Office worker wins prize for temps novel

Updated: 2007-01-18 06:57

A 23-year-old Tokyo office worker who won Japan's most prestigious literary prize this week says she wants her book to help young people who are afraid of growing up and becoming independent.

Nanae Aoyama won the Akutagawa prize for her novel Hitoribiyori or Being Alone, the story of a young woman who has a temporary job and lives with an elderly relative while struggling to achieve independence.

The story is a familiar one for many young Japanese it reflects an increasing trend among young people who find themselves unable or unwilling to find full-time work and drift between temporary jobs.

Many long to move away from home, but are forced to live with their families, often because they do not earn enough to rent an apartment.

"People are afraid of going out into the world, without necessarily knowing why," Aoyama told reporters after the prize was announced. "I felt that way too."

"I want people to know that if you take the first step, you can just go with the flow," Aoyama said, adding that she hoped it would be people of her own generation who read the book, which is her second novel.

Despite her success, Aoyama, who won prize money of 1 million yen ($8,300), said she is not planning to give up her job at a travel firm.

She said she usually writes for 2 or 3 hours every night after returning from work and uses the hours she spends commuting to think about plot lines.

"My job gives me confidence," she told reporters. "There are lots of positive things about it, so I would like to continue to work throughout my twenties."

Fear of 'freeters'

Many commentators have expressed concern that Japan's "freeters" as temporary workers are called, are beginning to become a permanent underclass.

The number of temporary workers between the ages of 15 and 34 doubled between 1996 and 2004 to 214,000, according to government figures.

Statistics also show that poorly paid temporary workers are less likely than others to marry and have children another source of concern for Japan, which has a rapidly aging population and whose birth rate is far below the level needed to keep it from falling.

Agencies

(China Daily 01/18/2007 page9)