DISPATCHES FROM THE WORLD OF JAPANESE LITERATURE, CULTURE, AND PUBLISHING

AUGUST 2009

N E W S
  • 141st Akutagawa Award and Naoki Award Recipients Selected
  • The "History Girl" Boom

    A U T H O R' S  V O I C E
  • Vol.11: Shusuke Michio

    R E V I E W
  • The Mourner


  • N E W S
    141st Akutagawa Award and Naoki Award Recipients Selected

    Winners of the 141st Akutagawa Award and Naoki Award were announced on July 15. The Akutagawa Award went to Kenichiro Isozaki for "Last Home" while Kaoru Kitamura's "Heron and Snow" won the Naoki Award.

    Kenichiro Isozaki was born in 1965. He began writing in his late thirties while working for a large trading company. He debuted in 2007, and in 2008 was an Akutagawa nominee for "Eye and Sun," published by Kawade Shobo.

    "Last Home" depicts 20 years in the life of a married couple beginning in their thirties, told from the perspective of the husband. It portrays the real daily life of the couple including the husband's affairs and estrangement from his wife, but according to Eimi Yamada, a member of the selection committee, "the language is none other than that of a novel."

    Kaoru Kitamura was born in 1949. He debuted as a novelist in 1989 while working as a high school teacher of Japanese. Because he did not intend to become a professional writer at the time of his debut, he worked under a pen name which disguised both his real name and gender. He is currently retired from teaching and pursuing writing full time. This is the sixth time he has been nominated for the Naoki Award.

    "Heron and Snow," set in the early Showa Period (1926-89), is a mystery focused on Eiko, a young aristocratic woman, and her female chauffeur (Becky).

    Noteworthy among candidates for the Akutagawa Award was Iranian Shirin Nezammafi, nominated for "White Paper," which, unfortunately, did not win.



    * Some of the book titles are tentative translations.
    The "History Girl" Boom

    Female railroad fanatics are called "rail girls." Girls engrossed in the world of male-male love stories are called "rotten girls."* And recently, the term "history girls," referring to fans who admire historically-based characters just as if they were idols, has also become commonplace.

    Female fans who spend lavishly on military goods and tour sites related to battle scenes are purposely called "history girls" because of the preconceived notion that the term "history buff" refers to males. Far from being scorned, the market for history girls has grown, and the level of recognition has also risen sharply. According to the Nihon Keizai Newspaper, female fans known as history girls are purchasing more products and books, traveling to regions related to the military commanders with whom they are enamored, and participating in related events, with many spending an annual total close to 500,000 yen (approximately 5200 USD). This current history-related market, comprised of women in their twenties and thirties, is expected to rise to as much as 70 billion yen (approximately 730 million USD). The impetus for the boom is the software game "Sengoku Basara," which depicts commanders from the sixteenth-century Warring States Period as cool, good-looking characters. "Sengoku Basara" has unexpectedly expanded on a large-scale into other media forms, including games and theater.

    The publishing world has also jumped on the bandwagon and released a number of books. In July this year, Goma Books, which has rocketed to success with works such as cell-phone novel hits, published the "Cool, Good-looking Sengoku Commander Comic Series." According to numerous manga artists, this omnibus collection, which features prominent historical figures from the Warring States Period, depicts friendship, loyalty, and the male-male love between samurai of the time, a key characteristic which faithfully reflects the tone found in male-male love stories. Although the episodes are historically-based fiction, trivia is introduced at intervals throughout the stories, so that readers may acquire some historical knowledge while enjoying the fiction. It is not yet certain that women for whom typical love stories or male-male love stories fall short will convert to "history girls," but feelings of admiration for this fresh "hot" type of male from the Warring States Period will probably support the boom.

    * a homophonous pun on fujoshi (meaning "women and children") in which the first character (fu), meaning "woman," is replaced with another character of the same pronunciation meaning "rotten" or "fermented."



    * Some of the book titles are tentative translations.
    A U T H O R' S  V O I C E

    Vol.11
    interview with
    Shunsuke Michio

    Shusuke Michio debuted in 2004 with "Senome (Back Eye)," which received an honorable mention in the 5th Horror-Suspsense Award Contest. In 2007, he won the 7th Honkaku Mystery Award with "Shadow," and last year, both "Karasu no Oyayubi (by rule of CROW's thumb)" and "Ratman" placed in the top ten in the KONOMYS Award Contest "Karasu no Oyayubi (by rule of CROW's thumb)" was also nominated for the Naoki Award).    Read More

    R E V I E W

    "The Mourner" by Arata Tendo

    With his left knee on the ground, he raises his right hand above his head, and then lowers it down in front of his chest. Then, as his left hand nearly brushes the ground, he brings it up to his chest and clasps it on top of his right hand. Posed in this way, Shizuto mourns the death of complete and utter strangers. Based on news obtained from either newspapers or the radio, he wanders throughout Japan, visiting the actual place of an event or accident in order to mourn the death of a victim. Who did they love? By whom were they loved? What sorts of things did they do, and what acts of kindness were done for them? Going to the location where the person died, inquiring of the bereaved family or others living in the areas, he carves into his heart that this person had indeed lived. These are the deeds of Shizuto, known as "the mourner."

    Shizuto first began this "mourning" following the death of a close friend. After graduating from college, Shizuto went to work for a manufacturer of medical equipment. Through his job, he became involved as a volunteer in a children's hospital ward. Encountering pain for the first time, Shizuto decided to consult a close friend from high school who had been working as a doctor. Just then, however, his friend drowned to death in his own bathtub at home, a tragedy possibly brought on by extreme overwork. Shizuto was shocked by his friend's death, and began immersing himself in his work in order to avoid coping with the loss. Because he was so busy, however, the first anniversary of his friend's death passed without his realizing it. This caused Shizuto great sorrow; he developed hyperventilation syndrome, collapsed at work, and was hospitalized. Several weeks later when he was released, he was on his way back home accompanied by his mother. "I'd like to walk for a bit," said Shizuto, when he discovered a bouquet of flowers which had been offered beside the guardrail. Right there, Shizuto mourned the death of a person for the first time.

    The journey of "The Mourner" traces the stories of the various people whose worlds intersect with Shizuto. They include Makino, a magazine journalist who takes an interest in Shizuto's life, Yukiyo, who joins Shizuto on his travels after serving time for the murder of her husband, Shizuto's mother Junko, who is fighting terminal cancer, and Shizuto's younger sister Miyoko, a determined single mother. Soon, the reader also becomes part of Shizuto's journey, and ponders the meaning of death.

    Reading the last page, I felt enveloped in a kind of warmth, and the world around me momentarily seemed to take on a faint, pinkish glow. Those who had died were etched in my heart, and I experienced some small understanding of what it means to mourn. Both those who embrace religion and those who do not, as well as those who live in cultures completely different from that of Japan, will certainly find great meaning in pondering Shizuto, his journey, and "mourning." This is what I believe.              Yukiko Tajima

    The Mourner
    by Arata Tendo, published by Bungei Shunju


    * Some of the book titles are tentative translations.


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