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Nobel Literature prize again eludes Japan's hope, Haruki Murakami

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By Megumi Lim

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I like Murakami's work, it is wacky, fun and imaginative however it can not be considered up there with the great classics.

His books are popular, both in Japan and overseas, and he was rightly considered to be a contender for the Nobel prize but he was not the favourite to win this award and so it should not have been any great surprise when another author was chosen ahead of him.

“Perhaps because Japan won science Nobels this year, we were passed over for literature.”

Some may try to turn this story into a sour grapes issue but this was not "Japan bashing", he was just beaten by a more deserving writer.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Popular-yes, but worthy of a Nobel prize? No

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Just not Nobel material.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

As a rule, the Nobel does not go to bestselling authors who are household names. Hemmingway in 1949 was probably the last such winner. Or maybe Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1982. Look at the winners from the last 20 years and go to a even a good bookstore and try to find their work in stock. You may see Gunter Grass 's the Tin Drum, but not much else. I believe the academy thinks they can give new exposure to a writer with the prize, and Murakami is probably considered too popular and not in need of the boost.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Murakami Haruki:

I got home from work and cooked spaghetti for myself. Outside the window I saw the roof of the neighbour's house. A light was burning. In the background, the TV blurred some news about this year's nobel prize winners. I did the dishes.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

He's popular. But navel gazing prose doesn't deserve the nobel prize.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Far too many people think the nobel prize is a competition to be won, likening it to the olympics.

Such notions couldn't be further from the truth. It's an award for significant contribution / benefit to humankind. Not first past the post.

I didn't see too many (any) congratulatory messages on the popular news programs to Svetlana Alexievich or the other laureates. Better such programs focus on the Rugby World cup.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

the nobels are given to individuals not nations. the prize has not "eluded" murakami . when it happens, it happens. this has all become a silly parlour game and i blame ladbrokes in the uk for this annual media game. enough already. press the ignore button in your brain. that said i am a huge fan of norwei no mori and only that novel.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@muda

He's popular. But navel gazing prose doesn't deserve the nobel prize.

@KevinMcque

I believe the academy thinks they can give new exposure to a writer with the prize, and Murakami is probably considered too popular and not in need of the boost.

Well said. Myriads elusive variables in literature awards. Selection of Nobel literature prize itself is practically navel-gazing exercise and if they are at it, they might as well shed light on hitherto not so well-known writers in the world rather than glorifying the already-glorified. Their limited Nobel Foundation resources are better spent that way.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Browny: "I didn't see too many (any) congratulatory messages on the popular news programs to Svetlana Alexievich or the other laureates."

It's because of the sense of entitlement here, and the poor media coverage over all. Did you see the Mainichi and NHK coverage of Kajita's co-Nobel? In the news articles online there was literally ZERO mention, aside from the headline, that two people shared the award, and needless to say no mention of whom the other winner was. It was like the international arts awards when the blind pianist won in Japan -- STILL TO THIS DAY most Japanese don't know that the award was shared with a Chinese artist, because it was never reported. As such, as you point out, the media did not focus on or congratulate any others who won, just focused on the fact that Japanese did or did not, in this case with some sort of sense of expectation and disappointment. When the award for chemistry didn't go to a Japanese but an American, German, and one other the Mainichi focused on how disappointing it was that Japan didn't get three awards this time, not that others succeeded in getting it. Disgusting.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

nigel - thanks for the comment.

What international media did you see?

The Japanese laureates were extensively covered on BBC. And good to see S. Alexievich was featured on nhk. Missed it. What program was that?

And I stand by my assertion that the general coverage given here ( here - because we are here), esp prime time popular media, is shallow, lowbrow and contrived to elicit wows & tears from the circus galleries.

The Nobel Awards is not Summer Koshien.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I don't know the criteria for selection and from the various comments these seem to be debatable. However what I do know is that I've spent the last four years reading works by various Japanese literary notables and with the possible exception of Kawabata, Murakami is by far the most readable and engrossing of all of the authors that I have read. By far. Currently on my sixth of his novels and as with the other five once I have started them I find it difficult to put them down.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

People really need to stop expecting that he'll win the award. I hope he does at some point, but seriously... the Nobel selection committee doesn't realease the nominees and/or process for 50 years, and gives ZERO indication who is nominated, so I'm not sure why people feel Murakami is always entitled, or that this is some kind of "jinx".

