Happy Birthday

haruki murakami, murakami author, haruki murakami auther
Petr David Josek/AP

Happy Birthday, Haruki Murakami, Author of "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"

January 12, 2010
by Isabel Cowles
Haruki Murakami is one of Japan’s most famous novelists. Until age 29, however, he never considered himself capable of writing a book. Instead, he owned a jazz bar that allowed him to endlessly indulge his passion for music. After the success of his first two books, Murakami became a full-time writer, producing a prolific body of work including “A Wild Sheep Chase” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” He has taught at Princeton University and won multiple literary awards throughout his career.

Early Days

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, on January 12, 1949. Although he grew up enamored with literature and read constantly as a child, he became convinced in his youth that he would never write a novel as worthwhile as those of his favorite authors: Balzac, Dostoyevsky and Kafka.

In an autobiographical essay written for The New York Times, the author explained, “[A]t an early age, I simply gave up any hope of writing fiction. I would continue to read books as a hobby, I decided, and look elsewhere for a way to make a living.”

After graduating from Waseda University in 1973 with a degree in theater arts, Murakami opened a jazz bar where he served coffee in the morning while jazz records played. In the evening, he offered cocktails, accompanied by the occasional live performer.

At the age of 29, while attending a baseball game, a thought struck him: He was capable of writing a novel after all.

Notable Accomplishments

In 1979, Murakami’s first novel “Hear the Wind Sing,” the first installment of a trilogy called “Trilogy of the Rat,” was published. That same year, the author was awarded the Gunzo New Writer Award for his work. A year later, he came out with the second part of the trilogy, “Pinball, 1973.” In 1981, he sold the jazz bar and began writing for a living.

In 1982, Murakami was awarded the Noma Literary Award for New Writers for his work on the final installment of the trilogy, “A Wild Sheep Chase.”

Murakami’s prolific and lauded career continued, as “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” was published in 1985, winning literary awards that same year. After the publication of his 1987 novel “Norwegian Wood,” Murakami became an associate researcher at Princeton University in New Jersey.

During the four years he spent at Princeton, Murakami wrote one of his best-known novels, “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” In an interview with Salon, Murakami described the process of writing the book. “I was enjoying myself writing, because I don't know what's going to happen when I take a ride around that corner,” he said. The book won the Yomiuri Prize for Literature in 1996.

Murakami’s other works include the nonfiction “Underground” about the sarin gas attacks, the short story collection “The Elephant Vanishes,” the novel “Kafka on the Shore,” and his latest, a memoir/travelogue, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.” 

The Rest of the Story

Murakami’s works have been translated into 40 languages and have sold millions of copies. As Japan’s most popular author, he has reached cult status both at home and abroad. According to the Times of London, the author’s English translator, Professor Jay Rubin, has said that “reading Murakami changes your brain.”

Nonetheless, Murakami’s reception in literary circles across Japan has been mixed: while he has earned great appreciation among younger readers, the elder literati often criticize his works for relying too heavily on Western popular culture. 

But Murakami is most interested in exploring his imagination. In an interview for The Guardian, Murakami said, “I’ve been married for 30 years. Sometimes I wonder what would it be like if I had been single ... If and if and if. I could go along that passage and find new strange rooms." 

For Murakami, such imagined journeys are where the creative process begins. “We have rooms in ourselves,” he says. “Forgotten rooms. From time to time we can find the passage. We find strange things … old phonographs, pictures, books . . . they belong to us, but it is the first time we have found them."

Most Recent Features