Japan’s top literature awards spanned the extremes of age this year by awarding 75-year-old Natsuko Kuroda the Akutagawa Prize for “ab Sango,” and 23-year-old Ryo Asai the Naoki Prize for “Nanimono,” along with Ryutaro Abe’s “Tohaku.”
Kuroda is the oldest person to win the Akutagawa in its nearly 80-year history, while Asai is the youngest postwar author to win for the popular literature award, the selection panels for the prestigious prizes said Wednesday.
Kuroda, a Tokyo native, graduated from Waseda University and worked as a teacher and a proofreader before winning the Waseda Bungaku rookie award last year for the same work.
Without using individual names or pronouns, “ab Sango” depicts the memories of a child whose life with a parent gradually crumbles. It is written horizontally instead of vertically as Japanese is conventionally written.
“Thank you for discovering me while I am still alive,” Kuroda said after the Akutagawa award was announced.
Top novelist Toshiyuki Horie of the Akutagawa selection panel said Kuroda’s work is “very sophisticated in technique . . . and, as a whole, beautifully finished.”
Asai, from Gifu, debuted in 2009 while a student at Waseda University and was nominated for the Naoki award in 2012.
His latest work is about the job-hunting ordeals of university students. The story advances with students’ Twitter posts as they go about the job-hunting process and depicts their frustration at being unable to become a “nanimono” (somebody).
Abe, 57, a Fukuoka native nominated in 1994, is known for his historic novels. “Tohaku” explores the life of painter Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610), who founded the Hasegawa school of painting in the 16th century.
The three novelists will each get ¥1 million prizes in February.