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T-ideas: Ten insights inspired by Murakami T

Ten "T-ideas" inspired by Haruki Murakami's book Murakami T: The T-Shirts I Love. Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, Penguin Random House 2021. From the back cover: "The international literary icon opens his eclectic closet... Here are photographs of Murakami's extensive personal T-shirt collection, accompanied by essays that reveal a side of the writer rarely seen by the public."


    1. Let Your Imagination Take Over

    Murakami treasures his Tony Takitani T-shirt. He ran across it bought it for a dollar in a Maui thrift shop. Then he simply asked himself, "What kind of person could Tony Takitani be?" and let his imagination take over. Murakami imagined all sorts of scenarios and wrote a short story with him as a protagonist. Later it was made into a film. Murakami writes, "I've made a lot of investments in my life, but this was, hands down, the absolute best."

    Murakami had no idea who Tony Takitani was and wondered what the word "House" and the letter "D" on the shirt meant, but eventually he learned that Tony Takitani was a candidate running for the Hawaii House of Representatives as a Democrat. Afterwards all this Murakami actually received a letter from the real Tony Takitani, who explained he had lost the election, but is now a successful lawyer.

    2. Go Surfing And Have Fun - But Also Work Hard

    In the summer, you gotta go surfing! Murakami surfed for a few years in the 1980s and has many surfing T-shirts. "I did hardly any work and just enjoyed some laid-back, lazy time. That was a fun life."

    Later Murakami was looking for a house in Kauai. The well-built older man selling real estate there turned out to be the famous surfboard shaper Dick Brewer. He told Murakami, "I don't want to do this kind of work, but my wife told me I'll never get ahead if all I do is keep on surfing the rest of my life. She told me to work hard from now on selling real estate, so here I am."

    3. Put Cheerful Ketchup On Your Optimistic Ketchup

    Murakami has a red T-shirt by Heinz with the slogan, "I PUT KETCHUP ON MY KETCHUP". American love T-shirts like this and they love ketchup. "You'd never find that happening in Europe", he observes.

    Murakami writes, "You can't help feeling the American spirit in the message, the sort of optimistic, cheerful lack of introspection that says, "Who cares about being sophisticated! I'm gonna do what I want!""

    4. Keep Calm And Read Books

    KEEP CALM AND READ MURAKAMI is a great T-shirt slogan, Murakami muses. It is based on the British Ministry of Information's famous poster that read KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. They came up with this at the onset of the Second World War, to encourage people not to panic.

    Interestingly, in 2008 some investment companies ordered huge amounts of these posters. It didn't work, though.

    The point is, when the world's topsy-turvy and unsettled, getting comfortable with a good book is pretty nice way to go. Read books no matter what - even if the police commands "Don't read!" - like in the classic scifi novel Fahrenheit 451.

    5. Springsteen & Brian - Energy & Charisma

    Bruce Springsteen has a firm, compact build, his voice is as strong as ever, and he is incredibly energetic. "A good lesson for me", Murakami writes, "I need to step up a notch myself."

    Murakami once attended a "Smile Tour with Brian Wilson" live concert - the Beach Boys man himself. "The audience was really fired up", Murakami remembers, "Made me realize how big a role charisma plays in music."

    6. Keep On Running

    "Soon after I became a full-time writer, I started running. You get out of shape sitting at a desk every day", so Murakami decided he had to start exercising.

    In the nearly forty years since, Murakami has run at least one full marathon every year. And not just marathons, but half marathons and 10K runs, too. Even a 100 km ultramarathon. And the occasional triathlon of course.

    7. Sandwich Man Marketing

    Back in the 1950s there were people whose job was to be the "Sandwich Man" and wear large boards over their front and back. They were walking billboards on the streets, when TV wasn't so common and the social networking was still far in the future.

    Today the spirit of the Sandwich Man lives on in promotional T-shirts and other garments. Companies distribute them and people voluntarily walk around wearing them. Volunteer Sandwich Men or social media influencers are an easy way for the businesses to have their advertising expenses pay off.

    8. Adapt Like an Iguana

    In the Galapágos there's an unusual variety of iguana lizard that dives under the ocean to eat algae. They can hold their breath for an hour, control their body temperature and the blood flow in their bodies. Most iguanas are vegetarians, but there aren't any plants growing on the island they live on. So they adapted to their environment and evolved this way.

    9. Soar Through The Air (Or Go Swimming)

    Murakami is pretty fond of swimming. He used to compete in triathlons, so he trained to swim freestyle. He describes, "Though not exactly a runner's high, I do reach a similar high while swimming, and when I swim for a long time, I start to feel really good. At times like those I think swimming must be the next best thing to flying through the air."

    He adds, "The birds might laugh at me."

    10. Wear Plain for Great Photos

    Photographer Elena Seibert's specialty is taking updated portraits of writers visiting New York. Her pet theory is that in a photo shoot, nothing beats a plain, solid T-shirt. "Take a look at the lovely portrait of Truman Capote in a T-shirt that Henri Cartier-Bresson took," she told Murakami - who agreed it is an amazing picture.

    Murakami is a fan of plain T-shirts or shirts without any images specific written message. The ones with a kind of random writing that make you shake your head, wondering what the heck it means work best. Unlike shirts with pictures on them, you don't get tired at looking at them. They also go with lots of other clothes.

    So wear plain clothes for great selfies and portraits.

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