Author Murakami makes first Japan public appearance in 18 years

KYOTO, Japan Mon May 6, 2013 8:57am EDT

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami speaks during a ceremony where he was awarded the ''XXIII Premi Internacional Catalunya'' prize in Barcelona, June 9, 2011. REUTERS/Generalitat de Catalunya/Handout

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami speaks during a ceremony where he was awarded the ''XXIII Premi Internacional Catalunya'' prize in Barcelona, June 9, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Generalitat de Catalunya/Handout

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KYOTO, Japan (Reuters) - Japanese author Haruki Murakami made his first public appearance in his homeland in 18 years on Monday, describing his newest novel, which was an instant-best seller, as a story that takes place in the real world, unlike many of his other novels.

"Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" has attracted positive reviews, with readers spotting familiar Murakami themes such as people bonding through pain.

Publisher Bungeishunju made the rare decision to print 1 million copies within a week of its April release in Japan.

The novel is about a lonely 36-year-old engineer named Tsukuru Tazaki, who embarks on trips in Japan and Finland to overcome his most painful experience - broken friendships.

"Usually things are divided into the real and unreal, but I was wondering how it will be if I bring all of that into the stage of the real world," Murakami told an audience of about 500 fans in Kyoto.

"People get hurt and close their minds, but as time passes, they gradually open up, and they grow as they repeat that. This novel is about growth."

The fans who won a lottery to attend the event were surprised that the 64-year-old, whose fiction is often surreal and who has made a handful of speeches overseas in recent years but none in Japan, was actually speaking to the public.

"I am a fan of his novels but I have never seen him in person nor heard his voice. Is he a normal person?" Hiroko Yamada, 40, asked as she waited for the event to start.

Murakami said he decided to speak in public to honor his friend Hayao Kawai, a psychologist who died in 2007.

"It's not like I get purple dots all over myself when I am in front of many people. I like to go around on the bus and the subway and live a normal life," he joked.

"I want you to think of me like an endangered species - it's fine to look at me from far away, but be careful because I may bite if you come near and talk to me or touch me."

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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