Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Winning the 1987 Japan Mystery Writers Association Prize put Miyuki Miyabe on the literary map triggering a boom in female crime writing in Japan[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    Miyuki Miyabe’s short story Warera no rinjin was hannin (Our Neighbour is a Criminal) won the 1987 Japan Mystery Writers Association Prize, announcing her arrival as a writer in Japan. 

    Her success, especially her 1992 novel Kasha (All She Was Worth) about loan sharks, debt and the risks of a cashless society, as well as the success of similar books written by non-Japanese female authors published in translation in Japan encouraged a new generation of Japanese women to try their hand at the genre. 

    Some went on to enjoy major success and something of a publishing boom developed in Miyabe’s wake. Such authors as Natsuo Karino and Kaoru Takamura whose profiles are now growing outside Japan. 

    Karino’s prize-winning 1997 novel Out (アウト) has been described as a “dark, feminist, horror and probably not like anything you’ve read”. The book is about a group of women working together at a factory who find themselves coming together to cover up a murder, but not everyone “handles the guilt well”. Other notable and successful Japanese female crime fiction authors include: Asa Nonami and Yoshiki Shibata. 

    Interestingly, crime fiction written in the 90s by women in the US and the UK also saw a similar surge in popularity. 

    Though there have always been female writers of whodunits finding success in translation; Agatha Christie (1890-1976) being perhaps the best known, Japanese media has tended to play up the authors’ gender to promote the books by using titles like the crime fiction “Queen”, or “Princess”, or some such moniker. 

    As the trend evolved and gained momentum, names of strong female characters started appearing in the narratives themselves and not just on the covers of the books. Books like Out would feature female detectives and criminals, as well as dark, grisly stories whose narratives included violence done by and to women. 

    As their writing careers have progressed some of these Japanese authors have followed Miyabe’s example by branching out into other genres including science fiction and historical fiction. 

    The phenomena, like other Japanese popular culture trends, has even created an opportunity for academic study with the publication of such papers as Woman uncovered: pornography and power in the detective fiction of Kirino Natsuo; and monographs such as Bodies of Evidence: Women Society, and Detective Fiction in 1990s Japan.
    Winning the 1987 Japan Mystery Writers Association Prize put Miyuki Miyabe on the literary map triggering a boom in female crime writing in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    In 1964 after Junichiro Tanizaki was nominated and shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature, AFP announced in error that he had won[UPDATED: 2-28-2018]

    In 1964 four Japanese authors were amongst the 76 candidates nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature; Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965), Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) and Junzaburo Nishiwaki (1894-1982). 

    That year there were 19 new candidates for the prize including two nominated for the first time who went on to win in subsequent years: the Guatemalan author Miguel Angel Asturias (1899-1974) and the Spanish writer Camilla José Cela (1916-2002). They won in 1967 and 1987 respectively. 

    Junichiro Tanizaki was one of six candidates that the Nobel Committee for Literature “considered most relevant” to win in 1964, including the winner that year – the French author Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980).

    In the media frenzy leading up to the official announcement by the Nobel Committee the French news agency L’Agence-France-Presse (AFP) announced in error that Junichiro Tanizaki had won. 

    The Japanese media flocked to Tanizaki’s house to document and report his reaction. It was all, in fact a mistake; he never actually won the prize, and tragically died in July the following year. The prize, which is generally announced in October, is only awarded to living authors. Sartre, however, having won famously refused to accept the prize saying that the Writer should “refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution”. 

    Four years later in 1968 Yasunari Kawabata won, becoming the first Japanese author to win the prize and the first Asian author to win it since Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) in 1913, who was the first Non-European to win the prize.
    In 1964 after Junichiro Tanizaki was nominated and shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature, AFP announced in error that he had won Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan has around 500 different literary prizes[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    Japan has around 500 different literary prizes. Some literary prizes target new writers, others specific genres such as the Seiun Award for the best science fiction, awarded by the Federation of Science Fiction Fan Groups of Japan (FSFFGJ). Two of the most coveted awards are the Akutagawa and the Naoki prizes.
    Japan has around 500 different literary prizes Posted by Richard Nathan
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    At least one Japanese literary prize rewards its judging panel and prize-winners equally[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    The Akutagawa Prize, one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes founded in 1935 in honour of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927), reportedly pays each of its nine judges an annual retainer of 1 million yen to select the winner twice a year. In contrast, the prize awarded twice a year (for the best published literary fiction by a new or rising author) is worth the same amount – 1 million yen, about US$10,000. Winners of the prize also receive a high-end pocket watch. 

    Judges have no fixed term. Some of the longest serving judges have remained as judges for decades. The haiku poet Kosaku Takii (1894-1984), for example was an Akutagawa Prize judge for 47 years, between 1935 and 1982. The judges select from a shortlist of 5-7 nominees presented to them by Bungeishinju editors, whose founder set up the prize. 

    In contrast, the Man Booker Prize, a prestigious British literary prize sponsored by a hedge fund, has 5 judges who read more than a hundred novels each from which they select the longlist of 12-13 novels, from these they select a shortlist generally 6, announced about 3 months after the longest, and then finally the winner.

    The judges are generally appointed to only judge the prize once by the prize’s advisory committee and are paid about half that of the Akutagawa Prize judges. Occasionally a judge may be on the panel for two years, but that is the exception not the rule. The Man Booker Prize is awarded once a year, not twice like the Akutagawa, in October after the shortlist is announced normally a month before. The Prize is worth more than 15 times the amount its judges are paid.
    At least one Japanese literary prize rewards its judging panel and prize-winners equally Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The Akutagawa Prize has had some major controversies[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    The Akutagawa Prize founded in 1935 may be one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, but it hasn’t escaped serious criticism or indeed controversy. It and its prize-winners have been accused of many things over the years including anti-Semitism, plagiarism and collusion. 

