Convenience store worker who moonlights as an author wins prestigious Akutagawa Prize

by

Staff Writer

A 36-year-old part-time convenience store employee has won the 155th Akutagawa Prize, a prestigious literary award, for a book that explores life in and around convenience stores, the selection committee announced.

“I still can’t believe it. It seems like a miracle,” said Sayaka Murata, the author of “Konbini Ningen” (Convenience store people) during a news conference soon after the announcement.

“I’ve always wanted to write about interesting people, and this was my first attempt,” said Murata.

The Akutagawa Prize, which is given biannually for serious literature written by up-and-coming authors, is arguably the most prestigious literary award along with the Naoki Prize, which is also announced the same day and given to authors of popular fiction who have achieved some successes but have yet to reach the top tier of their profession.

Murata continues to work in the convenience store business even after having won multiple prizes, including the Mishima Yukio Prize. She said the job gives her ideas for her books and she like the routine.

Murata attended the news conference after work and said she must now “negotiate” some sort of agreement with the manager of her store in order to continue working there given her life is now going to be much busier after winning the award.

It was the first time for Murata to be nominated for the Akutagawa Prize. Her first book, “Junyu” (Breast-feeding), debuted in 2003, winning her the Gunzo Prize for new writers.

As part of the Akutagawa Prize, Murata will receive ¥1 million in award money and a chance to have her work appear in Bungeishunju, a well-known monthly literary magazine.

The other nominees this year included Nao-Cola Yamazaki, who was nominated for the fifth time.

Journalist Toshiyuki Inoue and critic Yuichiro Kurihara said on a program aired by Niconico’s live streaming internet site that the nominees this time were exclusively literary people and not TV talent or celebrities. They said even though they might be less appealing to the general public it is “as it should be.”

A previous winner of the award was Comedian Naoki Matayoshi, who won the 153th Akutagawa Prize with his debut novel “Hibana (Spark),” which garnered wide praise in 2015.

The winner of Naoki Prize this year was Hiroshi Ogiwara, who was awarded the honor for his novel “Umi no Mieru Rihatsuten” (A barber shop with a view of the sea).

“I feel relief now and am able to relax,” said the 60 year-old Ogiwara who was nominated for the fifth time. “Still, I find it hard to believe I am the winner.”

The award ceremony for the two prizes will be held in Tokyo in late August.