The Akutagawa Prize is probably Japan’s most celebrated literary award.
To better understand the Akutagawa Prize and its place in modern Japanese literature, we’ll start with an introduction to the history of “literary” fiction in Japan.
Then we’ll move on to the history of the Akutagawa Prize itself, from its creation in 1935 through its most recent winners.
And then we’ll finish with a look at the life and career of Kobo Abe including his most famous book, The Woman in the Dunes.
(CW: suicide, attempted rape in a novel)
- Beyond the Curve (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)
- includes a partial translation of “The Crime of S. Karma”
- The Woman in the Dunes (translated by Dale Saunders)
More by Kobo Abe:
- The Ark Sakura (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)
- Beasts Head for Home (translated by Richard Calichman)
- The Box Man (translated by Dale Saunders)
- The Face of Another (translated by Dale Saunders)
- Kangaroo Notebook (translated by Maryellen Toman Mori)
- The Ruined Map (translated by Dale Saunders)
- Secret Rendezvous (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)
- Three Plays by Kōbō Abe (translated by Donald Keene)
This episode also mentions:
- Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
- From the Fatherland, with Love by Ryū Murakami (translated by Ralph McCarthy, Charles De Wolf, and Ginny Tapley Takemori)
- Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball by Haruki Murakami (translated by Ted Goossen)
- In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami (translated by Ralph McCarthy)
- People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Ted Goossen)
Find Out More
A GoodReads list of Akutagawa-winning stories. Works that have been translated into English are usually included with their titles in English.
RJL’s list of Akutagawa Prize Winners in English. The list includes non-winning works available from Akutagawa-winner authors.
Glynne Walley’s write-ups of Akutagawa-winning stories since 2000. Walley is a professor of Japanese literature at the University of Oregon.
Li Kotomi’s Akutagawa acceptance speech. Kotomi was the first Tawainese-born Akutagawa winner when she won in 2021.
A profile of Gregory Kherzrnejat, an American nominated for the 2023 Akutagawa Prize, in the Japan Times. If Kherznejat had won, he would have been the first native English speaker and first American Akutagawa winner.
Comments about Kobo Abe and “The Crime of S. Karma” by the Akutagawa Selection Committee. Note that the link is to the Google Translate version of a Japanese website.
A review of Karin Yamaguchi’s memoir, Kobo Abe and Me. Abe’s mistress’s memoir hasn’t been translated into English, but this is a thorough review.
The Internet Movie Database entry for 1964’s The Woman in the Dunes. The entry includes a film trailer.
Other RJL Episodes of Interest:
- Episode 6: High and Low Literature in Edo Japan. Before there was the bundan, there was the literature of high culture in Edo-period Japan.
- Episode 10: Taisho Magazines and Akutagawa’s Vision of Hell. The Akutagawa Prize is named for Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the “father of the modern Japanese short story”.
- Episode 13: Literature of Change in the 1960s—Mishima and Oe. Kenzaburo Oe won the Akutagawa Prize for “Prize Stock” in 1958. There is some professional overlap between Abe and Oe’s careers. This episode also includes more information about the Summer of Rage.
- Episode 15: Translating Japanese Women. Sayaka Murata won the Akutagawa Prize for Convenience Store Woman in 2016.
- Episode 16: Writing about Japan’s “Have-Nots”. Yu Miri won the Akutagawa Prize for “Family Cinema” in 1996.
- Episode 17: The Smile of the Mountain Witch. Minako Oba won the Akutagawa Prize for “Three Crabs” in 1968.
Abe Kobo. “The Crime of S. Karma” in Beyond the Curve. Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. Kodansha, 1991.
“Abe Kobo” at Prizeworld.com, 2017. (Japanese language site via Google Translate, both free)
“[Breaking News] Bookstore Clerk and Author Atsushi Sato, who Lives in Sendai, Won the Akutagawa Prize” at Kahoku News, 2023. (Japanese language site via Google Translate, both free)
–. Manufacturing Modern Japanese Literature: Publishing, Prizes, and the Ascription of Literary Value. Duke, 2010.
Mak, Rebecca. “The Akutagawa/Tanizaki Debate: Actors in Bundan Discourse” in Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese Literature, ed. Rachael Hutchinson and Leith Morton, 2016.
Napier, Susan J. The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature: The Subversion of Modernity. Routledge, 1996.
Shields, Nancy. Fake Fish: The Theater of Kobo Abe. Weatherhill, 1996.