Established in 1935 to honour one of Japan's most famous literary sons, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the prize is a holy grail in Japanese literary circles and has cemented the status of countless writers since its inception. In terms of British and American equivalents, the award is on par with The Man Booker or The Pulitzer Prize.
I thought it would be revealing to assess how many of these 151 award-winning works (mostly short stories and novellas) have not been translated into English. As the critical creme-de-la-creme of Japanese fiction, these novels should be prime targets for export.
Subsequent research has highlighted that as many as 42 of the total (nearly a third) remain in Japanese-only editions, or languages other than English. Why these works have not merited an English translation is uncertain - publishing bureaucracy, commercial viability or sheer apathy may have played their part. It seems that there remains a remarkable opportunity to bring many of these classics of modern Japanese fiction to a wider audience.
Keep a look-out for a more in-depth breakdown of individual Akutagawa prizewinners, soon to come on this blog.
Below are some useful links, with further information and discussion of the award:
The Akutagawa Prize - an outline / history
Japan Times - an article on last year's winners
The Mainichi Daily News - Prize condemnation by the ever controversial Ishihara