Murakami Haruki (1949-present) is a Japanese writer and translator. His works of fiction and non-fiction have garnered him critical acclaim, and he is the sixth recipient of the Franz Kafka Prize for his novel Kafka on the Shore. He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature, and The Guardian praised him as one of the "world's greatest living novelists."
Since childhood, Murakami has been heavily influenced by Western culture, particularly Western music and literature. He grew up reading a range of works by American writers such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, and he is often distinguished from other Japanese writers for his Western influences. Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko. His first job was at a record store, which is where one of his main characters, Watanabe Toru in Norwegian Wood works. Shortly before finishing his studies, Murakami opened the coffeehouse (jazz bar, in the evening) "Peter-Cat" in Kokubunji (moved to Sendagaya after while), Tokyo with his wife. They ran the bar from 1974 until 1981. Many of his novels have themes and titles referring to classical music, such as the three books making up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: The Thieving Magpie (after Rossini's opera overture), Bird as Prophet (after a piano piece by Robert Schumann usually known in English as The Prophet Bird), and The Bird-Catcher (a character in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute). Some of his novels take their titles from songs: Dance, Dance, Dance (after The Dells' song, although it is widely thought it was titled after the Beach Boys tune), Norwegian Wood (after The Beatles' song) and South of the Border, West of the Sun (the first part being the title of a song by Nat King Cole).
Murakami wrote his first fiction when he was 29. He said he was inspired to write his first novel, 1979's Hear the Wind Sing, while watching a baseball game. In 1978, Murakami was in Jingu Stadium watching a game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp when Dave Hilton, an American, came to bat. According to an oft-repeated story, in the instant that Hilton hit a double, Murakami suddenly realized he could write a novel. He went home and began writing that night. Murakami worked on it for several months in very brief stretches after working days at the bar. He completed a novel and sent it to the only literary contest which would accept a work of that length, and won first prize.
In 1985, Murakami wrote Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a dreamlike fantasy which takes the magical elements in his work to a new extreme. Murakami achieved a major breakthrough and national recognition in 1987 with the publication of Norwegian Wood, a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality. It sold millions of copies among Japanese youths, making Murakami a literary superstar in his native country. The book was printed in two separate volumes, sold together, so that the number of books sold actually doubled, creating the million-copy bestseller hype. One book had a green cover, the other one red. In 1986, Murakami left Japan, traveled throughout Europe, and settled in the United States. He was a writing fellow at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, and at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. During this time he wrote South of the Border, West of the Sun and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.