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A Small Circle of Friends

On the promise of the prize and publication, Murakami and his wife sold the bar in 1981. That was a major risk, but Murakami, then 32, seems to have considered himself a yeoman of promise, like the character Tengo in his novel

1Q84. It is not clear who his first reader was, but his wife must have been a significant influence, like her alter ego Midori in Norwegian Wood. Murakami had a small circle of listeners on the field of attention: he had just met Ryu Murakami (no relation), the celebrated author of Almost Transparent Blue (1976) and Coin Locker Babies (1980), as well as Anzai Mizumaru (the illustrator “Watanabe Noboru”). He would soon meet American ex-pat Alfred Birnbaum, who was impressed by Kaze and became an enthusiastic supporter in on-l ine forums where fans traded translations in the early 1980s. Such forums, on USENET and other BBS (bulletin board systems), spread rapidly in Japan, which had better telephony than the United States back then. Already in the 1980s these Internet forums were gatekeepers for rising writers.

Six years younger than Murakami, Birnbaum was raised in Japan and also attended Waseda University. He retained enough counter-cultural sensibility to credit himself on Wikipedia as a researcher of natto (a fermented bean dish) and later edited the avant-garde story collection Monkey Brain Sushi (1991).12 Birnbaum was uniquely suited to translate Murakami into American English and would be an important translator. When he logged onto the forums on Japanese literature, he found a coterie of like-minded enthusiasts, both in Japan and abroad. They worked at translating a few pages every evening and posted their results. They read, questioned, and corrected each other—a cohort at the Internet level, with most of the features that Collins attributes to such groups. They were working on copyrighted material, with results that were obviously publishable, but the “removal of copyrighted content from the entire Usenet network [was] a nearly impossible task, due to the rapid propagation between servers and the retention done by each server.”13 So while Murakami’s personal interaction rituals were minimal, Birnbaum’s were wider, as he networked for the writer electronically.

 
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