Saturday, 17 March 2007

The winner of the Kiriyama Prize, which "is awarded annually in recognition of outstanding books that promote greater understanding of and among the nations of the Pacific Rim and of South Asia", will be announced at the end of this month. In today's 'Undercover' column, The Sydney Morning Herald books editor Susan Wyndham notes that Keiran Desai's Booker Prize-winning novel The Inheritance of Loss is a finalist.

Another finalist is Haruki Murakami's short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, I was informed by Kiriyama prize manager Jeannine Stronach by e-mail at the end of last month. The prize was initiated in 1996 with a bequest from the Agon Shu Buddhist association's leader Reverend Seiyu Kiriyama. Prize administrator Peter Coughlan says that "The Reverend Kiriyama did us the great service of making us grants at the outset of our efforts, and although there is no further funding from him we will always be grateful to him for his kindness".

A Japan specialist at the University of Sydney says "I have heard of Agon Shu but do not have detailed information".

Agon Shu's Web site says that "members of Agon Shu work sincerely to achieve peace and understanding in the world among all nations and religions, thereby reducing conflicts and helping mankind to find better solutions to every type of crisis".

Agon Shu has sponsored many events in the West, and the Kiriyama Prize seems to be run independently of the church. I was interested to see that Wyndham mentioned the prize without any qualifications or caveats. I, myself, was suspicious when I received the e-mail announcing the finalists. My Sydney Uni correspondent agreed that I was correct to be suspicious. "You are right to be cautious because many of those small religious sects make newspapers' headlines for unsavoury practices."

Kiriyama also established the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Institute in 1993. "This Institute sponsors a number of initiatives, including the Kiriyama Prize, under the name 'Pacific Rim Voices'", according to the Kiriyama Prize Web site. "The Kiriyama Prize, like the KPRI itself, has no specific political or religious agenda."

This last sentence seems to be new. I don't recall seeing it when I visited the site earlier this month. The PRV Web site contains the same disclaimer. It also has a link back to the the prize Web site, where the judges are profiled. The fiction judging panel comprises Alden Mudge (chair), Alan Cheuse, Pam Chun, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, and Abby Pollak. They all seem to be writers.

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