Yesterday by Haruki Murakami ( June 9, 2014)

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As far as I know, the only person ever to put Japanese lyrics to the Beatles song “Yesterday” (and to do so in the distinctive Kansai dialect, no less) was a guy named Kitaru. He used to belt out his own version when he was taking a bath.

Yesterday
Is two days before tomorrow,
The day after two days ago.

This is how it began, as I recall, but I haven’t heard it for a long time and I’m not positive that’s how it went. From start to finish, though, Kitaru’s lyrics were almost meaningless, nonsense that had nothing to do with the original words. That familiar lovely, melancholy melody paired with the breezy Kansai dialect—which you might call the opposite of pathos—made for a strange combination, a bold denial of anything constructive. At least, that’s how it sounded to me. At the time, I just listened and shook my head. I was able to laugh it off, but I also read a kind of hidden import in it.

I first met Kitaru at a coffee shop near the main gate of Waseda University, where we worked part time, I in the kitchen and Kitaru as a waiter. We used to talk a lot during downtime at the shop. We were both twenty, our birthdays only a week apart.

“Kitaru is an unusual last name,” I said one day.

“Yeah, for sure,” Kitaru replied in his heavy Kansai accent.

“The Lotte baseball team had a pitcher with the same name.”

“The two of us aren’t related. Not so common a name, though, so who knows? Maybe there’s a connection somewhere.”

I was a sophomore at Waseda then, in the literature department. Kitaru had failed the entrance exam and was attending a prep course to cram for the retake. He’d failed the exam twice, actually, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the way he acted. He didn’t seem to put much effort into studying. When he was free, he read a lot, but nothing related to the exam—a biography of Jimi Hendrix, books of shogi problems, “Where Did the Universe Come From?,” and the like. He told me that he commuted to the cram school from his parents’ place in Ota Ward, in Tokyo.

“Ota Ward?” I asked, astonished. “But I was sure you were from Kansai.”

“No way. Denenchofu, born and bred.”

This really threw me.

“Then how come you speak Kansai dialect?” I asked.

“I acquired it. Just made up my mind to learn it.”

“Acquired it?”

“Yeah, I studied hard, see? Verbs, nouns, accent—the whole nine yards. Same as studying English or French. Went to Kansai for training, even.”

So there were people who studied Kansai dialect as if it were a foreign language? That was news to me. It made me realize all over again how huge Tokyo was, and how many things there were that I didn’t know. Reminded me of the novel “Sanshiro,” a typical country-boy-bumbles-his-way-around-the-big-city story.

Continue reading: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2014/06/09/140609fi_fiction_murakami?currentPage=all