The Akutagawa Prize Reading Challenge

So, I finished 蛇にピアス 2 days ago. It remained easy to understand, but all the explicit blood and sex scenes were a bit much sometimes. And the plot was just really sad.I couldn’t really understand the heroine, who basically just flew with the events all along.

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I’ve read the 蛇にピアス translation after your description, as a sort of consolation after my failure with 推し、燃ゆ (both were written by very young authors, so it’s kind of replacement. But since 蛇にピアス was released in early 2000s it isn’t really present-day-book anymore. But oh well, it’s the period of my own teenage years, so there’s at least that emotional connection. It’s still better than saying that Banana Yoshimoto is the writer of the young generation - yes, I saw this kind of marketing for her works. I’m not saying young generation can’t enjoy her books, but the lady is already 56 years old and started writing in the 80s…)

…Ahem.

I admit that in my case it was “someone had to stop reading because it was too intense? i want to check it!” :sweat_smile:
Since it was a translation, I did read it in one go during one evening. For me it was quite tame, if sometimes unhygienic, but I understand how it can be triggering for some. Unfortunately, my own triggers are about atypical things and I usually cannot count on getting a warning :frowning_face: but on the other hand I’m very comfortable with the pain and blood and rough sex stuff like in this book.

(I was mostly worried that he didn’t wash his feet and she has her tongue newly pierced so what if she gets an infection, things like that :sweat_smile:)

What was disappointing, however, is that I was sometimes counting on the plot being somehow encouraging of characters way of life. Like, okay, they are doing some risky stuff, and living on the edge of society, but they are supporting themselves financially and are happy like this. And this didn’t happen. It was a tale of self-destruction after all, and this made me upset. I was honestly wishing for more, and I felt like it was yet another story of “welp, wandering off from society is bad”.

I think this is sorta the point. She is disturbed, has problems with her mental health, and is incapable of making good decisions. So it isn’t supposed to make sense for someone with good (or at least better than the heroine’s) mental health.

I guess I just wish her a life where she pierces her body, gets tattoos, but is still able to hold some job (I admit it may be hard to continue working as a waitress with some of the ornaments, although I loved how she was able to fake being a perfect Japanese young girl), doesn’t cheat on her partner, and maybe plays with pain a little, during sex, by changing her piercings to larger ones a little too quickly, but maybe doesn’t destroy her body by refusing to eat, but maybe chooses partners who don’t kill anyone.

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Hahaha yes, it was for the young generation… 30 years ago.

Yes, I really don’t like needles. ^^" When I was reading parts like “it hurt this much, and blood went out like that” I was always making faces (and ughh noises apparently), my family kept asking what’s the problem.

I read stuff like this before in my native language, and it wasn’t too much for me, so maybe it has something with the fact that I read it in Japanese, so it took longer and I had to digest the sentences.

My problem is that in the beginning she didn’t seem that disturbed. Yet she never could make any good decision. In the end I sorta understand that she already gave up everything and 仕方がない, but she never really decided anything for herself from the beginning.

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That might be a good explanation indeed. I experienced something similar when we read Kino no Tabi with the book club, some of the worlds are really gruesome, and sometimes reading it made me almost feel sick in my stomach. (Although usually I’m not that sensitive when reading stuff like that in English or in my native language.)

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As I am almost done with my current book, I was thinking about what I could be reading next and this thread came to mind.

I just checked my local library for 推し、燃ゆ, and, err, I would be 503 on the waiting list. Estimated wait time: about 2.5 years. Yeaaah, no.

There’s obviously 乳と卵, as mentioned

It’s still very possible for it to win the nomination in the advanced book club, since we have so few voters (actually, that’s a bit of a problem). If not, I’m strongly considering to read it on my own.

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I finished reading 道化師の蝶 (2011年下) by 円城 塔 and omg this book is difficult. But on another level to 乳と卵.

It consists of two short stories, each about 90 pages. I don’t even know where to begin describing. So the first story is about a genius author and about an entrepreneur trying to find that author. It also mentions a net that can catch ideas.
The second story is about two writers who translate each other‘s stories, thus creating their own versions of it.

I feel like the author is pretty self-reflective since writing and translating are at the core of each story.

Ok, now about the difficulty. 乳と卵 was so easy to understand and so straightforward compared to this. The book is so abstract and hardly sets the scene or tells you what’s going on, it seriously makes you doubt your reading comprehension skills. (Comments on bookmeter like 二回読んでもわからない and several other comments calling it 難解 encourage me in my theory that it’s not my Japanese level that’s too low)

First of all, the author doesn’t even properly tell you whose viewpoint you’re reading right now. Everything is told from わたし perspective. There’s barely any names used, and not even the gender of most characters is clear. At first I had a feeling that every sub-chapter is told from a different person’s perspective, but then I was like „wait maybe it was the same person all along?!“ and then „nah it can’t be, surely this must be someone else“. All these possibilities are constantly in the back of your mind. It’s that level of vague.

