Acclaimed writer Shogo Imamura embarks on epic literary journey

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shogo Imamura at Book House Cafe in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, before starting his “Festive Journey.”

Award-winning novelist Shogo Imamura jumped into a van May 30 and set off to visit schools and bookstores in all 47 of Japan’s prefectures. During his four-month undertaking, titled “Shogo Imamura’s Festive Journey,” the 38-year-old will interact with booklovers and children across the nation.

At a farewell ceremony held in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture on the day, Imamura, who hails from Otsu, said: “I’ll definitely make it through. I believe my journey will help people to have courage and dream.” He opted to use a van so he could visit areas that are difficult to access by bus or train.

Imamura won the prestigious Naoki Prize this year for his historical novel “Saio no Tate,” which is set in the Sengoku (warring states) period in the 15th and 16th centuries. Being a popular writer who juggles several novel series, he finds time to run a bookstore, appear on TV and administer a general incorporated association that he founded.

“I’m putting out a lot of work, but I’m being inspired a lot, too,” he said enthusiastically, using a Kansai dialect. “I just can’t imagine how I’m going to feel after meeting so many people in the 47 prefectures. But, I have a hunch that my experiences will likely seep into my novels when I’m in my 40s and 50s.”

Starting in Moriyama, Imamura visited many cities and towns in western Japan. He currently is visiting central Japan, before moving on the eastern side of the country. His 119-day journey is scheduled to end Sept. 24 in Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture, where his debut work was set. The about 300 locations he will visit during the journey were selected in advance.

His customized van is equipped with a desk, so he can keep writing during his journey.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Imamura sets out on his journey around Japan from Moriyama City, Shiga Prefecture, on May 30.

Career history

Bookstores have been pivotal to Imamura’s writing career. During summer vacation in his fifth year of elementary school, he picked up Shotaro Ikenami’s novel “Sanada Taiheiki” at a small bookstore in his neighborhood and fell in love with the story of the Sanada family from the Sengoku period.

“Kids admire things like Kamen Rider, Ultraman or baseball players, don’t they?’ he said. “For me, though, it was novelists and historical figures.”

From novels by Ryotaro Shiba, Shuhei Fujisawa, Eiji Yoshikawa and Shugoro Yamamoto to various magazines, Imamura was absorbed by reading anything that featured the word “history.”

In November, he started managing Kinoshita Book Center, a Minoo, Osaka Prefecture-based bookstore that was on the brink of bankruptcy.

“What’s great about bookstores is that the next book you pick up could change your life,” he said.

On top of visiting book outlets, Imamura says he is also looking forward to meeting children throughout his journey. Until the age of 30, Imamura taught children dance before changing direction to become a writer. Based on his own experience, Imamura said he wants to tell children about the value of having a dream.

“If I meet children that are hesitant about what they want to do, I’ll say, ‘Just do it. You may find it unexpectedly interesting.’”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Imamura poses with a fan for a photo during a book signing event in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, on July 6.

Imamura adopted this “just do it” attitude when writing his latest novel, “Yukimura o Ute,” (Attack Yukimura), which was released in March by Chuokoron-Shinsha. Yukimura refers to Sengoku period warlord Sanada Yukimura, a military commander for the Toyotomi clan during the Siege of Osaka Castle by the Tokugawa shogunate in the early years of the Edo period (1603-1867).

The Sanada family is special to any writer who loves “Sanada Taiheiki,” and Imamura has dared to tell the classic tale from a new angle.

Imamura describes Yukimura from the perspectives of various military commanders on both the Tokugawa and Toyotomi sides.

“One of my underlying writing motivations is trying to recreate the kind of literary thrills and spills I experienced during my elementary and junior high schools days, when I’d think, ‘I want to read a novel like this or that one,’” Imamura enthused. “Back then, when I was reading novels, I was impudent enough to think, ‘This ending was a little bit off,’ or ‘I’d do it in a different way if I was the writer.’ I’ve gotten older since then, but the way I feel now is possibly the same as I felt in my childhood.”

Imamura has also founded a general incorporated association, Honmirai, to encourage children to dream about their future. The organization plans to dispatch book-loving lecturers to schools and revive dormant literary awards.

“[Also,] works that missed out on awards will be reworked to polish them up,” he said. “It would be great if a diamond in the rough is found this way. And it’ll be nice if this gives books a new future.”

Imamura next plans to tackle the subject of Ryoma Sakamoto, a key figure in the final years of the Edo period. “This journey will help me get a feel for Ryoma, who was said to have walked a distance equivalent to the circumference of the globe,” Imamura said. “It might be fun to write a story about Ryoma’s journey.”

Imamura’s novel “Yukimura o Ute”