A Fine Day for Kangarooing
by MURAKAMI Haruki
translated by Kiki
As winter daily softens her grip I can sense spring in the warmth of
the sunlight. Thank you again for yesterday’s interesting letter.
I enjoyed the part of your essay about spicing your hamburger steaks
with nutmeg. It seemed real to me. I can clearly hear the
“chop-chop” of your kitchen knife as it attacks the leeks. I can
feel the warmth of your kitchen. I can smell it too.
Reading your letter really made me hungry for a hamburger steak. So
I went directly to a restaurant to have one. At this restaurant they
had eight different kinds of hamburger steaks. Believe it or not! A
Texas style and a California style, a Hawaiian flavor, and a
Japanese style. The Texas steak was just big, nothing else. That was
all there was to it. The Hawaiian steak came garnished with a slice
of pineapple. I don’t remember what the California style was. The
Japanese steak was served with grated radish. This restaurant struck
me as rather trendy. All of the waitresses were really cute, and
they were also wearing short skirts.
However I didn’t go to that restaurant to check out its interior or
to stare at the waitresses. No, I went there to taste their basic
hamburger steak. That’s what I told the waitress. But she apologized
and said that they didn’t have just a plain steak. Of course I can’t
blame the waitress. After all she didn’t decide the menu. But she
also wasn’t wearing such a short skirt that somebody could drop his
silverware to look up at her panties. So I ordered a Hawaiian style
hamburger steak. While I was eating it the waitress suggested that I
just remove the pineapple. The world is such a strange place. All I
really wanted was just a simple, ordinary hamburger steak. By the
way how do you make your hamburger steaks? After reading your
letter, someday I really want to try one of your steaks.
I liked what you wrote about the automatic ticket machine, and I
thought it showed some improvement. The point of view was
interesting. But I couldn’t really see the scenery or the situation.
Maybe you are trying too hard. After all you can’t change the world
with a sentence.
Considering all of your writing I’d give it about a 70. And I do
think it is improving. Don’t rush it, be patient. Good luck. I’m
looking forward to your next letter. By the way, it looks like
spring is just around the corner, doesn’t it?
P.S. Thanks for that box of assorted cookies. They were really good.
However since personal fraternization outside of our letters is
prohibited, please be more careful in the future and don’t send me
any more packages. Thank you nonetheless.
P.S.S. In your letter before last I thought you explained your
husband’s nervous problem very well.
And that was my job for a year when I was 22. I signed a contract
with a small company called “Pen Society.” I don’t know why it was
called that. I got 2000 yen for each letter I wrote, and soon I was
writing more than 30 letters every month. “You too will write
letters that will echo in the bottom of your friend’s heart”--that
was our company’s motto.” After paying a monthly fee and a sign-up
fee, the clients write four letters every month. The “Pen
Master”?that is what we were called?proceeds to edit the letters,
offering feedback, guidance, and impressions.
Female “Pen Masters” write to men, and male “Pen Masters” write to
women. All of my clients were older than me. About 15 were between
the ages of 40 to 53, but most of my clients were between 25 and 35.
I had a rough first month of writing letters. Why did all of my
clients write better than me? Because they were used to writing
letters. Up to that point in my life I really hadn’t taken letter
However my reputation grew. My clients told me this. After three
months my writing power had nearly improved to a “leadership” role.
It felt strange to get credit for helping these women. They trusted
me and my guidance. At that time I didn’t really understand, but
later I realized that these women were all lonely. It didn’t matter
who wrote to them. Nor did it matter what they wrote in their
letters. Maybe we all need to be needed. Maybe we all need to be
forgiven. Maybe we all need somebody to share such feelings with.
Anyway that’s how I spent the winter and spring when I was 21 going
on 22. Surrounded by this harem of letters like a sea lion with a
I answered many different kinds of letters. I answered boring
letters. I answered pleasing letters and sad letters. I worked there
for only one year but it felt like three. When I gave my notice my
clients expressed their regrets. To be honest I had become tired of
the job. It didn’t have any point. But I had my own misgivings about
quitting. I realized that I might never have a second chance to meet
so many honest people.
Speaking of hamburger steaks, I finally did eat one cooked by that
woman (from my first letter). She was 32, married but no kids. Her
husband worked for the fifth most famous commercial firm in the
world. When I wrote to tell her that I’d be quitting at the end of
the month, she invited me to her apartment for lunch. She promised
to make me a basic hamburger steak. Even though such contact was
against the company’s fraternization policy I accepted readily. I
just couldn’t suppress my curiosity. Her apartment was near the
Otachu train line. It was a neat, tidy, apartment, quite appropriate
for a couple with no children. The furniture and the interior, even
her sweater, they weren’t so expensive but they looked nice. She
looked younger than I expected. She was surprised at how young I
looked. Company policy also prohibited us from disclosing our ages.
Even though at first we were caught off guard, soon we loosened up
and relaxed. It felt like we were two people who had become friends
after just missing the same train and waiting together for the next
one. We ate our steak and drank our coffee. The atmosphere was good.
You could see the train from her 3rd story window. That day the
weather was great. A lot of futons were being aired out on verandas.
You could hear the whap-whap-whap of housewives beating them with
bamboo brooms. The sound seemed to be coming from the bottom of a
dry well, yet you couldn’t really tell how far away it was. The
hamburger steak tasted great. It was spiced just right, and it was
really juicy too. It was also covered with the just the right amount
of gravy. After our coffee while listening to Burt Bacharach we
started to tell our life stories. I didn’t really have any life to
talk about, so she did most of the talking. She told me that when
she was a student she wanted to be a writer. She was a fan of the
books of Franciose Sagan. Her story “Do you like Brahms?” was one of
her favorites. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Sagan. She’s ok. People
say she’s boring but I don’t really agree.
“But I can’t write anything,” she complained.
“It’s never too late to start,” I suggested.
“But you are the one who told me that I can’t write very well,” she
I blushed. I used to blush often when I was 22.
“But I think there’s a lot of truth in your writing.” She didn’t say
anything, but a wisp of a smile slipped across her face. “Your
letter made me want to try one of your hamburger steaks.”
“You were probably just hungry,” she said, smiling.
Maybe so I thought.
A train passed under the window, with its dry clack-clack sound.
I suddenly realized that it was 5:00. I had to go. I apologized to
her and started to leave. “Your husband will be home soon, so I
suppose you have to start dinner.”
“He always comes home very late,” she said, resting her head in her
hands. “He generally doesn’t get home until after midnight.”
“He sounds busy.”
“I guess so.” She hesitated for a moment. “As I mentioned in my
letters we don’t get along that well.” I didn’t have an answer for
“But that’s ok,” she said softly. I thought it was ok too. “Thanks
again for writing me all those letters. I really enjoyed them.”
“Me too,” I said. “And thank you for the hamburger steak.”
Ten years later whenever I take the Otakyu line close to her
apartment I think of her hamburger steak. I don’t remember which
window is hers. But I wonder if she’s still alone, in that
apartment, listening to Burt Bacharach.
Do you think I should have slept with her?
That is the point of this story. I don’t know either.
As the years go by there are more and more things that I don’t