Japanese readers are flocking to buy Haruki Murakami's latest novel, even though almost nothing has been disclosed about the book by one of the nation's most respected and commercially successful writers.
The novel that went on sale Friday is the first in three years for the writer frequently mentioned as a Nobel Prize contender. It's available only in Japanese for now.
Publisher Bungeishunju said first printing totals half a million copies for "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and the Year of His Pilgrimage." The original title reads just as mysteriously.
"We did not want to give any preconceptions to the reader," said Tomoya Tanimura of Bungeishunju, which has set up a special online site that has little more than the title and that Murakami is the author.
The secrecy seemed to matter little to his fans.
"I want to savor reading this book. I love the language of Haruki Murakami, his special sense of Japanese. I am so excited," said Yu Wada, a Tokyo translator and among the 20,000 people who ordered the book in advance through online retailer Amazon.
The orders at Amazon are outpacing Murakami's last "1Q84," a three-part Orwellian novel, which was also a hit, according to Bungeishunju.
Wada has only read the first few pages but is satisfied. It is dark, she says, and it starts out with a character who looks back on his younger days, when he "lived thinking about practically nothing else than dying."
Murakami's internationally known works include "Norwegian Wood" and "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." An accomplished translator of American literature, Murakami counts among his influences F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler. He taught at Princeton University in the early 1990s.
Murakami is a prolific non-fiction writer as well, and documented the victims of a cult's sarin-gas attack on Tokyo's subway in 1995.
Murakami has also become an aggressive critic of Japan's pro-nuclear policies since the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
"Norwegian Wood," was made into a 2010 movie, directed by Tran Anh Hung, a poetic coming-of-age love story exploring the themes of sanity and suicide in the backdrop of the late 1960s.
Murakami's reticence and reclusiveness have enhanced his glamour. And, true to form, Murakami has revealed little about his latest book, except for a brief statement.
"I started out writing a short story, but as I was working on it, it got longer naturally. I've rarely experienced this — maybe not since 'Norwegian Wood,'" he said.
Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at www.twitter.com/yurikageyama