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Afterword

On Roads All Round the World

As the headings of each chapter of this book indicate, the bulk of the writings collected here were composed between the summer of 2005 and the fall of 2006. I didn’t write them at one stretch, but rather a little at a time, whenever I could find free time in between other work. Each time I wrote more I’d ask myself, So—what’s on my mind right now? Though this isn’t a long book, it took quite some time from beginning to end, and even more after I’d finished, to carefully polish and rework it.

Over the years, I’ve published a number of essay collections and travel writings, but I haven’t had much opportunity like this to focus on one theme and write directly about myself, so I was scrupulous about making sure it was exactly the way I wanted it. I didn’t want to write too much about myself, but if I didn’t honestly talk about what needed to be said, writing this book would have been pointless. I needed to revisit the manuscript many times over a period of time; otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to explore these delicate layers.

I see this book as a kind of memoir. Not something as grand as a personal history, but calling it an essay collection is a bit forced. This is repeating what I said in the foreword, but through the act of writing I wanted to sort out what kind of life I’ve led, both as a novelist and as an ordinary person, over these past twenty-five years. When it comes to the question of how much a novelist should stick to the novel, and how much he should reveal his real voice, everyone will have his own standard, so it’s impossible to generalize. But for me, there was the hope that writing this book would allow me to discover my own personal standard. I’m not very confident that I’ve done a good job in this area. Still, when I finished, I had the feeling that a weight had been lifted. (I think it may have been just the right moment to write this book when I did.) After I finished, I took part in several races. I’d been planning to participate in a marathon in Japan at the beginning of 2007, but just before the race, unusually for me, I caught a cold and couldn’t run. If I had run, it would have been my twenty-sixth marathon. As a result, I reached the end of the season—which ran from the fall of 2006 through the spring of 2007—without running a single marathon. I feel a little regretful, but will try my best next season.

Instead of a marathon, in May I participated in the Honolulu Triathlon, an Olympic-length event. I could finish it easily and really enjoy myself, and ended with a better time than the last. And at the end of July I was in the Tinman Triathlon, also held in Honolulu. Because I was living there for about a year, I also took part in a kind of triathlon training camp, practicing with other Honolulu residents three times a week for three months. This kind of training program really helped, and I was able to make some “Triath buddies” in the group.

Running a marathon during the cold months and taking part in a triathlon during the summer has become the cycle of my life. There’s no off-season, so I always seem to be busy, but I’m not about to complain. It’s brought me a lot of happiness. Truthfully, I am sort of interested in trying a full-scale triathlon like the Iron-man competition, but if I went that far I’m afraid the training would (most definitely) take so much time out of my schedule it would interfere with my real job. I didn’t pursue more ultramarathons for the same reason. For me, the main goal of exercising is to maintain, and improve, my physical condition in order to keep on writing novels, so if races and training cut into the time I need to write, this would be putting the cart before the horse. Which is why I’ve tried to maintain a decent balance.

Meanwhile, running for a quarter century makes for a lot of good memories.

One I remember in particular was running, in Central Park in 1983, with the writer John Irving. I was translating his novel Setting Free the Bears at the time, and while I was in New York I asked to interview him. He told me he was busy but if I’d come in the morning while he jogged in Central Park we could talk while we ran together. We talked about all kinds of things as we jogged around the park early one morning. Naturally I didn’t tape our conversation and couldn’t take any notes, so all that I recall now is the happy memory of the two of us jogging together in the brisk morning air.

In the 1980s I used to jog every morning in Tokyo and often passed a very attractive young woman. We passed each other jogging for several years and got to recognize each other by sight and smile a greeting each time we passed. I never spoke to her (I’m too shy), and of course don’t even know her name. But seeing her face every morning as I ran was one of life’s small pleasures. Without pleasures like that, it’s pretty hard to get up and go jogging every morning.

One other memory I hold dear is running high up in Boulder, Colorado, with Yuko Arimori, the Japanese silver medalist in the marathon at the Barcelona Olympics. This was just some light jogging, but still, coming from Japan and running all of a sudden at a height of ten thousand feet was very tough—my lungs screamed, and I felt dizzy and terribly thirsty. Miss Arimori gave me a cool look and just said, “Is something the matter, Mr. Murakami?” I learned how rigorous the world of professional runners is (though I should add that she’s a very kind person). By the third day, though, my body had gotten used to the thin atmosphere, and I could enjoy the crisp air of the Rockies.

I’ve met many people through running, which has been one of its real pleasures. And many people have helped me, and encouraged me. At this point what I should do—like in an Academy Awards acceptance speech—is express my thanks to many people, but there are too many to thank, and the names would probably mean nothing to most readers. I’ll confine myself to the following.

The title of this book is taken from the title of a short-story collection by a writer beloved to me, Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I’m thankful to his widow, Tess Gallagher, who was kind enough to give me permission to use the title in this way. I am also deeply thankful to the editor of this book, Midori Oka, who has patiently waited for ten years.

Finally, I dedicate this book to all the runners I’ve encountered on the road—those I’ve passed, and those who’ve passed me. Without all of you, I never would have kept on running.

HARUKI MURAKAMI

AUGUST 2007

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