Novelist Jin Mayama was at a Tokyo restaurant with more than 30 people from the publishing industry on the evening of Jan. 17. His novel "Corruptio," which depicts Japanese politics after the Great East Japan Earthquake, had been nominated for the Naoki Prize for literature.
It didn't win, and everyone looked disappointed. That is, everyone except Mayama, who had a smile on his face.
"I've been given another opportunity to bide my time," he said. "Let's look forward to the next time."
Mayama made his debut as an author in 2004 with the novel "Hagetaka" (The Vulture), about a foreign investment fund buying out Japanese businesses. It was later adapted by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) into a television drama series that won top prize in its category at Prix Italia 2007, an international competition that recognizes excellence in broadcasting.
Before he knew it, he had come to be called the standard-bearer of economic novels. However, his editors and acquaintances all say the same thing about him: "I've never really thought of Jin Mayama as a financial novelist."
So then, who exactly is Jin Mayama?
The origins of "Hagetaka"
He had wanted to become a novelist since his high school days. It was close to an obsession. By the summer holidays in his second year, he had already written a 550-page novel, and also entered it in a competition.
He wanted to write socially-conscious mysteries and spy stories depicting international conspiracies. He has read over 4,000 novels in these genres, such as those by John le Carre and Frederick Forsyth.
After graduating from university, he became a newspaper reporter because he believed that "it was the shortest route to gaining research skills and a network of contacts, as well as developing the ability to write easily understandable prose."
His first assignment was at his newspaper's bureau in Gifu Prefecture where he covered the police beat. He mastered the local dialect and uncovered scoops, writing numerous articles that were featured on the society and local news pages.
Mayama was the type who couldn't help but speak out when he thought something was wrong. At times, he clashed with his bosses.
One day, one of his superiors told him: "You know, if you didn't complain so much, you'd be the better for it."
"It was as if he was seeking somewhere he could burn through his excessive energy at a greater rate," recalled Hiroya Yamaguchi, a former bureau colleague.
Mayama left the newspaper after two and a half years. He felt that if he continued to work as a reporter, he would end up abandoning his dream of becoming a novelist.
He became a freelance writer and worked out of Osaka, interviewing various notable figures in Kabuki, traditional Japanese music, musicals and other entertainment genres, as well as writing articles for advertising features in newspapers. His yearly income plummeted to between 1 million yen and 2 million yen ($12,500 and $25,000).
One day by chance, he was offered the chance to interview veteran Kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando.
"I don't know much about Kabuki," Mayama told the actor. "Would you mind starting by telling me what kind of things Kabuki actors usually think about?"
His blunt approach went down extremely well with Bando. Even today, if he receives an interview request, he asks that Mayama be the one to do it.
During his 13 years as a freelance writer, he was also writing novels, including more than 10 long-form works. He even submitted them for the Edogawa Rampo Award, but failed to make the final selection.
Just as he had begun to think, "If I don't become successful soon, maybe I never will," a job was offered to him by a publisher specializing in books on economics.
The company wanted him to take an idea for a financial novel brought to them by a former employee of a major life insurance company, and co-write it.
Mayama had never read an economic novel before.
"Even so, I thought I might be able to convey the nervousness and excitement of people in the field of economics," he said.
The completed novel, "Rensa Hatan: Double Gearing," sold around 30,000 copies.
In fact, before he accepted the job, he made a deal with the publisher.
"If I can make a success of this, I want you to let me write what I want next," he told them.
The result was "Hagetaka."
Mayama did not know anyone working in the financial industry or for a foreign-owned company, which are the settings for the book. Relying on his connections from his days as a reporter, he interviewed more than 100 people. The three books in the "Hagetaka" series have now sold more than 1.6 million copies.
Reality catching up to fiction
"About how many years have you lived overseas?"
This was the question posed to him during an interview with a prominent international journalist. As he has depicted the world of cutthroat corporate buyouts in the United States and China in his works, people often presume he has extensive experience living abroad.
However, he has none.
"The influence of translated works is evident in his writing style," said Kanta Ishida, a senior of Mayama during his time working for the newspaper who has also collaborated with him as his editor, and currently works for Chuokoron-Shinsha. "He's also a scrupulous interviewer, so the detail he packs into a short story is enough to write a novel with."
Mayama's reporting style is so tenacious that it could even be described as relentless. One editor who accompanied him on a fact-finding trip even collapsed from exhaustion.
One time when gathering information on diesel engines, his researcher, Masamitsu Kurata, frequently visited Toyota Motor Corp., small factories and libraries, and spent a month collecting notes on each individual component. The documentation he amassed measured tens of centimeters thick. However, only a portion of this information was featured on a few pages in a two-part paperback.
"He thoroughly researches his subjects, but the amount of information he discards is also significant," Kurata said.
Perhaps because his works are based on such meticulous research even though they are fiction, there are times when the events he depicts actually take place in the real world.
In "Beijing" (2008), set in China prior to the Beijing Olympics, he wrote about a nuclear accident, which was followed by the meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
In "Red Zone" (2009), the third book in the "Hagetaka" series, his scenario of Japanese companies becoming targets for Chinese capital preceded exactly such an occurrence.
In late 2011, Mayama visited New York and talked with more than 20 people working in financial circles as research for his fourth "Hagetaka" novel. Events that could become reality in the near future might be concealed within its pages.
* * *
Born in 1962 in Osaka Prefecture. Majored in politics at Doshisha University's Faculty of Law. After graduating, he joined the Chubu Yomiuri Shimbun (now the Yomiuri Shimbun Chubu Branch Office) as a reporter and later became a freelance writer, before making his debut as a novelist in 2004. As well as the "Hagetaka" series, his numerous works include "Media no Toride" about the inner workings of a television station, geothermal power generation thriller "Magma," and short story anthology "Pride."
Personal motto: "Be wary of accepted thinking." He says he constantly keeps this in mind when he is writing.
Ghost writer: In his time as a freelancer, he was once a ghost writer for a guide to computational finance. He said to the client, "I'll write it if I don't have to use calculus, all right?" When it was published, it was praised for its easily understandable explanations of arcane systems.
Three books that influenced Mayama: In his second year of high school, he read Toyoko Yamazaki's "Shiroi Kyoto" (Ivory Tower) and decided to become a novelist. Its depiction of the public and private aspects of the medical profession made him aware of the potential of the novel. The other two books are Frederick Forsyth's "The Fourth Protocol," which he read while at university, and "The Naming of the Dead" by British mystery master Ian Rankin. Both works are rich evocations of the British political scene.
- « Prev
- Next »