An Interview with Kawakami Hiromi (Part 1)

The following interview was conducted in 2001 by the Japanese book industry magazine Hon no zasshi. It is the seventh edition of a regular feature, which I have translated as “The Way of the Book”, in which prominent authors talk candidly about their book-buying and reading habits. As the feature contains a brief profile of Ms Kawakami, I shan’t include one of my own creation. I have chosen to divide the interview into three parts. What follows is the first of those segments. The original transcript can be found at Hon no zasshi‘s website

Volume 7: Ms Kawakami Hiromi

Kawakami Hiromi (courtesy of WEB本の雑誌)

Joining us for this more grown-up 7th edition of “The Way of the Book” is Kawakami Hiromi, who this year won the Tanizaki Prize for Sensei no kaban (The Teacher’s Briefcase). The editorial department took a trip to Mitaka, where we nodded our agreement as we bent our ears to Ms Kawakami’s graceful words, which were so similar to the clear sentences of her prose.


Ms Kawakami was born in Tokyo in 1958. After attending junior high and high schools for girls, she read biology at Ochanomizu University, where her degree thesis was on reproduction in sea urchins. She then worked at Denenchofufutaba Junior High School. Marriage and relocation due to her husband’s work saw he become a housewife.

She won the first Pascal Short Story Prize for Newcomers in 1994 with her first published work, “Kamisama”(“God”). In 1996 her novel Hebi wo fumu (To Tread on a Snake) won the Akutagawa Prize. In 1999 her volume of short stories Kamisama won the Bunkamura Deux Magots Literary Prize and the Murasaki Shikibu Prize, and Oboreru (Drowning) won the Itou-sei Literary Prize and the Women’s Literary Prize. In 2001 Sensei no kaban won the Akutagawa award.

Bookshop visits

How often do you go to bookshops?

Kawakami: Whenever I go into town, I definitely drop by one. For food and shopping and stuff I go out every day. I go into Mitaka, Kichijouji and other bigger areas about twice a week. If I go to Mitaka I’ll go to the bookshop in the railway station, if I go to Kichijouji then I’ll go to the Parco Centre, the Koueidou bookshop or the Ruhe bookshop. I drop by that area once a week.

There are lots of second-hand bookshops in and around Kichijouji. There are lots of second-hand manga places in Mitaka, and Nishiogikubo has some really curious shops. In Kichijouji you’ve got this big second-hand bookshop called Bookstation, the Sankakudou bookshop, two more in the Sunroad shopping arcade, and the shops along the Itsuka Ichi road, just off Sunroad.

Do you go looking for anything in particular?

Kawakami: Whenever I’m walking past a bookshop I find myself stumbling through its doors (laughter). Rather than going to look for something, I feel at ease whenever I look for something. My heart is at ease.

It’s nice when you’ve been drinking. After a drink I stumble in and end up getting something I didn’t really need. In essence I’ll get anything. I’m not worried about genre or anything like that. Booklovers will read anything, won’t they? I wonder if we’re better off not discriminating. Indeed. I like reading without making distinctions.

What’s your favourite sort of bookshop?

Kawakami: My favourite was a bookshop in Takaido, near the house I grew up in. Twenty years ago it used to have magazines on books as well. Not just the stuff that sold the best, but the manager and the shop assistants would pick things to turn the place into the kind of shop they wanted it to be.

You’ve also got the ABC shops, but their just too nice. I’d like something a bit commoner (laughter). My favourite bookshop…. I suppose I like places where the manager’s personality really stands out. Maybe that’s why I like second-hand bookshops. I like little individually run ones, the sort with just a shopkeeper sitting by herself.

Click here to read the second part of this interview.


About Chawupi
Translator from Japanese, Italian and French into English. Blogger. Football fan

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