Murakami Haruki (1994) 

Trans. Kieran Maynard (2010) 

Murakami, Haruki. Nejimakidori kuronikuru (Dai 2 bu) Yogen suru tori hen ねじまき鳥クロニクル 〈第 2 部〉予言する鳥編 . Shinchōsha, 1994. Print. 

Book 2, Chapter 17 Partial Translation


The simplest thing, the most sophisticated form of revenge, the thing in the guitar case

The next morning I went to take a passport photo. As I sat down in the studio the photographer gave my face a professional look and without saying anything slipped into the back and returned carrying some kind of face powder that he applied to the mark on my right cheek. Then so the mark would not stand out he got behind the camera and carefully adjusted the strength and angle of the light. I faced the camera, and as I was told managed somehow to float out a faint smile around my mouth. The photographer said processing would be completed by mid-day the day after tomorrow so please come back then. After that I went home, called my uncle and said thought I’d probably be moving out of this house in the next few weeks. 

“I know this is sudden, but the truth is Kumiko just left me,” I opened up to my uncle. “According to the letter she sent me later, she will probably never come back. As for me, for a little while—I don’t yet know how long that will be—I want to get away from this place.” 

When I’d finished my basic explanation, for a moment my uncle was silent on the other side, like he was thinking deeply.

“But up until now it seemed like you and Kumiko were getting along great,” my uncle said after sighing lightly.

“To tell the truth, I thought the same thing,” I said honestly.

“If you don’t really want to talk about it you don’t have to, but was there some solid reason Kumiko left?”

“I think she is probably having an affair.”

“You have that feeling, huh?”

“No, I’ve got almost no feeling like that, but she herself wrote that in a letter.”

“I see,” said my uncle. “If that’s what it’s like, well, what can you do?”


He sighed again.

“I’m fine,” I said in a bright voice to reassure my uncle. “I think I just want to get away from here for a bit. I want to change places and change my mood, and think over what comes next.”

“Is there some specific place you want to go?”

“I think I’ll end up going to Greece, because my friend is living there and a while back invited me to come visit,” I lied, and again felt a little bad. However, no matter how I thought about it, it was explain to my uncle what was really going on here totally, accurately and in a way easy to understand. A total lie was still better.

“Ok,” he said. “That’s all right with me. Anyway, I’m not planning to rent that house out to anybody else, so you can leave your stuff as it is. You’re still young; you can still bounce back.  It will be good if you go far away and relax for a while. Greece, huh? Greece sounds great.”

“I’m sorry about all of this,” I said. “But if something comes up, and while I’m gone you need to rent the house to someone else or something, I don’t mind if you just dispose of everything in there. Anyway there’s nothing important.”

“It’s ok, I’ll decide how to handle things later. But does what you said on the phone the other day about “the flow getting blocked” and all have something to do with Kumiko?”

“Right, it does somewhat. Now that you mention it, that also bothered me a little.”

My uncle seemed to be thinking for a moment. 

“One of these days, is it ok if I come over there? I also want to see the situation with my own eyes. I haven’t been over there for a while, either.”

“Any time at all is all right. I’ve got nothing I have to do.”

When I hung up the phone, a sudden unbearable feeling came over me. Over these last months, some strange flow carried me here. Between the world I was in, and the world my uncle was in, was something like an invisible, thick and high wall. That was the wall separating one world from another. My uncle was in that world, and I was in this world.

[NB: The following passage is translated in Rubin (Murakami, Haruki. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Trans. Jay Rubin. New York: Vintage, 1997. Print.) The words below are my translation.]

Two days later he came over to the house. He saw the mark on my face but didn’t really say anything. Maybe he didn’t know how to say it. He just narrowed his eyes and gave it a curious look. He brought a bottle of top-grade Scotch whisky and fish sausages from Odawara as gifts. My uncle and I sat on the back porch eating fish sausage and drinking whisky.

“But a porch is really a great thing,” my uncle said, nodding several times. “Of course there are no porches on apartment buildings, so sometimes I miss them. All in all, a porch has its own kind of feeling, right?”

For a moment my uncle stared at the moon floating in the sky. The crescent moon was white like someone had just finished honing it. I found it somehow strange that that kind of thing could actually continue floating in the air.

“By the way, when and how did you get that mark?” my uncle inquired offhandedly.

“I don’t really know,” I said, and took a sip of whisky. “All of a sudden I realized it was there. About a week ago, I guess. I wish I could explain more clearly, but the problem is that there’s no way to explain.”

“You see a doctor?”

I shook my head.

[The following passage is not in Rubin’s translation.]

“There’s one other thing I don’t get. Is there some connection between that and Kumiko leaving?”

I shook my head.

“Certainly this mark appeared after Kumiko left. If you look at the order of events, that’s how it happened. As far as a cause-and-effect relationship, I don’t know.”

“I’ve never heard of a mark like that suddenly appearing on somebody’s face.”

“I’ve never heard of it myself,” I said. “I can’t explain well, but I think I’ve gradually gotten used to this mark’s existence. Of course I was surprised when this thing first appeared—it was a total shock. I was disgusted looking at my own face. I thought, if this thing is going to be stuck here for the rest of my life, what should I do? But as days progressed—I don’t know why—it stopped bothering me. I even came to think, ‘It’s not even that bad, right?’ Why, I don’t understand.”

“Hmm,” said my uncle, and then with a somehow suspicious look stared for a while at the mark on my right cheek. “Well, in that case, I guess that’s all right. It’s your problem, after all. But if you need it I know a doctor I can introduce you to.”

“Thank you, but right now I don’t intend to go to a doctor. Even if I have a doctor look at it, I think it will be useless.”

