The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Literature has announced the winners of the 156th Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes for the second half of 2016. The Akutagawa was awarded to Sumito Yamashita for his novel Shinsekai (New World, published by Shinchosha). Riku Honda garnered the Naoki for her novel Mitsubachi to enrai (Honeybees and Distant Thunder, published by Gentosha). Awarded twice a year, Japan’s two top literary prizes were announced on January 19, 2017 following selection committee meetings at their traditional venue, the Shin-Kiraku restaurant in Tsukiji, Tokyo.
Yamashita was born in 1966 in Kobe. After finishing high school he joined Furano-juku, a training school founded by dramatist Sou Kuramoto for aspiring playwrights and actors. He published his first works of fiction in 2011, and his novella Midori no saru (The Green Monkey) won the Noma Prize for New Writers in 2012. This was his fourth nomination for the Akutagawa Prize.
Shinsekai is a coming-of-age tale inspired by Yamashita’s experiences at Furano-juku. The 18-year-old protagonist leaves his Kobe home for a school in faraway Hokkaido, where he sleeps in a house built by him and his classmates, chops wood, and cares for livestock while studying theater. Though based on the writer’s own memories, those of the protagonist prove unreliable as they morph over time.
Born in Aomori in 1964, Onda graduated from Waseda University and made her literary debut in 1992 with the novel Rokubanme no Sayoko (The Sixth Sayoko), which she wrote while working for an insurance company. In 2005 her novel Yoru no pikunikku (Nighttime Picnic) won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers and the Booksellers Award. This was quickly followed by the 2006 Mystery Writers of Japan Award for her novel Yujinia (Eugenia) and the 2007 Yamamoto Shugoro Prize for another novel, Nakaniwa no dekigoto (The Incident in the Courtyard). She received the Naoki Prize on her sixth nomination.
Mitsubachi to enrai tells the story of a group of young people who enter an international piano contest in Japan, and how they grow and mature over the course of the intensely competitive process from preliminaries to finals.