Published in 1987 as Murakami's fifth novel, Norwegian Wood is based on his short story "Firefly,” which was later included in his short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Contrary to his expectations and wishes, the book turned him from a moderately successful author into a national star, with millions of copies of the book bought primarily by young Japanese. He left the country for several years to avoid the fame.
As he explains in his afterword to the original Japanese edition of the novel, he began writing a story based on “Firefly” intending for it to be short and casual, but it became much more. He considered it a very personal and autobiographical novel, insofar as his earlier Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night and The Great Gatsby count as being autobiographical. Indeed, much of Toru Watanabe's experiences as a university student in 1960s Tokyo is based on Murakami's own experience at Waseda University. He wrote the novel while in Greece and Italy in 1986 and 1987; during the process of writing, he listened to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 120 times.
Alfred Birnbaum rendered the first English translation of the novel in 1989 as a text to help Japanese readers learn English, and Jay Rubin rendered the authorized translation in 2000.