In the introduction to Birthday Stories, a 2004 anthology edited by Haruki Murakami, Murakami writes about the particular weirdness of having his birthday become a public event. January 12 has come around again, so in honor of Murakami’s 67th birthday it seemed apt to revisit the introduction, which also ran as an essay in The Guardian:
Early one birthday morning I was listening to the radio in the kitchen of my Tokyo apartment. I usually get up early to work. I wake between four and five in the morning, make myself some coffee (my wife is still sleeping), eat a slice of toast and go to my study to begin writing. While I prepare my breakfast, I usually listen to the radio news – not by choice (there’s not a lot worth hearing), but because there’s not much else to do at such an early hour. That morning, as I waited for my water to boil, the newsreader was announcing a list of public events planned for the day, with details of when and where they were happening. For example, the emperor was going to plant a ceremonial tree, or a large British passenger ship was due to dock in Yokohama, or events would be taking place throughout the country in honour of this being official chewing-gum day (I know it sounds ludicrous but I am not making it up: there really is such a day).
The last item on this list of public events was an announcement of the names of famous people whose birthday fell on January 12. And there among them was my own! “Novelist Haruki Murakami today celebrates his **th birthday,” the announcer said. I was only half listening, but, even so, at the sound of my own name I almost knocked over the hot kettle. “Whoa!” I cried aloud and looked around the room in disbelief. “So,” it occurred to me a few minutes later with a pang, “my birthday is not just for me any more. Now they list it as a public event.”
A public event?
Oh well, public event or not, at least at that moment some of the people throughout Japan – it was a nationwide broadcast – standing (or sitting) by their radios may have had at least some fleeting thought of me. “So, today is Haruki Murakami’s birthday, eh?” Or, “Oh, wow, Haruki Murakami’s ** years old, now too!” Or, “Hey, whaddya know, even guys like Haruki Murakami have birthdays!” In reality, though, how many people in Japan could have been up at this ridiculous pre-dawn hour listening to the radio news? Twenty or thirty thousand? And how many of those would know my name? Two or three thousand? I had absolutely no idea.