Murakami’s Jazz BarAugust 4, 2021
Murakami’s novels are known for their surrealism. Still, this surrealism does not exist independently but is further enhanced by the reality of the scenes and place names detailed in his novels.
From the point of view of a local Tokyo resident who experienced the period in which the novel is set, the scenery and the way people talk in his novels, though fictional, are so convincing that one can almost believe that this is what it was like. Just as Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels exquisitely depict the landscape of London and its inhabitants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Murakami’s novels accurately depict Tokyo and its inhabitants in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
That’s how I came to open an upscale jazz bar in the basement of a brand-new building in Aoyama. (South of the Border, West of the Sun)
One of the places he often describes in his novels is a bar. His descriptions combine the experience of working inside the bar counter as a bar owner with the long hours he spent outside the bar counter as a customer, giving it a unique flavour.
In 1974, at the age of 25, he opened a jazz bar, Peter Cat in Kokubunji. In 1977 he moved to Sendagaya, where he had a revelation at a Yakult Swallows game at the nearby Jingu Stadium, and wrote: “Hear the Wind Sing” and “Pinball, 1973” at his kitchen table. In 1982, he decided to become a full-time writer and, after taking over ‘Peter Cat’, he wrote ‘The Wild Sheep Chase’.
In 2015 on an agony uncle website, a university student who was now a café manager asked, “When you were running a bar, is there a principle ( kind of?) that you look back on now and think, “This was the most important thing”?”
Murakami answered. “My idea was that it was okay not to be liked by all the customers: if three out of ten people liked my bar and one of them came back, that was enough, and the bar was empirically viable. It’s the same with a novel: if three out of ten people like it and one of them reread it, that’s fine. That’s basically how I think. It’s a lot easier when you think that way. I can do what I want when I want.”
He also answered the request from another person “Could you rerun a jazz bar?” He replied, “When I retire from writing, I’d like to open a jazz club in Aoyama. If so, I’d wear a white jacket, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (I wonder if Comme des Garçons sells such things?). I would sit at the bar, sip a Laphroig and say to the pianist, “I told you not to play that tune, Sam”. But actually, running a jazz club is not that carefree. I still can’t get out of the habit of counting the headcount and calculating the fee when I was going to a jazz club. It’s an exhausting problem.
He is a down-to-earth person really consistent. In a 1981 interview in a magazine, he said;
When I was 24, I saved up two million yen from my part-time job and borrowed the rest to open a shop in Kokubunji. Then I sold the bar and borrowed money again to buy my current bar. I didn’t do anything that people would backbite me for (laughs). I saved the first two million yen by working part-time with my wife and I’ve never worked for a company. So if there’s anything I can boast of, it’s that I did everything by myself. So even now, I feel more alive when I’m making a 400 yen glass of whisky and water than when I’m writing a novel. (Inteview January 1981)
If there is one thing that gives Murakami’s novels their solid backbone, it is his down-to-earth work experience, as it was for Hemingway and Tolkien. On his radio show at the end of last year, he was the first to express his sympathy and support for his listeners working in restaurants and bars during the pandemic. For him, the plight of the restaurants was no stranger to him.
I used to run a restaurant for about seven years, so I know how hard it is to have no customers. I heartily sympathize with the hardship of the people in the restaurant industry and wish them the best of luck. (Murakami Radio, 31 Dec, 2020)