Best-selling Japanese author Haruki Murakami, hosting a special radio show featuring some of his favorite songs he runs to, says writing novels is about rhythm, as in music and running.
"Murakami Radio," a pre-recorded show broadcast Sunday night, featured as its themes two crucial elements of his life as a novelist: running and music. During the 55-minute show, Murakami played nine numbers he enjoys running to — rock and jazz — selected from thousands of titles stored on several iPods, while sharing stories behind the songs and talking about running and writing.
A perennial contender for the Nobel literature prize, Murakami said he initially had no intention of becoming a writer. After finishing university, he was running a jazz bar in Tokyo and music was his thing, and that's where his style comes from, he said.
"Rather than learning storytelling technique from someone, I've taken a musical approach, while being very conscious about rhythms, harmony and improvisation," the 69-year-old Murakami said on the radio. "It's like writing as I dance, even though I don't actually dance. For me, writing tends to be a very physical process, and that's my style. If you think my books are easy to read, perhaps we have something in common musically."
A native of Kyoto, Murakami has precise memories of when he decided to become a writer: at around 1:30 p.m. on April 1, 1978, while attending a baseball game at Tokyo's Jingu Stadium — home to the underdog Japanese baseball team the Yakult Swallows, his favorite — where he saw an American named Dave Hilton hit a double, he wrote in his 2007 memoir, "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running."
Murakami's first novel, "Hear the Wind Sing," came out in 1979. His 1987 romantic novel "Norwegian Wood" was his first best-seller, establishing him as a young literary star. Recent best-sellers include "1Q84," ''Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" and his latest novel, "Killing Commandatore." Music serves as important motifs in his stories, and he has also written books on the topic.
Murakami started running soon after becoming a novelist, initially to lose weight he had gained from long hours of sitting and writing. He has since become a serious runner, completing more than 30 marathons.
He said he runs to keep up his physical strength. "When you write, your physical ability is extremely important," he said. "You sit all day and keep writing, so it takes a lot of energy, even though many people don't seem to believe me."
Rock music is his usual choice for running to keep a steady pace, he said, recommending "songs that you can sing along to, ideally those that give you courage."
Protagonists in Murakami's stories are often troubled young men seeking their self-identity in grim, dark or fantastical settings. But Murakami was upbeat and humorous during Sunday's program as in his short stories and essays, including his 2001 essay collection titled "Murakami Radio."
The publicity-shy Murakami said jokingly that sometimes he regrets not having a pen name. "Once I had a skin problem and went to a dermatology and venereology clinic, then a receptionist called out 'Murakami-san.' It was so embarrassing," he said.
Ahead of Sunday's show, Murakami said in a message released through Tokyo FM that he's collected so many records and CDs, he felt it would be more fun to share some of them than to keep the pleasure to himself. He has seven iPods storing 1,000 to 2,000 titles each, from which he chose the songs for Sunday's show.
Delighted fans' messages flooded social networks. "I have goose bumps ... Haruki Murakami really exists!" tweeted one fan.
"He has a nice voice," another tweet said. Some fans gathered at a book cafe to listen to the show together.
Murakami opened the show with Donald Fagen's "Madison Times," originally composed by jazz pianist Ray Bryant. He then played "Heigh-Ho/Whistle While You Work/Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, one of Murakami's favorite groups and one mentioned in his debut novel.
Other songs played: "DB Blues" by King Pleasure, "Sky Pilot" by Eric Burdon and the Animals, "What a Wonderful World" by Joey Ramone, "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" by George Harrison, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" by Ben Sidran, "Love Train" by Hall & Oates and "Light My Fire" by the Doors.
Murakami took a few questions he selected from more than 2,000 submitted in advance, including some from abroad, though Sunday's program was for domestic listeners only. Asked what music he would request for his own funeral, Murakami said none: "I would rather go quietly." Asked to choose between life without a cat or music, he didn't answer, saying he would regret it either way.
While seeking privacy, Murakami has spoken out on various issues, including nuclear energy, global peace and, most recently, the executions of 13 Japanese cultists for a Tokyo subway gassing and other crimes.