The City and Its Uncertain Walls

March 13, 2023 By mk

On 1 March 2023, the title of Haruki Murakami’s new novel ‘The City and Its Uncertain Walls’, to be published on 13 April, was announced in Japan.

Posters notifying the new book are appearing in Tokyo bookstores, and Amazon, which had been accepting pre-orders even before the title was announced, quickly updated its page.

Everyone is eagerly anticipating its release. Needless to say, translating into various languages must have been arranged as well.

The content of the new novel has NOT been revealed in any way. As always, its contents will be kept secret until it is published.

The Title

But there is something significant about this new work: its title ‘The City and Its Uncertain Walls’. It is the title of the novel written only for a magazine in 1980, minus the comma.

The 1980 novel, ‘The City, and Its Uncertain Wall’ was published in the September 1980 issue of Bungakukai magazine and was considered the prototype for Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, published in 1985.

However, at Murakami’s request, it was never included in any book or collection, nor was it ever translated.

Of course, ‘The City and Its Uncertain Walls’ will be a completely new novel.

But at the same time, in giving it a title that is slightly different from his previous one, I sense Murakami’s professionalism and his benign obsession with completing the unfinished work of his life.

The 1980 novel

In ‘The City, and Its Uncertain Wall’, published in 1980, the story is narrated as the protagonist’s memory.

In the summer of 18, ‘I’ met a girl and learned that she was a shadow of a girl in the ‘city’, surrounded by high ‘walls’, where the real her works in the library.

After the death of her ‘shadow’, ‘I’ entered the ‘city surrounded by the walls’ and talked to old dreams in the library as a prophet.

There, an ex-lieutenant old man told war memories from his youth and “perfect nothingness”. ‘I’ reached the bottom of a deep well, and finally, walked out of the ‘city’ through the walls.

In the present, ‘I’ still thinks of the girl.

Although the novel seems not mature, it is not that bad. It is full of important motifs and characterisations that appear in Murakami’s later novels and offers a wide range of possibilities.

While there are interesting glimmers of brilliance in the story and the characters, as a whole it diverges and fails to live up to its potential.

At the same time, it is a curious work that makes me feel like I am dissecting the author’s thought process. For a reader familiar with Murakami’s mature fiction, it is interesting to get a glimpse of the Pangaea on which his novels are based.

Not many Japanese readers have read the novel, because it was published only once in a magazine, and then not in book form. And we, the readers, respected Murakami’s will and treated ‘The City, and Its Uncertain Walls’ as a kind of experimental study.

And its essence is considered to have been sublimated in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World.

By ‘sublimation’, I mean that his past dissatisfaction had got ‘jobutsu: enlightenment’ in the idiomatic Japanese expression.

In other words, it was thought that the self-resentment the author felt while writing the novel had been resolved by writing a masterpiece in which the author digested past frustrations.

Doing that allows them to reach enlightenment and to arrive at a realm beyond life and death. This also connects up with mankind’s salvation. So-called Nirvana

Killing Commendatore, Ch.15 (2017)

What was surprising about the new title was that Murakami had rehashed the title of his previous sealed novel, which was thought to have been ‘cleared up’, and that he was holding on to the feeling he had had 43 years earlier.

And it raises expectations of how his mature skill will be demonstrated in the new novel.

Why is it you can’t forget what you really want to forget?”

The Silence, from The Elephant Vanishes, 1991

The Past Comments on the 1980 Novel

In the 1991 interview, Murakami expressed his thoughts on ‘The City, and Its Uncertain Wall’, which had been published 11 years earlier.

I should have left it out, worked out the details and written it down. But I wrote it… It might be a good thing that I did write it, though.

But soon after I wrote it, I felt a lot of self-loathing. That was a difficult story. At that time, my ability was not good enough to be able to write it.

I could not do a good job of it, but it existed because there was something in it. I would not publish it at all.

After I wrote ‘The City, and Its Uncertain Walls’, I had conversations with Ryu Murakami that are now included in the book ‘Walk Don’t Run’.

He said, “That was interesting, but…” I don’t have a perfect memory of it, but he was in praise of it.

Unauthorized translation from the interview on Murakami Haruki Book, 1991.

In a collection of conversations between Haruki Murakami and Ryu Murakami, published in 1981, the year after ‘The City, and Its Uncertain Wall’ and a year before Wild Sheep Chase, they mentioned the following way;

I think “Pinball, 1973 and Hear the Wind Sing” and “The City, and Its Uncertain Walls” was supposed to be a pair of works.

But “Pinball, 1973 and Hear the Wind Sing” are strong… It would be better to write a sequel to “The City, and Its Uncertain Walls” as a backcloth or something similar because I think it is a bit weak and could be underestimated.

It should be something more than that.


Yes, that’s true. It is a bit too vulnerable.



I’m planning to rework “The City, and Its Uncertain Walls” and put a lot of collage-like things on it, and then make it all together. It will take time to do that.

Unauthorized translation from “Walk, Don’t Run” p86 (Ryu Murakami and Haruki Murakami, 1981)

Murakami himself, commenting on Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, which was included in the complete collection published in 1990, wrote as follows;

I had decided to rewrite “The City, and Its Uncertain Walls”, which I had written for Bungakukai Magazine some time ago.

But I had no idea in which direction to take it. I wrote it after “Pinball, 1973”, but it was still too early to write about that subject.

When I finished it, I realised that I was not ready to write it. I don’t have a lot of regrets about what I did, but one of them was that I did it for publication. I shouldn’t have done that.

But having published it made me want to rewrite it and make it as decent as possible. If I had not published “The City, and Its Uncertain Walls”, “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” might have been very different.

This time, the publisher asked me to include “The City, and Its Uncertain Walls” in this collection, but I didn’t want to.

Unauthorized translation from The Complete Works of Haruki Murakami 1979-1989 <4> (1990)

In rewriting “The City, and Its Uncertain Walls”, Murakami’s final idea was to write two stories in parallel and bring them together at the end. In 1985, he published “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World“.

The novel was highly acclaimed for its creative hard-edged plot in a surreal landscape and won the renowned Tanizaki Junichiro Award of the year.

and now…

Ad at the bookstore

Looking forward to the new novel with all my heart and believe that the 74-year-old maestro will deliver a stunning work that will far exceed all expectations.

Thursday the 13th of April 2023 is going to be a very busy day for a bookshop in Japan and a day full of pleasure for readers.

May the translation be completed as soon as possible so that we can share the joy of reading with the world!