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Kawakami Mieko wins 138th Akutagawa prize, hearts of bookish men everywhere

You’d have found it hard to take a train through Tokyo this week without running into Kawakami Mieko, chin in hands and gazing pensively down at you as if to say, “How much more smokey do my eyes have to get before you buy my Akutagawa prize-winning book Chichi to ran (Breasts and eggs), citizen?”

The Akutagawa judging panel must have high-fived each other silly after reaching this decision: A writer this prizeworthy yet also this photogenic! Bungeishunjū certainly wasted no time getting her into the Shūkan Bunshun‘s embarrassing weekly gravure feature, “Illustrated treasury of beautiful girls in natural color” (原色美女図鑑); Kawakami made a dignified, arty appearance there a couple of weeks ago, right after the decision was announced.

Oh, sure, they quote her as asking “Is it really OK for me to appear in [this feature]?”, but don’t mistake her for some reclusive scribbler shading her eyes and blinking as she emerges into the public sphere. She’s already published books, released a couple of CDs, performs live, and appears in Quick Japan, Eureka and the like fairly regularly. It’s not often that a triple threat wins a literary prize, although admittedly in Japan it seems to happen more often than elsewhere.

Incidentally, the “modern Higuchi Ichiyō” angle that Bungeishunjū is working isn’t as vapid as it might seem at first glance. It isn’t just that she wrote poetry before branching out into fiction, and is female (Holy cow, I gotta call my editor!) — she herself actually cites Higuchi’s Takekurabe as an influence on Chichi, and the river-of-words sentence structure she employs is very Higuchid in its way.

February 15, 2008

5 Responses

  1. W. David MARX Says:

    Yes, the slightly-blurry shot of her in the main Bungei Shunbun ad this month is out of control.

    At least this year they were honest enough to give it to one hot girl instead of saying, “Hey here are two young hot girls with a moderate amount of talent, but if we give the prize to both girls, they will equal out the talent of our former winners.”

    This year’s winner is apparently friend of my wife’s friend (ただの他人?) but “a personage deserving of this prize.”

  2. Matt Says:

    The best thing about the campaign is that the actual book (at least up to where I’ve read so far) is more or less entirely about women, and would probably be very disappointing to someone just after the male-gaze-friendly thrill its marketing implies.

  3. Matt Says:

    Update: I’m gonna go ahead and declare the English title “Milk and Eggs” rather than “Breasts…”

  4. Daniel Says:

    Worth reading? Great posts. It’d be awesome if you could point out more cool things to read here (and on neo-japonisme).

  5. Matt Says:

    Daniel: Yeah, hopefully I’ll write a proper review once I’m done, but so far I’m enjoying it a lot. (Less than Asatte no hito, but more than Hitori biyori, to put it in Akutagawa context.)