Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

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Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
UK 1st edition cover
Editor Haruki Murakami
Author Haruki Murakami
Original title めくらやなぎと眠る女
Mekurayanagi to nemuru onna
Translator Philip Gabriel, Jay Rubin
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Genre Short story collection
Published 2006 (Harvill Secker) (UK)
2006 (Knopf) (U.S.)
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 334 (UK)
352 (U.S.)
ISBN 1-84343-269-2 (UK)
1-4000-4461-8 (U.S.)
OCLC 65203792

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (めくらやなぎと眠る女, Mekurayanagi to nemuru onna) is a collection of 24 short stories by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

The stories contained in the book were written between 1980 and 2005, and published in Japan in various magazines and collections. The contents of this compilation was selected by Murakami and first published in English translation in 2006 (its Japanese counterpart was released later in 2009). Around half the stories were translated by Philip Gabriel with the other half being translated by Jay Rubin. In this collection, the stories alternate between the two translators for the most part.

Murakami considers this to be his first real English-language collection of short stories since The Elephant Vanishes (1993) and considers after the quake (2000) to be more akin to a concept album, as its stories were designed to produce a cumulative effect.[1]

In the introductory notes to the English-language edition of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Murakami declares, "I find writing novels a challenge, writing stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden."[2]


Many of the stories in the collection have been published previously in Japanese periodicals (not listed here), then translated in literary magazines (mentioned below), although some have been revised for Blind Willow. The stories are listed below in the order in which they appear in the book. Many of the stories are translated by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin.

Title Previously published
in English in[3]
Year written[1]
"Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" Harper's [1983][4] 1995
"Birthday Girl" Harper's and Birthday Stories 2002
"New York Mining Disaster" 1980 / 1981
"Airplane: Or, How He Talked to Himself as If Reciting Poetry" The New Yorker [1987] 1989
"The Mirror" 1981 / 1982,
"A Folklore for My Generation: A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism" The New Yorker 1989
"Hunting Knife" The New Yorker 1984
"A Perfect Day for Kangaroos" 1981
"Dabchick" McSweeney's 1981
"Man-Eating Cats" The New Yorker 1991
"A 'Poor Aunt' Story" The New Yorker 1980
"Nausea 1979" 1984
"The Seventh Man" Granta 1996
"The Year of Spaghetti" The New Yorker 1981
"Tony Takitani" The New Yorker 1990
"The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes" 1981 / 1982,
"The Ice Man" The New Yorker 1991
"Crabs" Stories #50 1984,[5]
"Firefly" (later reused within Norwegian Wood) 1983
"Chance Traveller" Harper's 2005
"Hanalei Bay" 2005
"Where I'm Likely to Find It" The New Yorker 2005
"The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day" 2005
"A Shinagawa Monkey" The New Yorker 2005
  • The story "Tony Takitani" (トニー滝谷) was adapted into the homonymous Tony Takitani, a 2004 Japanese film directed by Jun Ichikawa.
  • The final five stories all appeared in the collection Tōkyō kitanshū (Strange Tales from Tokyo), published in Japan in 2005.
  • The story "The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema" (translated in Jay Rubin's 2002 Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words) was originally to be added as a bonus 25th story (hence its mention by advance-copy reviewers such as Kirkus Reviews[7] or Los Angeles Times[8]) but the collection was eventually left with the 24 stories Murakami intended.

"Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman"[edit]

An unnamed adult narrator and his younger teen-aged cousin wait for a bus to take them to the hospital so the cousin can have his ear problem examined, an ailment he has had since he was young due to being hit in the ear by a baseball. While waiting, the cousin inquires deeply about the narrator's watch. The bus ride takes them through much hilly terrain and gives the narrator time to think about how he developed a close bond with his cousin. After the cousin checks in, the narrator reminisces on what happened the last time he visited a nearby hospital.

While the narrator was in high school, he and his friend visited his friend's girlfriend at the hospital, who needed to have one of her ribs realigned. After the operation, the girlfriend tells a narrative-poem about a woman who sleeps indefinitely because a "blind willow" sends its flies to carry pollen to her ear, burrow inside, and put her to sleep. Eventually, these flies eat the woman's flesh starting from the inside, despite a young man's effort in trying to save her.

