Kenji Nakagami (中上健次 Nakagami Kenji?, August 2, 1946 – August 12, 1992) was a Japanese novelist and essayist. He is well known as the first, and so far the only, post-war Japanese writer to identify himself publicly as a Burakumin, a member of one of Japan’s long-suffering outcaste groups. His works depict the intense life-experiences of men and women struggling to survive in a Burakumin community in western Japan. His most celebrated novels include “Misaki” (The Cape), which won the Akutagawa Prize in 1976, and “Karekinada” (The Sea of Withered Trees), which won both the Mainichi and Geijutsu Literary Prizes in 1977.
During the 1980s Nakagami was an active and controversial figure in the Japanese literary world, and his work was the subject of much debate among scholars and literary critics. As one reviewer put it, "Nakagami was the first writer from the ghetto to make it into the mainstream and to attempt to tell other Japanese, however fictively or even fantastically, about life at the rough end of the economic miracle." Nakagami was at the height of his fame when he died, of kidney cancer, at the age of 46.
- Misaki (The Cape) 1976
- Jain (Snakelust) 1976
- Karekinada (The Sea of Withered Trees) 1977
- Hosenka (Forget-me-nots) 1980
- Chi no hate shijo no toki (Supreme Time at the End of the Earth)
- Sennen no yuraku (A Thousand Years of Pleasure) 1982
- Nichirin no tsubasa (Wings of the Sun) 1984
- Kiseki (Miracles) 1989
- Sanka (Paean) 1990
- Keibetsu (Scorn) 1992
Works available in English
- Hanzo's Bird (Trans. Ian Hideo Levy) Nihon Honyakuka Yosei Center, 1983.
- The Immortal (Trans. Mark Harbison) in The Showa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories, Kodansha International, 1985.
- The Cape and other stories from the Japanese Ghetto (Trans. Eve Zimmerman) Stonebridge Press, 1999.
- Snakelust (Trans. Andrew Rankin) Kodansha International, 1999.
Books about Nakagami
- Mats Karlsson, The Kumano Saga of Nakagami Kenji. Stockholm, 2001.
- Eve Zimmerman. Out of the Alleyway: Nakagami Kenji and the Poetics of Outcaste Fiction. Harvard, 2008.
- Anne Thelle. Negotiating Identity: Nakagami Kenji’s Kiseki and the Power of the Tale. Iudicium, 2010.
- Anne McKnight. Nakagami: Japan, Buraku and the Writing of Ethnicity. University of Minnesota, 2011.
- Mark Morris, "The Untouchables", The New York Times, October 24, 1999.