Thousands of Miles from Home


Confronting a Favorite

Last night I received the distinct pleasure of witnessing Haruki Murakami, THE Haruki Murakami, give a short talk about his life and read an excerpt from his book, After the Quake. While ultimately thrilling, and arguably a once in a lifetime experience, I experienced a few scares during the course of the evening.

First of all, I had severely underestimated Murakami’s following. 10-250, one of MIT’s largest lecture halls, could have been filled twice over with people vying for a seat. The hall was so packed that the campus police had to be called in to forcibly remove people standing in the aisles. I arrived about 15 minutes early, but was still met with a massive line stretching down the infinite corridor. I struck up a conversation with a violinist who had visited Japan on a number of occasions and before I knew it a woman was informing the crowd that the auditorium was full.

At this point I was distressed for two reasons. Firstly, I love Murakami’s work and had been looking forward to this talk ever since seeing the flyer last month. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I was writing an article for The Tech about the event and with no seat at the lecture I wouldn’t have any sort of story by the deadline. If I had been smart about this, I probably could have invoked my reporter privileges earlier in the evening by skipping the line and finding a seat in the reserved section. Now, with police turning everyone away the door, I was more than a little worried.

Dashing to the front of the line, I spotted a girl with a camera around her neck and informed her that she would be my cameraperson for the evening. With reporter’s notebook and cameras in hand, we strode past the police barricade and made our way up the stairs to the back of the auditorium and hid behind a large pillar. It didn’t help that the air conditioning in 10-250 was broken, bathing the hall in a muggy heat. The police cleared the aisles and locked the doors, but we weren’t discovered.

While hiding, the girl told me she was a sophomore studying painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, where my friend Darien is currently enrolled. She had never met him before, but wrote his name on her arm for future reference. Just as we finished our introductions, Murakami appeared.

The reading itself was amazing. Murakami, clad in a "Pickle" t-shirt, khaki pants, Newbalance shoes, and a light sports coat, was amicable and funny; everything that I expected him to be while reading his books. “If you don’t like my books, you don’t have to feel guilty,” He said with a smile through a heavy Japanese accent. “You just have a brain disease.”

After a few opening remarks and some anecdotes about his life and career, Murakami read a portion of “Superfrog Saves Tokyo” from the book After the Quake (a series of short stories inspired by The Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 in Kobe). He began in Japanese (with which I struggled, and somewhat succeeded, to understand), before starting over in English. After a few pages Murakami stopped reading and another man took over to finish the piece. The entire audience was captivated throughout the tale involving a 6 foot, Joseph Conrad-quoting, highly articulate frog who visits a security trust officer of the Shinjuku branch bank to inform him the he will be the one to fight Worm and save Tokyo from a major earthquake. If that sounds appealing to you, or even if it doesn’t, you can expand your horizons by reading this book. Or, for the lazy, you can read the story online.

You will note that the story has been translated by Jay Rubin, who has transcribed much of Murakami’s work from Japanese into English. While I was scanning the lecture hall, I recognized Jay Rubin sitting in the second row. In my opinion, Jay is just as gifted as Murakami when it comes to writing, and his presence made the reading all the more enjoyable. After the reading, Murakami answered a few questions and was escorted out of the auditorium by more police officers.

Sometimes I feel that it’s tough to enjoy an author that that is not only widely read, but also living, on a personal level. Books give us a special connection with an author, but that link that can be easily broken when either meeting the author in person or realizing that you are not alone in your enjoyment of their work. Even still, last night was an amazing opportunity that I am so fortunate to have witnessed.

In order to take advantage of all this webspace graciously granted to me by MIT, I’ve posted two videos of the reading; one of Murakami talking about his life in Japan, and another of him reading the first part of “Superfrog Saves Tokyo” in Japanese. They are large so be patient.


  • The Japanese reading is way cool. Too bad he didn't get to meet you. He would have enjoyed you.

    By mom, at 6:50 PM  

  • If you were the real Colonel Sanders then what the hell are you doing as a back alley pimp in Takamatsu?

    By Anonymous, at 8:43 PM  

  • that last comment is really funny, and I can only assume it was from... Micah?

    By pallaver, at 8:02 PM  

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