The Best of Haruki Murakami’s Advice Column

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami poses with his trophy prior to an award ceremony for the Germany's Welt Literature Prize bestowed by the German daily Die Welt, in Berlin on November 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Haruki Murakami (Photo by John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images) Photo: JOHN MACDOUGALL/Getty Images

Celebrated novelist Haruki Murakami is a master of the heartbreaking and the surreal. So who better to start an online advice column? In January, the Japanese author began soliciting and responding to reader-submitted questions. Murakami’s website is in Japanese, but we translated some of the best back-and-forths. It’s weird — and weirdly charming — stuff.

1. Nice to meet you, Haruki Murakami. I have a problem. There is a person at work who makes me feel depressed, he/she doesn’t treat me as a human being. I’m bothered so much that even on days I have off that person takes over my mind. If you were to write a story and have a character such as this person, what kind of life will he/she have? 

—Anonymous, female, 35 years old

I have a similar experience as you. It’s such a pain to work with someone like that. Waking up every day with that in mind is terrible. You lose faith in humanity. I understand where you’re coming from. People like that are not uncommon and surprisingly well liked. 

How would his life be if he/she were in my novel, you ask? Skinned alive with a knife, of course … just kidding.

2. Hello, Murakami-san. It’s been a year since my ex and I broke up, but I still can’t get over her. When I look back, I can only remember the good memories. I even believe that she was the one for me. When I ask people for advice, they tell me to “move on” or “wait until you get over her.”  Is there a third path that I can take?

—Cloth bag, male, 31 years old, 
office clerk

Ray Charles once earnestly sang, “They say that time heals a broken heart / But time has stood still since we’ve been apart.” There’s no use of me singing “I can’t stop loooooooving you” to you, I suppose.

I understand what you’re going though. I also have been through the same experience. Who cares? Think about her all you want. Even after a broken heart you can “only remember the fun memories you had with her.” You don’t feel disgruntled at all? That is an amazing thing. Ray Charles said he’ll “live my life in dreams of yesterday.” It is such a sad song. Listen to Ray Charles and spend your time wiping your tears. Things will start looking up soon. Ricky Nelson also once said, “Today’s teardrops are tomorrow’s rainbows.” But you probably don’t know who Ricky Nelson is.

3. Murakami-san, hello. Being that I’m a graduate student, I need to write a lot: reports, presentation speeches, emails to professors, etc. I’m not that great in writing, but if I don’t, I won’t be able to graduate. I struggle with it every day. How will this get easier?  If you have any composition 101 techniques, can you let me know?

—Sakurai, female, 23 years old, graduate student

Writing is similar to trying to seduce a woman. A lot has to do with practice, but mostly it’s innate. Anyway, good luck.

4. Haruki-san, hello. Are you well? Last year, my uncle suddenly passed away. Two years ago, my aunt passed from breast cancer. From the day my grandmother passed away when I was a child, many people who were close to me have passed away. I understand it’s a natural process, but I get upset when I know eventually my parents will, too. I remember when I read your novel for the first time in my teens, my feelings were at ease — I cried. I imagine my aunt talking to me, giving me advice lately. This all said, I have a question: Do you believe in heaven? If so, what do you think the place will be? If you don’t think there is, what do you think happens to the soul?

—White Mountain Goat, female, 34 years old, housewife

I may disappoint you with my answer, but I want to “sleep peacefully after death.” I don’t need a heaven, hell, or a Kyabakura. I just want to sleep without any disturbance. Well, maybe if I can eat deep-fried oysters that will be great.

5. Dear Murakami-san, thank you for taking time to review my questions. My apology for [being] unable to write in Japanese. Do you think cats can understand how humans feel? My cat Bobo ran away when she saw me crying. At that time I feel like being left out by the entire world. Or [cats] just wouldn’t care less? Thank you, again, for all your words!

—VVN, female, 30+years old) [Originally submitted in English]

I suspect that either you or your cat is extremely sensitive. I have had many cats, but no cat has ever been so sympathetic. They were just as egotistical.

6. Murakami-san, hello. The wind is strong today, isn’t it? Fukuoka’s sky is blue, though. There is something I’ve wanted to ask you since I was in high school. Here’s the long-awaited question: Is the pen really mightier than the sword?

—Hungry Sachiko, female, 27 years old, regular employee

I’m taken aback by how straightforward this question is. Is the pen mightier than the sword? I want to say of course it is, but nowadays it’s hard to say. Aside from terrorist attacks, you get backlash from the internet as well. You have to be mindful when you’re writing something.

I keep in mind to “not have the pen get too mighty” when I write. I choose my words so the least amount of people get hurt, but that’s also hard to achieve. No matter what is written, there is a chance of someone getting hurt or offending someone. Keeping all that in mind, I try as much as I can to write something that will not hurt anyone. This is a moral every writer should follow.

But at the same time, when you need to fight a battle, you also need to reserve energy to be able to fight. Something like what you use to tighten your stomach. But that’s only when you really need to. If you recklessly make the pen mightier than the sword, you’re putting yourself in danger. That’s my personal opinion. Some may think otherwise.