Discovered while still alive

Ms. Natsuko Kuroda, 75, has won the 148th Akutagawa Prize, becoming the oldest person to win the twice-a-year literary prize established in 1935. It generally is regarded as a prize for a rookie novelist.

Separately, the Naoki Prize, for entertainment-oriented works, has been awarded to 23-year-old Mr. Ryo Asai and 57-year-old Mr. Ryutaro Abe. Mr. Asai is the youngest winner of the prize.

Ms. Kuroda and Mr. Asai, as the oldest and youngest prize winners, may catch people’s attention, but it is hoped that people will read their works, fully appreciating their content.

In the past, the young age of Akutagawa Prize winners often became news. Mr. Shintaro Ishihara, Mr. Kenzaburo Oe (also the 1994 Nobel laureate in literature) and Mr. Keiichiro Hirano won the prize at the age of 23.

In 2004, Ms. Risa Wataya and Ms. Hitomi Kanehara received the Akutagawa Prize at 19 and 20, respectively. The late Atsushi Mori, who won the prize in 1974 at the age of 61, had been the oldest recipient of the prize until Ms. Kuroda broke his record.

Following Mori, relatively old writers won the prize. Ms. Fumiko Kometani became the winner in 1986 at the age of 55 and Mr. Kiyohiro Miura in 1988 at the age of 57.

It is hoped that the honor bestowed on Ms. Kuroda will rouse people’s interest in worthy literary writers who have not received due attention because of their age. Her statement is symbolic: “I really thank you for discovering me while I am alive.”

Ms. Kuroda started writing stories when she was 5 years old. A graduate of Waseda University, she worked as a schoolteacher and a proofreader. From the age of 20 to 33, she published her works in a literary coterie magazine, but she almost gave up applying for literary prizes, thinking that jurors could not accept her “nonstandard” novels.

In 2012, she applied for the Waseda Bungaku (literature) rookie prize with her piece “ab Sango” and won it. (Sango means coral.) The same piece has now won her the Akutagawa Prize.

She is very aware of literary methods and style. Although “ab Sango” depicts a child, a parent and a person appearing to be a maid, it has no clear plot. And, unlike other literary works, it is written in a horizontal format — a first in the history of the Akutagawa Prize.

The story uses mostly hiragana, avoiding katakana, proper nouns, indefinite pronouns and quotation marks. For example, she depicts a mosquito net as a “tender cage” and an umbrella as a “tool that keeps off that thing that falls from heaven.” She is trying to preserve what she sees, touches and feels as something concrete, refusing to use ordinary words. In a sense, she is challenging the imposing power of language that makes things seem abstract.

It is hoped that Ms. Kuroda’s award will encourage all writers, both young and old, to continue to challenge themselves by engaging in meaningful literary creativity.

  • nobuo takamura

    not using concepts but explanations like an umbrella as a tool that keeps off that thing that falls from heaven is quite an intriguing trial for grown-ups, but not good one for the young, for the latter will find it difficult to converge to an umbrella in terms of semantics.