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Sunday, July 24, 2011
A book for the times
This month, Mr. Jun Ikeido won the prestigious Naoki Prize for popular fiction; the Akutagawa Prize for new writers of literary fiction was not awarded as the judges found no exceptional work deemed worthy of the prize.
Mr. Ikeido's winning novel, "Shitamachi Rocket," concerns the struggles with banks and large companies that a small, family-run factory has in pursuing its dream of manufacturing a Japanese rocket part.
Mr. Ikeido, 48, worked at a major bank before quitting to work as a consultant; he wrote nonfiction business books until deciding to try his hand at fiction.
As he also serves as an outside director of a small factory in Tokyo, Mr. Ikeido was inspired to write "Shitamachi Rocket" after hearing of a small factory, a manufacturer of pots and cans, that was making a part for the Shinkansen.
After winning the Naoki Prize, Mr. Ikeido said he was particularly pleased with the recognition of business novels, a genre that hasn't received much attention from the literary establishment. Popular from the 1950s, such novels are generally read for information on how businesses operate; they do not have the thrills of a hero fighting a villainous plot of a Western legal or medical thriller.
The judges seem to have particularly wanted to recognize an affirmative work about the small businesses now struggling since the March 11 quake and tsunami, and WOWOW, a satellite TV broadcaster, also had previously chosen "Shitamachi Rocket" as a work especially suitable for dramatization in this post-quake summer.
However, in a piece written for the Asahi Shimbun (July 18), Mr. Ikeido sees his turning point as a successful author as having come earlier — while working on his 2006 novel "Sora tobu taiya" (Tire flying through the sky), about an auto company hiding the need for a recall.
As he started thinking about why company men would act in certain ways, he realized he had to move beyond treating characters as pawns and portray them as flesh and blood human beings, letting the characters determine the plot rather than vice versa.
Knowing all too well the dark side of layoffs and bankruptcies, Mr. Ikeido wants to write stories leaving the reader happy at having read a good story. He feels that in an age when it is difficult to have dreams and hope, why not at least have happy endings in fiction — and who can disagree?