POPULAR BOOKS AND WRITERS IN JAPAN: KEIGO HIGASHINO, BANANA YOSHIMOTO, KAZUO ISHIGURO AND CELL PHONE NOVELS

RYU MURAKAMI

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Ryu Murakami is Japan's other writing Murakami. Not as well known outside of Japan, he is a prolific novelist, film director and producer of Cuban music. Born in Nagasaki prefecture, he was involved in anti-American demonstrations in the 60s and 70s before taking up writing as a career.

Ryu Murakami is known for dark novels such as Coin Locker Babies (1980), which includes a character who drops gas bomb on Tokyo; Miso Soup (1997), about a psychopath set loose on Tokyo’s red light district; and Piercing, a story that revolves around an ice pick.

Ryu Murakami sensational debut, Almost Transparent Blue, about young people, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, won the Akutagawa Prize in 1976 and was written while he was still a student. at Musashino Art University. His other books include Fascism of Love and Illusion, Topaz, Kyoko, Lobe and Pop and Hyuga Virus. He has directed film adaptions of Almost Transparent Blue, Topaz and Kyoko.

Haruki Murakami, See Separate Article

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Good Websites and Sources: Mobile Phone Novel handyroman.net ; More on Cell Phone Novels futureofthebook.org ; New York Times article on Cell Phone Novels nytimes.com ; Kazuo Ishiguro contemporarywriters.com ; Wikipedia article on Ryu Murakami Wikipedia ; Interview with Banana Yoshimoto bookslut.com ; Bananamania: Banana Yoshimoto abyss.hubbe.net/banana/ ; Kenji Miyazawa kenji-world.net ;

Links in this Website: JAPANESE CULTURE Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE CULTURE AND HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CLASSIC JAPANESE LITERATURE Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TALE OF GENJI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BASHO, HAIKU AND JAPANESE POETRY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CLASSIC 20TH CENTURY JAPANESE LITERATURE Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MODERN LITERATURE AND BOOKS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HARUKI MURAKAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; POPULAR WESTERN BOOKS AND WESTERN WRITERS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Natsuo Kirono

Natsuo Kirono is regarded as Japan’s crime queen and is one of the most popular writers in Japan. A former jazz club hostess, homemaker and ceramics shop owner, she created a female detective named Miro Murani who solves crimes and chooses here sexual partner when she pleases and then dispenses with them at her whim.

Out is about a group of female friends who make a business out of disposing of abusive men. It was an acclaimed bestseller in Japan and has been translated into English for the American market. Soft Cheeks is also being translated into English. It is about the disappearance of a child and has some similarities with JonBenet Ramsey case, which fascinated Japan. Two of Kirono’s books have been made into films in Japan and three others have been made into television dramas.

Kazuo Ishiguro

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Kazuo Ishiguro is a Japanese-British writer who was born in Nagasaki to Japanese parents in 1954 and moved to Britain when he was five. He wrote Remains the Day, winner of the 1989 Booker Prize; A Pale Views of Hills, the winner of the 1986 Whitebread Prize, and When We Orphans. Remains the Day describes the life of British butler, James Stevens, from the 1920s to the 1950s. It was Ishiguro’s first novel.

Ishiguro’s Never Let me Go was a favorite for the Booker Prize in 2005. It was about love between clones and a search for song that had touched a female clone in her youth. Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (Knopf, 2009) was described by the Times of London as “five gentle mood pieces about music and nightfall.”

Ishiguro and Film Work

em>Remains the Day was the source of an acclaimed movie by the same name. Ishiguro was influenced in part by Japanese cinema in the '50s and '60s.

Atsuko Matsumoto wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “Adapting a popular novel for the screen can place a lot of pressure on filmmakers---but not every filmmaker. Mark Romanek is confident about his latest movie, Never Let Me Go, a work born from his love for Kazuo Ishiguro's original novel. "I love the book and felt like I understood the book, and so I felt---maybe foolishly---confident that I could make a respectful film of it," he told The Daily Yomiuri. [Source: Atsuko Matsumoto, Daily Yomiuri, April 1, 2011]

Romanek, a devoted fan of Ishiguro's works, said he read the book in the week it was released; soon after he finished reading it the first time, he read it again. "I was very very moved by it. I wept at the end of the book; I couldn't stop thinking about it," he recalled. Calling the film "a very faithful adaptation," Romanek said he "tried to film each scene as if the whole fabric of the society was just different than ours, but completely accepted."

