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Haruki Murakami short story infuriates Japanese town leaders

LiteratureArts and CultureJapan

Be careful what you write -- even in fiction.

Town leaders in Nakatonbetsu, Japan, are up in arms about a short story by Haruki Murakami. They say the story "Drive my car -- men without women" insults their town. And, they told the AFP, they plan to demand an explanation from Murakami, one of the nation's leading authors.

The story was published in the December issue of the Japanese magazine Bungeishunju. In it, a widowed middle-aged man is traveling in a car being driven by a young woman. 

The driver flips a lighted cigarette out her window, and the man thinks, "Probably this is something everyone in Nakatonbetsu commonly does."

Although it's not much in the pantheon of insults, it was enough to get the eight members of the Nakatonbetsu town assembly plan to demand an explanation from the publishers of Bungeishunju.

The head of the assembly, Shuichi Takai, told the AFP, "We want to know why the name of a real town had to be used like that."

Takai explained, "In early spring, the town people gather of their own will in a cleanup operation to collect litter on roads," then added, "We also work hard to prevent wildfires as 90% of our town is covered with mountain forests. It is never a town where people litter with cigarettes everyday."

Close readers might point out that what goes on in the head of a middle-aged male character in a Murakami story is often quite separated from the truth. His characters are often separated from reality, moving through an adjacent but surreal world of their own.

The town of Nakatonbetsu, pop. 1,900, is going up against one of the most lauded literary figures in contemporary Japan. Murakami's most recent book, "Colourless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage," was the country's biggest selling novel last year.

"Colourless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage" is expected to be published in English translation sometime this year. No word on when we'll see an English version of "Drive my car -- men without women" and be able to read the insult to Nakatonbetsu in the U.S

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