Norwegian would I like Murakami?: An Autoethnography



Autoethnography is a research and writing method endeavouring to interpret and systematically analyse individual experience as a means to understand cultural encounters (Ellis 2004Holman Jones 2005). To comprehend my experience of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, a Japanese book translated into English, I underwent autoethnographic investigation of reading a physical copy.  

After being ridiculed for not knowing who he was the first time someone mentioned him to me, the name “Murakami” carried a weight which took a long time to shake. However, hearing from friends that they enjoyed his novels gave me an incentive to investigate the buzz. After trying the audiobook of A Wild Sheep Chase, though leaving it unfinished, Murakami did not live up to the hype. So when embarking on this investigation of reading Norwegian Wood, I felt scepticism towards potential enjoyment. 

For methodology, I created a Google doc where I would write notes as I was reading. Since it was online, the doc was very handy for on the go notes because I could access it through multiple devices. Writing during my experience helped to formulate ideas as well as keep tabs on triggered epiphanies. 

When employing autoethnography, researchers strive to create aesthetic and captivating comprehensive accounts of personal and interpersonal experience (Ellis et al. 2011). An attempt to not only provide a beautiful theme for my Prezi but also to be authentic in engrossing my audience in my experience, I employed the picture of the book cover of the book I read. Furthermore, using Prezi was an effort to present a more engaging slide show to reveal my findings. 

Self-reflexivity proves a valuable tool for the critical examination of the discourses developed through the autoethnographic experience, while also allowing for an understanding of that experience (Saukko 2003, p. 93). A lack of knowledge of Japan and not having grasped the sheer amount of time that Western culture has held influence there led me to assume Murakami wrote for Western audiences. Hearing these familiar Western names brought not only a sense of comfort but at times caused me to forget I was reading a Japanese book. Through self-reflexivity, I recognise that this is all due to a personal assumption that just because a Japanese book mentions things that are not Japanese, this does not mean it is any less Japanese – things from non-Western cultures can be a part of Western daily life and vice versa. 

Because of my preconceived ideas of Murakami, and my lack of experience with Japan and translated texts in general, I was surprised to have enjoyed Norwegian Wood. Recognising that my judgement of Murakami lied solely in the introduction to his name has revealed to me how one person can easily affect my perception of things. Having never read a translated book, I worried that the language would not transpire in the way Murakami intended. However, my enjoyment of the narrative and characters was enough for me to stop worrying about translation. Autoethnography offered a comprehensive way to challenge my initial opinion of Murakami, letting me discover I am now a fan. 


Ellis, C 2004, The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography, AltaMira Press, California.

Ellis, C, Adams, T & Bochner, A 2010, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, Art. 10.

Gregory, S, Miyawaki, T & McCaffery, L 2002, ‘It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing: An interview with Haruki Murakami’, Review of Contemporary Fiction, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 111-127.

Hantke, S 2007, ‘Postmodernism and Genre Fiction as Deferred Action: Haruki Murakami and the Noir Tradition’, Critique Studies in Contemporary Fiction, vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 3-24. 

Holman Jones, S 2005, ‘Autoethnography: Making the personal political’, in NK Denzin & YS Lincoln (eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research, SAGE, California, pp. 763-791.

Kelts, R 2013, ‘Lost in translation?’, The New York Times, 9 May, viewed 12 November 2020, <>.  

Lai, MC 2015, ‘Translating Cunshang Chunshu: Murakami Haruki in Chinese’, Japanese Language and Literature, vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 143-161.

Saukko, P 2003, Doing Research in Cultural Studies, SAGE, London.

Suter, R 2011, The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki between Japan and the United States, Harvard University Asia Center, Massachusetts. 

Rubin, J 2002, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, Harvill, London.

Zielinska-Elliott, A 2020, ‘No translator is an island: the changing dynamics of Murakami Haruki translations around the world’, Japan Forum, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 379-403.

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