The film portrays what seems to typical life at a boarding school in the quiet English countryside. But gradually the director reveals the real story---a fate three of the young protagonists have shared since birth. The film develops quietly---even the colors are subdued---effectively and vividly portraying the cruel fate of the three characters---Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley)---and their graceful acceptance of it.

Ishiguro is listed as an executive producer alongside Alex Garland, a long-time friend of the author and the person behind the screenplay. However, Romanek said: "He [Ishiguro] was a sort of avuncular. He was like a nice uncle who oversaw things in every gracious, gentle, trusting way." The movie received quite an emotional reception at its screening at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October. This seems to show Romenek stayed true to the heart of Ishiguro's core fan base in the writer's birthplace.

Keigo Higashino

Andrew Joyce wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Japanese crime writer Keigo Higashino has sold millions of book in Japan. The 53-year-old best-selling author says he doesn’t like publicity because he doesn’t want to be recognized on the street. ‘Some writers aim to move their readers, others want to write beautiful sentences. I want readers to be continually surprised by my ideas,” he says. [Source: Andrew Joyce, Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2011]

Mr. Higashino started out as an engineer at an auto parts company in the western city of Osaka. He wrote stories in the evenings and on weekends for three years before becoming a full-time writer. More than 25 years later, his book sales number in the millions and have won numerous awards in Japan. Many of them have been made into movies, including “Byakuyakou” (“Into The White Night”), now showing at the Berlin Film Festival. [Ibid]

Higashino told The Times: “When I was at primary school, my father gave me a broken alarm clock and I used to take it apart and put it back together again. When I think of a plot I thinks of its components, which can be characters or incidents. The important thing is never to force a component into a place where it will not fit.”

Plot of Devotion of Suspect X and Other Books by Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X was Higashino’s first novel to be published in English in Britain and the United States. The books sold 25 million copies in Japan and won the Naoki prize, Japan’s highest honor for popular fiction. The Devotion of Suspect X was published in the U.S. in February 2012. (Another novel, “Naoko,” had a limited English print run in 2004.)

Andrew Joyce wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “The novel is a taut thriller in which a single mother murders her abusive ex-husband to protect her teenage daughter and then accepts an offer of help from her neighbor and secret admirer, a math genius called Ishigami who hears the commotion from next door, to conceal the crime. “Trust me,” says Ishigami as he sets about devising the perfect alibi for the object of his obsession. “Logical thinking will get us through this.” “Murder mysteries cross well between cultures because people have bad sides as well as good,” says Mr. Higashino. “People show their true natures in the act of committing a crime.” [Source: Andrew Joyce, Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2011]

“The Devotion of Suspect X” is part of the author’s popular “Dr. Galileo” series, which feature a physics professor with a knack for solving impenetrable cases. The novel won Japan’s Naoki Prize in 2005, and the foreign rights have been sold as far afield as China, Thailand, France, Russia and Spain. It was also turned into a movie in Japan in 2008. [Ibid]

St. Martin’s Press has set an ambitious print run of 75,000 copies for “The Devotion of Suspect X,” in the U.S., and says it bought the rights to the book before interest in global detective stories took off following the runaway success of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” But Mr. Higashino says he won’t be measuring success in the U.S. in terms of number of copies sold. [Ibid]

Other Higashino books include Phantom Night , set during the Kobe earthquake; and Bees in the Firmament is about an attempt by eco-terroriss to shut down nuclear power plants. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times]

Plot of Devotion of Suspect X and What It Says About the Japanese

Andrew Joyce wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “The Devotion of Suspect X” is in some ways a classic puzzler, but although the simple style, brisk pacing and sizeable twist at the end will be familiar to fans of the genre, “The Devotion of Suspect X” also has unmistakably Japanese elements. Much of the plot unfolds in gritty, old-Tokyo locations---such as a local bento lunch shop in which the murderess works---and the victim is strangled with the electrical cord from a kotatsu, a heated, quilt-covered table found in most Japanese houses. [Source: Andrew Joyce, Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2011]

With the killer clearly identified in the early chapters, the novel is also not the typical “whodunit” brand of murder mystery---instead it’s the question of “how they try to get away with it” that drives the plot forward. Mr. Higashino says this format is common in Japanese crime fiction, where feelings of loyalty and the oppressive weight of human relations are classic catalysts for murder and dark pacts between neighbors or co-workers to dispose of bodies seem to be a recurring theme. “Japanese people like it this way,” he says. “Rather than explain the significance of everything at the end of the book, I wanted to describe the characters’ actions and intentions at the beginning so I could better portray their feelings of guilt and anguish.” [Ibid]

