Selling Out: Murakami’s ‘Short Shorts’

In 1974, the Tokyo-based apparel giant Onward Kashiyama bought the license for traditional American outfitters, J.Press, for the Japanese market. With plenty of cash to spend, they opened stores around Japan, which appealed to the baby boomer Japanese with a taste for Ivy League clothing, and in 1986, the company bought J.Press outright. During those years, Onward spent large on advertising, taking out back cover ads in magazines like Popeye, usually with a copy-heavy approach. Around this time, the brand recruited the skills of young Tokyo writer, Haruki Murakami.

In the months before Murakami shot to global fame with his 1987 novel Norwegian Wood, J.Press approached the writer to pen short stories for the brand’s adverts. He could write about whatever he wanted. So once a month between April 1985 to February 1987, Murakami wrote a ‘short short’, which was accompanied by its own illustration, and given a J.Press logo, added to the bottom left hand corner. The stories (of which there are many), contain Murakami’s signature dry observation, and weird humour. Despite being no stranger to branding (Murakami would pen the odd essay for Trad bible, Men’s Club), there’s no acknowledgement of the brand, or even talk of clothing.

Here’s the first J.Press ‘short short’, Hotel Lobby Oysters:

At the time I was sitting on the hotel lobby sofa and vaguely thinking about oysters. Not lemon soufflé, not pencil sharpeners – oysters. I don’t know why. I just suddenly realized that I was thinking about oysters.

The oysters I was thinking about on the hotel lobby sofa were different from oysters thought about anywhere else. They were shaped differently, they smelled differently, and their color was different, too. They weren’t oysters harvested in some cove. They were pure oysters harvested in a hotel lobby.

After thinking about oysters for a while, I went to the sink to wash my face, then retied my tie and returned to the sofa. When I got back, the oysters had already disappeared from inside my head. Again, I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I washed my faced or because I retied my tie. Or maybe the hotel oyster season is extremely short.

When the girl came 17 minutes after our appointed time, I told her about the hotel lobby oysters. The image was so distinct I felt like I had to tell someone about them.

“You want to eat oysters?” she asked.

“No, these oysters, they were purely oysters as a concept, unrelated to my appetite,” I explained. “The oysters came into being as the very essence of oys—“

“But you do want to eat some, right?” she said.

When she mentioned it and I settled down to think about it, I certainly had developed an incredible desire to eat oysters. We went to the hotel restaurant and ate 25 oysters while drinking wine. Sometimes I think my appetite originates from a really strange place.

After the runaway success of Norwegian Wood, Murakami clearly had larger fish to fry. But he returned to the ‘short short’ format six years later, seeking a ‘change of pace’ from his day-to-day career as a novelist. This time, Murakami penned a batch of short stories for Parker Pens, which appeared in advertisements between April 1993 and March 1995. The same spirit is intact, with twenty four individual stories written for the brand. This time however, the stories were included in the magazine’s index as texts unto themselves, rather than being presented simply as advertising copy. They were also released under a serial title: “Murakami Asahidō” (Murakami’s House of the Rising Sun).

Here’s Spider Monkey of the Night:

I was sitting at my desk at 2:00 in the morning and writing. I pushed my window open and a spider monkey came in.

“Oh, hey, who are you?” I asked.

“Oh, hey, who are you,” the spider monkey said.

“Don’t copy me,” I said.

“Don’t copy me,” the monkey said.

“Don’t copy me,” I copied him.

“Don’t copy me,” he copied me in italics.

Man, this is really annoying, I thought. If I get caught up with this copycat-crazed night monkey, who knows when this will end. I’ll just have to trip him up somewhere. I had a job that I had to finish by morning, and I couldn’t very well keep doing this all night.

“Heppoku rakurashi manga totemuya, kurini kamasu tokimi wakoru, pacopaco,” I said quickly.

“Heppoku rakurashi manga totemuya, kurini kamasu tokimi wakoru, pacopaco,” the spider monkey said.

Since I had said something completely random, I couldn’t actually tell if the monkey had copied me correctly or not. Well, that was pointless.

“Leave me alone,” I said.

“Leave me alone,” the monkey said.

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in italics that time.”

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in ītalics that time.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the i.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the eye.”

I sighed. No matter what I said, the spider monkey wouldn’t understand. I decided to not say anything and just keep doing my work. Still, when I pressed a key on my word processor, the monkey silently pressed the copy key. Click. Still, when I pressed a key on my word processor, the monkey silently pressed the copy key. Click. Leave me alone. Leave me alone.

Source: Neojaponisme