Monday, January 29, 2007

Japanese culture: I just love it!

Right now I'm reading "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami. This is the second novel of his that I've tackled, and his books are consistently surprising - they're infused with a sharp strain of magical realism, but with a weird Japanese bent. Maybe it's a response to all those towering cubicle high-rises and the packed commuter trains, or whatever twisted impulse creates those guys who never leave their parents' home for forty years, or that vein of Japanese horror movies with empty houses, mewling children and ghosts in your handheld wireless device.

Whatever it is, Murakami packs it in. He writes in such a leisurely pace, and his narrative style is so unobtrusive, yet all of the elements come together. What is fantastic seems plausible and what is unbelievable seems probable. I am definitely enjoying this book, but it's also got me thinking a lot about translation. As alien as a culture may be, the act of translation makes it accessible and familiar to the reader. I read this novel, and I think: Japanese people like humor, they use contractions, they love their wives, they like to go swimming in the summer.

I am definitely learning more about Japanese culture from this novel that I did from our time in Hawaii, when we carefully noted what the Japanese people would eat during different meals. In Hawaii's massive and wonderful ABC Stores (like 7-11 but with more Aloha spirit, in the sense of cashiers who aren't quite clear on coin denominations), they sold triangular mounds of seaweed stuffed with something weird, and the Japanese people could not get enough. These things were flying off the shelves. One morning, in a spirit of international understanding, L grabbed one at our complementary hotel breakfast. When she opened the package, it smelled so bad that she carefully placed it on the balcony and left it there for the rest of the day. She didn't want to leave it in the room, for fear of what it would do to our clothing and the bedding. I don't know what was in there - bleach? an ant farm? I just worried about the birds who might try to eat part of it, fly a few more yards, then die mid-flight and plummet down into the swimming pool. Or worse yet, a tiki torch.

The point being: Murakami is great, I'm loving this book, you might want to read it, and it's giving me a great appreciation of Japanese culture, which I am loving more than ever.

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