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Arikawa Hiro

Entry updated 7 September 2023. Tagged: Author.

(1972-    ) Japanese author whose work, ostensibly in the Light Novel field, has acquired a weight and respect that has garnered high critical praise, including the Seiun Award, often being published in the increasingly rare hardback format. She swiftly established herself in the first decade of the twenty-first century as a guru for Japan's Millennials, tailoring fiction to meet the new market sector of "freeters" (drop-outs from the career path, preferring to take part-time jobs at subsistence wages in order to have more free time) and college commuters reading ebooks and electronic devices. Alongside sf and its slipstream, her output includes romances, love comedies and a series about a struggling theatre troupe [not listed below].

Her first success, the SDF trilogy of Near Future Technothrillers, focuses on each of the three branches of Japan's Jieitai ["Self Defence Force"], the real-world term used for the army, air force and navy of a country that has constitutionally disavowed aggressive military action. The first story, Shio no Machi: wish on my precious ["Town of Salt: wish on my precious"] (2004) suggests escalating sea salination as a harbinger of a broader ecological crisis (see Ecology), although later volumes step back in favour of simpler espionage and skulduggery in the world of military prototypes and Technology. Two later collections are love comedies featuring Jieitai personnel, of which the stories in Kujira no Kare ["The Whale's Boyfriend"] (coll 2007) seem closely enough related to the SDF series to qualify as an additional volume in the Checklist below.

Her most sustained and provocative work, Toshokan Sensō ["Library War"] posits an Alternate History in which the Japanese government passes a law in 1989, the Media Betterment Act, authorizing the invasive censorship of all publications and broadcasts deemed to be "harmful". The first book, Toshokan Sensō (2006) picks up thirty years later, when the only defence against propaganda and fake news is an archaic statute guaranteeing Libraries the freedom to curate their own acquisitions. In a satirical touch, libraries have developed paramilitary enforcers, who use extreme measures to counter attempts by the Media Betterment Committee to interfere with, redact or confiscate supposedly dangerous books. Echoes of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953) aside, Arikawa's stories draw on a real-word inspiration: the Statement of Intellectual Freedom in Libraries (1954) introduced shortly after the end of the US Occupation of Japan, and intended to protect intellectual property repositories from the turnabouts and purges of the Cold War era. In suggesting that the Internet data enclosures and changes to the Media Landscape of the late twentieth century represented as great a threat to freedom of thought as the presence of an occupying power, Arikawa's work has come to seem increasingly prophetic. The story is better known abroad through its adaptation into other media, particularly several Manga, the Anime version, Toshokan Sensō (2008), and a live-action film made in 2013.

Tabineko Report (2012 trans Philip Gabriel as The Travelling Cat Chronicles 2018) outlines a picaresque human's futile attempts to divest himself of a stray cat, as told by the Cat itself. Although redolent to English readers of Jack London's The Call of the Wild (20 June-18 July 1903 Saturday Evening Post; 1903), from its very first line, the story acknowledges its true debt to Natsume Sōseki's satire Wagahai wa Neko de Aru (1905 Hototogisu trans Aiko Itō and Graham Wilson as I Am a Cat 1972). But where London emphasized adventure and Sōseki lampooned the Japanese middle class, Arikawa focuses on the growing inter-species bond between two creatures in search of unconditional love: a sign, perhaps, that her own authorial concerns are maturing along with those of her most loyal readers (see also Motoko Arai). [JonC]

Hiro Arikawa

born Aichi-shi, Japan: 9 June 1972



SDF / Self Defence Force

Toshokan Sensō / Library War

Sanbiki no Ossan / Three Old Guys

individual titles


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