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Two women win Japan's Akutagawa, Naoki literary awards

Rin Usami, right, and Naka Saijo pose for a photo at a Tokyo hotel on Jan. 20, 2021, as they are selected to receive Japan's prestigious Akutagawa and Naoki literary awards for their works, respectively. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Two female novelists were selected Wednesday to receive Japan's prestigious Akutagawa and Naoki literary awards for works depicting a high school girl's obsession with a male idol and a poignant collection of stories set in old Japan.

    Rin Usami won the Akutagawa Prize for up-and-coming authors, while Naka Saijo won the Naoki Prize for popular fiction, the selection committee said.

    Usami, a 21-year-old university student, won for her novel "Oshi, Moyu" (Cheer, Burn), which depicts a high school girl's life falling apart after a male idol she has followed is involved in a scandal.

    Debuting in 2019, Usami received the Yukio Mishima prize for her first novel "Kaka" in 2020.

    Selection committee member Masahiko Shimada said, "Her writing is extremely fresh and she has high literary ability," adding that many members praised her as a rising young talent.

    Saijo, 56, was awarded the Naoki Prize for "Urasabishigawa" (Lonesome River), a collection of six short stories set in the town of Sendagi in Tokyo during the Edo Period. The stories powerfully portray people who, despite their grief, find the light to live.

    While Saijo has published a number of novels since making her debut as a writer in 2005, it was her first nomination for the Naoki Prize.

    The selection committee praised her novel for achieving completeness and historical accuracy, while creating a world set in a strange tenement house.

    Sekaikan Ozaki, vocalist and guitarist of the popular Japanese rock band CreepHyp, was also nominated for the Akutagawa Prize, and Shigeaki Kato, member of the pop idol group NEWS, for the Naoki Prize.

    The awards will be presented at a ceremony in Tokyo in mid-February, with each author receiving 1 million yen ($9,635) in prize money.

    The Akutagawa Prize was established in 1935 in memory of Japanese novelist Ryunosuke Akutagawa. The Naoki Prize, created the same year, was named after author Sanjugo Naoki.

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