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Japanese writer talks about life as laborer

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Published : Oct. 5, 2011 - 16:29

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Kenta Nishimura in Seoul for release of  award-winning ‘Labor Train’


He barely finished middle school, made his living as a day laborer, spent most of his money on liquor and sex, and somehow turned himself into a best-selling author.

When Japanese writer Kenta Nishimura shared the prestigious 144th Akutagawa Prize for his autobiographical novel “Labor Train” (Keuki Ressha) in January, it was the author’s dramatic life story that drew the public’s attention as much as the honored piece.

Telling the story of Kanta, a hopeless 19-year-old day laborer who suffers from poverty, alcoholism and social isolation, “Labor Train” is largely based on Nishimura’s real-life experiences.

“Those were ‘hazy’ (unclear) days of my life,” Nishimura said, describing his life as a 19-year-old during a press conference promoting the new Korean edition of “Labor Train” in Seoul, Wednesday. This is his very first trip outside Japan.

“I’ve had some of the most powerful experiences, and focused on all the wrong things. I shouldn’t have been that way, but those days also gave the resources to write this book.”

Nishimura, whose father was arrested for a sex crime when he was 11, left his broken home for good after graduating from middle school. He then took on various day-laboring jobs, including truck driver, porter, janitor and liquor delivery man, until he read a novel by late author Seizo Fujisawa when he was 29. 
Japanese writer Kenta Nishimura speaks during a press conference in central Seoul on Wednesday. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald) Japanese writer Kenta Nishimura speaks during a press conference in central Seoul on Wednesday. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

“I first read his books when I was 23, and I didn’t really feel anything then,” Nishiwara said. “It was when I was 29 that I felt different about his works. At the time I was arrested twice for physical assault cases, and reading his books made me think, ‘Perhaps I shouldn’t live this way.’”

Deeply influenced by Fujisawa, Nishimura made his literary debut in 2003, at the age of 36. Known for his destructive lifestyle and tragic death, both Fujisawa’s life story and literary works have been a great source of inspiration for Nishimura.

He visits Fujisawa’s grave once every month, and even purchased a property next to it for his own grave in 2002. For Nishimura, who hasn’t been in touch with any of his family members for the last 20 years, this is the way he wants to be remembered after his death.

“Because I have no connection with my parents, I at least wanted to be with someone who I respect very much,” he said. “Unlike most of the people in Japan, I don’t have anyone to look after my grave (after I die).”

The 44-year-old famously told the Japanese media after winning the Akutagawa Prize that he was “planning to visit a brothel” as he didn’t think he was going to win, and that he “has no friends or anyone to contact” to share the honor.

“I still feel I like lost all hope for my life,” said Nishimura, who still “has neither friends nor a girlfriend.”

“I just want to write for my own pleasure and have it read by others.”

Nishimura also said he has no plans to start a family, because of his history of his father.

“Labor Train” has sold nearly 200,000 copies in Japan. “I’ve been told that people who are in despair could have the courage to live on by reading this book,” said Nishimura, who charmed reporters with his honest and laid-back nature. “But I’d also appreciate a response such as, ‘What kind of a book is this?’”

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)