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Kirino Discusses Novel, Women's RightsNatsuo Kirino signs a copy of her novel Grotesque.
(Photo by Vincent Lim)

Kirino Discusses Novel, Women's Rights

Wrapping up a U.S. book tour, Japanese writer Natsuo Kirino reads from her novel 'Grotesque' and considers women's plight in Japanese society.

By Vincent Lim
Staff Writer

When a couple marries in Japan, the woman is placed in the man's family register, becoming a member of a household that he heads, explained Natsuo Kirino at an April 11, 2007 event at UCLA. The famed Japanese author discussed Japanese women's struggles to manage home and work, and an imminent change in a law governing the division of pensions after divorce.

Kirino came to campus to read from her newest novel to be translated into English, Grotesque. Speaking through an interpreter, she discussed women's plight in Japanese society and other topics in response to questions from the audience. She said Japanese women enjoy legal rights to education and job opportunities, but remain subordinate to Japanese men and tasked with performing household chores and raising families. The event, the last in Kirino's first major U.S. book tour, was sponsored by the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, the Japan Foundation, and publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Although Japanese women receive almost nothing in divorce settlements, the number of divorces increased in the country for many years until 2002, when it peaked at around 290,000. The trend changed more recently, with fewer than 260,000 divorces in 2006. Some experts say that women are waiting for the second phase of a new pension-division system that in 2008 will allow them to automatically receive half of their husband's pension after terminating a marriage.

"It's going to increase the divorce rate significantly," Kirino said.

Kirino signed copies of Grotesque, based on an infamous 1997 case known as "the murder of Tokyo Electric Power's elite lady." In telling of a murder similar to that of the researcher for a prestigious company who led a double life as a prostitute, Kirino delves into an after-hours underground sex world that Japanese businessmen inhabit.

Kirino, whose resume includes sixteen novels and four volumes of collected short stories, owns six of Japan's major literary awards. She won the Izumi Kyoka Prize for Literature for Grotesque and the Naoki Prize for Soft Cheeks, and became the first Japanese writer nominated for the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award for Out.

Kirino also answered questions about Japan's rising violent crime rate, the Japanese labor system, and being labeled a feminist. Neither embracing nor rejecting the label, Kirino said she writes from what can be considered a feminist perspective because it provides an interesting way of looking at the world.

Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies