Finally, Haruki Murakami in Manila?

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at Feb 17 2018 05:12 PM | Updated as of Feb 18 2018 12:32 PM

Finally, Haruki Murakami in Manila? 1
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is pictured outside Hans Christian Andersen's house in Odense, in this October 30, 2016 file photo. Henning Bagger, Scanpix Denmark/AFP

MANILA -- In November 2016, there were rumors that the most popular living Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami will visit the Philippines, just a few days apart from Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. The Peruvian-Spanish writer made it here and had two meet-and-greet events with his fans, first at the University of Santo Tomas and later at the De La Salle University. Thanks to his current partner, Filipino-Spanish beauty Isabel Preysler.

In Murakami’s case, there was neither confirmation nor denial. The website of a Manila-based Japanese organization crashed due to the incessant inquiries from fans. There were reports that Murakami’s books, though consistent bestsellers, disappeared from the shelves in local bookstores as his legion of Filipino avid readers bought their second or third copies of “Norwegian Wood,” “Sputnik Sweetheart,” “Kafka On The Shore”, among others, hoping they could have them signed by the elusive Tokyo-based author. 

It was pointed out that the November visit was highly probable because Murakami’s latest book, “Men Without Women,” a collection of short stories, was yet to be launched in the middle part of 2017. 

Known for not attending his own book launches and declining invites for lectures, there were reports that Murakami would instead lead a fun-run event at an undisclosed track-and-field oval inside a heavily guarded Catholic university in Quezon City. There were even talks that the sole winner of the run will receive a complete set of books by Murakami, all signed by him. Murakami is a well-known runner, having participated in major marathon events worldwide. 

The clamor proved that Murakami’s visit can be likened to that of a legendary rock musician -- not just rock stars but someone as big as Bono or the very remote possibility of a living Beatles member.

Now, with the recent announcement of a festival, aptly titled “Haruki Murakami Festival in Manila” in the latter part of February and the whole March, the same question arises: Is he coming to the Philippines?

Given that the teaser runs like this: The works of best-selling, renowned novelist Haruki Murakami through music, films and talks!

Never mind music and films but “talks” bring fans, known as the “Harukists,” into frantic state. Talks would mean a more intimate and longer union with their literary demi god. 

Finally, Haruki Murakami in Manila? 2
Copies of Haruki Murakami books in original Japanese can be borrowed at the Japan Foundation Manila library in Makati City. Photo by author

Some Harukists go as far as learning Nihongo to enable them to read Murakami’s novels in original Japanese. The Japan Foundation Manila, we found out, has a library full of Murakami books in Japanese. And we have photos to prove them. There are language classes being held at the foundation for Overseas Filipino Workers bound for Japan and those simply interested in learning how to speak and read Nihonggo. 

ABS-CBN News reached out to the main organizer of the festival for some details. 

“Murakami is one of the most popular Japanese writers in the world, with no exception in the Philippines where almost all the bookstores have his books. The world of Murakami is also culturally rich, as his interests span from music to running. Because of that, the Japan Foundation Manila believed we can create a unique series of events on Murakami, and has been planning to hold Murakami related events for a while,” Tetsuya Koide, assistant director of the Japan Foundation in Manila, told ABS-CBN News.

“We hope this festival will provide opportunities for Filipinos to become more interested in Haruki Murakami books, his world, as well as other Japanese literature and culture,” he added.

Koide emphasized that the “Haruki Murakami Festival in Manila” is specifically arranged for the Philippines, organized by the Japan Foundation, Manila.

Finally, Haruki Murakami in Manila? 3
Tetsuya Koide, Japan Foundation Manila assistant director, holds copies of Haruki Murakami books in original Japanese and some English translation at the JFM library in Makati. Photo by author

“The Japan Foundation held similar type of Murakami events before in Singapore and Seoul in 2015, which were well-received,” he said.

So why only now in Manila and what makes this one different from the other two?

“This festival is unique because it offers opportunities to experience the world of Murakami using one's senses. We have created ‘Talk About,’ ‘Watch,’ and ‘Listen To’ categories during the festival. We believe this festival can be enjoyed by ‘Harukists’ as well as those who do not know Murakami at all. ‘Harukists’ can enjoy the festival at a deeper level by expanding their understanding of Murakami by ‘listening,’ ‘talking’ and ‘watching’,” Koide said.

