'Pinball, 1973' is back in stores -- in English

'Pinball, 1973' is back in stores -- in English

The Haruki Murakami novel immediately leading up to his hit "A Wild Sheep's Chase" had been out of print in English for years, but suddenly copies are flooding Japanese bookstores
Pinball 1973
Kodansha's English Language Library series prints books in the flimsy softcover used for most Japanese novels.

"Pinball, 1973" has always been the Holy Grail of English Haruki Murakami translations. The 174-page work is his second novel -- the sequel to his debut "Hear the Wind Sing" and a precursor to the internationally popular "A Wild Sheep Chase." The work has never been released overseas.

The birth of these rare Murakami translations

However, in the mid-1980s, Murakami's Japanese publisher Kodansha decided to commission English translations from Alfred Birnbaum of Murakami's first two novels. The idea was not to take Murakami international but to help his Japanese fans learn to read English. Hence these flimsy Kodansha English Library paperbacks feature 35 pages of Japanese translation notes at the end.

When Murakami exploded overseas as a literary star, most of Murakami's major works found their way into English. The author, however, did not want his first two works to be published in English. While "A Wild Sheep Chase" and others received formal releases, "Hear the Wind Sing" and "Pinball, 1973" remained in their strange Japanese-targeted Kodansha English Library format.

The bidding war of the early 2000s

Western fans soon learned of the books' existence online, and those wanting to understand the back story of the characters in "A Wild Sheep Chase" and "Dance, Dance, Dance" would pay exorbitant prices in online auctions. For most of the early 21st century, the average price on eBay for "Hear the Wind Sing" came to about $25-$30.

Sometime in the late 1990s, though, "Pinball, 1973" mysteriously went out of print. This made the book even more valuable -- going for $100-$200 on eBay. Even now, someone wants $220 on eBay for an incredibly battered first printing. There's also a collectible version on Amazon Marketplace for $2,000.

Other fans responded to the rarity in a much more Internet-esque way, creating a fully downloadable PDF of the work.

The return of "Pinball, 1973"

Well, sorry Internet book arbitragers, we have some bad news: "Pinball, 1973" is once again available in Japanese bookstores. Kodansha apparently realized the market for the book and put it back into circulation. One can now be yours for ¥819 (shipping included) at Amazon Japan. (The cover price used to be ¥524. Inflation?)

The eBay resale market has adjusted too. The current standard price for a new "Pinball, 1973" is just around US$19. That means only a 100 percent markup.

Now that the prices have come back down to the earth, we can appreciate "Pinball, 1973" for its literary value rather than its exchange value. The novel is important within the Murakami oeuvre in that it sets up the distance between the protagonist and 'the Rat,' which is key to understanding "A Wild Sheep Chase." Also, the novel's structure of two-separate-stories-in-one-narrative is repeated later in "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World."

So now at ¥819 or $19, there is no longer a reason not to buy "Pinball, 1973."