Haruki Murakami's themes of disaffected youth resonate with his East Asian fans

December 15, 2013


With his themes of alienation and loneliness among urban youth, literary giant Haruki Murakami has won an army of fans across Asia as well as in his native Japan.

A recent symposium held at the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus focused on the effect Murakami's work has had on young people in East Asia and its impact on their daily lives.

In explaining Murakami's works, Nobuko Ochner, an associate professor of Japanese at the University of Hawaii, said there were many descriptions of traveling in a parallel world as well as characters who have some connection to shamanism. She also said Murakami's writings are deeply rooted in the traditional cultures of Japan and East Asia.

Murakami also spoke and answered questions at the "Reading Haruki Murakami across East Asia" symposium. He told the audience that unlike in the West, where there is a tendency to theoretically analyze and categorize his writings, a common occurrence in East Asia is simply accepting his works because readers enjoy them.

Murakami said that may be the result of the common ground shared culturally among those in East Asia.

In South Korea, Murakami's popularity is connected to the experiences and disappointments felt by those who participated in the social movements and unrest of the 1960s.

Yung-hee Kim, a professor of Korean literature at the University of Hawaii, introduced the results of a survey carried out in South Korea, where Murakami is especially popular among those in their 20s to 40s.

She explained that his works are very representative of South Koreans born in the 1960s and who took part in student protests against the established order when they came of age during the 1980s. For many, those social movements justified their reason for existance. But, when those movements eventually came to an end, a major pillar in their lives also disappeared.

Japanese students experienced a similar phenomenon during the protests of the 1960s and early '70s, also living out the overlapping themes of self-searching and loss of self that are often found in Murakami's works.

Yun Peng, an assistant professor of modern Chinese literature at the University of Hawaii, explained that in 1985 Taiwan became the first nation outside of Japan where Murakami's works were introduced. Murakami's writing is popular among Taiwanese in their 20s to 40s as well, with those in the latter group representing those who first read his work.

Peng explained that the various lifestyle elements found in Murakami's books and stories have also become the subjects for popular books in Taiwan, reflecting a desire among some readers to lead lives based on Murakami's writing. That has led to books about the music that appears in Murakami's work as well as the various habits and quirks he gives his characters.

In China, writers influenced by Murakami began appearing in the late 1990s.

Shozo Fujii, a professor of Chinese literature at the University of Tokyo, dubbed those authors "Murakami's children."

According to Xu Ziyi, 28, a graduate student from Beijing now studying under Fujii, the first generation of Murakami's children include such writers as Annie Baby, whose work "Goodbye Vivian" has also been published in Japan. The first works were mostly simply copies of Murakami's popular 1987 novel "Norwegian Wood," Xu said. "Those writers developed their own style while borrowing the manner in which Murakami establishes his characters and structures his plots."

Murakami's works in China became more widespread from the 2000s, especially after the huge popularity of "Norwegian Wood," released there in 1998.

Young writers subsequently are often described in advertising copy as "Chinese-like Haruki Murakami" or "a continental version of Haruki Murakami."

One such writer, Kong Yalei, said in a newspaper interview that he learned "how to live a satisfied life while not hurting others or being hurt by others" from reading Murakami.

Murakami's influence goes beyond literature. There is a Chinese song with the same title from an early Murakami novel, a bakery named after him and a condominium named "Norwegian Wood."

"The image of Haruki Murakami has already gone beyond the realm of literature in China and has been recognized by society as a kind of fashion statement," Xu said.

(This article was compiled from reports by Yu Yamada in Honolulu and Kyoko Isa.)

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A poster for the symposium designed by Deborah Masterson

A poster for the symposium designed by Deborah Masterson

  • A poster for the symposium designed by Deborah Masterson

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