Thursday, June 2, 2011

Murakami Takes on Kafka

 One more small Murakami translation, and then I'll look at some other things to translate, OK guys? (Actually, I imagine the majority of you only want Murakami translations, am I right?)

This is from the collection 夢で会いましょう (yume de aimashou), Let's Meet in a Dream that Murakami did with Shigesato Itoi, essayist and creator of the SNES game Earthbound (or the Mother series if you're a real fanboy). It's a collection of short fictions and pseudo-essays and other miscellany, collected in "alphabetical" (what do you call it when we're talking about the hiragana syllabary? Hiragan-ical?) order. We've looked briefly at this collection in the post "Murakami the Poet", where Murakami flexed his poetic chops with the Yakult Swallows Poetry Anthology - which you can see some more examples of in this blog post from Yomuka.

For this post I wanted to do a small translation from Shigesato and not Murakami, but I ran into this little story and I just couldn't resist. I assume the K stands for Kafka here, who even gets a quick mention, as the premise is basically just a sillier version of the Metamorphosis. But there's no denying K is a letter of some fascination with Murakami, since it appears often in his work - most notably in Sputnik Sweetheart with K the narrator.



K… the 11th letter of the alphabet.

(Example: One morning, K woke up to find he had transformed into a doormat.)

One morning, K woke up to find he had transformed into a doormat.

"Well that's just great," K thought to himself. "Of all things, a doormat!"

The first person to find K the doormat was a friend who worked for the local government. "Hey, quit fooling around," he said. "You practicing for some sort of New Year's party entertainment or something?"

"Nope, this seriously happened," K said.

"Huh, well I guess you're okay like that… incidentally, did you do your transformation registration?

"Transformation registration?"

"The rates for your income tax are going to change now. For doormat transformations, it‘s just short of a 10 percent deduction."

"No way," K said.

"Really. It's too bad—if you were an iron it would've only been about 3 percent."

The next person to find K was a friend who was a literary critic.

”It would seem, at first glance, that you are a doormat," he said.

"100% a doormat," K said.

"Can you prove it?"

"Wipe your feet on me."

The friend wiped his feet. And then he knew that K was truly a doormat. "And again—why a doormat?"

"It's not my fault."

It's not my fault?" he repeated. "That sort of remark is less Kafka and rather more Camus, don't you think?"

The next person to come see K was his girlfriend who worked in publishing. She tripped on K the doormat and hit her head on the mailbox.

"Oops, sorry. I was up all night chasing Harahashi around, and then out of nowhere he tells me to replace the table of contents, which was just… Hey, by the way, why did you turn into a doormat?"

"Escapism," K said.

"Poor thing," she said. "Is there anything I can do for you? Like I kiss you and you turn back into a human?"

"That kind of thinking ended in the 19th century," K said. "But I'd be very grateful if you could place me at the entrance of a girl's dormitory or something."

"No problem. That's all well and good, but the way you are now, you don't need your cassette player anymore right? Sooo—could I have it?"

"Sure thing."

"And you don't need your Boz Scaggs and Paul Davis records either right?


"I also really like that groovy Hawaiian shirt of yours."

"It's all yours."

"And can I borrow your car?"

"Just be sure to change the oil every now and then. And check the clutch for me. It's making a weird noise."

"You got it."

So K lived happily ever after at the entrance to a girl's dormitory, without any local government officials, literary critics, or publishers to bother him. So if you really think about it, being a doormat wouldn't be so bad, would it?


  1. It's neat - but somehow limited. Maybe that's the point. But still . . . I'm a hungry reader and I want something more nutritious than coir matting.

  2. PS What's your opinion of Jay Rubin's translation? (assuming that you are not in fact Rubin).

  3. I really liked this story. Murakami is one of my favorite writers. This absurd story does remind me of Kafka more then it does of Camus, especially the name 'K' which was also used in 'Der Process'.

    I would, one the other hand, also like to read more of Itoi's stories. Do you know how a to get a hold of the booklet these stories are in, either Japanese or English (of which I don't think it exists)?

    Thank you!

    A Dutch writer