The mystery-crime genre has a long history in Japan where, unlike in the U.S., it is often treated as serious literary work rather than disposable entertainment. Classic writers such as Edogawa Rampo and Seicho Matsumoto remain popular for their depictions of the darker side of Japanese society, and Mr. Higashino, talking animatedly by now, sees his work as firmly rooted in this tradition. [Ibid]

“Although there are Western writers that I like, I am much more influenced by Japanese authors and so my work naturally has that Japanese sense of old-fashioned loyalty and concern for human feeling,” he says. “I want people to read my work and come to understand how Japanese people think, love and hate,” he says. “I want them to be impressed that there is a Japanese person who came up with such unusual stories.” [Ibid]

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Book: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011]

Alida Becker wrote in the New York Times, “Although Julie Otsuka was born and raised in California and trained as a painter in the Western tradition, she seems perfectly attuned to the spirit of sumi-e. Otsuka claims to have been a failure as an artist, but she might only have erred in choosing the wrong medium. Proof arrived almost a decade ago, long after she’d traded painting for writing, with the publication of her first novel, “When the Emperor Was Divine,” a spare but resonant portrait of one Japanese-American family’s daily life, at home and in the internment camps, during World War II. Now she returns with a second novel, also employing a minimalist technique, that manages to be equally intimate yet much more expansive.” [Source: Alida Becker, New York Times, August 26, 2011]

Like its predecessor, “The Buddha in the Attic” unfurls as a sequence of linked narratives, some no longer than a paragraph. While it appears to hold the characters at a formal distance, that reticence infuses their stories with powerful emotion. The central figures in Otsuka’s first book, a mother and her children identified merely as “the boy,” “the girl” and “the woman,” were followed from their home in Berkeley to a barracks in the high Utah desert, then back again. As the string of vignettes proceeded, the questions they asked, the observations they made, the illusions they cherished created a bond with the reader. With their sometimes uncomfortably familiar hopes and fears, Otsuka’s characters emerged as particular individuals even as their concerns took us far beyond the particulars of the Japanese-American experience. In these nameless people, we confronted our own uncertainties about where we truly belong, where our loyalties lie, where we should place our trust.

There are plenty of names in Otsuka’s new novel, but this time the cast is composed of an entire community of families. The voice that speaks to us here is the “we” of the Japanese women who arrived in California in the aftermath of World War I, most of them young and inexperienced, most bearing photographs of men they had agreed to marry, sight unseen: “On the boat we could not have known that when we first saw our husbands we would have no idea who they were. That the crowd of men in knit caps and shabby black coats waiting for us down below on the dock would bear no resemblance to the handsome young men in the photographs. That the photographs we had been sent were 20 years old. . . . That when we first heard our names being called out across the water one of us would cover her eyes and turn away---I want to go home---but the rest of us would lower our heads and smooth down the skirts of our kimonos and walk down the gangplank and step out into the still warm day. This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong.”

“The Buddha in the Attic” is, in a sense, a prelude to Otsuka’s previous book, revealing the often rough acclimatization of a generation of farm laborers and maids, laundry workers and shop clerks whose husbands would take them for granted and whose children would be ashamed of their stilted English and foreign habits. Otsuka’s chorus of narrators allows us to see the variety as well as the similarity of these women’s attempts to negotiate the maze of immigrant life. Each section of the novel takes them one step further, from the ship to the farm or the shop or the servants’ quarters, from bearing their children to watching those children grow up and away, from blindly obeying husbands and employers to making clear-eyed moves toward self-reliance, albeit often of necessity rather than choice. As their families become less Japanese and more American, the women gradually establish a new equilibrium, only to have it shattered in a passage, simply called “Traitors,” that returns to the forced removals of World War II.

Otsuka’s incantatory style pulls her prose close to poetry, but it’s far from the genteel stereotype of “short, melancholy poems about the passing of autumn that were exactly 17 syllables long.” The swift, mostly brutal encounters in “First Night” remove any such illusions: “That night our new husbands took us quickly. . . . They took us even though we bit them. They took us even though we hit them. They took us even though we insulted them . . . and screamed out for help (nobody came). . . . They took us cautiously, as though they were afraid we might break. You’re so small. They took us coldly but knowledgeably---In 20 seconds you will lose all control---and we knew there had been many others before us. They took us as we stared up blankly at the ceiling and waited for it to be over, not realizing that it would not be over for years.”

