Waseda student Risa Wataya wins prestigious Akutagawa Award for writing

By Tomomi Abe


The announcement of this year's Akutagawa Award winners delighted all of Japan. This is because 19-year-old Risa Wataya and 20-year-old Hitomi Kanehara were the youngest winners in the history of the Akutagawa Award. Wataya was also the youngest winner of the Bungei Award in 2001 for Install (her first novel), and her new novel is Keritai Senaka (The Back One Wants to Kick). She is the most remarkable writer now. I'll pursue the appeal of Wataya and focus on these two books.

At present, she is a Waseda University student. The characters she uses in her novels are girls who have unique personalities and who grope for a way to react to their changing lives. After reading her novels we can see the lifestyles of these types of girls, but the fact is shocking to us. The modern high school girls in Wataya's books try to solve their difficulties and worries on their own. Their actions are deeply fascinating.

In Install, Asako, who has never been late for or absent from school, is in the third grade in high school. Although university entrance exam time is approaching, she wonders about the purpose of her life. Finally, she stops going to school and throws away the all things in her room. Then, at the dump area of her condominium she meets Kazuyoshi, a schoolboy who lives in the same condominium. He repairs the computer Asako threw away. They become congenial friends because their situation at home is similar. Asako tries to find herself after meeting Kazuyoshi by adopting a new lifestyle. In other words, she tries to "install" herself, which Japanese use in its English form to mean "to change for the better."

Asako and Kazuyoshi make money by using the repaired computer. They take turns to chat on behalf of Kazuyoshi's prostitute e-mail pal. The Internet allows anyone to lie about their age and sex.

Though such a lifestyle may be more common these days, to break into someone's home and sit in the closet (the computer is hidden there), and have immoral chats with strange men on-line like Asako is abnormal. Asako has a strong inclination toward this abnormal lifestyle because she has never experienced it before.

I fear modern society because this story makes me think that this abnormal lifestyle is becoming normal in our present Information Technology society, which is made possible by many computers and cellular phones. And I can't stand the "normal" lifestyle in which Asako places herself.

In the very impressive book Keritai Senaka, one of the main characters is a girl named Hatsu, who recently entered high school. She doesn't take kindly to her class. She fraternizes with Ninagawa, a boy who is a loner in her class. Their relationship began when Hatsu peeped at a women's fashion magazine that Ninagawa was reading secretly in class. She said, "I saw that model." Ninagawa was a fan of the model. He begs Hatsu to draw a map of the store where she met the model, or to take him there. So she reluctantly shares more time with him. Ninagawa gets into trouble everywhere, so he worries and suffers. He hunch his shoulders. Hatsu looks at it and she doesn't feel sympathy toward him. She only wants to kick him. She feels an impulse to see Ninagawa complaining of pain, and so she kicks his back. Hatsu got a feeling of satisfaction from kicking him. Ninagawa didn't know what happened, and, of course, he complains of pain. This relationship that is neither friendship nor affection goes on between them.

Originally, Ninagawa approached Hatsu because she had met the model he loved. Are enthusiastic fans that only watch TV personalities able to react to the general society like him? Ninagawa is symbolic of the modern world even though he exists in an abnormal one.

In these two books, average high school girls step into a world most of us cannot imagine. But this world can be shown to us through the viewpoints or feelings of Wataya. The scenes of high school life are especially close to us because we are from the same generation. It is easy to compare it with our own vivid high school memories. But, however average the girls in Wataya's stories are, various abnormal occurrences unfold. These two books are impressingly fresh and surprising.

Also, the style is in modern language and in the slang our generation uses everyday, which makes them easy to read. It doesn't matter if you are impressed that the books received the Akutagawa Award or not. If you look at the world of these peculiar young people once, your life might also change.