This blog post is part of a series exploring why Haruki Murakami’s “mesmerizing
fantasies offer a tonic to a culture overly enmeshed in the realities of the day to day.” In
my last post I discussed the remarkable fact that Murakami’s epiphany, his realization
that he could be a novelist, came at a baseball game.
The circumstances of the epiphany were quite specific. Murakami was enjoying a
beer and rooting for his favorite team, the Yakult Swallows, who were playing the
Hiroshima Carps. In the bottom of the first inning, with the Swallows batting, Dave
Hilton, an American, hit a double to left field. At that moment Murakami realized he
could write a novel.
To drink a beer and watch a ball game are pleasures. So, for Murakami, a starting
point for his fiction is a place of pleasure. It is also, as I pointed out in my last post, a
place removed from everyday concerns and realities. In the particular case of Murakami,
it’s interesting and appropriate that an American batter drove the double to left field.
Murakami is a writer of the East and West. His fictions are set in Japan, but the influences
on his characters are frequently western.
Dave Hilton was born in Uvalde, Texas, on September 15, 1950. Picked in the
1971 draft, he played four seasons for the San Diego Padres before playing three seasons
in Japan for the Yakult Swallows and Hanshin Tigers. So Hilton was very much like
Murakami, a model for Murakami in the sense that his origin in the west did not prevent
him from having success in the east. In fact, 1978 was the year that the Yakult Swallows
won the league championship and then the post-season championship.
Murakami remembers him “as the leading hitter that year.” After Murakami’s
first novel won the Gunzõ Newcomers Award for 1979, Murakami secured Dave Hilton’s
autograph and thought of the ball player as “a lucky charm”. In a way, the ball park and
the beer might be thought of as the containing space and the intoxicating beverage in a
ritual of creative initiation. The Texan’s double provided the stimulus to open Murakami
to unexplored and immensely productive inner vistas. And, once the Yakult Swallows
won the championship that year, how could Murakami fail to win the Gunzõ Newcomers
Award the year after?
Meiji Jingu Stadium in Shinjuku, Tokyo, is the home field of the Tokyo Yakult
Swallows. The photograph is by ROG [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia