The first novel ever written is typically credited to a female Japanese author. Back in the 11th century, a noblewoman and lady-in-waiting named Murasaki Shikubu wrote the classic The Tale of Genji. But since that landmark time, there have been few female writers from her homeland.
Times seem to be changing, however, and it’s good news for women everywhere to see the growing recognition and progress of women writers in Japan. The highly regarded Naoki Prize, a literary award that is presented twice a year, most recently featured nominations of six authors, all female—a first in its 85 years.
The winner was Masumi Oshima, 56, who received her honor for the book Whirlpool, Husband and Wife Mountains: A Mirror of Virtuous Women, Requiem, which shares a story about a famous puppet playwright named Hanji Chikamatsu from the Edo period.
On the same day, the winner of the biannual Akutagawa award was named, with Natsuko Imamura, 39, taking home the prize for her novel, The Woman in the Purple Skirt, about a female hotel cleaner.
Starting “Late”; Setting Fire
The award winners receive almost $10,000—as well as recognition, which helps raise the profile of female writers in Japan globally. What’s more, there are hints that more women are taking up writing as a career, especially at midlife. Erika Tsugawa, a U.S.-based translator who runs the blog Tsundoku Reader, was quoted in the New York Times as saying she has noticed an uptick, citing the example of Chisako Wakatake, 63, who won the Akutagawa award in 2017 and who began writing full-time at the age of 55. The book that earned her the prize? I’ll Live by Myself, the tale of a widow who, at age 74, is figuring out how to live solo.
NextTribe loves examples of Aging Boldly, wherever they occur on our planet. May these women inspire more of us to write on, through midlife and beyond. — Janet Siroto+