Yet these new husbands are the women’s only link to the lost world of their homeland. Some prove to be loving and kind; all, even the cruel ones, offer insight into the strange customs of the Americans on whom the future depends: “Why were they always shouting? Did they really hang dishes on their walls and not pictures? And have locks on all their doors? And wear their shoes inside the house? . . . How many gods did they have? Was it true that they really saw a man in the moon and not a rabbit? And ate cooked beef at funerals? And drank the milk of cows? And that smell? What was it? “Butter stink,” our husbands explained.”

Otsuka’s novel is filled with evocative descriptive sketches (farm women with their children sleeping “like puppies, on wooden boards covered with hay”) and hesitantly revelatory confessions (domestic servants who “felt, for once, like ourselves” when “the whole house was empty. Quiet. Ours.”), so it’s disappointing suddenly to lose that connection----to find, at the close, that the narrative “we” has shifted to the Americans, who remark on the wartime “disappearance” of Japanese neighbors and employees. Disingenuous (“the Japanese have left us willingly, we are told, and without rancor”), even platitudinous (“after a while we notice ourselves speaking of them more and more in the past tense”), this complacent voice is presumably meant to provide a stark contrast with the vigilant, uneasy perceptions that have preceded it. But Otsuka has succeeded too well in drawing us into the precarious lives of her Japanese wives and mothers. We have no patience with these smug, anonymous overlords. We want to follow the women whose names have been chanted out as they’re torn from their new lives:

“Kiyono left the farm on White Road convinced she was being punished for a sin she had committed in a previous life. I must have stepped on a spider. Setsuko left her house in Gridley after killing all the chickens in her backyard. Chiye left Glendale still grieving for her oldest daughter, Misuzu. . . . Fumiko left a boarding house in Courtland apologizing for any trouble she might have caused. . . . Haruko left a tiny laughing brass Buddha up high, in a corner of the attic, where he is still laughing to this day.”

Banana Yoshimoto and Other Modern Japanese Writers

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Yoshimoto
Banana Yoshimoto, born in 1964, is the best known Japanese modern writers outside of Japan. Her dreamy style is said to be rooted in girls manga. Yoshimoto is very popular in Italy. Her debut novel Kitchen (1988) sold 600,000 copies in Italy. The other 15 novels by her published in Italy had sold between 300,000 and 400,000 each as of 2007. The Kitchen portrays the lives of people in desperately isolated situations

Yu Miri is another very popular female writer. A Korean-Japanese who endured a hard life, she tried suicide and dropped out of high school as a teenager and had a child by a lover who betrayed her and ran into arms of another only to have him waste away from cancer. Her books addresses problems like teenage violence, the suffering of minorities and neglected children. He biggest sellers were about the birth of her son and the death of her lover.

Harutoshi Fukui has produced a number of bestsellers, including ones that have been made into big budget films. He took up writing at the age of 30 while working as a security guard. He won a literary prize for his first novel Twelve Y.O., a military thriller based on MacArthur’s comment that Japan was a nation of 12-year-olds. In 2005, three of his military thrillers were made into movies.

Emi Yamada is another trendy author. Other recommended books include Redbeard by Shugato Yamamoto and Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa was a bestseller in Japan and made into a movie in Japan. Released in English in 2009, it about a prominent math professor who can’t remember anything over 80 minutes after suffering a car accident and his relationship with his housekeeper, the narrator of the story, her son and numbers and math. The New York Times describe dit as “deceptively elegant.”

Bestselling Japanese Writers

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The novel Tokugawa Ieyasu by Sohachi Yamaoka is the world's longest work of fiction according to the Guinness Book of Records. It was serialized in Japanese newspapers beginning in 1951 and is long enough to fill 40 volumes.

Jiro Akagawa is regarded as Japan's fast and most prolific bestselling writer. Between 1976 and 2000 he wrote more than 400 books, averaging about 17 a year, and sold 270 million copies, which works out to roughly two for every man, woman and child in Japan. In March 2008, he published his 500th novel. Akagawa is one of Japan's richest writer. He sleeps during the day and writes at night. He attributes his speed and his endless source of material to his habit of working on a dozen or more projects at the same time. He uses a typewriter not a word processor.

