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Japanese Authors' Past Jobs show Value of Persistence

'What do you want to do in life?'

An age-old question. But one that strikes fear and uncertainty. ‘I have no idea!’, you might think to yourself… and that’s okay. Finding your calling in life is difficult, as is figuring out how to your turn your dream into reality.

But don’t fear. Some of Japan’s best writers did a lot of soul searching and job-hopping before harnessing their literary talent! Their journeys show us the value of persistence and the rewards that come from striving towards your goals.


Mieko Kawakami

Winner of Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize for Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami is as famous as they come. A shining example of Japan’s brilliant women writers.

But her success didn’t happen overnight. She was first a bar hostess, bookstore seller, feminist blogger – and then singer-songwriter! After releasing 3 albums, she quit her singing career in 2006 because ‘I was not even allowed to write my own lyrics’. Mieko wanted to write, and the rest is history.

Translated books to read next:


Banana Yoshimoto


Banana Yoshimoto worked as a waitress at a Tokyo golf club restaurant in 1987. After work, she’d rush home to work on her debut work Kitchen – a story that ‘juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan’.

This was a revelation: it won the Kaien Newcomers' Literary Prize and produced 60 print runs in Japan alone!

While she was delivering delicious drinks and piping hot meals… something very significant was brewing behind the scenes. She was moulding her masterpiece.

Translated books to read next:

  • Kitchen
  • Lizard
  • Goodbye Tsugami


Natsuo Kirino


Natsuo Kirino’s mystery, thriller and crime novels have sold millions of copies across the world. Out (about a woman her who kills her husband and gets her factory worker colleagues to help her conceal the body) picked up both The Best Japanese Crime Fiction of the Year and Mystery Crime Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel in 1988.

She moved from law degree – movie theatre worker – magazine editor – romance novelist – and finally: thriller writer! 

Translated books to read next:

  • Out
  • Grotesque
  • Real World


Haruki Murakami

‘In that instant, for no reason, and based on no grounds whatsoever, it suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.’

Literary superstar Haruki Murakami might never have put pen to paper without his 'epiphany' at Jingu Stadium in April 1987. The moment the Yakult Swallows' batter struck the baseball for a double became the birth of Murakami's astonishing literary career. Without the crack of that baseball, he might never have written a word. 

After realising his talent, Murakami gave up running his jazz club near Sendagaya Station to focus on writing full-time.

Translated books to read next:


Chisako Watatake

Chisako Wakatake began writing full-time at 55 after the death of her husband.

Her debut novel Live By Myself won the Akutagawa Prize in 2017, Japan’s highest literary award. She was 63 at the time of its release.

After spending her time as a teacher, housewife, and then in grief – Chisako Wakatake is proof that it’s never too late to make your mark.


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