After the cousin returns from the check-up, the two cousins lunch. When they talk about the cousin's ailment and how it will probably affect him for the rest of his life, he says he thinks of the movie line "Don't worry. If you were able to spot some Indians, that means there aren't any there" from Fort Apache whenever someone sympathizes with him about his ears. As the bus taking them home approaches, the narrator begins to daydream of how he and his friend were careless with a gift of chocolates for the girlfriend many years ago. When he is able to think clearly again, he tells his cousin, "I'm all right."

"Birthday Girl"[edit]

A woman who turns twenty receives the chance to make a wish.

"New York Mining Disaster"[edit]

A twenty-eight year old man has to go to five of his friends' funerals in one year. Because he does not own a black suit, he always borrows his friend's suit; this friend has a peculiar habit of going to zoo at odd times, include when natural disasters like typhoons are coming and only has a girlfriend for about six months before finding a new companion. At the end of the year, the man returns the suit to his friend and they talk about superstitions and T.V.s over beer and champagne.

At a New Year's Eve party at a bar in Roppongi, the man is introduced to a mysterious woman who claims she "killed" someone that looks like the man five year ago. They discuss this "killing" before they go their own way. In the final section, a press release-style passage tells of miners trapped underground as the outside world tries to save them.

"Airplane: Or, How He Talked to Himself as If Reciting Poetry"[edit]

A twenty year old man meets regularly with a married woman seven years his senior at her place regularly to have sex; her husband is often out-of-town for his job and her daughter is in kindergarten. She has an idiosyncratic habit of crying for a set amount of time every so often and he has a peculiar practice of reciting "poetry" under his breath and not remembering any of it.

One day she decides to write down what he says and they learn it is about airplanes. They try to make meaning of it but they conclude that he must mention airplanes for some ineffable reason. That day, she also cries twice, the only time this happens in all the time the two are acquainted.

"The Mirror"[edit]

A man tells the story of how he worked as a night watchman at a school in a small town in the Niigata Prefecture shortly after graduating from high school. His job was simple: patrol the premise at nine P.M. and three A.M. During a windy night in October, while he is patrolling the campus, he sees himself in a mirror by the entrance. At first he is surprised but after a few minutes he becomes horrified: the person in the mirror is not him. In a panic, he drops his cigarette, smashes the mirror, and rush back to his quarters. In the morning he learns that there are no signs of a mirror from the previous night. Because of this incident the man states that he does not have any mirrors in his house.

"A Folklore for My Generation: A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism"[edit]

A narrator meets an old classmate from his high school days in Kobe during his trip to Lucca. In a frame story, the classmate tell about his relationship with his girlfriend Yoshiko; most people though they were ideal because of excellence in so many things but it was in fact the opposite. While they much enjoyed each other's company, they never had intercourse as Yoshiko wanted to keep her virginity until after marriage, the most sensual thing they do being erotic touching with their clothes on. They go to different universities after graduation (she remains in Kobe attending a women's college and he goes to Tokyo University) but they remain in a relationship for four years. The last time the classmate decides to bring up sex is right before they drift apart and eventually break up; Yoshiko is adamant but tells him that she will sleep with him after she is married.

When they are both in their late twenties, Yoshiko calls him after she is married asking him to come over to her apartment while her husband is away and that she is willing to keep her promise. The classmate feels that it would not be the same so the extent of their tryst remains erotic touching. When the classmate leaves her apartment that day, he knows he will never see her again; he sleeps with a prostitute that evening before continuing on with the rest of his life.

"Hunting Knife"[edit]

A couple in their late twenties are vacationing on a Pacific Island, most likely Guam or Hawaii; they share a cottage with an elderly American mother and her adult, wheelchair-using son. On the afternoon before they are set to return to Tokyo, while his wife is taking a nap, the narrator goes for a swim in the ocean. He eventually finds himself on a raft with an obese but healthy American woman and they talk. They talk about their respective personal lives before the narrator returns to the hotel to spend the evening with his wife. The narrator wakes up past midnight and is unable to continue sleeping so he goes out for a walk; he runs into the son at the beach bar and converses with him. The son talks about how he and his mother are staying her indefinitely and his philosophy regarding their relative idleness when they stay at these types of resorts. He finally shows an ornate hunting knife to the narrator and asks him to cut something for him. After hacking away at a number of things, the son tells about a recurring dream he has: there is a "knife" stuck in his head but he is unable to pull it out no matter how hard he tries.