Miyuke Miyabe writes very popular novels about weird crimes and weird happenings. Crossfire is about a sexy single woman with paranormal powers that allows her to set people on fire. Copycat Criminals was a bestseller published in 2006 and was and her 41st book. She has sold millions of books. Two of her novels have been made into movies. Other stories have been made into popular manga. Shadow Family---about unhappy people using Internet chart rooms---All She was Worth---about a woman deeply in debt---were the first of her books to be translated into English.

Kyotaro Nishimura, a mystery novelist, has consistently been the biggest money earner among writers, followed by Miyuki Miyabe and Jiro Akagawa.

Junichi Watanabe is another one of Japan's most popular writers. His two-volume novel, Shitsurakuen, sold more than a 1.3 million copies. This explicit and sexually charged novel about an affair involving a married salary man was also made into a popular movie with Koji Yakusho, the actor from the film Shall We Dance.

Koji Suzuki wrote The Ring and Dark Water, bestselling novel sthat were made into popular Japanese and Hollywood horror films. Sometimes called the Thomas Pynchon of Pulp and a leader in the psych-horror genre, he has sold over 2 million books in Japan. An English translation of Spiral, the sequel to The Ringu, has been released in the United States.

Young Writers and Foreign Writers in Japan

Young writers have been having an impact on the Japanese literary scene in recent years. The Akutagawa award, the top literature award in Japan, was won in 2007 by Nanae Aoyama, a 23-year-old office worker, for her novel Hitoribiyori (“Being Alone”), a story of young women who works at a temporary job and attempts to seek independence while taking care of elderly relative. The 2004 Akutagawa award went to 20-year-old Hitomi Kanehara for Snakes and Earrings, a book about sex, violence, apathy and youth. In 2005, the winner of the 42nd Kwade Shibo Shinsa Publisher’s literary award was given to 15-year-old middle school student Miko Mizuta for a mystery story. In 2004, 19-year-old Risa Wataya wrote an acclaimed bestseller.

Kazishige Abe won the Junuchiro Tanizaki Award in 2010 for his novel Pistils , about four sisters brought up in family of alchemists. Born in Yamagata Prefecture , he dropped out of high school and initially wrote movie scripts before switching to novels. Among the characters in his novels are voyeuristic photographers and people that attack endangered species. His 2003 novel Sin-semillas , about men with Lolita complexes.

In 2008, Chinese writer Yang Yi won the Akutagawa Prize for her Japanese-language novel Toki ga Nijimu Asa (“Morning when Time Blurs”), about a student idealistic student during the time of Tiananmen Square. Yang was born in Harbin and has lived in Japan in the 1980s. She was the first non-Japanese to win the Akutagawa Prize.

In May 2009, 29-year-old Iranian-born Charon Nezammafi won the 108th Bungakakai award for new writers for her Japanese -language work Shiroi Shami (“White Paper”) about a romance between high school students in the Iran-Iraq war in the 198Os. Nezammafi works at Panasonic as a systems engineer.

Bestsellers in Japan

The best-selling books in Japan in 2007 were: 1) Fukkatsu no Ho (“Path that Transcends Life and Death”) by Ryuho Okawa; 2) Homeless Chugakusei (“Memoir of a Homeless Middle School Student who Grew Up to be a Successful Comedian”) by Hiroshi Tamara; 3) Donkanryoku (“Power of Insensitivity”) by Junichi Watanabe; 4) Tanaka Yukukp no Zogan Massage (“Yukuko Tanaka’s Massage to Rejuvenate Your Face”) by Yukuko Tanaka; 5) Inspiring Exercise (“How to Lose Weight By Adjusting Bone Structure in Just 10 Minutes) by Micaco;

6) Motomenai (“Freedom from Lust”) by Shozo Kajima; 7) Hello Bye Bye Seki Akio no Toshi Densetsu (“Akio Seki’s Unbelievable Urban Legend”) by Akio Seki; Ichinicho Sanjuppun wo Tzukensai (“Keep Studying for 30 minutes a Day”) bu Yukio Furuichi; 8) Hanten Yami Shakai no Shugoshin to Yobarete (“Memoirs of a Former Public Prosecutor Now Called Guardian of Underground Society”) by Morikazu Tanaka; 10) Yoake no Machi de (“City of Dawn”) by Keigo Higashino.

Homless Chugakusei, one of the bestselling books in 2007, is by comedian Horishi Tamura. It recalls the comedian’s middle school years when he lived alone in a park playground for a while after his father disappeared after their house was seized for failure to pay his debts.

