Updated October 05, 2017 08:12:00
The Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced tonight in Sweden and Japan is pinning its hopes on local novelist Haruki Murakami... again.
British betting agency Ladbrokes says Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong'o is the odds-on favourite to be honoured with the award is announced at 1pm local time (10pm AEST).
But each October for more than a decade, Murakami fans in Japan have been holding their breath while the Nobel academy gets ready to read from the envelope.
Last year, there was shock and outrage in Japan when Bob Dylan, the American songwriter, took out the prized gong.
Murakami is considered one of the world's great writers. He has written dozens of novels, short stories and works of non-fiction that have global appeal.
He grabbed the attention of the literary world in 1987 with a novel named after the Beatles song Norwegian Wood and more recently his novels The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84 have earned high praise.
But to date, his work has not earned recognition from the people behind the Nobel.
"To me what really qualifies Murakami to be a Nobel Laureate is that he's reinvented how literature could be read by people everywhere in the world," said Professor Matthew Strecher, a Murakami scholar from Tokyo's Sophia University.
"Murakami is able to use this very simple style he's got to create a story that could be read anywhere in the world and grasped by anybody in virtually any language no matter what their background."
Mr Strecher says the Nobel Prize speculation in Japan has fed into the frenzy about the author.
"We get excited about Nobel prospects here — it's a big deal and that I think is the reason everyone goes wild.
"I'm not sure anyone really went wild about Murakami in this country, at least in the media, until he became a candidate for the Nobel Prize and suddenly everyone wanted to know more about him."
In the late 1970s, Haruki Murakami lived in the central Tokyo suburb of Sendagaya, where he ran a jazz bar named Peter Cat (named after his childhood pet).
In those days, he would pop into the local bookstore to browse and have a chat with owner Yu Saito.
The bookstore has now become the unofficial headquarters of the Murakami fan club and Mr Saito, its unofficial leader.
"I don't think Haruki-san thinks that the Nobel Prize is the final summit, but perhaps he thinks the Nobel Prize can send his message to the world. So if he wins, I think he'll accept it happily," he said.
Mr Saito and other Murakami fans will gather at the Hachiman Shrine in Sendagaya to watch tonight's announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
If Murakami wins, Mr Saito hopes he will visit his bookstore once again.
"We met many many years ago so I think he remembers me. I'd like to shake his hands and say congratulations," he said.
First posted October 05, 2017 07:48:34