a BBQ outside, had been telling everyone about it, and had obviously been looking forward to it for a long time. Her mom (my sister-in-law) is having a very difficult time with pregnancy with her second child, and for these past few months she's been either in the hospital or been in bed at home. So, it's been a tough time for Kana too, not having her mom around when she needs her. 

When Mike and I got off the train, we saw dad's Honda waiting in the rotary in front of the station to collect us. As we walked toward his car, we saw a small head popping out from the car window. Kana came along with dad and was waiving her small hand to us. I bet she insisted that she come along with dad. She was very excited to see us, and that made me happy. We got inside the car, Mike sat in front and I sat next to Kana in the back. She was smiling at me. On our way, dad stopped the car in front of the cake shop and said they should have the birthday cake ready to be picked up for us, so I was going to go inside the shop alone, but Kana wanted to go inside with me. I untied her seatbelt and once she got out of the car, she held my hand, and she didn't let go of my hand the entire time when we were at the shop. We must have naturally looked like a mom and her daughter to everyone who was at the cake shop. Though nobody probably paid a special attention to us at all, I really liked it for some reason. I really really liked feeling Kana's small hand tightly holding onto mine, as if I were the only one in the whole world that she could depend on. I enjoyed being responsible for this little girl, also being trusted and depended on by her, even though it only lasted for a little while. There was nothing like that feeling, and I'd never felt it before. Such a powerful and sweet feeling.

The day before that, Mike and I were strolling around the ancient city of Kyoto with our friends, Anne, Ann and Johanna. Anne is a tall Dutch guy who now lives in London, doing web technology related work like Mike does. Mike and Anne have known each other for a long time, and I think Mike told me that he met Anne online when Anne was about 15 years old, so to Mike, Anne is like his little brother that he's never had. Anne loves Japan and every time he visits here, Mike and I hang out with him. He's an easy going happy go lucky kind of person who is adventurous and who would try just about anything, either food or things, from natto to zazen, so easy to be pleased. Ann is an American who's working for a big and famous airplane company in the U.S., and she was attending W3C meetings in Tokyo the previous week. Johanna is Ann's niece who lives in Berlin, who speaks multiple languages, who knows how many languages, but let me try...English, Spanish, German, Italian, French, and probably Portuguese too. Both Ann and Johanna are very cool people who share so much cultural sensibility. I personally thought it was very very cool that Ann is traveling with her niece, Johanna, who is in her late 20's, because it would be so wonderful if Kana and I would be close enough that she would want to travel abroad with me when she's adult, one day. When I told Ann about my niece Kana turning 5 years old, she looked into the distance and said, "I remember when Johanna turned 5..."and smiled. It was such a gentle smile, filled with love. 

So, Kana, dad, Mike and I arrived at my brother Koji's house soon after we picked up two cakes, a green tea cake for Father's day and a strawberry cake for Kana's birthday. We had a BBQ outside, like Kana had originally planned, and after that, Kana took time to open all the presents from everyone, took a bow many times, and blow candles, twice :) We had some drama, mostly because of Kana being spoiled thus misbehaving and all, but overall, it was a good day, and when I see this photo of Kana, smiling like this, my heart melts. Kana, my sweetheart, I love you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

rainy birthday 雨の日のたんじょうび

June 11th, 2013. I turned 35 today. I woke up to the rainy sky. It's rainy season in Japan. I never particularly dislike the rain but it's the humidity that makes me feel out of air. I received several birthday wishes on my phone and gmail, read and replied to them. Messages on facebook kept chiming in but I let them be and decided to deal with them later, probably will respond tomorrow.  Mike had to leave for another W3C meeting today so after a quick breakfast (coffee, English muffin and left-over potato salad) he left the apartment and I was alone again. He's been busy with these web related meetings that are happening in Tokyo since last week. Last week I turned up to a couple of meetings and gatherings for a brief moment to say hi to my former colleagues at W3C, but I hadn't done that this week. I had a day completely for myself yesterday and I spent almost all day sleeping. It's been nice catching up on sleep which I hardly ever had time to during my grad school days.

Though it's nice kicking back and catching up on lost sleep of three years, I didn't want to spend my birthday sleeping away, so after I saw Mike off, I was careful not going back to bed. I took a hot shower and kept going. I Skyped with my mom and talked about the weekend plan in Kyoto. Kana, my niece is turning 5 on this Sunday and we're having a birthday party for her. These days she's into pink and girly clothes, so I bought her a pink dress with lots of lace and frills in the U.S. Hope she'll like it. I needed to  get some wrapping paper for that, so I decided to go to a department store at the station. Shinjuku station is 15 mins walk from here and it's a nice walk thru Shinjuku central park where there is lots of green to enjoy and stray cats to greet, but it was raining outside so I took a bus to the station today. Odakyu department store is located inside the station. It has 13 stories and lots of stores that carry everything, from kitchenware to jewels. On the 10th floor there is a good-sized stationary store where I found some pink gift bag. That was easy I thought to myself and just as I was making my way out and passing a bookstore, Haruki Murakami's new book, "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" came to my eyes, and I suddenly remembered that I'd been wanting to read it since it came out in April. I wasn't planning on stopping by a bookstore there, but I thought, what the heck, it's Murakami, and it's my birthday! I quickly made my way to the casher and bought it. The lady at the register asked me if I wanted a book cover and I said please. I knew I would be reading it on the bus and train and didn't want people to know what I'm reading. Some of my friends talked about this new book by Murakami when it first came out and they thought it would be such a cliche to buy it just because it's written by Murakami. They think Murakami is overrated. Personally, I don't think so, and despite all the disapprovals from critics, I still think he's a good writer and I like his books. I'm on page 65 right now, and it has kept me up until 4am. So far, so good.

After I got home, Mike sent me a message saying that I should come to Keio Mita campus during the break session of the meeting to say hi to former colleagues and old friends. It was still rainy and I felt like staying home and read my new book, but today was the last day of the W3C meetings, so I decided to make appearance, and I'm glad that I did. Mita campus of Keio University is very historical and beautiful complimented with one of the oldest buildings from Meiji era. Not to mention Keio University is one of the most prestigious universities in Japan. As I walked in, I felt noble and nostalgic. Mike came to the entrance to collect me and we walked to the lobby where people were taking a break from meetings, having coffee and sweets. I hugged several people and caught up with them, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Inventor of the web came up to me to greet. He gave me kisses on both of my cheeks that put me on top of the world. We can't imagine our life without the web anymore, and he is the reason why we can instantly communicate with friends from all over the world, and I'm sure he will get a nobel prize sooner or later for his accomplishment. Regardless his fame and status, he's such a people person who is genuinely thoughtful and doesn't show an inch of arrogance.

Mike had to stay for another meeting, so I came home before him. He promised that he'd take me out to a nice dinner, so I sat on the chair next to the window, watch the rainfalls and started reading the Murakami's new book. He came home close to 8pm, exhausted. He took a quick shower and we headed out to a French restaurant nearby. The dinner was very nice, and as a birthday persent he gave me a big green bag that I fell in love with when we were strolling around Tokyu Hands last week. This bag is big enough that 3-4 Mac books would fit easily! I will post the photo later. Overall, it was a good birthday and it feels good to be 35 years old. I'm grateful that I was able to add one more year to my life, healthy, fulfilled with dreams and hopes.