Women writers win top book awards in Japan and dominate shortlists

The winners of Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa and Naoki literary prizes were revealed on Wednesday, with female writers taking the honors for works exploring themes of food and working relationships, and the expectation of new encounters after emotional trauma.

Junko Takase’s short novel “Oishii Gohan ga Taberaremasuyoni” (Becoming Able to Eat Delicious Food) won the Akutagawa Prize for Promising Authors, which this year featured its first all-female selection of five writers in its history dating back to 1935 .

Akutagawa Prize winner Junko Takase (R) and Naoki Prize winner Misumi Kubo present their award-winning works during a press conference in Tokyo on July 20, 2022. (Kyodo)

Misumi Kubo’s short story collection “Yoru ni Hoshi wo Hanatsu” (Freeing Stars in the Night Sky) won the Naoki Prize for Popular Fiction, for which four women and one man were nominated.

Takase’s novel explores the difficulties in personal relationships between three colleagues of different approaches and temperaments. The novel’s protagonist is male, and the 34-year-old writer said she was prompted to write the story after learning she was “not good at writing male characters”.

In his praise of the work, Hiromi Kawakami, member of the Akutagawa Prize selection committee and author, said, “It is a living realization of human relations in a small group. It brilliantly depicts the complexity of people who are not just good or bad.

Kubo’s collection looks at loss, including through the story of a woman who, during the coronavirus pandemic, meets online and begins seeing her deceased twin sister’s ex-boyfriend before she died. be 30 years old.

Mariko Hayashi, an author who served on Naoki’s selection committee, said the collection is “pure and beautiful”, adding that it is “not afraid of the coronavirus pandemic and is written gently”.

Kubo, 56, said she was “half happy and half terrified” to be nominated for the third time. Her first novel “So We Look to the Sky” is available in an English translation published in 2021.

The selection committee announced their choices at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district.

The two authors will receive the awards themselves at a ceremony in Tokyo in late August, with each author receiving 1 million yen ($7,250) in prize money.

The Akutagawa Prize was established in 1935 in memory of Japanese novelist Ryunosuke Akutagawa. The Naoki Prize, created the same year, bears the name of the author Sanjugo Naoki.