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Murakami: “The problem with Japan's nuclear plant is the absence of idealism. The next ten years should be the years of idealism once again.”

The Japanese writer was awarded the 23rd Premi Internacional Catalunya in Barcelona. Haruki Murakami announced during the ceremony he will give the prize money to the Tsunami and Fukushima victims, after delivering an anti nuclear power speech. In a later interview with CNA, Murakami explained he will take many ideas with him from his Barcelona trip. He will store these “into one of the drawers” of his mind and later will use them in upcoming books, as he always does.


11 June 2011 03:17 PM


ACN / Violeta Gumà / Maria Fernández Noguera

Barcelona (ACN).- Haruki Murakami was awarded the 23rd Premi Internacional Catalunya at a ceremony that took place on Thursday evening at the Catalan Government\u2019s Palace. The Japanese writer delivered an acceptance speech in which he deeply and bitterly criticised nuclear power and especially the way in which his country has been dealing with it for many decades. \u201CThe Japanese people should have been saying \u201Cno\u201D to nuclear energy. That is my opinion\u201D, he said. Then he added \u201CWe should have put all our efforts into technological power, knowledge and the social capital we had as a country to develop an effective way that could have substituted nuclear power. It would have been the way to assume a collective responsibility towards the numerous victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki\u201D. Murakami said he would donate the 80,000 euros awarded with the prize to the victims of Japan\u2019s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident of Fukushima. The day after he received the prize, CNA interviewed him.

One of the reasons for having won the 23rd Premi Internacional Catalunya, as stated by the jury, is that your work is a bridge between West and East. However, some Japanese critics have been displeased by the westernisation of your work. Sometimes do you feel like an odd man in your homeland?

When I started to write fiction, some critics criticised me by saying I was too westernised. But not these days, I guess, because I have changed my style a lot. I\u2019m writing stories which I didn\u2019t write in my early career. These days, I don\u2019t think my stories are western or eastern, they are just my stories, my distinctive stories. These days they are not saying my story is eastern or western, they are accepting my story as it is. When I came to Europe or America, people said my stories were very westernised. In my early career, you could say that, but nowadays I don\u2019t think so. I\u2019m writing my own stories. Not East, not West.

\u201CMy stories are not from the West nor from the East, they are simply my characteristic stories\u201D

Do you feel more in the East, more in the West?

I don\u2019t think that way. It\u2019s my way.

Do you think more bridges are needed between East and West?

I don\u2019t think that way\u2026 [he laughs] Things are already mixed up, very naturally, we don\u2019t need to build the bridge. It\u2019s globalised. [Eastern and Western] cultures are so different from each other; that\u2019s true. But if the story is good, you don\u2019t care. You don\u2019t care if it comes from the East or from the West. I believe in the power of good stories.

\u201CI believe in the power of good stories\u201D

So we could say that good stories are universal?

Yes, that\u2019s right. My books are well sold in China, Japan, the United States or Europe. So people ask me why my books are accepted all over the world, in many areas. I have no idea. All I can say is just if it\u2019s a good story, people read that book. That is the only answer.

Would you say that one of your strong points it\u2019s your capacity to surprise the readers?

I like to be surprised myself. When I\u2019m writing a story, I don\u2019t know what\u2019s going to happen next. You don\u2019t know what will happen after you walk around a corner. That is very exciting. Every morning I write stories, fiction. I\u2019m expecting what\u2019s going to happen and it\u2019s exciting and thrilling. I like to be surprised myself and if I am surprised, the readers will be surprised. I don\u2019t make up anything, I\u2019m just waiting for it to happen. I\u2019m very happy to be a writer, because I can be surprised every day when writing the book.

In your characters there are a lot of autobiographical features?

I don\u2019t think so! I don\u2019t think so at all. You could say my characters are one possibility of myself. When I pick the character in my story, sometimes I imagine he could have been me. But he\u2019s not. So I\u2019m already thinking, \u201COh yes, I could have been him, but I\u2019m not him. We are so different from each other\u201D. And it also happens with female characters; she could have been me, but she\u2019s not me of course. Some parts of my characters are parts of my-self but globally he or she is not me. Actually, if I write about myself, it\u2019s boring\u2026 [he laughs] So I\u2019m trying to pursue a possibility [of myself].

\u201CI don\u2019t like the realistic style at all\u201D

Which is your source of inspiration, reality or fiction?

I don\u2019t like the realistic style at all. For instance, \u2018Norwegian woods\u2019 is an exception within my work. I\u2019m always more inclined to fantasies, unrealistic stories, because it\u2019s more thrilling for me. I\u2019m more excited writing unrealistic stories. It\u2019s like if you were sitting in a pitch and you were surrounded by a wall, a stone wall. But if you concentrate, you can go through the stone wall. It\u2019s not realistic, but metaphorically, it\u2019s real. I like that kind of story.

