Novelist Murakami ‘regrets’ latest book portrayal of Japanese mountain town

LITTERBUG DEPICTION::Nakatonbetsu town residents demanded an explanation from Murakami’s editor over passing descriptions of cigarette littering in the area

AFP, TOKYO

Sun, Feb 09, 2014 - Page 4

Best-selling Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami expressed regret on Friday over his portrayal of a small Japanese town in a new story, after a passage suggesting residents habitually throw cigarettes from car windows left locals fuming.

The remote town of Nakatonbetsu on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido said on Wednesday that it wanted an explanation from the publisher over how it allowed such a description to pass through an editor’s desk. The offending passage appeared in the new 24-page novel, Drive my car — Men Without Women, which was published in the December edition of the long-established monthly magazine Bungeishunju.

“I love the land of Hokkaido and have visited there a number of times... I have written the novel this time strictly with a sense of intimacy for it,” Murakami said in a statement released by the magazine. “I find it quite regrettable and unfortunate that it has caused people living there to feel unpleasant,” he said.

The novella depicts fictionalized conversations between a widowed middle-aged actor and his 24-year-old chauffeuse who hails from Nakatonbetsu, a real mountain town whose population has dwindled to 1,900 from a peak of 7,600 in 1950.

When she flips a lit cigarette out of the driver’s window, the actor thinks: “Probably this is something everyone in Nakatonbetsu commonly does.”

Murakami said on Friday that he had “long liked how the name of Nakatonbetsu sounds,” but intends to replace the name when the story comes out in book form.

“In order to prevent myself from causing any more trouble, I intend to change it to a different name,” he said.

Murakami, 65, whose often surrealist works have been translated into about 40 languages, is widely spoken of as a future Nobel literature laureate. However, members of the eight-strong town assembly were not amused at their portrayal as a community of litterbugs. On Wednesday, head of the assembly’s secretariat Shuichi Takai said the group intended to demand an explanation from the publisher.

“In early spring, the town people gather of their own will in a clean-up operation to collect litter on roads,” Takai said.

“We also work hard to prevent wildfires as 90 percent of our town is covered with mountain forests. It is never a town where people litter with cigarettes everyday,” he said. “We want to know why the name of a real town had to be used like that.”

Murakami’s book, Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to Kare no Junrei no Toshi [“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”], became the biggest-selling novel last year after its April release. An English-language translation is expected some time this year.