"A Perfect Day for Kangaroos"[edit]

A man and a woman go to see a kangaroo family at the zoo a month after seeing it advertised in the newspaper. When they arrive, they notice that there is no longer a baby kangaroo and are disappointed. The man does to buy the woman ice cream and when he returns, the woman point out that their is a baby in the mother's pouch. After they realize that the baby is asleep, the agree to grab a beer somewhere together.


A man running down an underground corridor to get to a job interview has to decide whether to go right or left at a T-shaped intersection; he flips a coin and decide to go right. A secretary for the "boss" emerges from a bath and tells the man he has to give a password to meet the "boss." He asks for clues and concludes that it must be "dabchick" and is adamant; when the secretary tells him it is not the correct password, he insist that the secretary tell the "boss" anyway. When the secretary tells the "boss" over the intercom, it is revealed that the "boss" is a palm-sized dabchick and he comments to the secretary that the man is late.

"Man-Eating Cats"[edit]

A married man with a son meets a woman named Izumi during a business meeting; they soon realize that they have an ineffable mutual bond. They eventually consummate their relationship, but when Izumi's husband and the man's wife find out, the cheated spouses leave their respective partners (the man's wife also takes custody of their son). Izumi suggests to the man that they quit their jobs and go live on a Greek island for a few years with their savings; he agrees. On the airplane flight to the island, he has an anxiety attack, scared of a new start in a faraway land.

One day during their stay in Greece, the man reads a story in the newspaper to Izumi about a local woman who was eaten by her cats after she died (thus leaving her famished pets trapped in her apartment). Izumi says that it reminds her of a story a nun told her when she attended Catholic school: the nun says if you are stranded on and island with a cat, do not share food with the cat as it is not "chosen by God." He then tells the story of how, during his childhood, a cat "disappeared" by running up a tree. That night, he wakes up and finds Izumi missing; he also hears music coming from the top on a nearby hill and decides to make the trek to the summit to find the source of the melody. On the way up the hill, he experiences a trance in which he remembers him old life. When he reaches the top and is unable to find a source, he returns to his apartment and thinks of cat eating him alive as he tries to fall asleep alone.

"A 'Poor Aunt' Story"[edit]

In a frame story, a man tells about his "poor aunt," an unremarkable and burdensome thing (usually a person, but it can also be an animal or a various object) that figurative sticks to a certain person's back. His example is of an actual aunt at a wedding; at that wedding companions tell of their own various "poor aunts." Further, "poor aunts" will cease to exist when there is perfection, but this will not occur until the year 11,980.



  1. ^ a b Murakami, Haruki (2006). "Introduction to the English edition". Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. 
  2. ^ Article about Blind willow, Sleeping Woman [1], retrieved June 1, 2007.
  3. ^ Murakami, Haruki (2006). "Publishers notes, English edition". Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. 
  4. ^ "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" was first published in 1983 as a different version (whose title didn't bear a comma), then rewritten in 1995 (taking its final title). (See also the story's article ja:めくらやなぎと眠る女 in Japanese.)
  5. ^ The short story "Crabs" (, Kani) was first published nested within the untranslated story "Baseball Field" (野球場, Yakyūjō) in 1984, then cut out and revised for separate publication in 2003. See also: Daniel Morales (2008), "Murakami Haruki B-Sides", Néojaponisme, May 12, 2008: "Thus begins “Baseball Field” [1984], one of Haruki Murakami's lesser-known short stories. Part of the story was extracted, edited and expanded into “Crabs”, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, but the entirety has never been published in English. The young man in the story is at a café with Murakami himself. He mailed Murakami one of his short stories (the content of which the real-life Murakami later turned into “Crabs”), and Murakami, charmed by the young man's interesting handwriting and somewhat impressed with the story itself, read all 70 pages and sent him a letter of suggestions. “Baseball Field” tells the story of their subsequent meeting over coffee."
  6. ^ "Stories 50" (in English and Italian). Leconte Editore. April 2003. p. 2. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Archives[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Kiriyama Winners for 2007

External links[edit]