150th Akutagawa Prize nominees

The nominees for the 150th Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes have been announced. The prizes will be awarded on January 16th.

The Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes are usually awarded in January and July each year. The Akutagawa Prize is generally considered the biggest Japanese prize for literary fiction, while the Naoki Prize is the most prestigious for popular fiction, however you care to define either of those fairly arbitrary categories. The Akutagawa focuses on mid-length fiction by writers who are not yet well-known. Both were established in 1935 by Kikuchi Kan to honor the memories of Akutagawa Ryunosuke and Naoki Sanjugo. Anglophone readers of Japanese fiction are likely to recognize Akutagawa as the author of “Rashomon” and “The Nose”, and long-time readers of this blog may recognize Naoki.

So without further ado, here are your Akutagawa Prize nominees for January 2014:

Ito Seiko

ITO Seiko (いとうせいこう), for “A Pincer Attack on the Nose” (「鼻に挟み撃ち」), first published in the December 2013 issue of Subaru. This is Ito’s second nomination for the Akutagawa; he was nominated in July 2013 for “Imagination Radio” (「想像ラジオ」), a sample of which has been translated here by Louise Heal Kawai. “Imagination Radio” was his first novel in 16 years and is part of the developing body of post-disaster literature, asking, as the Japan Foundation summarizes, “Are the living permitted to speak for the departed? What is the right way to mourn the dead?” It’s the kind of Japanese novel I expect we’ll see more of in English soon.

Iwaki KeiIWAKI Kei (岩城けい), sometimes known as KS Iwaki, for “Goodbye, Orange” (「さようなら、オレンジ」), winner of the Osamu Dazai Prize for 2013. “Goodbye, Orange” is her debut, a touching and surprising novel with real international appeal. Iwaki is a long-term resident of Australia and a translator, so I’m kind of cheering for her. And her publishing company, Chikuma Shobo, pledged on their Twitter: “In the event that Iwaki Kei wins the Akutagawa Prize, we’ll upload a video of all staff (some women, but in the main, middle-aged men) dancing to AKB48’s ‘Koi suru Fortune Cookie’! But is there interest?” Have some confidence, guys. If these schmucks can get over 500,000 views, anyone can.

Oyamada HirokoOYAMADA Hiroko (小山田浩子), for “Hole” (「穴」), first published in the September 2013 issue of Shincho. Born 1983 in Hiroshima Prefecture, Oyamada previously won the Shincho Award for New Writers in 2010 with “Factory” (「工場」), which was also nominated for the Mishima Prize in 2013. After graduating university, she went into the publishing industry where she met her now-husband, who apparently encouraged her to pursue writing. For those who are able to read Japanese, the first pages of “Hole” are available online here. For those of you who aren’t, the first paragraph reads:

I moved to this town with my husband. At the end of May he received notice that he was being transferred, that the location he was being transferred to was a rural office in the same prefecture but rather close to the border. The town the office was located in was where my husband’s family lived, so he called his mother to ask whether she knew of any affordable property. “What about next door?” “Next door?” “There’s no tenant. They cleared out just the other day.” My mother-in-law’s voice carried; I could hear every word sitting next to my husband. There was a rented house next door to his parents’? This was the first I’d heard.

Matsunami TaroMATSUNAMI Taro (松波太郎), for “LIFE”, first published in the July 2013 issue of Gunzo. Born 1982 in Mie Prefecture, he dropped out of both Daito Bunka University and Beijing Foreign Studies University before graduating from Utsunomiya University and gaining a Master’s from Hitotsubashi University’s Language and Society Research department. In 2008, he won the Bungakukai Prize for New Authors for “Decommissioned Vehicle” (「廃車」). This is his second time up for the Akutagawa; he was nominated in 2009 for “Wormwood Academy High School Soccer Club” (「よもぎ学園高等学校蹴球部」). Of “LIFE,” the Yomiuri says briefly: “A 31-year-old part-timer who gives himself over to fulfillment without basis is turned into a machine for birthing children with chromosomal abnormalities. This acute theme is handled gently.” No, I don’t really understand either.

Yamashita SumitoYAMASHITA Sumito (山下澄人), for “Korvatunturi” (「コルバトントリ」), first published in the October 2013 issue of Bungakukai. Yamashita has found success both as a playwright and an author, winning the Noma Prize for New Authors in 2012 for “The Green Monkey” (「緑のさる」). This is his second nomination for the Akutagawa, having been nominated in 2012 for “Gitchon” (「ギッちょん」). Describing “Korvatunturi,” the Yomiuri says: “Stream-of-consciousness depiction of the narrator’s recollections of growing up in a working class town.”

I’ll introduce the Naoki nominees next Thursday.

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