The literary prize winner Kenta Nishimura recently shared the 144th Akutagawa Prize for his novel “Kueki Ressha”. Literary critic Yuzo Tsubouchi hailed Nishimura’s work, saying,”The writer has an excellent way of making the main character relevant and objectively depicting his foolishness. The story is set in the years of Japan’s asset-inflated economy. There are few novels that depict the city of Tokyo during that period from the view point of a junior high school graduate who works as a labourer. In that context, the book is also important as a historical record. The work is based on the writer’s real-life experiences, but it also projects a larger picture.”
The Akutagawa Prize is probably Japan’s most sought after literary prize because of its prestige and
the considerable media attention it receives. The award is presented in January and July every year and was established by a magazine editor Kan Kikuchi in 1935 in memory of the famous Japanese author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. The prize is awarded to the best serious story published in a newspaper or magazine by a new or rising author. The prize includes a watch and one million yen which is about US$12,000 by today’s rate of exchange.
It is not just the work of the 43 year old Tokyo born writer Kenta Nishimura that is inspiring but his very unusual background. As a young boy he suffered the shame of his father being arrested which made it impossibe for his family to remain in their hometown. He left school to work as a labourer at the age of 14 and lived from hand to mouth drinking what he earned and getting into trouble with the police.
His award winning novel “Kueki Ressha” is roughly translated as “Labour Train” is based on Nishimura’s own personal experience as a day labourer in his youth who spends everything he earns on alcohol and prostitutes.
At the age of 23 Nishimura came across a piece of writing by a famous novelist Seizo Fujisawa which would change the course of his life. Nishimura identified with the pathetic characters depicted in Fujisawa’s novels who were people at the bottom of the barrel of society. Fujisawa’s own destructive life-style made Nishimura realise something about himself.
Nishimura describes himself as someone no self respecting girl could ever love he has resignedhimself to a life as a bachelor, and has devoted his life to writing. Writing is now his life’s partner and through his work he has learned to express himself. The man who continues to spend his life hating himself and violently attacking the world and anyone who comes close to him is now fast becoming a man loved by the Japanese people.
Nishimura’s hero, Seizo Fujisawa who was never able to raise himself out of poverty and degradation was found frozen to death in a public park in Tokyo aged 43. During his press conference after finding out about winning the prestigious Akutagawa award Nishimura said something that sets him apart. He explained very honestly the reason why Fujisawa remains such an important figure in his life. It is not that Fujisawa is his inspiration but rather more the fact that he had found in Fujisawa a more hopeless human being than himself.
Nishimura offers himself as a kind of sacrifice to his readers like Fujisawa does for him so that his readers have someone they can see as worse off than themselves. Nishimura feels that by having someone worse off than yourself life becomes more bearable and your chances of finding reasons to go on are greatly increased.
Nishimura is a man quite happy to express himself freely in his writing and it is this honesty which though disturbing is a revealing record of the human condition laid bare. What you see is what you get and it is this quality that endears him to a nation that loves to hear stories of the human spirit rising from the ashes of destruction.
Nishimura’s admission of his addiction to writing is also very important in that he reveals how an addiction can also be life saving. Without his writing he says he is nothing. It is all he has and by identifying with an activity no matter what it is we see how the mind uses association to create needs that require fulfilment and so can prolong the life span of even an individual as self destructive as Nishimura.
Nishimura shuns friendship and does not allow anyone to enter his heart. This is a man who has been conditioned at a very early age to protect himself emotionally and his words indicate that he has learned to hate himself in the process. Many of the people who come to me for help in my capacity as a Hypno-Psychotherapist at the Setanta Hypnotherapy Clinic in the Isle of Man, simply do not like themselves. The voice inside of them criticises them every day and all day long. The language they use reflects their thoughts and reveals how they create the feelings they have of themselves. Nishimura is no different to any of us and given the same conditions at birth I wonder how many of us would have survived till now let alone win literary acclaim? Nishimura’s story is one of great hope and at the same time it is also a story of great sadness. He has triumphed over great adversity and found the spirit that made his nation great shining brightly within. This is the story of Bushido in modern day Japan and a tribute to the human spirit.
Nishimura seeks no approval he just is but I can’t help but think what his plans might be when I read that in 2002, Nishimura bought his own grave next to Fujisawa’s. What will happen when he completes and releases his current work which is the Fujisawa’s complete collection? Has Nishimura in the spirit of Bushido found a way to elevate himself to the level of Samurai and to regain the honour his father lost for himself and his family? Could Fujisawa represent the father figure whose honour and reputation Nishimura is painstakingly working to redeem? I see Nishimura as a modern day Samurai who is showing us that if he can then anyone can deal with adversity and like the Phoenix of Osamu Tezuka rise up from the ashes in glory.
Good heart to you Kenta Nishimura and keep your light shining brightly!
You can watch Tezuka Osamu’s Hinotori (Phoenix) on YouTube which is his “life’s work” about reincarnation which comes in 12 books. Several of the stories have been adapted for TV into a series and you can watch these in episodes on YouTube. Each story is self contained and generally involves a search for immortality, symbolised by “The Fire Bird”. This is a great favourite of mine.