The Japanese fiction bestseller list has traditionally been dominated by mystery writers. One of the bestselling nonfiction works in Japan in the 1990s was A Great Revolution in the Brain World, a how-to-book on using the brain's "natural morphine" for positive thinking. It sold 3 million copies. The Celestine Prophecy was popular in Japan.

Japanese Survivor Stories

Survivor stories were very popular in the early 2000s. No One's Perfect, an upbeat autobiography by Hirotada Otatoke a young man born with stumps for arms and legs, sold more than 5 million copies. Fifteen Years Old and Still Alive by Miyuki Inoue, who was born blind, and You Can Pull Through by Mitsuyo Ohiea, a former suicidal youth gang member and wife of yakuza boss who became a lawyer without attending college, also sold well.

No One's Perfect is the second bestselling book in Japan since World War II. Hirotada’s is quite extraordinary. When he was born, his mother didn't faint from shock, instead she said "How cute he is." As a youth he attended regular schools rather than schools for the handicapped. He played on the school basketball team, dribbling the ball with his stumps, and won admission to prestigious Waseda University. He married a fellow student and worked as television journalist.

Japanese Literary Prizes

The Akutagawa Prize is formally called the "Akutagawa Ryunosuke Prize." Akutagawa (1892-1927), a novelist from the Taisho era (1912-1926), is well known for such works as "Rashomon." In 1935, the prize was established by Kan Kikuchi (1888-1948), a friend of Akutagawa's. The Akutagawa Prize is given to relatively short novels by up-and-coming writers. A winning work can range in length from 100 to 200 pages on 400-character manuscript paper. The winners are announced twice a year, in January and July. Kikuchi was the founder of a publishing house, and himself a writer.The awards are presented at a ceremonies in mid-February and mid-August, with each writer receiving ¥1 million in prize money. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 7, 2012]

The Naoki prize was established in tribute to the writer Sanjugo Naoki (1891-1934) in 1935. It is awarded twice a year to writers of popular fiction. The Akutagawa Prize is intended to honor serious literary novelists. Popular fiction generally refers to a work that focuses on compelling storytelling, while pure literature stresses artistic qualities. The awards are presented at a ceremony in mid-February, with each writer receiving ¥1 million in prize money.

Akutagawa Prize winners include Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe. In 2004, the Akutagawa prize went to Hitomi Kanehara, then 20, and Risa Wataya, then 19. The awarding of the prize to the two young writers drew great public attention. The latest Akutagawa Prize winners are Shinya Tanaka and To Enjo. The seemingly sulky attitude Tanaka displayed at a press conference following the announcement received a great deal of attention. This apparently shows that any news about the Akutagawa Prize can encourage people to read works by its winners.

Tanaka, Enjo Win Akutagawa Award; Hamuro Gets Naoki

Novelists Shinya Tanaka and To Enjo are sharing the semiannual Akutagawa Award, Kyodo reported, while the Naoki Prize for popular literature has gone to Rin Hamuro for his "Higurashi no Ki" ("Chronicle of Cicada"), the selection committees for the two prestigious awards for Japanese literature said. [Source: Kyodo, January 19, 2012]

Tanaka, a 39-year-old novelist born in Yamaguchi Prefecture, has won numerous accolades, including the Yukio Mishima Prize for "Tomogui" ("Cannibalism"), a depiction of sex and violence in a remote community.Previously nominated four times for the Akutagawa, Tanaka joked at a news conference that the prize rightly belonged to him.

Enjo, also 39, was a Web engineer before turning to writing. The Sapporo native was awarded the prize for "Dokeshi no Cho" ("Clown's Butterfly"), an experimental work that challenges readers to ponder the nature of language by employing an imaginary motif. "I had thought they (members of the selection committee) would say my work isn't good enough for the Akutagawa Award, with award-winning works getting read widely," Enjo said at the news conference. "I assume that they made a bold decision."

Hamuro is a former newspaper reporter born in Kitakyushu. In "Higurashi no Ki," a period novel, the 60-year-old writer describes interactions between a magistrate under house arrest with a pending order to commit hara-kiri and a young samurai who respects him. Nominated for the Naoki five times in the past, Hamuro told the news conference that he felt relieved because the pressure of waiting for the award announcements was enormous.

Image Sources: 1)3) 5) Amazon 2) 4) Wikipedia 6) Japan Vistors 7) Ray Kinnane

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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