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Haruki Murakami begins online agony uncle clinic

JAPANESE novelist Haruki Murakami has started offering opinions and advice on queries from fans in an online agony uncle column, kicking things off by revealing his fears over hate speech and his own failing eyesight.

The publicity-shy writer started the project Thursday at “Murakami-san no tokoro” or “Mr. Murakami’s place” where he hoped for easy-going, fun exchanges with readers.

The first batch of answers — mostly in short and simple sentences — appeared at www.welluneednt.com on Friday, adorned by illustrations of a man resembling Murakami alongside several animals.

In an early response to a 51-year-old doctor who had asked for “a special invitation ticket” to peek into his life, Murakami said would prefer to keep his tiny “secrets” to himself.

“I’d be troubled if my life was peeked at. Please take a peek at other people’s lives,” he said.

A single mother asked for tips on persuading her 11-year-old son stop playing games all the time and start reading books so he would become like the writer.

Murakami said: “Growing up like me? What does that mean? I don’t quite get it… But it’s pretty tough if you become me.”

He said whether or not to become an avid reader was up to the boy. In any case, he added: “I cannot read many books anymore as my eyes may have weakened recently”.

In response to a 22-year-old student who asked for his thoughts on hate speech, a topic that has caused much liberal hand-wringing in Japan of late, Murakami said: “We have to do something about this trend.”

“It’s not fair” to speak ill of people because of their race or other things they can do nothing about.

A 49-year-old reader asked what he had eaten for his birthday, which fell on January 12.

Murakami, whose writing often wanders off in tangential directions, answered that he had long known he shared a birthday with American author Jack London but discovered recently that it was also the day Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man was born.

“It’s a bit troublesome. But it is said that (Hermann) Goering had the highest score when the Allied forces arrested Nazi big shots after the War and tested their intelligence. It may be because of the birthday.”

Regardless of birthday doppelgangers, the day had been celebrated with a seafood feast, he added.

The website will accept submissions until the very last minute of January in Japan — 1459 GMT on January 31, with answers posted over the following two months.

He said he would read all emails and write replies by himself.

“It’s not like I just sign what I made an assistant or editor write,” he said in a greeting to readers. “Unfortunately I only have one body… I can’t answer everyone.”

The website’s “house rules” ask that questioners pick one of the following four topics:

“1. Things that you’d especially like to ask or consult Murakami-san about

“2. Things you’d like to chat about with Murakami-san

“3. Places that I like or dislike

“4. Issues related to cats,” a favourite animal of his, and the Yakult Swallows, the Japanese baseball team he supports.

Questions can be asked in any language, his publisher said.

Answers will be posted online with the question that was asked, alongside the interlocutor’s pen name, gender, age and occupation.

The scheme echoes a similar project in 2006, and offers a rare chance for Murakami’s legions of fans to communicate directly with a writer who spends much of his time hiding from the glare of the media.

Murakami is one of Japan’s best known writers and has repeatedly been tipped as a future Nobel Literature laureate.

The 66-year-old, who reportedly spends much of his time in the United States, has a cult following for his intricately crafted tales of the absurdity and loneliness of modern life, and peppers his work with references to pop culture.



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