Murakami’s 1Q84 is a Heavyweight

May 27, 2009 | 5

As the Japanese release date for Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 approaches, more information has begun to appear. Although the plot and the title’s meaning remain a total mystery, has put up a page count, and it’s a whopping 1,055 pages. While size isn’t everything, it seem to be working in the book’s favor; published in two volumes, it currently occupies the top two spots on Amazon Japan’s book rankings. Although I’ve yet to find confirmation of who is doing the English translation or when it will be released, English translations of Japanese text tend to be 1.5 to 2 times longer than the source text. In other words, you won’t want to drop this on your toe.

The book comes out this Friday in Japan. Check in next week for a roundup of reviews and commentary.

See also: 1Q84 Revealed
Murakami Fans Rejoice: Counting Down to 1Q84
Murakami in Berkeley
A Rare Treat for Murakami Fans: Pinball, 1973
How to Japonese nabs a copy early.

is a Washington correspondent for the Japanese news service Kyodo News. He writes on US-Japan relations, reporting from the White House and the Pentagon. In his spare time, he works as a translator. He is currently writing a police noir set in Japan. Follow him on Twitter @benjamindooley.


  1. It may not actually be that long when published in English. Murakami speaks (and translates) English himself, and often cuts the English version of his novels down considerably. Some English-speaking readers were troubled about the passages that were cut from the English version until it was explained that the author himself wants it that way. I'm under the impression that books in Japan are rushed into print with minimal editing and Murakami likes to do a lot of tweaking after the initial publication.

    I wish I could tell you exactly where I learned this, but I can't recall offhand. It may have been this roundtable of Murakami translators/editors, which I haven't the time to reread at the moment!:

  2. I believe you're right. My understanding is that The Windup Bird Chronicle, for example, received significant editing. Rumor has it that this was a decision forced on Murakami by an editor that felt the book was too long for a US audience.

    The link you've included confirms that rumor. Here's the relevant bit:

    The cutting done on WIND-UP is a complex matter. The more you look into it and into the question of revision, the more you realize there is no single authoritative version of ANY Murakami work: he tinkers with everything long after it first finds its way into print. I once heard that Willem de Kooning would occasionally follow a painting of his to the gallery and revise it on the wall, and Murakami's willingness to fix his stuff reminds me of that.
    I did virtually all the cutting on WIND-UP, but I would have done none at all if Knopf hadn't told Haruki that the book was too long and would have to be cut by some number of words (I think it was around 25,000 words). Afraid that they would hire some freelancer who could wreak havoc on the novel, and filled with a megalomaniac certainty that I knew every word in the book–maybe better than the author himself–after having translated all three hefty volumes, I decided to forestall the horror by submitting my manuscript in two versions: complete, and cut. Knopf took my cut version pretty much as is (which no doubt saved them a lot of work and expense; like Phil, I was not recognized as an editor in anything other than the notice in the front of the book).
    Having recently completed Book 3, Haruki felt incapable of cutting that, but he had enough distance from Books 1 and 2 to mark many passages for elimination–many SHORT passages that didn't add up to much in terms of word count. I included most–BUT NOT ALL–of his cuts as part of my cut version (in some, I thought he had taken out important passages), and of course sent the entire cut version to him. Later, when the paperback version of the Japanese text appeared, I found that Haruki had incorporated into that many–BUT NOT ALL– of the cuts he had suggested for the translation, so the hard cover and paperback versions in Japanese are different from each other.
    (For example, there is no reference to the illustrator Tony Takitani, a character from an earlier Murakami story, in either the translation or the Japanese paperback. Obviously, Haruki had enjoyed throwing the name in as an in-joke, then thought better of it during the process of revising for the cut translation, which he then carried over into the paperback.) Haruki did NOT, however, adopt the large cuts made for the translation into the Japanese paperback, though I have not done a systematic comparison of the two. Another different text is the British version from Harvill, which has British spellings and expressions. An energetic graduate student could have a field day tracking down all these differences, though it would probably be a waste of time. I do think, though, that if THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE outlives its time and becomes part of the canon fifty years from now, a re-translation will be needed, and scholars can have a fine time screaming about how Jay Rubin utterly butchered the text.
    As for Japanese editors, you're right, Phil, they don't edit-not the way Knopf and The New Yorker do.

    Thanks for the comment and link!

  3. Wow, how have I been a Murakami fan for so long without reading that amazing link? That is fantastic. I look forward to reading all the way through it.

    I once heard that there were plans to release the "original" version, uncut. I like Rubin's translations, so I'd be fine with just releasing his original uncut translation. I think Knopf should get on that.

  4. Yeah, I can't believe there wouldn't be a market for a more complete translation. Murakami's fanbase is a rabid one.

  5. I'm currently living in Japan and 1Q84 is sold out pretty much everywhere. The title is pronounced "Ichi Kyu Hachi Yon", which is a play on the way the year "1984" is pronounced. When I realized that Murakami was making a reference to Orwell's book, I was really excited. A student of mine has bought the book, and as soon as he tells me anything I'll post about it.

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