Akutagawa winner to establish culture hub in Fukushima

MINAMISOMA, Fukushima (The Japan News/ANN) - Akutagawa prize-winning novelist Miri Yu is set to open a bookstore on April 9 in the Odaka district of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture in an attempt to establish a cultural hub in an area hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. 

Yu has lived in Minamisoma since 2015, and she hopes the bookstore, which will be run from a renovated part of her house, will contribute to the reconstruction of the devastated town. 

Her recent novel, which depicts the natural features and people living in Minamisoma, is set to be translated into English this year. The 49-year-old novelist hopes more people will become interested in the area through her work and the bookshop.

 Yu named the store Full House, using the title of one her books. The shop stocks about 4,500 books, and includes a number of 20-book selections compiled by some of her friends, including novelists, critics and poets, as well as some of her own favorites. Yu plans to hold book readings and talks at the store after its opening.

 “I hope people here can start anew mentally by picking up a book,” she said. 

 The Odaka district is located within a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. An evacuation order for most of the district was lifted in July 2016. However, the number of residents in the district still stands at about 2,500 people, or less than about 20 percent of the population of about 13,000 seven years ago, due to the inconvenience of living there, among other reasons. There are many houses that were hit by the tsunami and became dilapidated after the evacuation order. 

 “Those who live in the district lost their books,” Yu said. “Books really are a door to another world, so they can take people’s minds off the troubles of the real world.” 

 Since 2012, Yu has appeared on a temporary radio broadcasting station once a week in Minamisoma, and has met about 600 locals while working there.

 “People, lives, towns and other things flowed into me,” she said. “After that, when I wrote my novel, various people emerged. Some critics have said that my novels have become multitoned,” she added, alluding to how these experiences may have impacted her style of writing.

 Her novel “JR Ueno Eki Koenguchi” (Japan Railway Ueno Station, park entrance), which is based on her research into the people and natural features in the area, is set to be translated into English by an overseas publisher this year. In English-speaking countries, her novel “Gold Rush” was well received when it was published. An English translation of another of Yu’s books is also under consideration. 

 “The bookstore’s name ‘Full House’ also means having many customers. Please visit the bookstore and get to know this area,” Yu said.