Opinion JapaneseEnglish

Reading for pleasure: Enjoying the resonances of language and expressions used in the text

December 2 , 2019

We interviewed Nanae Aoyama, a writer who teaches in the School of Cultural and Social Studies in Tokai University. In 2007 she won the Akutagawa Prize for Hitoribiyori (A perfect day to be alone), and in 2009 the Kawabata Yasunari Prize for Kakera (Fragments) as the youngest ever to win the prize, drawing much public attention. We asked the writer to tell us a little about how she became a writer.

Interviewer: Masayoshi Nakane


Question: As a primary school student you used toread Agatha Christie.

Answer: I got to know of Agatha Christie in my final years of primary school. As a really young child, I enjoyed children’s literature from other countries––fantasy novels, for example, and the St Clare’s boarding school series by Enid Blyton and Pamela Cox. I also enjoyed making up stories myself, with which I would then regale my little sister.


Q: So even as a child you liked coming up with your own stories.

A: My primary school was quite a distance from my home––as a child, it would take me about an hour to walk there. I was a child who lived very much in the world of my imagination, and on the way home I would be writing all kinds of stories in my head.

At junior high school, I read the fiction of writers like Banana Yoshimoto, Yasunari Kawabata, and Natsume Soseki, and I realized, with some amazement, that you don’t necessarily have to have anything major happen in a story for it to be worthwhile. In high school, I got another kind of shock when I read Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. Sagan wrote that novel when she was a mere 19 years of age. I read it at age 17. This amazing novel had been written by a girl just two years older than me. I should hurry up if I wanted to write anything, I thought to myself, and became determined to do so.

But I was writing out my stories by hand, and when I read them over, they never seemed to come together in a convincing way. I would start stories, only to stop and abandon them. This happened over and over again. At university, I began using the computers in the students’ study area to write. For some reason, seeing a typed copy of what I’d written made it seem much more convincing and believable, and I started to feel more confident in what I was producing.


Q: Can you tell us something about your creative process? The way you come up with things to write about?

A: I usually fill out some of the story in my head, and then refine it in the process of writing it. The germ of the story is usually provided by some personal experience or an episode told to me by a friend, which then in the process of writing evolves into something quite different. The way things evolve is the most fascinating thing about writing. I try to look for the exact words that need to be used in my stories. I want to be sure that I have chosen the best and the only words that could possibly describe what I want to convey.


Q: Can you tell us about the ways in which you teach literature in your classes at university?

A: My aim is to introduce my students to as wide a variety of fiction as possible. For instance, if we are looking at a particular novel, I will go on and introduce which other writers have influenced the author of the novel and so on, to awaken the students’ interest in literature of all kinds across different times and cultures. In one of my courses, I examined Pride and Prejudice, paying attention to the places where individuals in the novel confess their feelings for another, and went on to consider how such confessions of love are dealt with in various novels over the centuries, looking at how these might reflect changes in wider society.


Q: What advice would you have for those who say they don’t enjoy reading books?

A: I’d encourage them to think of reading a book as a way of engaging in a conversation with the text. The pleasure we get from books is very much to do with enjoying the language and expressions used in them.

Stories are collections of words. The writer creates the stories very carefully, choosing every word, both for itself and for the way in which it will connect up with all the other words. I encourage students simply to enjoy the words for their resonance, and for the way they resonate with each other, and to try to appreciate the unique meaning or emotion that only that particular sequence of words can convey.

Lecturer, School of Cultural and Social Studies

Nanae Aoyama

Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1983, Aoyama won the 42nd Bungei Prize for Mado no akari (The light of windows]) in 2005, the 136th Akutagawa Ryunosuke Prize for Hitoribiyori in 2007, and the 35th Kawabata Yasunari Award for Kakera in 2009. Her published books include Mado no akari, Watashi no kareshi (My boyfriend), Kairaku (Pleasure), Meguri ito (Winding yarn), Kaze (Wind), Odoru seiza (Dancing constellation), and Buru hawai (Blue Hawaii). Aoyama’s latest story is Watashi no ie (My house).