The second story suddenly interleaves viewpoints of a character that lives during the time Neanderthals were still alive. And there’s a bit of time travel going on as well, which makes you go „???“
You will, however, learn some useful archaeology vocabulary :+1:t2:

Another thing that makes the perspective confusion even worse is that both stories talk about authors and about the (short) stories they write. You can never be sure whether you’re reading an excerpt from one of the stories written by the author in the book, or if this is the main story, or if these events are actually taking place or if they are just fictional. Which is confusing, to say the least.

Starting the second story, I wasn’t even sure whether it was connected to the first story or not, because there were some meta references that really caught me off-guard (but also made me regain my sanity a bit):
So in the first story, there is this entrepreneur, and the protagonist first meets him in a plane. And I thought the whole time that the entrepreneur is male (even though there’s no clear confirmation, I think? I‘m not sure.)
Then, a few chapters later, the same scene is told from the view of a third person on the same plane, and this person sees the protagonist and the entrepreneur talking, but they are described as two women. So in my mind I’m like „ok I misgendered the entrepreneur the whole time, guess she was a woman all along!“
And then (!) at the end, the same entrepreneur is described as an old man? If I didn’t misunderstand anything?
That sent me down a whole other spiral of doubting my understanding :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

By then I was like „okay, whatever, I guess I didn’t pay attention at some point“, the story was over anyway, I was okay with filing it away like that.

But then the second story begins, and it’s about these two authors who write weird stories etc. And at one point it dead-on says
男だと思っていたのが女であって、実はやっぱり男であったとか、「わたし」の語が登場するたび、いちいち違う人間であるような話を書いた。
Literally meta-referencing and describing my (almost) exact understanding of the first story!

And that quote made me think that maybe I wasn’t insane. Maybe the author is subtly confirming that „no, you didn’t understand the story wrong, don’t worry, I was just gaslighting you“, which was actually kind of comforting? :smiley:

I was also never sure if the stories involved actual (low-level) magic, or if the more supernatural phenomenons could be explained away by „the power of imagination“.
One really crazy phenomenon actually had a legit scientific explanation (a brain injury similar to what Zasetsky suffered from), which I found really cool. I definitely learned new things, and I enjoyed the fact that the story had supernatural elements, but that it was still firmly set in the real world and talked about real-life scientific phenomena.

I really want to read it again and see if my understanding changes, but then again, I could read something else (something easier for once, maybe?) in the meantime… So I probably won’t, at least for now.

If anyone is interested in how I’d compare it to 雪国: grammar-wise and vocabulary wise it’s definitely a bit easier, but understanding what he means by that is actually a bit more difficult than with 雪国, I‘d say. I rated them about the same on Natively.

By the way, someone posted the cover of a book called これはペンです in the 多読 thread, saying „Finally, a book we can all read“, but it’s by the same author, and I’m telling you, IT‘S A TRAP!

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Out of context, that sentence would be properly terrifying :joy:

Hmmm, yeah, not adding that to my “to read” list, at least not until I have a completionist urge to get through the whole list (and we are probably decades away from that).

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That book does sound horrible o_o Good job on finishing it!

Has anyone tried looking at other prizes? I recently read 夜のピクニック and in the postface they talk about how that book won the second edition of the 本屋大賞, i.e. the Japan Booksellers’ Award, that was created in 2004. They say that other prizes tend not to like books that actually sell well (too mainstream?) and this award fills the gap. The books on that list might be more accessible? There are 10 awarded each year, the first one being the grand prize winner. A lot of them have been turned into movies/manga.

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I’ve been reading 天冥の標, which is one the 2019 winner of the 日本SF大賞 (the Japanese SF prize).
It’s great! But it’s SF, so that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. (Also, the technical lingo makes it a bit less accessible for those who do not know it)

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The Akutagawa Prize is actually geared towards more “literary” books, while there is a sister award, the Naoki Prize, for more “mainstream” and accessible books. E.g. Yougisha X is one of the winners of Naoki Prize. I only truly understood this difference after I set up this list :sweat_smile: as I initially knew only Konbini Ningen which is very accessible. So it came as a surprise to me how hard the other books in this list are.

I’m thinking about maybe setting up a similar list for the Naoki Prize winners in the near future, to point out more accessible books as well.

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More lists!

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I wouldn’t necessarily say horrible, but definitely a bit too abstract for me to really enjoy it :laughing: I guess there‘s people who are into that?
I also like the fact that I got a feel for the author’s writing style. Because I’ve seen some other books of his that sounded interesting; but now I know what I’m getting myself into. (To gain this ability of being able to judge the author‘s style for myself and to form this image of them and their works is something I really enjoy about reading.)

And it’s definitely not all books on this list that are this difficult! I just kind of picked two difficult ones in a row? But now I’m reading 妊娠カレンダー by 小川洋子, the author of 博士の愛した数式, and it’s easier than 博士 and maybe a bit easier than コンビニ人間, even.

