Japan has a reputation for producing authors that bring their own unique style to the writing world. From Kazuo Ishiguro to Ohba Minako, there are various Japanese authors who’ve created important legacies. Two other Japanese authors who need to be mentioned are Haruki Murakami and Ryu Murakami.
There are many similarities between the two men. Both have achieved worldwide acclaim, with their novels becoming extremely popular among western audiences. Japan is a crucial theme in their work, with both authors using the country as a backdrop for political, economic and social themes. So, how do Haruki and Ryu differ from each other?
Before delving into their work, it’s worth mentioning that despite having the same last name, Ryu and Haruki aren’t related to each other. Haruki was born in 1949 and lived in Kyoto, while Ryu was born in 1952 and grew up in Nagasaki.
Ryu got his writing start earlier, with him writing his first short novel, Almost Transparent Blue, while at university. In contrast, Haruki began writing from the age of 29 and wrote his first book Hear The Wind in 1979.
Alternative writing styles
Both men are known for writing about similar themes of isolation, loneliness and alienation, but their subject matter and styles differ in various ways. Through works like Norwegian Wood, Killing Commendatore, After Dark and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki has developed a signature surrealist style that is rooted in the mundane.
Haruki’s stories deal with absurd situations that often leave his characters wondering whether they have experienced something real or not. There is a mystery and a gentleness to his writing that draws the reader in. The presence of music and jazz is a common theme throughout Haruki’s novels and they help to flesh out the worlds he creates.
His protagonists are usually average middle-aged men who find themselves having an existential crisis. They are reflective, neurotic characters who think back to their youth and wonder if everything was as good as they believed it was inside their head. Haruki makes them stand out with honest inner monologues and relatable mentalities.
While some might argue that Haruki’s novels follow a set premise, Ryu’s work is much harder to predict. Ryu’s novels feature many twists and turns and focus on characters who are caught in violent situations. Perhaps the best example of this can be seen from In The Miso Soup, which follows a young tour guide and his experience of dealing with an unhinged American tourist.
Another of his novels, Audition, features a widower who holds fake auditions for young women who could potentially become his girlfriend. This situation leads the protagonist down a dark path and there’s no guarantee that he’ll come back from it alive.
Compared to Haruki, Ryu’s writing style is much bleaker and nihilistic. He’s interested in exposing the darker side of Japan through mediums like the sex trade and Gaijin culture. At its core, Ryu’s work is about peeling back the complex layers of Japanese society and highlighting every aspect of it for better or worse.
Haruki and Ryu Murakami are both amazingly talented writers who deserve to be ranked among the best authors in the world. Rather than it being a question of who is better, it should be a debate of what kind of novel you feel like reading in the moment.
If you feel like reading a book with dark humour and violence, then pick up a Ryu novel. If you want to become engrossed in a haunting story that moves you, then read a Haruki book. Regardless of choice, you will be left with a profound sense of satisfaction. Both authors are just that damn good.