Mieko Kawakami: From blogger to global novelist

Her latest novel won Japan's top prize for new fiction writers. Kawakami is one of an emerging group of young Japanese women writers.

By

  • close
    MIEKO KAWAKAMI: She challenges traditional views and is one of an emerging group of young Japanese women writers. Her latest novel won Japan’s Akutagawa Prize.
    View Caption

Mieko Kawakami hops off her bicycle outside Tokyo's Mamehiko cafe and heads in for some iced tea and conversation. Casually dressed in a jean vest and flouncy skirt, she appears unrushed, despite being one of the most sought-after young authors in Japan this year. When a young man recognizes her, she happily chats briefly with him about the play he is writing.

Ms. Kawakami says that writing hit her life suddenly – much like a traffic collision. A singer and songwriter, she turned to poetry and blogging– not unusual in a country that leads the world with 1.5 million daily blog postings, and whose authors have been adept at parlaying Internet exposure into literary success.

Her first novel was formed from her blogs. Her fourth, "Breasts and Egg," was tapped for the Akutagawa Prize, Japan's top award for new fiction writers. That put her in the company of such internationally renowned authors as Haruki Murakami, whose work includes "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" and "Norwegian Wood."

Recommended: Thirty ideas from people under 30: The Entrepreneurs

Kawakami, whose work has been translated into Korean, German, and Chinese (but not yet English), is part of an edgy and unconventional generation of female writers who are tackling women's stories of marriage, divorce, friendship – and finding a receptive audience at home and abroad.

Interest in their work could be a small silver lining of Japan's "lost decade," whose economic doldrums upended long-standing social roles. In the process, says Rolands Kelts, author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.," another phenomenon developed: women unencumbered by traditional expectations and eager to tell stories once sidelined by establishment culture. They were also adept at tapping into new technologies – such as blogs and cellphones – to share them.

"A lot of what these women write feels fresh to Japanese readers and to readers around the world, who have seen Japanese women as eternally submissive and docile," says Mr. Kelts.

Indeed, says Masako Honda, professor emeritus of gender studies at Tokyo's Ochanomizu University, "Japanese women are writing good novels, and they're more aware of being accepted internationally. They created something different and succeeded at it."

In Kawakami's case, her edgy use of dialect made her blog stand out. "I grew up in Osaka, and I use very casual, local words," she says. "The style is difficult to translate – and to understand." But, she notes, she read books by J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut and understood them. "That is the magic that language has."

Motoyuki Shibata, a literature professor at the University of Tokyo, says her language reminds him of rock, or rap, because of its speed – but that her subjects are classical. "One of her most conspicuous qualities is her willingness to deal with big questions, such as what constitutes the self, what kind of relationship the self has with the world," he says.

As her work extends its reach, Kawakami speculates that her willingness to sharply challenge traditional perspectives is attractive. She laments that people don't plumb the depths of what's happening around them. "I'm here to shake that up," she says. "I use my novel as a tool to give others the opportunity to think about things they had never thought about."

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

eZ debug

Clear cache:

Quick settings:

Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Script start
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Module start 'content'
Warning: eZDebug::accumulatorStop Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Accumulator 'Search' does not exist, run eZDebug::accumulatorStart first
Warning: eZDebug::accumulatorStop Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Accumulator 'Search' does not exist, run eZDebug::accumulatorStart first
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Warning: eZTemplate:def @ extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tpl:10[1] Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Variable 'story_source' is already defined.
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Module end 'content'
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Before parse_includes
Strict: PHP: E_STRICT Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Non-static method MugoViewExtras::get_view_extras() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/mugo_view_extras/autoloads/template_operators.php on line 37
Warning: eZTemplate:def @ extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/extra/archive.tpl:21[1] Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
Variable 'view_extra_node' is already defined.
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
After parse_includes
Timing: Jul 09 2014 07:33:28
End

Timing points:

