Baseball for Murakami

July 29, 2021 By mk

In 1974, at the age of 25, Haruki Murakami and his wife Yoko opened a jazz café, Peter Cat, in Kokubunji. At this point in his life, Murakami had not written a novel. No one could have predicted that this unspectacular town would become the setting for a popular novel that has sold 12 million copies worldwide.

We boarded the Yamanote Line, and Naoko transferred to the Chuo Line at Shinjuku. She was living in a tiny apartment way out in the western suburb of Kokubunji. (Norwegian Wood, Ch.2)
In 1977, at the age of 28, Murakami moved “Peter Cat” to Sendagaya. And that eventually paved the way for his career as a writer, although at the time no one could have anticipated it. According to Murakami, the reason for the move was that his landlord decided to renovate the building.
One of the great things about Sendagaya was that it was the centre of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and had many legacy sports facilities, Murakami had been a Swallows fan since moving to Tokyo from Kobe to start university in 1968, and in 1977 he finally moved to live and work near the Swallows’ home stadium, Jingu.
(Note: The photo above is a recent one; the National Stadium is being rebuilt for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.)

The moment came in April 1978, when Murakami was watching a Yakult Swallows game at Jingu Stadium.

The satisfying crack when the bat met the ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, for no reason and on no grounds whatsoever, the thought suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel. … All I can say is that my life was drastically and permanently altered in that instant—when Dave Hilton belted that beautiful, ringing double at Jingu Stadium. (Haruki Murakami: The Moment I Became a Novelist)

BTW, the photo on Lithub is of Shigeo Nagashima of the Tokyo Giants against the Chunichi Dragons and has nothing to do with Murakami’s text. Given that the catcher is Hiroshi Shintaku, the photo was taken between 1971 and 1974. Nagashima, now 85, is a Japanese sporting icon and participated in the lighting of the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

At Jingu Stadium in 2018

As noted in the Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection (First Person Singular), the Yakult Swallows were known as a weak team. However, in 1978, the year after Murakami moved to Sendagaya, they won the championship for the first time in their history. That year was the 29th anniversary of the founding of the Yakult Swallows, and, next year, Murakami made his debut at the age of 29, writing his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing. It was just a coincidence, of course, but still, we couldn’t help feeling a slight sense of fate.

Perhaps there are people all over the world who have read Murakami’s novels but have never seen a baseball game. For those people, the ongoing Tokyo Olympics is a good opportunity.

Unfortunately, it won’t be held at Jingu Stadium (the stadium was a drone base for the opening ceremony), but two players from the Yakult Swallows have been selected: Tetsuto Yamada, #1, and Munetaka Murakami, #55, who has the same surname but is neither a son nor a relative of Haruki Murakami.

Haruki, an honorary member of the fan club, wrote an essay on Murakami Munetaka’s debut with the Yakult Swallows in 2018. He mentioned that he was surprised by a loud “Murakami Call” from the Jingu Stadium cheering section. It was not for Haruki (of course), but the then 19-year-old third baseman, Munetaka Murakami. Haruki was deeply moved by the enthusiasm on the field, and wrote;

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name “Murakami” shouted at Jingu Stadium to the best of my memory. Indeed, no player with the surname Murakami has ever played for Yakult (or at least played for the top team). In that sense, I’d love to see Munetaka do well.” Go for it, Murakami!” I’m encouraged every time I hear someone say that. And, I feel like answering“Yes, thank you very much. I’ll do my best!” (from Yakult Swallows Official Website)

My understanding is that my supporting Munetaka will also encourage Haruki. I think that would be very efficient, so I will do my best to support Munetaka, and indirectly support Haruki. Isn’t that a good idea?