Award-Winning Author Mina Miyajima Aims to ‘Take Over the World’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Author Mina Miyajima stands with Lake Biwa in the background in Otsu. The sash she is wearing was handmade by a bookstore employee using felt and other materials. “I’m good at sewing, so I take care to resew the frayed edges,” she said.

Award-winning author Mina Miyajima is “taking over” Japan from Otsu, where she lives and where her books are set.

In April, Miyajima, 40, won the 2024 Honya Taisho (Booksellers’ Award) for her debut book “Naruse wa Tenka o Tori ni Iku” (Naruse goes to take over the world). The prize is awarded to the book that booksellers would like to sell the most.

The cover page of “Naruse wa Tenka o Tori ni Iku,” written by Mina Miyajima and published by Shinchosha

The book, published by Shinchosha, is a collection of short stories about an adolescent girl named Akari Naruse, who lives in Otsu. Naruse wears a Saitama Seibu Lions uniform on the cover of the book, not because she is a fan of the professional baseball team, but because in one of the stories, “Arigato Seibu Otsu-ten” (Thank you Seibu Otsu branch), she visits the Otsu branch of the Seibu department store every day until the store closes for good while wearing the uniform as a sign of her appreciation.

In the story “Zeze kara Kimashita” (We’re from Zeze), Naruse and a friend form a comedy duo, while in “Let’s Go Michigan,” Naruse guides visitors from outside the prefecture on the sightseeing boat Michigan on Lake Biwa.

Then, in the sequel story collection “Naruse wa Shinjita Michi o Iku” (Naruse goes the way she believes), Naruse, now a university student, is appointed Lake Biwa Otsu Tourism Ambassador to promote the city of Otsu.

Miyajima, who has been living in Otsu for 15 years, described her thoughts on writing and where she lives.

Love for Otsu seen in stories

The Michigan Cruise, a Lake Biwa sightseeing boat, glides leisurely over the lake’s endless blue surface. Miyajima showed up to Otsu Port in Otsu, wearing a shirt that resembles a baseball uniform and a sash over her shoulder with “Lake Biwa Otsu Tourism Ambassador” written on it.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The back of the uniform Miyajima wears

Both the uniform and the sash are worn by Naruse in the book. In front of the passenger boat, Miyajima struck a perfect Naruse-like pose. When I asked her, “[Are you wearing them] to show your love for Otsu?” she replied with a playful smile, “That’s not my love but Naruse’s.”

“I am writing about Otsu because I happen to live here, just as Kotaro Isaka’s novels are set in Sendai,” she said.

Naruse’s adolescence as a junior and senior high school student is humorously depicted. She appears every day in the background of a live TV broadcast in front of the Seibu department store, which is going out of business. She teams up with a childhood friend to compete in the M-1 Grand Prix contest for manzai comedy groups. She also experiments with measuring the growth of her hair by completely shaving her head.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
“Zezekara” is the name of the comedy duo formed by Naruse and a friend.

Although she excels academically and athletically, her somewhat unusual words and actions shake the entrenched ideas of those around her. However, Miyajima said she does not think Naruse is special.

“I feel like I’m letting her act freely,” she said. “I write about her as if she were my child and I were preparing regular meals, bathing her and putting her to bed. She is a free child, so I think it is my job as a writer to convey Naruse’s free way of life.”

Words such as “mask” and “social distance” are interspersed throughout the stories, indicating that Naruse is living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid strict restrictions on people’s behavior, readers may have been dazzled by her attitude of doing everything to the best of her ability, even if it is a bit strange.

“I think there are many who wanted to be someone like Naruse but couldn’t. Especially girls, some probably couldn’t do what they wanted because they worried about what people around them would think. Maybe that’s why Naruse was embraced by many readers,” she said.

Dream on hold

Naruse is not the only one who accomplishes what she has set out to do. Miyajima, who was born in Shizuoka Prefecture, first decided to write a story when she was a third-grade elementary school student.

A review she received in a book report contest inspired her to write. “The review said, ‘Your writing can draw people in. I recommend you write a story.’ I still remember thinking, ‘oh I have that talent,’” she said.

She wrote stories in notebooks and had her classmates read them. However, she gave up her dream of becoming an author during her mid-20s before her talent could bloom. After graduating from university, she worked from home while raising her child.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mina Miyajima stands by Lake Biwa.

It was only in 2017 that she started writing fictional stories again. She said she was motivated to write after reading Tomihiko Morimi’s novel “Yako” (Night train), which depicts a mysterious side of Kyoto, different from reality.

“I thought there is a parallel universe, and I might be a novelist in the other universe. I thought if I wrote a novel, maybe I could meet the version of myself in that universe,” she said. She began applying for the R-18 Bungakusho, a literary prize for works written by women for women, which has been awarded to authors such as Misumi Kubo and Toriko Yoshikawa.

After several unsuccessful attempts, she won the grand prize in 2021 for “Arigato Seibu Otsu-ten.” In March 2023, when Miyajima was 39 years old, she made her debut as an author with the publication of “Naruse wa Tenka o Tori ni Iku,” which included the award-winning story.

Hoping to write in other genres

Miyajima’s debut book has now sold more than 500,000 copies and is a bestseller. She says she is “sometimes terrified for a moment” by the sudden success.

“The number [of copies] is tremendous, and it makes me wonder if this will ever happen again,” she said.

The cover page of “Naruse wa Shinjita Michi o Iku” published by Shinchosha

Nevertheless, the sequel, “Naruse wa Shinjita Michi o Iku,” was published in January. Readers will be welcomed by Naruse, now a university student, who is still going her own way. Although it is interesting to see how the character will further develop, Miyajima is determined to write a third volume of the series and then take a break from it.

“I actually love romance novels with messy and toxic situations. I definitely want to write in other genres, such as romance novels and mysteries.”

She usually spends her mornings writing at her home in Otsu and her afternoons replying to e-mails and responding to interviews. She works while her daughter attends elementary school.

“Naruse would probably call winning the Honya Taisho award a ‘passing phase,’” she said. Her road as a writer has just begun. She works at her desk day after day, aiming to “take over the world” in her own way.