    An expose of it and other Japanese literary prizes was published in 2004, under the title Bungakusho Mettagiri. It criticized amongst other things the selection process and its transparency. One award winner from the 1970s was accused of plagiarism; this being Akio Miyahara’s Derek ga sawatta, Someone touched it, the winner in 1972. 

    A decade later in 1987, Shusaku Endo (1923-1996), one of Japan’s most famous authors, and a member of the judging panel for the prize, felt obliged to write to the New York Times after Passover, by Fumiko Kometani, a book deemed by critics to be anti-Semitic, won the prize in 1986. 

    Endo wrote stating that there was no head of the judging panel and that he had not in fact voted for the prize-winning novel, which was a story about an unhappy Jewish-Japanese marriage. Endo wrote in his letter to the newspaper: “There is no head among the jury of the Akutagawa Prize. As one member of the selection committee, I objected to selecting ”Passover.” That I did not place a high value on this novel is clear from my comments on selection”. 

    The Akutagawa Prize was set-up in the 1930s by Kan Kikuchi (1888-1948), while he was editor of Bungeishinju, one of Japan’s leading literary magazines in honor of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927). The prize is awarded twice a year (for the best published literary fiction by a new or rising author) and is worth – 1 million yen, about US$10,000. 

    Kikuchi has had a major impact on the Japanese literary scene. Not only did he found Bungeishinju in 1923, he also founded the Naoki Prize in 1935. The Akutagawa and Naoki prizes are sponsored by the publisher of Bungeishinju, which also organizes the Kikuchi Prize, named after Kan Kikuchi, the Matsumoto Seicho Prize and the Oya Soichi Non-Fiction Prize.
    The Akutagawa Prize has had some major controversies Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Most Japanese literary prizes are linked to publishers[UPDATED: 2-22-2018]

    Many of Japan’s literary prizes were set up by publishers or have links to publishing companies. The two most prestigious prizes: the Akutagawa Prize and the Naoki Prize were both set up by Kan Kikuchi the founder of Bungeishinju, one of Japan’s leading magazines. 

    The Noma Prize is run by Kodansha, Japan’s largest publisher and is named after its founder Seiji Noma (1878-1938). It was set up in 1941 in accordance with the final wishes of Seiji Noma. The prize is worth 3 million yen, three times the prize money for the Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes. 

    Editors from the publisher Bungeishinju select the short list that the judging panel of 9 judges, choose from for the Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes. Judges in Japan, who sit on the panels of the most prestigious prizes, often want to see more than one title from an author so they can consider their overall potential before the author, as opposed to their book, is picked as the winner.

    Apparently, these two prizes are sometimes awarded to increase the profile of authors even if the work is “problematic” according to Manufacturing Modern Japanese Literature: Publishing, Prizes, and the Ascription of Literary Value, by Edward Mack. Sometimes winners are chosen “on the expectation of more and better work in the future” which is not the case for many international prizes, such as the Man Booker Prize, where only the merit of an individual title is judged and not the career potential and marketability of an author. 

    In 2004, the Honya Taisho Award (Japan Booksellers’ Award) was launched in response. The winning book is selected by staff working at bookshops and not a panel of judges. Past winners have included: Yoko Ogawa’s The House Keeper and Professor and Woman on the Other Shore and The Eighth Day, by Mitsuyo Kakuta. The award uses the slogan “Nationwide Booksellers’ Most Recommended Books” and prides itself on the open, public and transparent process it runs in selecting its winners. Titles that win the Honya Taisho Award, unlike many Akutagawa and Naoki Prize winners, go on to sell in very large numbers. 

    Nevertheless, publishers still run and promote their own awards. Kodansha awards The Edogawa Rampo Prize, established in 1955, named after the famous Japanese author who pioneered detective fiction in Japan. Taro Hirai (1984-1965), the author which the prize honors wrote under the name of Edogawa Rampo, as he was an admirer of the American writer Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849). The company also sponsors The Kenzaburō Ōe Prize, named after one of Japan’s two winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

    Another example of a publisher backed prize is The Shosetsu Subaru Prize, launched in 1988, by another leading publisher Shueisha. It is awarded to new writers of unpublished works. 

    Others notable prizes set up by publishers include the Yukio Mishima Prize and the Shugoro Yamamoto Prize, which were both set up in 1988 by Shinchosha another publisher. 

    Many of Japan’s newspaper groups, which often own magazine companies and publishing companies also award literary prizes – the most prestigious of which is probably the Yomiuri Prize for literature, set up in 1949 by the publisher of Japan’s oldest and bestselling newspaper. Haruki Murakami and Yuko Mishima have both won the Yomiuri Prize.
    Most Japanese literary prizes are linked to publishers Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Only one author, Yoriko Shono, has won Japan’s Triple Crown of literary prizes to date[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    The so-called Triple Crown of Japanese literary prizes for new authors consists of the Akutagawa Prize, the Yukio Mishima Prize and the Noma Prize.

    Yoriko Shono, author of Time Slip Kombinat, who describes her style of writing as “avant-pop”, is the only author to-date to have achieved the Triple Crown by being awarded all three prizes.
    Only one author, Yoriko Shono, has won Japan’s Triple Crown of literary prizes to date Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan has 12 different literary prizes for mystery writers[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Japan has 12 different prizes for mystery writers including The Agatha Christie Award, which was launched in 2010 on the 120th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth for unpublished novels. The first winner was Akimaro Mori for The Black Cat Takes a Stroll

    Some other notable prizes include: the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, the Edogawa Rampo Prize and the Honkaku Mystery Award.  
    Japan has 12 different literary prizes for mystery writers Posted by Richard Nathan