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Prizewinning author launches public workspace at bookstore

Akiko Itoyama is seen on April 4, 2016, writing in her own private writing studio in the city of Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, where she also speaks with her fans. (Mainichi)

MAEBASHI -- Author Akiko Itoyama, who is a past winner of the Akutagawa Prize, launched her own private writing studio on April 1 at a bookstore here -- an initiative that is proving to be quite a success.

    Itoyama appears once or twice per week at the space, which is dubbed "Itoyama's Room." Visitors are able to observe the 49-year-old author at work, as well as speak with her directly -- and fans have apparently come from as far as Hokkaido for the opportunity.

    The idea for the unique collaboration came about after Itoyama met Junichi Omi, 57 -- the manager of F-ritz Art Center in Maebashi -- and the two of them struck up a conversation about expanded possibilities for bookstores, as well as for events that would be both casual and have the element of live interaction.

    Itoyama's space at the bookstore includes a small desk and chair. It is also enclosed by shelves around 2 meters high that are lined with books from between which visitors may peer inside -- those from authors she has been influenced by, including Le Clezio from France, in addition to her own novels and other favorites from her personal collection.

    A bulletin board placed in front of the space reads as follows: "You are welcome to observe me, or to look for evidence of my presence here, as if this were a zoo. And after you feel more comfortable, let's go out together to have some tea."

    Itoyama announces which days she will appear in her room via her Twitter account. On the night of April 2, for example, she wrote, "I'll be there next time on the afternoon of April 4."

    She came that day at around 3 p.m., after which time she sat down on her chair, picked up her beloved rollerball pen, and began gliding her hand smoothly across the page.

    "I usually write in cafes or on trains, so I don't find it hard to concentrate here," she noted.

    Several fans -- along with a few others who appeared to be likewise -- stood in front of the space. Around 30 minutes later, a woman peered over the bookshelf and called out to her in a timid voice.

    Itoyama responded with a smile. She proceeded to sign a book that the woman had brought along, and the two then engaged in a lively conversation about the novels that Itoyama recommended reading.

    "It feels like a local tobacco shop here," quipped Itoyama, who has cultivated close relationships with her readers -- as well as with listeners of her own regular radio program, which she has had on a local FM station since 2006.

    Sometimes, she says, she gets ideas for her novels from random conversations with others.

    In addition to novel writing, Itoyama also uses the sessions in her "room" for additional tasks such as writing letters and preparing for her university lectures.

    Further information about the initiative may be found on Itoyama's Twitter account at @itoyamabow.

    The F-ritz Art Center is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (9 p.m. on Fridays), and is closed on Tuesday. The center may be reached by telephone at 027-235-8989.

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