Numata, Sato garner Akutagawa, Naoki Prizes

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2017/08/08 News

Numata, Sato garner Akutagawa, Naoki Prizes

The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Literature has announced the winners of the 157th Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes for the first half of 2017. Shinsuke Numata received the Akutagawa for his novel Eiri (Back of Shadow, published by Bungeishunju), while Shogo Sato was awarded the Naoki for his novel Tsuki no michikake (Waxing and Waning of the Moon, published by Iwanami Shoten). Presented twice a year, the two prestigious prizes were announced on July 19, 2017 following selection committee meetings at Shin-Kiraku restaurant in Tsukiji, Tokyo.

Born in 1978 in Otaru, Hokkaido, Numata moved from place to place during his childhood due to his father’s work, graduating from Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka. In 2012 he settled in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, where his parents were living. Though he has been writing fiction since his early twenties, Eiri marks his publishing debut. The work earned him the 2017 Bungakukai Prize for New Writers, followed now by the Akutagawa Prize—an impressive feat indeed.

The protagonist of Eiri is a man who has been employed for some years at a company subsidiary in Iwate. Unable to fit in at work or in his community, he has only one friend he can talk to, a former colleague who then goes missing in the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. The novel is a sensitive portrayal of the devastated region through the eyes of someone living on the fringes of society.

Sato was born in 1955 in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. After dropping out of Hokkaido University he returned to his hometown and began to write fiction in earnest. He has remained in Sasebo every since. He made his publishing debut with Eien no nibun no ichi (Half of Eternity), which won the Subaru Literary Prize in 1983. Hato no gekitai-hō (How to Repel a Pigeon) earned him the Yamada Futaro Award in 2015. Tsuki no michikake is his first nomination for the Naoki Prize.

The narrative revolves around a woman who is reincarnated however often she dies, just as the moon wanes and disappears only to wax again. Middle-aged company employee Tsuyoshi Osanai meets Ruri, an elementary schoolgirl, in a Tokyo Station café. Ruri tells Osanai that in her previous life she was his daughter, who died young. The novel scrutinizes the emotional upheavals experienced by people forced to deal with an implausible yet compelling claim of reincarnation.