According to AFP, the remote town of Nakatonbetsu on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido said on Feb 5 that it wanted an explanation from the publisher over how it allowed such a description to pass through an editor’s desk.
The offending passage appeared in the new 24-page novella, entitled “Drive My Car – Men Without Women”, which was published in the December edition of the long established monthly magazine Bungeishunju.
“I love the land of Hokkaido and have visited there a number of times ... I have written the novel this time strictly with a sense of intimacy for it,” Murakami said in a statement released by the magazine.
“I find it quite regrettable and unfortunate that it has caused people living there to feel unpleasant,” he said.
The novella depicts fictionalised conversations between a widowed middle-aged actor and his 24-year-old chauffeuse who hails from Nakatonbetsu, a real-life mountain town whose population has dwindled to 1,900 from a peak of 7,600 in 1950.
When she flips a lit cigarette out of the driver’s window, the actor thinks to himself: “Probably this is something everyone in Nakatonbetsu commonly does.”
Murakami said on Feb 7 he had “long liked how the name of Nakatonbetsu sounds” but intends to replace the name when the story comes out in book form.
“In order to prevent myself from causing any more trouble, I intend to change it to a different name,” he said.
Murakami, 65, whose often surrealist works have been translated into about 40 languages, is widely spoken of as a future Nobel Literature laureate.
But members of the eight-strong town assembly were not amused at their portrayal as a community of litterbugs.
On Feb 5 head of the assembly’s secretariat Shuichi Takai told AFP the body intended to demand an explanation from the publisher.
“In early spring, the town people gather of their own will in a clean-up operation to collect litter on roads,” Takai said.
“We also work hard to prevent wildfires as 90% of our town is covered with mountain forests. It is never a town where people litter with cigarettes every day,” he added. “We want to know why the name of a real town had to be used like that.”
Murakami’s latest book, Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to Kare no Junrei no Toshi (Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage)”, became the biggest-selling novel of 2013 after its April release.
An English-language translation is expected some time this year.