In a way, the festival is meant to introduce Murakami to a new legion of readers and even those who are entirely clueless with the best-selling author. 

“For those who are not familiar with Murakami or do not like reading can also take part in this festival and enjoy by listening to a wide variety of music from the Beatles, classical to jazz; ‘talking’ about running or music, or watching award-winning Japanese films. The Japan Foundation, Manila wishes that this festival will be a good introductory point to the Murakami world, his books, and also to Japanese literature and culture in general,” he said. 

As for the festival, here are some details:

1. “Talk about” Murakami

There are three talk sessions. As kick-off for the festival, English professor Alona Guevarra of the Ateneo de Manila University, whose areas of specialization include Haruki Murakami Studies, will lead the introductory talk together with Ateneo instructor Julz Riddle. They will discuss the popularity and global appeal of Murakami on February 27 at Leong Hall of Ateneo, followed by an overview and sneak preview of other elements of the festival. It will have piano performance by award-winning April Dawnena Merced-Misa. 

Admission is free but registration is highly encouraged at

Walk-ins are welcome at a first-come, first-served basis. Two other talks will be held in partnership with Fully Booked on March 17 and 18 at Fully Booked, Bonifacio High Street Branch. On March 17, Ateneo professors John B. Labella, Mary Thomas and UP Institute of Creative Writing’s Luna Sicat will talk about Murakami’s stories, writing style and social influence. On March 18, two Filipino writers and running enthusiasts, Frank Cimatu and Achilles B. Mina, will talk about Murakami’s work and his dedication to running, as inspired by Murakami’s memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

The lectures are free but same registration rules apply.

2. Free film showing, concerts

For the “Watch” Murakami, two award-winning film adaptations of Murakami’s hugely popular novel “Norwegian Wood” and his short story “Tony Takitani” (published in The New Yorker) will be shown at the UP Film Institute, University of the Philippines Diliman on March 15 (Thursday) and 16 (Friday), both at 7 p.m. 

“Norwegian Wood” is directed by Tran Anh Hung. “Tony Takitani” is directed by Jun Ichikawa. Admission is free on a first-come, first-served basis.

The “Listen To” is about two-night live concerts that feature music mentioned in Murakami’s novels. These will be held on March 23 and 24 at the Globe Auditorium, Maybank Performing Arts Theater at BGC Arts Center. The concerts are curated by Junichi Konuma, a professor who specializes on music culture. 

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Actor David Ezra will interpret spoken-word pieces. Handout photo

Theater actor and opera singer David Ezra will interpret spoken-word pieces accompanied by jazz pianists Hiroko Kokubo and members of her trio. There will also be the Beatles-inspired classical ensemble, 1966 Quartet, in special collaboration with pianist April Dawnena Merced-Misa.

Same rules apply. Admission is free but registration is highly encouraged at

Registration opens on February 27, Tuesday. Walk-ins are welcome at a first-come, first-served basis. Concert inquiry may be coursed through

The Haruki Murakami Festival is generously supported by The Embassy of Japan, BGC Arts Center, JT International (Philippines) Inc., Japan Airlines Co., Ltd., UP Film Institute, Kritika Kultura, AILAP, The Japanese Studies Program in Ateneo de Manila University and Fully Booked.

Now for the clincher, Japan Foundation Manila has this major announcement: The presence of Haruki Murakami himself is NOT expected during the festival.

But who knows? Novelist-scriptwriter John Irving (“The World According To Garp”) spent weeks writing in Dr. Joven Cuanang’s resort in Currimao, Ilocos Norte, a couple of years ago and the public wasn’t made aware of it. James Hamilton Patterson, considered one of the most reclusive British literary writers, spent a lot of time in the islands before the release of “Ghosts of Manila.” Alex Garland, after “The Beach” fame, was a regular in Malate bars and came up with “The Tesseract.”

Murakami enjoying his draft beer at a bar in Little Tokyo on Chino Roces Avenue or discreetly hanging out in Tago Jazz Café could not be that far-fetched. And even Japan Foundation Manila won’t be aware of it. 

As a favorite Murakami line goes: “No matter how honestly you open up to someone, there are still things you cannot reveal.”