Haruki Murakami is a shining star in the literary world, but there is still a lot that isn’t commonly known about the perennial Nobel Prize favorite (and never the winner) — so who is Haruki Murakami? As revered as he is, he mostly seems to avoid the limelight and even writers’ circles; in fact, he once admitted to the Paris Review that he had no writer friends. Instead, he has kept busy with his own work and is constantly adding to his list of books — much to the delight of his global fan base.
Not surprisingly, Murakami is as unique as his work. His writing career basically started on a whim, and it quickly turned into one of acclaim. He gained a devoted “cult” following, and within the decade, that popularity expanded exponentially. Murakami has become an important global figure, and his books have sold millions of copies around the world, in dozens of languages.
The parts in between are as interesting as his career highlights, though. Murakami doesn’t just pen beautiful, inspiring words, he takes an unconventional approach to writing — and life in general. It’s worth knowing more about his unexpected and sometimes unusual background, habits, and philosophies.
Below are 15 fascinating facts about the great Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.
1. He was inspired to write a novel during a baseball game.
Believe it or not, in a way, we have baseball to thank for Murakami’s career; he was inspired to write a novel while at a game one April afternoon. “I had the sudden notion that ‘perhaps I too can write a novel,’” he revealed in an interview posted on his website. “I don’t know why. I think it was a so-called epiphany.” He started writing that night.
2. He used to run a jazz bar.
Before becoming the award-winning writer we know today, Murakami and his wife ran a small jazz bar for seven years. He told the Guardian in 2011 that it was called Peter Cat.
3. He started writing his first novel in English before switching to Japanese.
When it came to starting his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, Murakami tried English for the opening pages, “just to hear how they sounded,” he told the New Yorker in 2013. He later further discussed the experience in a 2015 Lit Hub interview, revealing that his “ability in English composition didn’t amount to much.” Still, it was a useful exercise.
“I could only write in simple, short sentences,” he told Lit Hub. “The result was a rough, uncultivated kind of prose. As I struggled to express myself in that fashion, however, step by step, a distinctive rhythm began to take shape.”
4. At one time, he didn’t want his first two novels translated into English.
Murakami wasn’t an immediate hit among English speakers because his early books weren’t translated for them. By the time English-speaking fans started clamoring for his work, he didn’t like the idea of them reading his first novels. It wasn’t until 2015 that they were published in the United States.
“My first two books have not been published outside of Japan; I didn’t want them to be,” Murakami told the Paris Review in 2004. “They’re immature works, I think—very small books. They were flimsy, if that’s the right word.”
“Flimsy” is arguable, of course — his first novel won the Gunzo Prize for New Writers, among other awards.
5. He is a translator, but he doesn’t translate his own novels.
Murakami has done a lot of translation over the years, but he isn’t interested in translating his own novels to English. In his 2011 Guardian interview, he revealed that he’ll convert books written in English to Japanese but doesn’t do the reverse. He has regular translators, and the author doesn’t do more than debate the occasional word with them.
6. Translating The Great Gatsby was a long-time goal of his.
In an essay on translation, Murakami revealed that he made a goal for himself in his late 30s to translate The Great Gatsby by age 60. He hadn’t found a version out there that “satisfied” him, so he decided he’d do it himself.
7. He usually only revisits translations of his work — not the originals.
“Unless I have to for some reason, I seldom reread my previous books (in Japanese), but I do sometimes reread the English translations,” he said in an interview on his website. “I find it enjoyable precisely because of the distance from the original text. In most cases I really enjoy reading these.”
8. He writes without a plan.
Some authors do a lot of planning beforehand, but Murakami is not one of them. He told the Guardian in 2011 that he does it “intuitively.” Obviously, it works for him.
9. He doesn’t like deadlines.
When you’re a writer as skilled and successful as Murakami, your editor will apparently let you get away with sticking to your own schedule. “I don’t like deadlines,” he told the Guardian in a 2014 interview. “When it’s finished, it’s finished. But before then, it is not finished.”
10. He likes rewriting better than first drafts.
In the same interview, Murakami described a first draft as “kind of torture.” Not surprisingly, he prefers the rest of the process because he likes to see his work “getting better and better and better.”
11. His wife’s opinion is important.
Yoko Takahashi provides valuable input for her husband. Not only is she his first reader, he revealed in his 2014 Guardian interview that she sometimes has to tell him when it’s time to stop rewriting.
He also talked about her in his 2011 interview with the publication. “She helps me a lot. She gives me advice regarding my books,” he said. “I respect her opinion.”
12. Norwegian Wood was an “experiment.”
Murakami has shared that he likes to write the dreamlike but experimented with Norwegian Wood, his first realist book. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a 100% realistic novel,” he said in an interview on his website. “And I think this experiment proved helpful later on.”
13. He writes in cats just because he loves them.
When asked about the cats in his books in the same interview, Haruki had a simple answer: “It must be because I’m personally fond of cats. I’ve always had them around since I was little. But I don’t know whether they have any other significance.”
14. He is still surprised by his own success.
It has been decades since Murakami started pulling in accolades for his writing, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still feel surreal. “The fact that I have been able to become a professional working novelist is, even now, a great surprise to me,” he said in his 2013 New Yorker interview.
15. He doesn’t know how much he makes a year.
With multiple best sellers to his name over the past 25 years, it’s safe to say that Murakami is doing well financially. Just how well, though, remains a mystery to him because his wife is in charge of their finances. “I don’t know how much I earn a year,” he told the Guardian in 2011. “I have no idea.”