My uncle folded his arms and for a moment looked up at the sky. As always, we couldn’t see the stars. There was only one distinct crescent moon.

“It’s been a pretty long time since I’ve had a face-to-face talk with you like this. Because even if I left you alone, I thought you and Kumiko were getting along well together. And in the first place, I don’t much like meddling with other people’s affairs.”

I said I understood that well.

My uncle rattled the ice in his glass for a moment, took a sip and set it down.

“I don’t understand what on earth’s been happening around you lately. The flow getting blocked ; the house’s physiognomy; losing Kumiko; suddenly one day a mark appearing on your face; going to Greece for a while… Well, that’s what it is. Your wife left, and you got a mark on your face. It doesn’t sound great to say it like this, it’s not like my wife left, or there’s a mark on my face. Right? So if you don’t want to give an in-depth explanation, you don’t have to explain. I don’t want to interfere. It’s just, I think you ought to try one more time to think hard about what is most important to you.”

I nodded and said, “I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. But various things have become incredibly, complicatedly, tightly tangled, and it’s impossible to free and isolate them one by one. I don’t know how to free them.”

My uncle smiled.

“There’s definitely something of an trick to doing that well. Because they don’t know the trick, most people in the world end up making faulty decisions. Then, after they fail, they make all kinds of complaints, or blame it on someone else. I’ve seen far too many cases like that, and honestly I don’t really like to see it. That’s why I’m going to go ahead and give this highfalutin speech. The art, you see, is to first take care of the not-so-important things. That is, if you prioritize things from A to Z, you don’t start from A, you start from around XYZ. You say things are too complicated and tangled and you can’t get a hold on things. But isn’t that because you’re trying to solve things from the very top? When you want to decide something important, the right way to start is from those things that don’t really matter. Start from the absurdly simple things anybody could look at and understand, that anybody could think about and understand. Then spend a lot of time on those stupidly simple things.

“What I’m doing is of course not much of a business. In Ginza I’ve got just four or five stores.  By today’s standards it’s trifling, and not much to brag about. But if we limit the discussion to the question of success or failure, I’ve never once failed. That’s because I’ve applied that trick. Everybody else simply skips right over those stupidly simple things anybody could look at and understand and tries to move ahead as fast as possible. But I’m not like that. I spend the most time on those stupidly simple things. I know that the more time I spend on those things, the better things will go later.”

My uncle took another sip of whisky.

“Let’s say you’re going to set up a shop somewhere. A restaurant, a bar—something like that. So, imagine where you’re going to set up that shop. There are several places to choose from. But, you have to choose one somewhere. What should you do?”

I thought about it for a moment.

“Well, you have to make estimates in different cases. Like, in this place, how much is the rent, how much is the debt, how much do you have to repay each month, how many seats do you have, how often do customers come in and out, how much does the average customer buy, what’s the labor cost, what’s the break-even point… stuff like that?”

“Because they do that, most people fail,” said my uncle, laughing. “I’ll teach you what I do. When you think one place looks good, stand in front of it, and for three or four hours in a day, and then another day and another and another and another, just look carefully at the faces of people walking on the street. You don’t need to think about anything. You don’t need to calculate anything. You need to see what kind of people with what kind of faces are walking by there. At the least it’ll take about one week. In that time you probably have to see three or four thousand people’s faces. Or sometimes it will take an even longer time. But you know, at some point you’ll suddenly get it. Like the mist suddenly disappears, you’ll get it: just what kind of place that spot is, and just what it’s seeking. If what that place is seeking and what you are seeking are wholly different, it’s over right there. Go someplace else and repeat the same thing. But, if you find out that what that place is seeking and what you are seeking have some common element or common ground, that means you’ve caught the tail of success. Then you should snatch it and not let go. But to catch it, like an idiot you have to stand there in the rain or snow and look carefully at people’s faces with your own eyes. You can do any number of calculations later. I’m a rather practical person. I only trust things I’ve seen with my own two eyes long enough to be convinced. Logic and promotion and calculations, or this that and the other -ism or theory, are in most cases things for people who can’t see things with their own eyes. And, most of the people in the world can’t see things with their own eyes. Why that is, I don’t know. If they set their mind to it anybody should be able to do it.”

“It’s not just a ‘magic touch’, is it?”

“That, too,” said my uncle, beaming as he laughed, “But it’s not only that. What I think you need to do is think about things from the simplest parts. Like, stand on the street corner and day after day watch people’s faces. You don’t have to rush and decide anything. It might be rough, but you will need to stay put and spend some time.”

“Are you telling me to stay here for a while?”

“No, I’m not telling you to go anywhere or stay here. That’s not what I’m saying. If you want to go to Greece, I think you should go. If you want to stay here, I think you should stay. You have to prioritize and decide that. It’s just, I always thought it was a good thing that you married Kumiko. I thought it was a good thing for Kumiko, too. Why that suddenly went bad like this, I can’t well understand. You don’t understand it well yourself, right?”

“I don’t.”

“In that case, until you know something clearly, I think you should practice seeing things with your own eyes. You can’t be afraid of spending time. Spending a good deal of time on something is in a way the most sophisticated form of revenge.”

Revenge?” I said, a little surprised. “What do you mean by revenge? Revenge against what, exactly?”

“Well, you too will understand the meaning someday,” my uncle said, laughing.

[The rest of Chapter 17 is found unabridged in Rubin’s translation, except for the last lines, translated below.]

I cannot run away, and should not run away. That was the conclusion I reached. No matter where I might go, that would always chase me down. No matter how far. [End Chapter 17]