translation from the Japanese by Jay Rubin 2000
[Hatsumi is talking to Toru Watanabe about the girls at her college] “Sure there are a few super-stuck-up girls in every year, but the rest of us are just ordinary. We all eat lunch in the school cafeteria for 250 Yen - "
"Now wait just a minute, Hatsumi,” I said, interrupting her. “In my school the cafeteria has three lunches: A, B and C. the A Lunch is 120 Yen, the B Lunch is 100 Yen, and the C Lunch is 80 Yen. Everybody gives me dirty looks when I eat the A lunch, and anyone who can’t afford the C Lunch eats ramen noodles for 60 Yen. That’s the kind of place I go to. You still think I can talk to girls from yours?”
observations: Haruki Murakami is probably the best-known living Japanese author, worldwide, and this book has sold over 4-million copies, and made him a superstar in his home country: so much so that he felt he had to go and live abroad. The book is available in Japan in special editions.
It’s a coming-of-age novel – Watanabe is looking back at his student years, his relationship with two women in particular, his friends and his studies. It’s quite long and detailed, perhaps unnecessarily so. There were times when I longed to cut bits out. An example: he goes to visit Midori, who lives above a bookshop. When he is talking to her, he suddenly realizes that he has brought flowers, but left them downstairs. So he goes and gets them. And that’s it – there’s no point or followup to that. But in the same scene there’s this lovely description of Midori cooking:
From the back she looked like an Indian percussionist – ringing a bell, tapping a block, striking a water-buffalo bone, each movement precise and economical, with perfect balance.You do get an immense amount of detail, like the student cafeteria meal-costings above, and that’s interesting to an extent as giving a picture of Japanese life, but I thought it was too much. He describes people’s clothes a lot, which is always nice.
I’m helpless before this book: I quite liked it, but I cannot see in it what so many other people have found. I thought it was just another book about a young man and his fascination with his own thoughts and feelings. I did like this – one character asks another “How much to you love me?”
The answer is: “Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter.”
But the random joys didn’t really outweigh the longueurs.
There are similarities with Le Grand-Meaulnes and Catcher in the Rye, and the protagonist is very fond of The Great Gatsby. Japan is very much under-represented on the blog, but Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima is here, and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha here.
One picture is a Japanese University cafeteria, the other is of a young Japanese man – out of era but I love the picture. Both from Wikimedia Commons.