And what is your inspiration to make up all that?

\u201CActually, I don\u2019t make up anything. Those images come to me very naturally. If you want those things to come, you have to concentrate; you have to prepare. And you have to be by yourself, alone. If you are a writer and you write something, you have a feeling of solitude, you are by yourself, surrounded by darkness. Sometimes it\u2019s so hard\u2026 but if you endure it, if you accept loneliness, things will come to you. You have to wait, you don\u2019t have to make up those things\u201D.

\u201CBarcelona is unique\u201D

It\u2019s amazing listening to you saying that stories just appear. Do you think that Catalonia is a good source of inspiration?

Yes, I think so. Especially Barcelona. It\u2019s an amazing city. I have visited so many European cities, but Barcelona is unique. The buildings, the people, the sea\u2026 I like Prague. It\u2019s a very strange city. It has its own atmosphere. Barcelona is just like that, it\u2019s very special. Gaudí and everything. I like to walk around the city.

Do you think of including something from Catalonia or Barcelona in your work?

In my case I can write something related to Barcelona, but it\u2019s not Barcelona. I change the things into other things. It could be Tokyo. Some of the scenery of Tokyo could be some of the scenery of Barcelona. I transfer it to another place. The character is the same thing. If I find something unique in you, I could transfer it into another character. That means I wouldn\u2019t write about you but I would write about something in you in other places. A single character has thus many things from other people I have met. So every time I meet someone, I look for something I could use [he laughs]. To observe the person, to observe the scenary that is the work of the novelist. Observation. But I don\u2019t judge you. I don\u2019t judge \u201Cshe\u2019s mad\u201D, \u201Cshe\u2019s beautiful\u201D, \u201Cshe\u2019s funny\u201D, I wouldn\u2019t judge that. I just observe. Life is very interesting if you have the eyes for observation. You don\u2019t have to judge.

And with a place it's the same, right?

Yes, exactly. I\u2019m always looking at everything.

You came to Barcelona two years ago. Was it the first time?

Yes, last time was my first time in Spain. I went to Galicia, to Santiago the Compostela and then to Barcelona. Santiago de Compostela was a very interesting city, so different from Barcelona.

Do you think that in your next works, when reading them, we could suddenly realise there is something from Barcelona, even without the name of Barcelona?

It could be. My mind is just like a desk that has many drawers. One drawer is for Barcelona. If I find something here, I store it into this drawer where there are so many things already.

Have you gone running in Barcelona?

Not yet. It has been raining these last few days and I\u2019m staying in a hotel in the city centre, where it\u2019s not so easy to go running. But last time I was running along the coast; it\u2019s a very good place for jogging, but not this time.

Which is for you the relationship between running and writing?

You should be physically strong if you want to write a big book. \u20181Q84\u2019 took three years to write. I worked everyday for six hours in the morning. It\u2019s kind of exhausting sometimes. Everyday you have to concentrate for five or six hours, every day for three years. You should be tired. You should be exhausted. If you survive you should be physically strong. And if you want to be physically strong, you need to practice sports. That\u2019s a rule. So I run or I swim. These are two sides of the coin: mentally strong and physically strong. You could be just physically strong or just mentally strong, but if you want to be a writer you need to have both of them. I have been running for more than thirty years and I have been working for more than thirty years. However most writers didn't practice sport. Dostoyevsky didn\u2019t practice so hard. But this was in the 19th century. Now it\u2019s the 21st century and things are different.

While running, do you think about your work?

Not at all. I just listen to my I-Pod. I don\u2019t think about anything. When I\u2019m writing, I\u2019m thinking about everything. But when I\u2019m running. I just listen to the music.

Which music? Jazz?

No. Rock music. I have three or four I-Pods and I have all kinds of music in them. From The Doors, to Jimmy Hendrix or Lady Gaga. Everything. I enjoy choosing the music for running.

It\u2019s said you love music.

Yes, very much.

You used to work in a music store, like one of your characters in \u2018Norwegian Woods\u2019.

Yes. I\u2019m collecting old music. I\u2019m collecting albums. Many jazz. But for running, I\u2019m more into rock music. I like classical music too.

What\u2019s the relationship between writing and music?

I hadn\u2019t have written anything before the time I was 29 years old. I was just listening to music and reading books, but I didn\u2019t want to write something myself. But when I turned 29, I just wanted to write something. I didn\u2019t know how to write, I had no idea. So I thought that I could write just like I was playing music. I played piano. What I needed was rhythm, harmony and improvisation. I think I learned a lot from the improvisation. I write my stories just as if I were improvising a melody. I love jazz, and jazz is improvisation. To me writing is a kind of improvisation. I should be free. So if you\u2019re listening to music while you\u2019re reading my book, I\u2019m very happy about that. Many people say music is the theme of my story, or the meaning, but I don\u2019t write about music for a purpose, as a theme or a meaning. It\u2019s not that important. To me, what is important is that you listen to the music through my story.