CheckpointElapsedRel. ElapsedMemoryRel. Memory
Script start 0.0000 sec0.0152 sec 1,285.6406 KB1,162.1328 KB
Module start 'content' 0.0152 sec0.7971 sec 2,447.7734 KB11,153.2656 KB
Module end 'content' 0.8123 sec0.0101 sec 13,601.0391 KB389.4297 KB
Before parse_includes 0.8224 sec0.0474 sec 13,990.4688 KB284.9219 KB
After parse_includes 0.8698 sec0.0008 sec 14,275.3906 KB-181.9063 KB
End 0.8706 sec  14,093.4844 KB 
Total runtime:0.8776 sec
Peak memory usage:16,541.4219 KB

Time accumulators:

 Accumulator Elapsed Percent Count Average
ini_load
Load cache0.0070 sec0.7943%360.0002 sec
Mysql Total
Mysqli_queries0.0998 sec11.3363%1590.0006 sec
Looping result0.0070 sec0.7925%1530.0000 sec
Template Total0.8317 sec 94.5% 8 0.1040 sec
Template load0.0086 sec0.9752%80.0011 sec
Template processing0.8229 sec93.4998%80.1029 sec
Template load and register function0.0002 sec0.0215%40.0000 sec
states
state_id_array0.0041 sec0.4656%80.0005 sec
state_identifier_array0.0053 sec0.5990%110.0005 sec
override
Cache load0.0074 sec0.8367%670.0001 sec
eZ Find
MoreLikeThis0.0000 sec0.0000%00.0000 sec
Query build0.0063 sec0.7164%10.0063 sec
Engine time0.0194 sec2.2004%10.0194 sec
Search0.2559 sec29.0822%20.1280 sec
Class attribute list0.0774 sec8.7911%10.0774 sec
Sytem overhead
Fetch class attribute can translate value0.0021 sec0.2384%40.0005 sec
Fetch class attribute name0.0002 sec0.0203%100.0000 sec
XML
Image XML parsing0.0039 sec0.4436%40.0010 sec
class_abstraction
Instantiating content class attribute0.0001 sec0.0075%100.0000 sec
General
String conversion0.0000 sec0.0024%30.0000 sec
dbfile0.0013 sec0.1507%460.0000 sec
View Extra building0.0112 sec1.2738%40.0028 sec
Total script time:0.8801 sec

CSS/JS files loaded with "ezjscPacker" during request:

CacheTypePacklevelSourceFiles
01a980f93dc967c6e39d52a11ae2108b_1404899611_all.cssCSS3extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/normalize.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/html5b.css
design/standard/stylesheets/debug.css
extension/ezwt/design/standard/stylesheets/websitetoolbar.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/jquery-ui-1.10.3.custom.min.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/desktop.css
ede0a88fd146f1a095d27fb22227d0e5_1398846822.jsJS2extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/modernizr.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/jquery-1.10.2.min.js
1650da1ba852ac5f9af81af07e8fa105_1404899611.jsJS2extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery-ui-1.10.4.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/json2.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/jquery.cookie.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.mobile.custom.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.arthole.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.sticky.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.csmstory.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.right_column.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.csmstory_editorspickdialog.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.sailthru_signup.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.jcarousel.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.history.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.mainNav.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.gallery.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.staffdialog.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jQuery.rollChildren.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/pubService_extended.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/csm/csmNew.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.quiz.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.spectrumQuiz.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/global.js

Templates used to render the page:

UsageRequested templateTemplateTemplate loadedEditOverride
1node/view/full.tplfull/article.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/full/article.tplEdit templateOverride template
14content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tpl<No override>extension/ezwebin/design/ezwebin/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tplEdit templateOverride template
2content/datatype/view/ezimage.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezimage.tplEdit templateOverride template
12content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezstring.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezobjectrelationlist.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_images.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_images.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/eztext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/eztext.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplcontent/datatype/view/image_credit.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/image_credit.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezmatrix.tplcontent/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplEdit templateOverride template
1pagelayout.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/pagelayout.tplEdit templateOverride template
1modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tpl<No override>extension/mugo_view_extras/design/standard/templates/modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tplEdit templateOverride template
1setup/debug_toolbar.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/setup/debug_toolbar.tplEdit templateOverride template
 Number of times templates used: 40
 Number of unique templates used: 15
 Time used to render template usage: 0.0003 secs