The 芥川賞 winners tend to be more on the literary side where you might end up with lots of question marks and 複雑な気持ち at the end. Which is a thing I enjoyed for something like コンビニ人間, but if it’s too many question marks, like with this one, then it’s not that enjoyable anymore. :woman_shrugging:t3:

I’d definitely look into the 直木賞 as well if you’re looking for a bit more „mainstream“ prize-winning books! I think there’s lots of heartwarming, more „laid-back“ accessible stories to find there à la 博士の愛した数式 and コーヒーが冷めないうちに. (Ok, I guess that one didn’t win the 直木賞 but the 本屋大賞 :sweat_smile:. I think the type of books they award are relatively similar though; 大衆向け, ergo books that a wide audience will enjoy)

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My local Japanese Foundation library finally entered the 21st century and launched an online catalog. They also opened after closing in November due to the pandemic, but you cannot browse, just reserve through the catalog and the give it to you in front of the library.

So I browsed through the Japanese books and it looks like they have all of the Akutagawa prize winners starting from 2017. That gives me 11 books to read.

I alread borrowed the first one, むらさきのスカートの女 on Friday, and read it over the weekend. It reminded me a bit to コンビニ人間, but it is a bit darker and weirder. But I liked it overall, and I think it would be a good fit for the Intermedate Book Club (but I don’t dare to nominate it as I won’t have the book to read along if it gets chosen).

This was my first physical book to read, and I was afraid that I’d have to look up kanji / words all the time, and it will be tiresome, but in the and I rarely needed to do that. (Ofc there were some kanji that I didn’t recognize, but it didn’t ruin my comprehension, so I just skipped that part à la 多読.)

If I finish the other book I borrowed (a JLPT workbook), then the next one will be 推し、燃ゆ.

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That’s fast! :open_mouth:

That’s intriguing! I just googled it, and noticed that English edition even has Murata’s recommendation on the cover (or at least in the description).

‘Very powerful . . . Reading this book made me feel like I was in an unstable and strange world.’ SAYAKA MURATA
source: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Woman-Purple-Skirt-Natsuko-Imamura/dp/0571364675

Ohh, the book that defeated me. I wonder what you’ll say about it <3

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Yeah, the deadline is 2 weeks for this library and you can extend it to another week once. I was scared that I won’t finish in in time… So I read Saturday evening and pretty much all day Sunday. I still have the workbook to finish until 18th June, that will be tougher.

I’ve read the review on Tsundoku Reader since, and they also compared it to コンビニ人間.

Did you start reading it? I just downloaded the sample, but I am like “it’s only 78 pages long, I’ll manage it somehow”, but maybe I’m naive :sweat_smile:

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Yes, I even finished the sample and it was ok, so I bought it, and then the part after the sample was too hard and to this day I don’t know if it was the language level or was it supposed to feel this abstract :smiley: So I hope you’ll tell me :smiley:

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Oh, and slightly off-topic, but I wanted to mention that this time Hungary wins over Poland :stuck_out_tongue:
We have a library run by the Embassy of Japan, but it’s been closed for so long, I started to wonder if maybe they forgot to take down the closure notice.
And it doesn’t have an online catalog!

But I least I know that Ambassador had a great time playing with kendama during the Japan Food Festival.

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Yes, we are really lucky to have Japan Foundation in Budapest. There are only 7 places in Europe. Besides the library the also organise events (though nowadays they are only webinars and youtube streams, but it’s still cool). I try to participate at all of them.

Our Embassy of Japan is on the opposite side of the city, and on a hill, so if our library would be there, I’d rather buy the Kindle editions. :sweat_smile: (I biked there a few weeks ago, and I don’t want to do it again.)

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So I finished 推し、燃ゆ. It’s definitely above my current level, I should’ve used the dictionary more frequently. I could grasp what was happening generally, but didn’t get the nuances. Maybe one day I’ll get back to it when I’m better at Japanese.

I’m starting to feel that all the Akutagawa prize winners are about women with mental illness… So my next choice is ニムロッド because it has a male protagonist, and also because bitcoin.

I’m a mathematician developed into security engineer so I learnt a lot about the technical background of cryptocurrencies - though I never bought or mined any myself.

Also, after I finished this, I decided to keep a small break from reading in Japanese and Akutagawa novels and started to read another book that happened to be on my Kindle: 1Q84 by Murakami Haruki, imagine my surprise when they start talking about the Akutagawa prize in the second chapter. I cannot escape!

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phew So it wasn’t just me imagining it was difficult. Out of curiosity, do you think it’s closer to IBC or ABC?

:laughing: Now I’m trying hard to remember anything that contradicts this, but can’t find any good example.

穴 - well, she was seeing things others didn’t
土の中の子供 - well, it’s a male protagonist… …and he’s not that mentally perfect either

Seems like a curse :stuck_out_tongue:

But but but you didn’t actually mention what you think of 推し、燃ゆ. Did you like it and such?

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