The Birdcage Archives

Sunday 21 July 2019

The Akutagawa Prize & Naoki Prize Winner(s) 2019

Hello Gentle Reader

Earlier last week, two women won Japan’s top literary awards: The Akutagawa Prize, and The Naoki Prize.

The Akutagawa Prize, gains its name from the famous, yet tragic, grandfather of the Japanese short story: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa; whose modernized retellings, of Japanese folklore, and classic tales, imbued with modernist sensibilities, and literary techniques, made him one of the most ingenious, writers of Twentieth Century Japanese literature, a predecessor of Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima, as well as a contemporary of Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (who Akutagawa famously quarreled with). Tragically, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa committed suicide at the age of 35, from an overdose of barbiturates. In his honour, Kan Kikuchi writer and editor of the Japanese magazine: Bungeishunjū, created the Akutagawa Prize to honour his late friend. The Akutagawa Prize is awarded semi-annually (once in January and once in July). Winners are generally created for being either rising or new stars to the literary field, with their winning publication considered the best literary fiction published. Previous winners of the Akutagawa Prize include:

Nobel Laureate, Kenzaburo Oe
Yoko Ogawa
Masatsugu Ono
Sayaka Murata
Teru Miyamoto
Mieko Kawakami
Kōbō Abe
Yoko Tawada

Interestingly enough: Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima had never received the award; nor has Haruki Murakami.

This year’s winner of the Akutagawa Prize is: Natsuko Imamura, with her novel: [rough English translation] “Woman in a Purple Skirt,” [Murasaki no Sukato no Onna || むらさきのスカートの女]

Natsuko Imamura has published three works prior, and each time has been nominated for the Akutagawa Prize. Her work is noted for being, eerie and disquieting, but carries a charismatic charm, which comes through her eccentric, yet endearing narrators, who fail to comprehend the world around them, as if they are detached from the concerns and circumstances of those around them, and are merely going through the notions of normal operations of life. Her Akutagawa Award winning novel: “Woman in a Purple Skirt,” recounts the obsessive, stalker behaviour of a part time hotel maid, who observes, follows, and studies the life of her neighbour. The novel is written in the same charismatic tone, employed in her previous works: a matter of frank eccentric narrator, who provides a transparent commentary on the goings on in life as they happen around her.

Kan Kikuchi did not just create the Akutagawa Prize; he also created the Naoki Prize, after his dear friend, Sanjugo Naoki. Much like the Akutagawa Prize, the Naoki Prize is also awarded semi-annually. Where the Akutagawa Prize is awarded to a writer and work of literary fiction, the Naoki prize is awarded to an author of popular fiction; again the award goes to an up and coming author, or established author of reasonable young age. Together, the Akutagawa Prize and the Naoki Prize are considered the most coveted Japanese literary awards in Japan, and are often viewed as one half of the same coin, reflecting the Japanese literary culture.

Previous winners of the Naoki Prize, include:

Natsuo Kirino
Kazuaki Takano

Both authors are noted for crime/thriller novels, and are members of the Mystery Writers of Japan, association.

Once again it is interesting to note neither: Yasunari Kawabata or Yukio Mishima won the Prize. Understandable, as Kawabata was a contemporary of Sanjugo Naoki, and wrote the obituary for the late author. Haruki Murakami also did not receive the Naoki Prize, nor did Ryu Murakami.

This year’s winner of the Naoki Prize is: Masumi Oshima, with her novel: [rough English translation] “Whirlpool, Husband, and Wife Mountains: A Mirror of Virtuous, Women, Requiem,” [Uzu Imoseyama Onna Teikin Tamamusubi || 伊勢山宇奈帝人たまむすび] a historical novel about an Edo period puppeteer/playwright. Previously, Masumi Oshima has been nominated for the Naoki Prize as well.

As a special note, for the first time in its history, this is the first time in the Naoki Prizes history, that all six finalist nominees were all women.

Congratulations to Natsuko Imamura and Masumi Oshima, for the remarkable wins.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

For Further Reading, Please see the following Articles:

The Japan Times: "Two women named for Japan's Akutagawa, Naoki literary awards,"

The Ashai Shimbun: "Akutagawa Prize winner makes even horror stories endearing,"

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