• Kyodo, Staff report

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Taiwan-born novelist Li Kotomi won the Akutagawa Prize for up-and-coming authors on Wednesday, becoming only the second non-native Japanese speaker to win the prestigious literary award, the prize’s organizers said.

The 31-year-old Li was honored for her novel “Higanbana ga Saku Shima” (“An Island Where Red Spider Lilies Bloom”), which tells the story of a young girl who travels to a fictitious isolated island with a female-dominated society and who struggles with gender equality issues.

In 2008, China-born novelist Yang Yi became the first non-native Japanese speaker to receive the award.

“I want to thank my readers foremost,” Li said at a news conference held after the prize winners were announced.

Taiwan-born novelist Li Kotomi, who won the Akutagawa Prize, speaks to the press at a hotel in Tokyo on Wednesday. | KYODO
Taiwan-born novelist Li Kotomi, who won the Akutagawa Prize, speaks to the press at a hotel in Tokyo on Wednesday. | KYODO

Born in 1989, Li started learning Japanese when she was 15 years old and came to Japan in 2013 after graduating from National Taiwan University. After studying at a Waseda University’s graduate school, she published her debut novel, “Hitorimai” (“Solo Dance”), in 2017, which was also written in Japanese.

Taiwanese media celebrated Li’s win on Thursday, widely reporting the recognition she received from those in Japan’s literary circles.

Hisaki Matsuura, one of the Akutagawa Prize judges, praised Li’s novel as an “ambitious work.”

“In the era of globalization, there is historic significance (with her winning the award),” Matsuura said about Li’s achievement during an online news conference.

Li said she believes works by authors whose native tongue is not Japanese have introduced new perspectives to the Japanese literary world.

I’m proud of the influence our writing is having on Japanese literature, she said before receiving the award.

The other winner of the Akutagawa Prize was 41-year-old Japanese novelist Mai Ishizawa, who is studying in Germany. Her work “Kai ni Tsuzuku Basho Nite” (“At a Place That Leads From the Shells”) tells a story of a woman living in Germany who looks back on the 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck northeastern Japan.

The biannual Akutagawa Prize was established in 1935 in memory of Japanese novelist Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Winners receive ¥1 million ($9,100) in prize money.

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