Eyes on Murakami is the webpage and event series for the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project Gendering Murakami Haruki: Characters, Transmedial Productions and Contemporary Japan. Based at the School of Modern Languages, Newcastle University, the project ran from 1 February 2017 until 31 July 2018.

The project aim was to examine the worlds of Japanese author Murakami Haruki, the processes of translation, transmedial production and the gendering of his characters.

Contemporary Japanese Culture and Murakami Haruki

As one of the world’s few soft-power nations, Japan and its culture are part of global culture—products impact beyond the nation’s geographical boundaries and language. Through the consumption of cultural products, Japanese values and ideas are exported to a worldwide audience. Researching Japanese produced products is therefore a central task for international Japanese literary and cultural studies. In the contemporary digital age, this applies not only to the many popular Japanese-produced computer games and animation, but also to literature. This became clear in 2015 when Murakami Haruki was recognized as one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time.

Born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949, Murakami decided to write a novel in 1978 while watching a baseball game. His first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, was published the following year. Since then he has received many international honours, including the Franz Kafka Prize, Jerusalem Prize and the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award. His most recognized novels include Norwegian Wood (1987), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994-95) and 1Q84 (2009-10). In addition to exploring these widely read novels, this project also examines Murakami’s less known works, including short stories published only in Japanese.

Translation and Transmediality

Murakami’s works are translated into more than 50 languages and his stories and characters are increasingly becoming transmedial, inspiring global producers of cultural products such as film makers, artists, travelogue writers, computer game programmers and dance choreographers.

By examining Murakami beyond his Japanese written word, we gain insight into how his stories and characters are understood, interpreted and imagined. Through a series of events held in Newcastle, the project facilitated dialogues with translators and transmedial producers of Murakami’s worlds. The aim has been to shed light on the processes of translating Japanese literary culture—not only into other languages but also other mediums.

Gender, Female Characters and Contemporary Japan

As the world’s third strongest economy, Japan ranks surprisingly low among other OECD countries in terms of gender equality. With the Japanese government under pressure to improve gender equality—especially opportunities for women—gender and women’s issues are important fields of enquiry in Japanese studies.

The international and transmedial reach of Murakami makes his works particularly interesting to explore in terms of representations of women and gender issues in Japanese society. The project therefore examined the gendering of characters in the world of Murakami.

Literary analyses of Murakami’s gender representations have often concluded that his fiction mirrors Japanese patriarchy, with female characters traditionally positioned as objects for male subjectivities and sexualities. This project challenged such previous conclusions, showing how Murakami’s works also portray female main characters, protagonists and narrators who act as subjects in their own worlds.