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I've read that the Nobel literature prize selectors prefer writers who've written insightful works on cultures not particularly well known to the wider world. If that's the case, I think Louise Erdrich, whose books on Native Americans have drawn attention to their condition, and Elena Ferrante, writing about life in Naples, should be considered in future.

Svetlana Alexievich is from Belarus, a place that I know little about other than it has and has had more than its share of problems of all sorts. From the sounds of it, her writing is similar to Studs Terkel in that she interviews people who've shared an event or experience to get individual perspectives on it. I guess literature can be broadly defined.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't think that Japanese people fully understand how politicized the Nobel Prizes for Literature and Peace have become. Anyone who takes even a casual look though the past winners, er, "laureates" will quickly understand that it's not simply about the quality of literature involved:

you have to either write about things like poor people and the consequences and compromises related to poverty in general, "ordinary citizens" from the third world whose viewpoints are "underrepresented" in western literature, victims of callous authoritarianism or war (like the current winner), and the like...

or the author him/herself have had to lived through such tribulations or are advocates for "social justice" or "change of the existing heartless economic superstructure" in their body of work.

Given this obvious proclivity, a bourgeois writer like Murakami who focuses on "First World Problems" like personal loneliness amongst a sea of wealth and success, and whose characters in general are successful, bourgeois middle-and upper-class Japanese living in "rich" Japan just doesn't cut the mustard for the Nobel Committee anymore. Murakami himself never offers any "solutions" and he's personally never taken the time to leave his bubble of self-imposed but lavishly-led exile. The committee's got just too many other "pet problems" to hold up to the world (so, for example, watch for Merkel to win the Peace prize this year for her acceptance of more than a million third-world refugees into her country over Japan's ultimately paper-thin "peace constitution" which was "imposed" by American and even now is so weak and unenforceable as to be trampled into irrelevance on its first test of "reinterpretation!")

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Maybe it's just the fact that he hasn't written anyhing decent since the Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I haven't read his latest, but Kafka on the Shore showed promise then was ultimately disappointing and 1Q84 was a pile of old pants-pages and pages of meaningless drivel. The only character I liked was Ushikawa. I like all of his pre-Sputnik Sweetheart work, but after that the quality started sliding.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

If you can't read Murakami in Japanese, you have no business commenting on his work. Most of the translations are atrocious, even those he officially endorses.

I've only read one Murakami book, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and I read it in both English and Japanese. I found the translation was actually quite impressive. There was a old man in the book who had a strange way of talking in Japanese, and even the feeling of his speech was brought into English quite well.

I can't speak for the rest of his novels, but that one was translated quite well.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Only read a few things because I did not find those few things interesting at all. People's lives must be pretty booring to find this stuff interesting.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

I quite liked the novels I have read (only three) but I found that the way in which the lead characters are rather detached, and the women tend to disappear (mad/die) as is the case in quite a lot of male Japanese literature (and James Bond films and probably many male fantasies) so that such that the cool detached lead character can keep on chugging, if not immoral then..er...The Nobel prize committees nomination this year is not just literature but also a sort of activism. Yes I see that their brief is to give the prize to someone "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction" I like his stuff but he may not have that "in an ideal direction," that they are looking for.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is not about baseball. And what about humanities studies in this country?

Its a European prize and the theme of the year is refugees.

You just dont pay your way out of foreign politics and otherwise just smile at everyone. Even the neighbors do not buy that.

So be better global citizens and maybe the time will come...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

you have to either write about things like poor people and the consequences and compromises related to poverty in general, "ordinary citizens" from the third world whose viewpoints are "underrepresented" in western literature, victims of callous authoritarianism or war (like the current winner), and the like

then how do you explain alice munro's win a few years ago. she hardly fits this mold and was quite a popular writer, albeit in canada.

but it's just not japanese people who think murakami should win, even bookmakers "expect" an eventual nobel for this man. what i find most interesting is that he hardly holds a positive view of japan, and his writing is considered very "un-japanese."

