Elena’s letter is long.
She writes about growing up in Italy, and about earning a degree in language studies. She describes how she’s unhappy in love. She’s 26, and she’s unsure of what to do next.
I’m writing because I’m in that awkward age when you are no more a teenager and not yet a woman. I’m trying to do my best in my everyday life but sometimes I just don’t get success in what I’m doing.
And she sends it to Haruki Murakami, the famed novelist behind such blockbuster classics as “IQ84,” “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and (Elena’s favorite) “Norwegian Wood.”
Mr. Murakami’s response is short: “I have no effective answers for your questions,” it begins.
And so is the tone of Mr. Murakami’s Place, a temporary Web site created by the author so he can answer readers’ questions and in some way reach beyond the famous reclusion that envelops his legacy in Japan (and the literature world beyond).
The deep connection between author and reader has inspired an entire fleet of fans around the world, especially in Murakami’s native Japan. These “Harukists” have been avidly awaiting another visit from the author since Murakami’s last reader event in 2006, a temporary Web site hosted by the Asahi Shimbun that solicited reader questions about his life and work.
That time, too, the questions were mainly from young people — and mostly about love.
“I can’t think of another writer alive today with the kind of intimacy he has with his readers — and he takes it very very seriously,” says Roland Kelts, a journalist who has previously written about Murakami’s work for The New Yorker. “‘I think Haruki Murakami understands my dreams’ or ‘I think Haruki Murakami knows my dreams’ is a comment I’ve heard many, many times.”
Readers submitted questions in multiple languages for the entirety of the month of January. They sent thousands of inquiries — though, as Mr. Murakami apologizes in his intro, he was unable to answer all of them.
And, while the Web site is still live, they can now read through the author’s responses.
Or, very often, his non-responses.
Murakami’s version of the advice column is part-Reddit AMA, part-oracle. There are no definitive answers and no guiding maxims upon which to chart your path. People approach him with questions about his work and his life — but also about their work and their lives.
And many, of course, about love.
Murakami-san, I would like to ask: how does one fall in love?
Basically it’s an accidental collision. It is unpredictable and inescapable. So, always fasten your seatbelt.
This isn’t a Dear Abby column. But it’s also not a magazine-style Q&A.
“Any question could turn into at least a short story,” says Emily Yoffe, long-time advice columnist of Dear Prudence renown. “You accept the limitations of the form.”
But Mr. Murakami’s Place is something else: partly readers asking for his opinion, partly readers asking for his guidance on love and the meaning of life.
These themes run deep in his books, and the same threads surface again and again on Mr. Murakami’s place, as he tackles thousands of questions in multiple languages. One asks about his favorite coffee shop (“I miss Dunkin Donut,” he writes); another asks about his dream dinner party date (Murakami appears to have relished this question, responding in part: “The character I would like to dine with is, of course, Jay Gatsby of THE GREAT GATSBY. I will go to his great mansion and join the big party and drink champagne with him. It must be fun! However, I am afraid the conversation with him might be a little bit tedious”);and many more want to know about the symbolism within his books (“You will have to find your own theory,” he says simply. “Try.”).
His answers revel in that gray space where there is no answer, just space for some ruminations on the human condition.
“I do get questions where I go, ‘Gee, I don’t have an answer.’ And here’s my little secret: I don’t run that question,” Yoffe says. “But him — he’s certainly being honest.”
The experience — both deeply intimate and also highly-controlled — is almost like something you’d read in a Murakami novel.
In the context of one of your stories, a little green 2nd moon can appear, or a man can talk to cats, or ghosts can materialize. Are these supernatural occurrences just narrative devices for stories, or do you really believe in the unbelievable?
（Kid Cryptid、男性、32歳、Delivery driver）
When I am writing those stories, I really believe in those “unnatural things.” It actually happens around me. But when I am not writing stories, I am just an ordinary man with strong common sense. I come and go between those two different worlds. Busy, but fun.
For her, that’s a sense of “armchair psychoanalysis.” For Murakami, she sees it as more “weird little poetic puzzles” and “little riddle answers.” This coming from the advice columnist who so admires Murakami that she once wrote a song titled “The Well,” in homage to a famous line from “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.”
Do you have some places always stay for a while? （recently）
Thank you for so much!
（no opinion 、男性、20歳、student ）
An easy question. In the bed with someone I love. Where else?
Murakami’s responses on Mr. Murakami’s Place reflect an intense fascination with love: what it’s like to be in it and to fall out of it, what it’s like to crave it and to lose it. His work is interested particularly in the loneliness young people feel. Young people like Elena, or like 20-something students who write into Mr. Murakami’s Place with simple musings on life’s mysteries.
“[Murakami’s responses] sound like some of his weird characters — polite but very frank,” Havrilesky says. “Like, your question is foolish. There’s an implication that you’re kind of stupid for asking, but it’s also adorable that you did.”
As Kelts explains it: “It’s not condescension — for lack of a better term, it’s sympathy. He really sympathizes with the loneliness of youth.”
Kelts conjectures that the connection could have something to do with the “father figure” status Murakami inhabits in contemporary Japanese culture.
He tells this amazing story: about a time when Murakami was having a conversation online with three young people who knew the novelist was a Beach Boys fan. Brian Wilson was playing a show that night — did Murakami want to meet up with them there? Murakami thought to himself, “Sure, why not,” and arranged to meet the trio there. When he met them to say hello, all three Harukists — who had been so enthusiastically voluble when chatting online — stared at their shoes. The conversation halted; the entire interaction was relentlessly awkward, until Murakami said goodbye and returned to his seat.
“He said to me, ‘The Internet is so strange,’” Kelts says.
There’s more stories like that — of Murakami meeting fans in Bill Murray fashion. But mostly, he keeps to himself. He cherishes his relationship with his readers, and more than anything, he writes his books to please them.
“A lot of young people in Japan are quite lonely,” Kelts says. “They’re the first in their generation to grow up in their own apartments. A lot of young people live alone. And in Japan he almost serves as a father figure to young readers. And this is a bit of conjecture, but a lot of young Japanese don’t have close relationships with their father figures — may of their fathers are salarymen.”
His reply to Elena is decidedly dad-like, in a way both mysterious and endearing.
Thank you for reading my books, Elena. I have no effective answers for your question. Since, those answers are what you will have to find out by yourself during the coming years. You cannot live by yourself, but at the same time it is essential that you learn how to live being alone. You have to survive this contradiction, or antinomy. And this will make you into an adult. Everybody goes through this more or less. I was in Italy last autumn, in Toscana. Wine was great!