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2019.08.24 Haruki Murakami: 30 Years of International Acclaim
Haruki Murakami’s short story “TV People” was translated into English and published in The New Yorker in September of 1990. This was a groundbreaking achievement at the time, as it was unheard of for a Japanese writer to be translated into English and published in an English-language magazine abroad. After his international debut, however, Murakami went on to have his works translated into over 50 languages, making him one of Japan’s most representative authors on the global stage.

According to Murakami himself, his international success is no coincidence. He has stated that he collaborated with his American editors, fine-tuning the English translation to make sure that it would resonate with an American audience. He has also said that he keeps in mind that his works will be read in translation when writing.

Murakami’s success naturally changed the face of Japanese literature. Until his international debut, writers such as Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima—“exotic” writers whose work is characterized by eastern aesthetics—were the face of Japanese literature. Murakami’s style, however, is strongly influenced by American literature and characterized by a unique melding of modern Japanese society with fantastical elements. Thus, his entrance onto the international literary scene added fresh color to contemporary Japanese literature.

Murakami’s influence on other writers cannot be ignored. Since his 1990 debut, a great variety of other Japanese works have been translated and published. The 1990’s, for example, saw a flourishing of female Japanese writers in translation, as well as Japanese works in a variety of genres including science fiction, mystery, and light novels aimed at younger audiences. In recent years, Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s light novel All You Need is Kill was translated into English and adapted into a major Hollywood film titled Edge of Tomorrow. The movie, however, while staying faithful to the original plot, completely changes the setting of the original novel. Examples such as this force us to reconsider the question of what constitutes translation, and it might be said that this is ultimately thanks to Murakami’s groundbreaking success.