0 ( +2 / -2 )

From wikipedia:

In 2011, Murakami donated his €80,000 winnings from the International Catalunya Prize (from the Generalitat of Catalunya) to the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and to those affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Accepting the award, he said in his speech that the situation at the Fukushima plant was "the second major nuclear disaster that the Japanese people have experienced... however, this time it was not a bomb being dropped upon us, but a mistake committed by our very own hands." According to Murakami, the Japanese people should have rejected nuclear power after having "learned through the sacrifice of the hibakusha just how badly radiation leaves scars on the world and human wellbeing

If they love him so much, why don't they listen to him more closely???

0 ( +1 / -1 )

nakanoguy1: "what i find most interesting is that he hardly holds a positive view of japan, and his writing is considered very "un-japanese."

There's nothing 'un-Japanese' about his writing, but his attitude is certainly not that of an internationally renowned Japanese celebrity. True, his writing is often looked down upon by Oe or other 'classical' Japanese writers who decry the use of "boku" for the first person subject pronoun instead of "watakushi", and who always portray the protagonist as one who suffers and never obtains what they desire (Mishima is a prime example of one who follows this), and Murakami contains pretty explicit sexual scenes, but still not a lot different from other contemporary writers. In his personal life though he's scorned by right-wingers in particular because he does not grant interviews or sell out like celebrities here are expected to (appearing in commercials, on variety shows, etc.), especially when they are made heroes for being successful overseas. He also often laments politicians' decisions here, and talks about how much better other nations are in some respects. The straw that broke the camel's back, though, was when he said earlier this year that Japan must always apologize for what it did to its Asian neighbours before and during WWII.

This throws the wingers here into a big conundrum... they would pat themselves on the back again if Murakami won because he's Japanese, but they can't agree with a lot of what he stands for.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The prize went to Belarusian Svetlana Alexievich

Comparing with Murakami she's zero in literature. She wrote in Russian and she absolutely unpopular in Russia.

But every educated person here knew about Murakami. In every big bookshop in Russia you can buy his books.

Why Alexievich ??? - guess - she's uncompromising critic of Vladimir Putin ..

Some sort of Pussy Riot in literature.

Sorry Mr Murakami...

It's a dirty political games...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

And really, who cares?

Evidently, everyone here except you.

Anyways, I think BNlightened nailed it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

HongoTAFEinmateOCT. 09, 2015 - 10:55AM JST It's literature folks, everybody has their own opinion.

Alexevich it's not a literature this is politic.

Here everybody has only one right opinion....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's literature folks, everybody has their own opinion.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Waiting for Murakami to win the Nobel is like waiting for Steven King to do the same. For many foreign readers his stories seem quirky and profound but if you put him up against the wall with writers such as Akutagawa, Mishima and Abe he just resembles a big mac set. His book about jogging is very telling.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

His stuff frankly just isnt that great. And really, who cares? The Nobel prizes lost their relevance quite some time ago - and that definitely includes the "Peace Prize" too.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

What international media did you see?

CNN, BBC, Faux, MSNBC.

The Japanese laureates were extensively covered on BBC. And good to see S. Alexievich was featured on nhk. Missed it. What program was that?

News on mornings and nights on NHK.

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20151009/k10010264021000.html

And I stand by my assertion that the general coverage given here ( here - because we are here), esp prime time popular media, is shallow, lowbrow and contrived to elicit wows & tears from the circus galleries.

Actually, NHK news has the highest rating among news.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I didn't see too many (any) congratulatory messages on the popular news programs to Svetlana Alexievich or the other laureates. Better such programs focus on the Rugby World cup

Didn't see that much of the coverage of Japanese Laureates in overseas coverage either other than a brief mention of the name. As to Ms. Alexievich, she was featured exclusively on a segment in this morning's NHK news.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

If you can't read Murakami in Japanese, you have no business commenting on his work. Most of the translations are atrocious, even those he officially endorses.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

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