Monday, January 03, 2005


I read a Japanese novel Keritai Senaka (The Back I Wanna Kick Down) by Risa Wataya. This book won Akutagawa Award in 2003, the prize awarded twice a year for the best novel by a new or unknown writer. Risa Wataya was just 19 years old when she won the prize, the youngest prize winner in history.

It is a short novel, the total number of pages is 140. I read it all just one day; I never got bored while I was reading it.

It is a story of Hatsu, a high school girl who has almost no friend in her class. Her inner struggle to communicate with other people is depicted in great detail, which reminds me of my youth. She is too much sensitive to human relationships. She is too acute to notice the difference between what people say and what they really think, which makes it difficult for her to make friends.

I think the author is influenced by Haruki Murakami and Ryu Murakami (and that's why I liked her novel), but the fact that she is a girl adds originality to her novel: deep sensitivity that's special for girls.

I wonder if this novel will be accepted by Westerners if it's translated in English. It is pretty much Japanese, in a sense that it depicts very, very weak ties among teenagers (or Japanese people in general). It may be true and may be not. It's just one way to look at human relationships. Depending on your criteria, any two people can be close or distant.

But comparing people I made friends with in Tokyo and those in London, my friends in London seem to me much nicer, sometimes in an incredible way. It doesn't mean that I don't like my Japanese friends; they are great friends of mine. Still, I see some difference. It may be due to change in my approach to people before and after moving to London. It may be due to the difference of Japanese and English languages or communication cultures. One thing is for sure, though: the London part of myself doesn't appreciate Wataya's novel. It's the Tokyo part of myself that responds to her novel.

In passing, customer reviews at seem to be completely split between critical acclaim and severe criticism. It's quite understandable; people of Hatsu type (including me) definitely like this novel while people of Hatsu's classmates type no doubt hate this.

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