Eager fans of Haruki Murakami thronged bookstores around Japan for the midnight release of his new novel on April 12, with some of them even reading it cover to cover before dawn.
The book, titled "Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi" (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage), is Murakami's first novel in three years, following "1Q84 Book 3."
At the Daikanyama Tsutaya bookstore in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, more than 150 people had lined up by midnight.
At the head of the line was Kazuki Yamashita, a 20-year-old junior at Sophia University, who came from Yokohama's Totsuka Ward.
"Even if I read a Murakami book 10 times, I cannot understand it completely. The depth of his works is what makes them so appealing. Because the train I take to go home is not running (at this time), I will stay up overnight somewhere nearby and read the novel," Yamashita said excitedly.
Many other fans shared his enthusiasm.
Michiko Mamuro, 52, a clerk at the bookstore, finished reading the novel in two hours.
"I felt that the Great East Japan Earthquake loomed in the background of the novel. I had the impression that Murakami faced the disaster straightforwardly. The book has strong messages and many encouraging words," said Mamuro, who is in charge of literary books and known as a charismatic bookstore clerk.
Another eager fan, 44-year-old photojournalist Miwako Kitamura of Tokyo's Ota Ward, finished reading the novel in three hours.
"It was different from what I was expecting, in a good way. I want to read a sequel," she said.
Bookstores that were not open at midnight saw a flurry of excitement beginning early in the morning on April 12.
The frenzy surrounding the book's release is due in part to the publisher's publicity strategy, which employed a combination of Internet advertising and was carefully doling out information on the work.
Before the release, Bungeishunju Ltd. strictly controlled information on the new novel, in keeping with Murakami’s desire that people read it without any preconceived notions.
For example, the publisher shipped the novel to major bookstores in cardboard boxes exclusively for the book so that information about the cover image would not leak until April 12.
But the publisher also built suspense for the release from mid-February by issuing small pieces of news about the book in 10 installments, including "The book will go on sale in April," "The first message from the author" and "The second message."
It also put advertisements on Google and other search engines, and posted notices on a Facebook page devoted to events related to the new novel.
The strategy was a runaway success, with online retailer Amazon reporting more than 20,000 advance orders.
"We were not aiming to irritate readers," said Kotaro Kashiwabara, 50, head of the publisher's publication promotion division. "But as a result of the publicity effort, the book became a topic of discussion. The series of news pieces that we released stirred up demand for the new novel."
Public events leading up to the release also helped stoke the excitement. The Daikanyama Tsutaya bookstore held a gathering to read Murakami's books the day before the new release. About 100 fans attended the event, as did literary critic Kazuya Fukuda, who summed up the attraction of Murakami's works: "I think it's their depth of darkness."
The large number of advance orders and the strong in-store sales that were expected led Bungeishunju to print a total of 500,000 copies of the book.
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