Picture books translated by Murakami

January 17, 2023 By murakamiclub

From the early part of his career, Haruki Murakami has been known for translating many novels into Japanese, including those by Fitzgerald and Salinger. At the same time, he has also translated picture books and has published 17 translated picture books, 13 by Chris Van Allsburg.

Allsburg’s creative universe is full of strange and enchanting splendour. Characters living in the United States suddenly wander into another world and then back into everyday life again. Underneath the seemingly ordinary illustrations, we can see the traces of the artist’s unexplainable creativity.

In the translator’s notes of Allsburg’s “The Wreck of the Zephyr,” Murakami wrote:

No matter how long I look at Chris van Allsburg’s paintings, it never gets boring. Of course, they are incredibly great. However, they have something that cannot be explained simply by the word ‘great’…The colours of the sky and the sea are not the actual colours. If we look at them carefully, the colours are exaggerated and deformed, as if they can be called unnatural. However, we can vividly recall a moment in the past when the sky and sea presented such colours. Van Allsburg’s paintings show us a landscape through which we can push the doors of our minds inwards.

The translator’s notes of “The Wreck of the Zephyr” (1983) *unauthorized translation
The Wreck of the Zephyr by Chris Van Allsburg
The Wreck of the Zephyr by Chris Van Allsburg

I feel some of the works connect to the Murakami universe: For example, in “The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup”, a book that Murakami discovered by chance at a bookshop in the US, the interaction between the old man and the cat is reminiscent of Nakata and the cats in Kafka on the Shore (note: the original edition of The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup was published in 2003. While Kafka on the Shore was released in Japanese in 2002 and English in 2005.)

The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup by Terry Farish (Text) and Barry Root (Illus)

In some of Murakami’s stories, homages to picture books can be felt. For example, the bell ringing in the protagonist’s ear in With the Beatles seems to echo the bell that plays a memorable role in The Polar Express between Kobe, Japan and Michigan, USA.

It’s hard for me to say this now, but she never rang that special bell inside my ears. I listened as hard as I could, but never once did it ring. Sadly. The girl I knew in Tokyo was the one who did it for me.

With the Beatles, Haruki Murakami (First Person Singurar)
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

For Murakami, the translation process is, as he has repeatedly written, an indispensable part of his creative process, as well as an opportunity for us, the readers, to follow in his creative trail. After all, no one reads the original texts more closely than the translator.

Writing novels is my main occupation, but I often think, “I’m lucky that I was also able to commit to translation”. I’ve learnt a lot of essential things about novels through translation. No matter how old I am, there is always something more to learn. Translating is a constant reminder of this.

Haruki Murakami, What we talk about when we talk about translation (2019) *unauthorized translation

I never write unless I really want to, unless the desire to write is overwhelming. When I feel that desire, I sit down and set to work. When I don’t feel it, I usually turn to translating from English.

Haruki Murakami, Novelist as a Vocation (2015)

The List of picture books translated by Haruki Murakami

publication in Japan
11985/09/301983The Wreck of the ZephyrChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
21987/12/011985The Polar ExpressChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
31989/08/311986The StrangerChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
41990/11/301984The Mysteries of Harris BurdickChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
51991/12/201989Swan LakeMark Helprin (Text), Chris Van Allsburg (Illus)
61993/06/251992The Widow’s BoomChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
71994/09/301993The Sweetest FigChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
81996/04/051982Ben’s DreamChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
92003/11/301991The Wretched StoneChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
102004/09/301988Two Bad AntsChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
112005/09/101979The Garden of Abdul GasaziChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
122005/11/282003The Cat Who Liked Potato SoupTerry Farish (Text), Barry Root (Illus)
132006/12/302006Probuditi!Chris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)
142010/09/101964The Giving TreeShel Silverstein (Text amd Illus)
152018/12/102010My Uncle’s DonkeyTohby Riddle (Text and Illus)
162019/11/201981The Missing Piece Meets the Big OShel Silverstein (Text amd Illus)
172019/12/201981JumanjiChris Van Allsburg (Text and Illus)