So your work has always music?

Yes. It should have music! If a book has rhythm, people will keep reading it. But if it doesn\u2019t have rhythm, people do not read it. People get bored after two or three pages. Rhythm is so important.

You\u2019ve said that \u201Cisms\u201D and bid ideologies, such as \u201CCapitalism\u201D or \u201CCommunism\u201D do not have place in this century. Do you think our society is sentenced to failure? Where are we going now without big ideologies?

That\u2019s a big question. As a novelist, as a fiction writer, I believe in the power of good stories. When you read a good story, you go into it. Then you are surrounded by a fictional truth. If you read Madame Bovary, of Flaubert, you could be Madame Bovary sometimes, if you concentrate on the reading. It\u2019s a great thing to put your feet into other people shoes, feeling that you are the other person. It\u2019s a kind of empathy and sympathy. A good story brings you into another place and you could be feeling like another person. I don\u2019t believe in any \u201CIsm\u201D, such as \u201CCommunism\u201D or another \u201Cism\u201D, but I do believe in the power of empathy and sympathy. It\u2019s a very simple thing but I believe in this power, in imagination. Imagination is a great thing.

It\u2019s a thing shared by everybody.

That\u2019s right. If you read a good story and sombody has read this same story, if both of you felt the same, both of you shared imagination. The sense of sharing is a great thing. I believe in that kind of thing. Not \u201Cisms\u201D but basic sharing of feelings. I\u2019m optimistic.

Are you optimistic about the world\u2019s future in this century?

As a novelist, I am an optimistic. Somehow I believed I could change the world by reading and writing good stories. But apart from my fiction writing, I cannot be so optimistic. The world has so many problems\u2026 But at the same time I\u2019m optimistic when I\u2019m writing. And I want my readers to be optimistic while reading my stories. They can be pessimistic; sometimes they should be it. But when reading my stories they should get optimistic somehow. That is why I believe that sense of humour is very important.

\u201CThe main theme is always love [\u2026] If you love somebody it helps you to go through the darkness \u201D

How do you imagine the hero of your next story? Will he or she be optimistic, especially after saying it will deal with the Tsunami?

Sometimes I write very dark stories, very bloody, very brutal. But one thing that is mutual in my characters is that they believe in love. It\u2019s so simple. They believe in love. And in some part of them, they believe love can solve problems. That\u2019s optimistic. You should believe in love, that\u2019s the core of a good story. I\u2019m actually kind of embarrassed to say that [he laughs]

It\u2019s OK, you don\u2019t have to say it.

Yeah. But you should believe in love. It\u2019s just like the title of a song.

Yes, it\u2019s the big engine of the world

That\u2019s right. If the story is a happy-ending or not a happy-ending at all, if the main character believes in love, it\u2019s an optimistic story, no matter if it\u2019s dark or not.

The conclusion would be that even if there has been a big disaster in Japan, if we believe in love, we can move on.

Yes, that is the main thing. It\u2019s very hard to be optimistic sometimes. But a good story should encourage this feeling in any person, as a good story should inspire, evoke, shake the person\u2019s mind and make them believe that love is a very important thing. The book \u20181Q84\u2019 is my newest here, it\u2019s a very long book, and complicated, very twisted, dark brutal, but the main thing is love. If you love somebody it helps you to go through the darkness. It\u2019s too simple.

In older novels, love had always an important role.

I have some favourite books in my life. For instance, Dostoyevsky\u2019s \u2018Brothers Karamazov\u2019 I love that book very much. It\u2019s about love. I like Great Gatsby, by Scot Fitzgerald, and it\u2019s a story about love. I read all the good stories, love stories.

When are you planning to start writing your next book?

I\u2019m taking a rest right now. I\u2019m kind of exhausted after I completed \u20181Q84\u2019, I\u2019m kind of empty. So I\u2019m collecting many things in Tokyo, in Barcelona, I\u2019m collecting information and everything. So when I\u2019ll fill the drawer in my chest, I\u2019ll think \u201COK, it\u2019s time for me to start writing\u201D. And I\u2019m ready for that time. Maybe it'll be in one year, maybe in two years, I don\u2019t know. But I\u2019m sure it will come. So I\u2019ll be just walking on the street and some day the guard of my dream will appear. So I\u2019m just waiting.

But once you start, you don\u2019t stop?

No, once I start I can\u2019t stop. I just keep on going until the end. I\u2019m very confident that I can finish the story and how long it will take. It\u2019s strange but you know how long it will take. When I started writing \u20181Q84\u2019 I had the feeling I would have it written in one year, in 12 months.

