Running Towards Success: Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is one of the 100 most influential people in the world according to the magazine Time, where he’s considered an icon. And this is what Yoko Ono writes about him:

“I’m glad that Murakami-san has been selected as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME. He deserves the honor. He is a writer of great imagination and human sympathy, one who has enthralled millions of readers by building fictional worlds that are uniquely his. Murakami-san has a singular vision, as informed by pop culture as it is by deep channels of Japanese tradition. And he’s a Japanese writer –while Murakami-san spends much of his time in the U.S. and has earned acclaim internationally, he and his books are very much a product of Japan. In recent years, as the government in Japan has become more conservative, Murakami-san has become a valuable voice for peace.”

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949. He studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, and he loves music. In his thirties, he was running a small jazz bar called “Peter Cat” when he decided to start writing and running. (Check out his office and get stoked with his incredible vinyl records collection!)

Fast-forward to the present: he’s a prolific, skilled writer and a stubbornly happy runner. Every year he’s on the short list of potential Nobel prize winners (recently he won the Jerusalem Prize), and he’s conquered thousands of imaginations with his magical yet realistic stories, based on lonely characters searching for a place in the world. His literary influences among others are Raymond Chandler, Richard Brautigan, and Kurt Vonnegut.

He’s written more than a dozen novels such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, or A Wild Sheep Chase; few short stories collections such as After the Quake, or Men Without Women; essays about running like What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and about the gas attacks happened on the Tokyo subway in 1995 compiled in the book Underground. Murakami has also translated works of some of the greatest American writers such as Truman Capote, Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver.

Oh, and he’s run more than twenty marathons (including an ultramarathon of 100 kilometers) and completed many triathlons along the way too.

So, how does Haruki Murakami do it?

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Life is not easy for anyone, but there are always positive lessons to learn after every difficult situation. Sometimes you may think, OK, this is too much, I can’t handle it anymore. And while the pain is real, you can choose how you react to it. Choose not to suffer, and choose to take the lessons learned and move forward.

“Since failure was not an option, I’d have to give it everything I had.”

Murakami writes first thing in the morning, when it’s still cool, and he just stops when he feels like he can’t keep writing more. This is one of his secrets to be successful with long-term projects such as his novels. He follows what Ernest Hemingway once said: “To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm”. And with that motto he also refers about never stop running ‘seriously’, which in his own words means running at least “thirty-six miles a week” and never taking two consecutive days off.


Photograph of Murakami in 1983 reaching Maraton, after running 42 kilometers. He ran on his own from Athens and under the scorching Greek sun. Because, yeah, failure was not an option.

“You really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy.”

Murakami and his wife were running a successful jazz bar in Tokyo when he found himself watching a baseball match, staring into space… then he decided to write a novel. That novel was Hear the Wind Sing, and was the first of many. He left the bar, and tried to pursue his passion of writing. Then he began running and quit smoking. And since then, he’s never stopped doing what he chose to do. He’s without question the greatest running novelist the world has ever seen.

“Nothing in the real world is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness.”

Murakami says we must dream, we must imagine. His novels are sometimes unbelievably weird, and magical things happen time to time. But who knows what’s real anyway? In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, he says he could never stand being forced to do something he didn’t want to do at a time he didn’t want to do it. But when he was able to do something he liked to do when he wanted to do it, he was pretty good at it, so he’d put everything he had. Maybe it’s time to do the things we want to do, the things we’re always imagining and dreaming about. Now. 

“Most of what I know about writing fiction I learned by running every day.”

He says that running without a break for more than two decades has made him stronger, both physically and emotionally. But running is not for everyone. You have to find your passion, and make the necessary sacrifices to keep your mind focused and your body healthy (anima sana in corpore sano). Nothing comes easy. Be ready.

“If something’s worth doing, it’s worth giving it your best –or in some cases beyond your best.”

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