A Puppy In My Jacket

A short essay from Haruki Murakami’s Murakami Radio.

There are plenty of uncomfortable, upsetting experiences in this world, but none is worse for me than getting my photograph taken. Specifically, portraits that highlight my face. I just can’t grow to like my own face in photographs. (I don’t particularly like my face in general, but especially in photos). I do my best to turn down jobs that would require me to go to a photo shoot, but as the great Paul McCartney once sang, life is a long and winding road, and sometimes I just can’t avoid it.

Why do I dislike my face in photographs so much? Well, my face reflexively stiffens up like a wooden plank the second they point the camera at me. “Alright Haruki, give me a smile, really let it all out,” they say. But I get nervous, I tense up my shoulders, and my smile makes it look like I’m practicing to be a corpse.

The photo of Truman Capote on the back cover of his debut novel was extremely, perhaps unnaturally, beautiful. It made him famous worldwide, or certainly within one segment of the population. When asked for his secret to taking the perfect portrait photograph, Capote explained: “It’s simple. Just fill your head with images of beautiful things. Think only of beauty. Everybody, and I mean everybody, looks beautiful on camera if they do this.” But it’s not that easy. It didn’t work when I tried it. Maybe Capote’s just better at it.

However, there is something that works, even for me. People magically relax when they have their photo taken with an animal. It doesn’t matter what kind – it could be a dog, or a rabbit, or a llama – but put an animal within arm’s reach and I smile naturally. It’s something I recently became aware of. The same person will have two completely different facial expression depending on whether there’s an animal around.

These days I don’t spend all that much time wishing I was more handsome (and even if I did it wouldn’t change anything), but I do think about how having a little animal by my side would make me look less stressed, and I’d feel a sense of peace. Kyoko Kishida sang this one folk song with the line “Why are puppies so warm?” I love that song. Lyrics by Eriko Kishida:

Why oh why are puppies so soft?
I’ll walk around with one in my jacket.
Why are puppies, precious little puppies, so soft?

Ah, yes. How great would it be to always have a little puppy in your coat, that warm feeling with you every day of your life? The practicalities would make it difficult…