Do you think your next novel will be another novel?

I have no idea. I\u2019m thinking I might write something shorter. I have been writing big books for many years, and I\u2019m feeling it\u2019s time to write short stories. I\u2019d like to write short stories because it just takes a week or ten days to finish a short story, so it\u2019s easier. Then I will write five or six short stories. Then I will take time and then maybe I will write another big book I guess.

Yesterday you criticised the nuclear companies, saying they prefer efficiency over security. You were talking earlier that love is the world\u2019s engine. Maybe those companies should be more concerned about love?

I entered the University of Tokyo in 1968. Those were years of revolution. Young people were very idealistic and very political. Those years are gone. People are not interested in idealism any more and they are trying to make a profit. The problem with the nuclear plant in Japan is the absence of idealism. I think the next ten years should be the years of idealism again. We should build up a new value system. In 1968, 1969, people were saying \u201Cpeace and love\u201D. Maybe we should have the age of \u201Cpeace and love\u201D again. It will be easier to be optimistic. It\u2019s not easy right now, but we should be if we want to survive. Capitalism is on the turning point right now; we have to seek for the revival of humanism. Efficiency and conviniency is the easy way, but we should seek for the hard way sometimes. That is what I feel and I think we should think about it again. I\u2019m a bit embarrassed to say that! [he laughs] But still I\u2019m going to write very dark stories, very twisted, brutal, bloody stories. Although I\u2019m idealistic and optimistic, and I believe in love.


Murakami, one of the world\u2019s best sellers

Haruki Murakami is one of the most popular writers in the world. He became popular with \u2018Norwegian Wood\u2019 (translated into several languages such as Catalan and Spanish as \u2018Tokyo Blues\u2019), in 1987. He was born in Kyoto in 1949 and studied Literature at university. Early in his career, he combined his own work with translations, as well as with one of his passions, jazz music. He even managed a jazz club in Kyoto for some time. Music is in fact very present in his books, as it is reflected by the titles of some of them: \u2018Norwegian Wood\u2019 from The Beatles; \u2018Dance Dance Dance\u2019 from The Dells and \u2018South of the Border, West of the Sun\u2019 from a Nat King Cole song. His work has been labelled by some critics, especially in Japan, as \u201Cpop literature\u201D. He combines real life with a dream universe, in a very personal style, where humour, nostalgia and music have an important role. Murakami has lived in the United States, where he was a lecturer at Princeton University. He has translated Raymond Carver, John Irving and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among other authors. His most recent successes have been: \u2018Sputnik Sweetheart\u2019, \u2018The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle\u2019, \u2018Kafka on the Shore\u2019, \u2018After Dark\u2019, and \u20181Q84\u2019. Many of his books have been translated into Catalan, as well many other languages.

The Premi Internacional Catalunya is given to world-relevance personalities

The \u2018Premi Internacional Catalunya\u2019 is awarded annually by the Catalan Government to individuals who have contributed decisively with their work to develop cultural, scientific and human values around the world. Last year, former US President Jimmy Carter received the award. Other winners have been: the leader of Myanmar\u2019s opposition Aung San Suu Kyi, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, American writer Harold Bloom, French oceanographer Jacques Yves Cousteau, British philosopher Karl Popper, Indian economist Amartya Sen, former Czech Republic President and writer Václav Havel, or former European Commission President Jacques Delors, among others. The Premi Internacional Catalunya was launched in 1989. It includes a prize of  80,000 euros and a sculpture from Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies.

Murakami will be awarded the 23rd \u2018Premi Internacional Catalunya\u2019. He was chosen out of 196 candidates from 56 different countries. The candidates were presented by 225 institutions from 54 different countries along with the same jury. They were presented in the second half of 2010. From January, the jury examined the different candidatures. After having a short list of finalists, they voted by an absolute majority to give this year\u2019s award to the Japanese author. The jury\u2019s Chairperson is the Catalan President and the jury\u2019s delegate chairperson is the philosopher Xavier Rupert de Ventós. Other members are art historian and diplomat Wijdan al-Hashemi, architect Ricard Bofill, art critic Juan Manuel Bonet, writer Josep Maria Castellet, politician Jacques Delors, soprano Barbara Hendricks, philosopher Edgar Morin, sociologist Richard Sennett, biologist Anna Veiga, and physicist Jorge Wagensberg.


  • Japanese writer Haruki Murakami at the Catalan Government's palace (by M. Fernández)

  • Haruki Murakami during the interview (by M. Fernández)

  • Japanese writer Haruki Murakami at the Catalan Government's palace (by M. Fernández)
  • Haruki Murakami during the interview (by M. Fernández)