Murakami makes first Japan public appearance in 18 years

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Fans of Japanese author Haruki Murakami queue to buy his new novel Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and the Year of his Pilgrimage at a Tokyo bookstore in April. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

The critically acclaimed  and admittedly media shy Japanese author Haruki Murakami made his first public speaking appearance in his homeland in 18 years on Monday, the Associated Press reports.

An audience of 500 fans, who won passes to the event through a lottery, gathered at Kyoto University to hear Murakami explain the inspiration behind his most recent book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and the Year of His Pilgrimage, the story of a 36-year-old man attempting to move past his sudden and painful rejection by his best friends several years ago.

murakami-headshot.jpeg"At the beginning, I was planning to write something allusive, as in my past works. But this time I developed a great interest in expanding on real people. Then the characters started to act on their own. I was intrigued by the relationships between people," Murakami said.

The bestselling writer, who released his last novel 1Q84 in 2009, said he drew upon a similar experience in his own life when developing the characters.

"I can understand how painful it is to be rejected," Murakami said. "When you get hurt, you may build an emotional wall around your heart. But after a while you can stand up and move on. That's the kind of story I wanted to write."

Murakami's last public event was a book reading after the devastating 1995 earthquake in Kobe. The writer told Reuters that he decided to speak on Monday in part to honour his friend Kayao Kawai, a psychologist and professor at Kyoto University, who died in 2007.

440-125.jpgHe also explained his lack of speaking engagements and public readings by saying his job is to write and he wants to concentrate on that. He also joked about the literary media's fascination with his reputation for being a recluse.

"It's not because I have a mental condition or purple spots all over my body. I'm just an ordinary person who lives an ordinary life."

His fans, however, appreciated the rare public appearance. Chiyomi Hirosawa, a 43-year-old architect in the audience, said she was delighted to finally see the man behind the books.

"It was great to be able to see the real Murakami that we can never know from his novels. He has a great sense of humour and seemed more upbeat than the kind of person I was imagining," she said.

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