The recent media hype over a possible e-book revolution has obscured the real star of the book world — the author — and the continued functioning of the system for discovering new literary talent in Japan, including the competition among new authors for 30-some literary prizes.
Even as the publishing world suffers declining sales, especially of hardcover fiction, there is no lack of promising new writers, as illustrated in the latest winners of the most prestigious award for literary fiction, the Akutagawa Prize.
Ms. Mariko Asabuki, a graduate student in modern kabuki at Keio University, comes from a literary family. Her winning work “Kikotowa” is a Proustian tale of two women meeting after 25 years and recalling the past.
In contrast, Mr. Kenta Nishimura worked for many years as a day laborer after graduating from middle school. His “Kueki Ressha” is about a 19-year-old manual laborer. The Akutagawa Prize is viewed as an imprimatur in the book world, providing a pocket watch and ¥1 million in prize money.
Meanwhile, another prize seems to have brought notoriety to its winner. In December, former model and actor Hiro Mizushima received the Poplar Publishing Co.’s prize for new fiction for his debut novel “Kagerou” (published under his real name, Tomohiro Saito). The novel, a sincere attempt to deal with the themes of suicide and organ donation in an easy-to-read fashion, immediately became a best-seller, passing the million mark in sales two weeks after publication. It also aroused much hostility among readers, some of whom posted messages on the Internet criticizing its less-than-polished language and character portrayals — as well as the ¥20 million in prize money.
Like the general population, Japan’s book world is graying. A new prize being established by the Kodansha Ltd. invites baby boomers retiring from the workforce to make use of their accumulated wisdom and experience to try their hand at mystery writing. The project, the initiative of mystery writer Soji Shimada, is limited to those 60 and over. It brings no prize money but does offer the chance of being published by Kodansha.