IFOA: Around the World with Hideo Furukawa

IFOA: Around the World with Hideo Furukawa

Cover of Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa I recently had the honor of reviewing Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa. It is a fun, remastering of a short story written by Haruki Murakami titled A Slow Boat to China. In Furukawa's book, as well as the original short story, the main protagonist meets three people who

Slow Boat, Hideo Furukawa, Pushkin Press, 2017

Cover of Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa

I recently had the honor of reviewing Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa. It is a fun, remastering of a short story written by Haruki Murakami titled A Slow Boat to China. In Furukawa’s book, as well as the original short story, the main protagonist meets three people who help him understand his place in life. This book, like many odes, is a great rendition of a classic.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Hideo Furukawa for the International Festival of Authors where he will join authors from three continents and nine countries in readings from “Around the World.” I was able to ask him a few questions about Slow Boat and his interesting writing style.

Slow Boat is inspired by Haruki Murakami’s short story, A Slow Boat to China in his book The Elephant Vanishes. What made you want to remix this classic story?

The Elephant Vanishes に収録された形では判別しがたいですが、この小説は、村上春樹が「初めて発表した短篇小説」です。ある意味で、村上春樹の出発点ともなります。この小説に創造的に向き合うことで、村上春樹への敬意と、彼が築きあげてきた時代への客観的対峙、かつまた、自分は「村上春樹の次世代」の作家であることが、それぞれ表明できるのではないか、と考えました。次世代の作家である、とは、そのまま遺産を引き継ぐわけではない、との意味でもあります。

It’s hard to know it from the title The Elephant Vanishes, but this short story—A Slow Boat to China—is Haruki Murakami’s very first published short story. In a sense, this is a starting point for him. By analyzing the story creatively, I thought I could pay respect to Haruki Murakami’s legacy by objectively confronting the literary style that he has laid the foundation for, while at the same time, expressing that I am a writer of the next generation after Murakami.

Do you consider yourself to be the protégé of Haruki Murakami’s legacy? Was Slow Boat a way to pay tribute to that comparison?

もちろん村上春樹へのトリビュートですが、質問1で回答しましたように、直接「村上っぽさ」を継承する作家であるとは思っていません。文学的継承とは、表面のスタイルとは別のところで行なわれるのではないか、と考えています。ただ、「弟子」であるかどうか、との問いに対しては、若干、「そうかもしれない」と思います。

It is, of course, a tribute to Haruki Murakami, but as previously mentioned, I don’t see myself as a writer who directly takes over “Murakami-like”. I think literary inheritance is something influenced somewhere else, but usually on a surface level in terms of style. However, if you ask me if I am a protégé of Haruki Murakami’s legacy, I may say yes, not entirely but slightly.

The protagonist of Slow Boat isn’t necessarily a likable person. Was that an intentional choice or is he just misunderstood?

むしろ、村上春樹作品の初期〜中期の主人公が、決して世間一般に言う「好人物」ではないところから来ているのでは、と思います。つまり、意図的な選択です。しかしながら、この世に「人に100パーセントは理解されない」人物はいるのでしょうか? 誰もが、他人から誤解されているのではないでしょうか? いずれにしても「我が道を行く」タイプの人物は、小説のためにも、また、この世界のためにも、必要だと思っています。

The protagonist’s temperament stems from what Haruki Murakami wrote in his early to mid-career, that is, the protagonists in his stories of that time weren’t necessarily “likable”. In short, yes it was intentional. However, come to think of it, is there anyone who is completely understood and accepted by others 100% of the time? People often experience being misunderstood by others. Either way, a character that goes his or her own way is essential for both storytelling and the world.

When reading Slow Boat, I noticed language plays a large role in the story. The language between the protagonist and the three women he meets changes with each one. What about these different ways of communication were you trying to get across to the reader? Why the focus on that form of communication?

僕が思うに、人間というのは、「他人との関係」の中にある気がします。つまり、「相手」が変われば「自分」もちょっと変わる。しかも、ちょっとどころか、極端に変わる場合があります。それは、「相手」が恋愛の対象でもある場合です。言葉というのは、「自分」の思考を形成するほとんど唯一のツールですが、そのツールですら、恋愛によって変容する。これを表現したいと思いました。

In my opinion, human beings exist in a relationship with others. That is, you are constantly changing depending on who you are with. Besides, in some cases, you may change drastically. Likewise, you change the same way when the companion is someone you are romantically interested in. Language is, in a way, the only tool that can compose one’s thoughts. Even that tool can transform through love. That is what I wanted to express.

You’re known for changing your style with every book you write. Is there a specific reason you take this chameleon-like approach to your writing?

この回答は、質問5へのそれと似ます。僕は、書こうとしている小説を愛していますから、言葉が、つまりスタイルが、変容するわけです。「主題」が変われば、または「素材」が変われば、同じように日本語をツールに執筆している小説も、愛の力で変化するのです。

My answer to this question is similar to the one in #4. I love each novel I am going to write, so the language, or the style, transforms. As the theme and subject matter change, my stories change (their language or style) through my passion and love of writing.

Do you have any new projects you are working on that you are able to talk about?

来年二月で、作家デビュー二十周年となるのですが、それを記念して長篇小説を出します。第二次世界大戦直前、日本のもっとも北にある大きな島・北海道がソ連軍に占領されて、そのままソ連邦の支配下に置かれてしまった世界の話です。その後、極東アジアの日本(北海道を除く)は、同じアジアの東南にある巨大国家・インドと連邦を組み、かつまた、北海道からは若者たちのオリジナルの文化が生まれます。それは音楽の文化で、「新世代のヒップホップ」と言えるものです。この、ヒップホップ・グループが、言葉と音楽の力で、現代社会の数々の難題(移民問題、核廃絶の問題)に向き合う、という小説です。

Next February will mark the 20th anniversary of my start as a writer. In order to celebrate it, I will write a full-length story. Before World War II, a large island, Hokkaido, located at the northernmost end of Japan, was occupied by the Soviet troops, and since then the island stayed under control of the Soviet Union. Later, the Far East Asian country Japan, without Hokkaido, will become allied with India, the enormous nation in South East Asia. Meanwhile, an original pop culture emerges among young people in Hokkaido. It is music and regarded as “a new generation hip-hop.” This new hip-hop group will confront, with the power of language and music, the numerous challenging issues in today’s societies such as immigration and abolition of nuclear weapons.


The 2017 International Festival of Authors takes place from October 19th to 29th and features many authors sharing their ideas and experiences through interviews, readings, panel discussions, special events, and free book signings. The festival is a curated celebration of literary achievements that will please any book lover.

Jazmine Joyner
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