Books

Sumito Yamashita claims 156th Akutagawa Prize

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

The 156th Akutagawa Prize was awarded to 50-year-old author Sumito Yamashita for his book “Shinsekai (New World),” which explores his teenage experiences, the selection committee of the prestigious literary award announced Thursday.

“It’s delightful,” said Yamashita during a news conference held at a Tokyo hotel soon after the announcement.

Yamashita won the award after being nominated three times before.

“I may not have enough understanding of novels,” but winning the Akutagawa Prize “is incredible,” he said.

Born in 1966 in Kobe, Yamashita was long an established playwright and actor but started working on novels in 2011. The story in the book is of his actual experience of attending a theater school in Hokkaido where he supported himself and lived alongside the other students.

As part of the Akutagawa Prize, Yamashita will receive ¥1 million and a chance to have his work published in Bungeishunju, a well-known monthly literary magazine.

The prize is given biannually along with the Naoki Prize by the Society For the Promotion of Japanese Literature, with both seen as providing valuable media exposure for authors.

Publisher Bungeishunju Ltd. said about 560,000 copies of “Konbini Ningen (Convenience Store People)” by Sayaka Murata, last year’s Akutagawa Award winner, had been printed last year.

It also said roughly 2.5 million copies of “Hibana (Spark)” by Naoki Matayoshi, which was made into a movie after winning the award in 2013, had been printed to date.

While the Akutagawa Prize is given to young up-and-coming writers for their short stories of serious literature, the Naoki Prize is given to experienced authors for more entertainment-style pieces.

On Thursday, the 156th Naoki Prize was awarded to Riku Onda for her book “Mitsubachi to Enrai (Honey Bee and Distant Thunder),” which is about a young pianist competing in an international contest.

“I had believed that the prize would never belong to me,” said Onda to a group of reporters that day. It was her sixth nomination.

Writing novels “for about 26 years, I was becoming unable to understand how I was being judged. But being nominated tells me that I’m still at the forefront,” she said.