Happy Birthday, Haruki Murakami and Jack London

January 12, 2022 By mk

Murakami was born on 12 January 1949 and today is his 73rd birthday. Coincidentally, the birthday of Jack London (12 January 1876 – 22 November 1916) and Murakami are the same (London was born 73 years before Murakami), and Murakami once created a “Jack London Club” on the Internet for people with the same birthday and issued them with a membership number.

Jack London is featured in Dance Dance Dance, in which the protagonist reads London’s biography on the train. In the novel, the actor Gotanda and his fate are depicted as a contrast to the protagonist who looks like Murakami himself, who contrasts himself with London’s intense life.

I slept for thirty minutes, and the rest of the trip I read a biography of Jack London I’d bought near the Hakodate station. Compared to the grand sweep and romance of Jack London’s life, my existence seemed like a squirrel with its head against a walnut, dozing until spring. (Damce Dance Dance, Ch.4, Originally published on 13 October 1988 in Japan)

585 days after Dance Dance Dance was published, Murakami wrote an essay titled “Jack London’s Dentures” in the Asahi Shimbun (newspaper) on 21 May 1990. This essay was so highly praised that it was included in a Japanese junior high school textbook. A brief outline of the main part of the essay is as follows;

When Jack London went to a small village in the Korean peninsula, he was given an enthusiastic welcome by the villagers. Initially, London was impressed that he was known even in an oriental small village, but it gradually became clear that the villagers were not actually interested in London as a famous writer, but in his ‘dentures’. However, London was not disheartened and responded sincerely to the villagers’ wishes by repeatedly showing to put his dentures in and out of his mouth. He later recalled that he had learned the lesson that “No matter how much effort a man puts into something, it is rare that he is recognised in that field.”

Then, Murakami wrote;

If a thousand people had been put in exactly the same situation, I doubt if anyone else could have drawn such a lesson.” But when you think about it, I think he’s right: even if you make a bloody effort at something, you don’t always get the recognition you deserve. That’s a fact that people should keep in mind. After reading this episode, I like Jack London even more than before.

This makes me reminds of the unspeakable conflicts in the First Person Singular (story) published in 2020.

In 1999, Jack London is mentioned in ‘Landscape with Flatiron’, included in the short story collection ‘After the quake’ with shrouded darkness.

“There’s this American writer called Jack London,” Miyake began. “Sure, the guy who wrote about the fire.” “That’s him. For a long time, he thought he was going to die by drowning in the sea. He was absolutely sure of it. He’d slip and fall into the ocean at night, and nobody would notice, and he’d drown.” “Did he really drown?” Miyake shook his head. “Nope. Killed himself with morphine.”

Landscape with Flatiron in “After the Quake

In London’s autobiographical novel ‘Martin Eden’, he makes the protagonist, who is a projection of himself, commit suicide and later he himself followed at the height of his fame.

In Murakami’s novels, there are many suicides. However, the protagonists, who seem to be a projection of Murakami himself, never do so. And today, Murakami celebrates his 73rd birthday. I wish him long and healthy life and a very happy birthday.