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  • The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki Between Japan and the United States
  • Reiko Tachibana (bio)
The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki Between Japan and the United States. By Rebecca Suter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008. 250 pp. Cloth $39.95.

Murakami Haruki's popularity extends from his native land, Japan, to the West, especially to the United States, as well as to other (East) Asian countries, such as China, Taiwan, and South Korea. In the United States, English translations of Murakami's works, mostly novels, are often produced amazingly quickly by Jay Rubin, Alfred Birnbaum, and others, and Haruki may be the most translated among contemporary Japanese authors. He is also well known, especially in Japan, as a translator of American authors, including J. D. Salinger, Raymond Carver, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among many others. In this book, Rebecca Suter, a lecturer in Japanese studies at the University of Sydney, underscores the significance of Haruki as a "literary and cultural mediator" between Japan and the United States.

The book is comprised of five chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 provide a theoretical outline and examination of the reception of Murakami's works in Japan and the United States, and the last three chapters offer textual analyses of Murakami's (mainly) short stories, focusing on linguistic experiments, such as phonetic alphabets for loanwords (katakana), Western (American) elements, such as capitalistic icons and low and high culture, and "other" worlds, such as fantastic worlds.

In the theoretical framework, Suter compares the Western notion of modernism with imperialism and orientalism with universalism, and articulates the Japanese concept of modanizumu (modernism) in the Meiji and Taisho eras and kindaishugi (literally, "ideology of the modern") after World War II. Suter boldly situates Murakami, whose writings are often [End Page 98] labeled un-Japanese and postmodern, closer to Meiji and Taisho modanizumu writers such as Natsume Soseki and Akutagawa Ryunosuke rather than postwar kindaishugi writers such as Oe Kenzaburo, who has repeatedly noted the significance of the writer's responsibility to society, which he or she satisfies through a solid subjectivity rooted in history (this is the task of jun-bungaku, or pure literature), and lamented popular younger writers (like Murakami and Yoshimoto Banana) whose works seem to display no social commitment or responsibility for Japan's past. Suter challenges kindaishugi writers' claims, arguing that Murakami's texts address social commitment not through realism but through the fantastic and "other" worlds, underlining the power of imagination, dreams, and metaphor. Murakami's references to American and European culture in his works—from capitalistic icons (e.g., Johnny Walker) and music (classic, jazz, and pop) to high-brow thinkers (Nietzsche, Proust, Kafka, etc.)—are a deliberate attempt to defamiliarize himself by distancing himself and his work from conventional reality.

Suter's argument is convincing since Murakami is famous as both a novelist and as a translator of Western (American) writers. The majority of Meiji writers spoke more than one language and were, first and foremost, literary and cultural mediators, introducing Western literature and thought to Japanese audiences by translating them into Japanese (e.g., Ogai's translation of German works and Futabatei Shimei's translations of Russian literature) and at the same time writing their own books. A century later, both Murakami's literary texts and his translation of American writers' works accomplish the same purpose. The translation of Murakami's texts into the languages of other (East) Asian countries and into English further extends this Japanization (or Murakaminization) of modernity.

The Japanization of Modernity is not heavily theoretically oriented and it relies on Murakami's critics—both Japanese and Western (American) scholars such as Karatani Kojin, Maruyama Masao, Jay Rubin, Matthew Strecher, Masao Miyoshi, and Hosea Hirata, among many others—but it enunciates the intentions and meanings behind Murakami's metafictional texts, exposing multilayered identities in multifaceted realities and emphasizing sozoryoku, or power of imagination associated with dreams and metaphor. Rejecting Jay Rubin's translation of sozoryoku as "imagination," Suter emphatically describes it as the power of imagination (this is also a literal translation: sozo means "imagination" and ryoku means "power") so as to highlight the fact that for Murakami imagination is "a powerful and...