Author Yang Yi won the Akutagawa Prize on Tuesday to become the first Chinese to receive the prestigious literary award, the prize’s organizers said.
The 44-year-old Yang’s award-winning work “Tokiga nijimu asa” (literally, “A Morning When Time Blurs”), written in Japanese, is set during and after China’s democratization movement centering on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
It follows a Chinese man who lives through those times and later moves to Japan, still holding on to his ideals.
“I’m very, very happy. I feel that I have been accepted,” Yang told reporters outside her Tokyo home.
Meanwhile, the Naoki Prize, a major literature award for popular fiction, went to Areno Inoue, 47, daughter of the late novelist Mitsuharu Inoue.
Inoue’s “Kiriha e” (“To the Mine Face”) is a love story about a teacher who lives with her husband on a remote island.
A previous book by Yang was nominated for the biannual Akutagawa Prize in January but was not chosen.
“I had thought that I may not be chosen this time. I could still not be confident of my own Japanese. Now I feel that I have blended well into Japan, and I am happy that I have been able to write and to have been evaluated,” a smiling Yang said.
She said she learned of the news in a call to her cell phone while having dinner with one of her publisher’s editors.
“I suddenly became tense when I got the call and totally forgot what (the caller) told me. Even after I hung up, I wasn’t sure if it was really true,” she said.
Yang began learning Japanese after arriving in Japan in 1987. She has lived here 21 years and started writing novels while teaching Chinese.
Born in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, Yang’s real name is Liu Qiao.