Pre-debut and Debut Author's Autobiographical Profile and
Biography Rendered in Japanese, English and French.
- Maha Harada
Born in Tokyo in 1962. Graduated from the Department of Literature at Kwansei Gakuin University and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Waseda University. After working at the Itochu Corporation, Harada held positions in the preparation office for the Mori Art Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. In 2002, she began working as a freelance curator and culture writer. In 2005, Harada received the First〈Japanese Love Story Award 〉for her novel Waiting for Good News (Takarajimasha), and made her debut as a writer in 2006. In 2012, her book Canvas of Paradise (Shinchosha) won the 25th 〈Yamamoto Shugoro Award〉, and in 2017, her novel LeachSensei (Shueisha) received the Nitta Jiro Award. Her other works include Today Is a Good Day (Tokuma), The Name Above the Title (Bungei Shunju), Tossed But Never Sink (Gentosha),Permanent Exhibition (Shincho), and The List of Matsukata, Imaginary Museum (Bungei Shunju). She has also published numerous art-themed novels, and collections of essays such as Van Gogh’s Footsteps (Gentosha) and A piece of Painting (Shueisha).
- Born in Kodaira-shi in Tokyo.
I started painting when I was three years old and rivaled reading children’s books with my brother (Munenori Harada) in kindergarten. My favorite books are “Doctor Dolittle” and “Seton’s Wild Animals.” My favorite artist is Pablo Picasso (I always thought my artistic ability was superior, than him).
- During summer break, I visited my father who was working in Okayama at the time. We hopped on the Sanyo bullet train that just opened to traffic and visited Okayama for the first time. He took me to the Ohara Museum in Kurashiki. As we walked through the exhibit space admiring the masterpieces, I saw a very strange painting that I’ve never seen before. “What is this? He is not good at drawing. I can draw better than this!” I said to myself. Since then, the artist Pablo Picasso had become my rival and mentor who had guided me throughout my life.
- When I was in 6th grade, I moved to Shimoifuku in Okayama City due to my father’s work who was a door-to-door encyclopedia and art books salesman. I went to school at Okayama City Sanmon Elementary School, Okayama City Ishii Junior High School, then to a private Sanyo Girls’ High School. I spent a pretty active teenage life, joining a folk band, writing illustrated love stories and drawing girls’ comics.
- I entered Kansai Gakuin University Department of Literature. Initially, I opted for the Department of German Literature but due to my poor language ability, I transferred to Japanese Literature. Thankfully, I read countless classic novels ranging from Meiji to the modern era. I also attended a graphic design school in my senior year thinking that it might help me with my job hunting.
I shared an apartment with a friend of mine in Nishinomiya, where it was destined to collapse in the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Around this time, My friend and I submitted a girl manga, “The Romantic Francois” to the “Ribbon Manga Competition.” Although it was shortlisted, it was left out of the final selection. My family moved from Tokyo to Okayama during my freshman year.
- In July, on my 21st birthday, I went to see the Picasso exhibit at the Kyoto City Museum and was completely blown away. Picasso, whom I’ve considered to have had a strong sense of rivalry, made me realize and worship his creative genius and I completely swore my devotion to him.
In the fall, my friend showed me an artbook and asked, “Do you know this artist?” I replied, “What is this? He is such a poor painter, not even the prevailing, immature but impressive kind. I think he is genuinely unskilled.” This artist, was Henri Rousseau. Actually I was rather attracted by his unskillfulness and started reading books and artbooks at the library. At that time, I happened to find a research book on Rousseau, “Henri Rousseau: the Mystery of Paradise” by Koji Okaya at a co-op and started reading avidly. I was totally fascinated by his human nature and his queer subject matter. Since then, I had made up my mind to write a book about him someday.
- I graduated Kansai Gakuin University. My thesis was “Junichiro Tanizaki: Naomi.”
I remained living in Nishinomiya because I could not find a job. I graduated the graphic design school.
- I moved to Tokyo where my brother was working as a copywriter. I temporarily worked at two different advertising production companies, but I quit after working tirelessly.
I started studying on my own on contemporary art that I had always grown fond of. With no money or talent, I had illusioned myself to go abroad to live in New York as a step up in my career.
- My brother started his career as a novelist. I was taken aback by my brother’s grit and talent. The dream he had as a child, came true.
- I happened to walk by the Marimura Museum (currently closed) in Harajuku, where they were preparing for a museum opening and told them that “I should be hired.” They acknowledged my confidence and I was hired at the spot and started helping them with the museum operation, including art exhibit, collection management, marketing, and reception work.
- I got married in May. I left the Marimura Museum and became the Director at a local art management school where my friend had recommended. Although I accepted the offer, the job itself was mostly volunteer work with no pay. I came across a person from Itochu Trading Company in the Business Development Division who happened to stop by to inspect the school. I requested to do a presentation on “Bridging the gap between art and business.” Once again, they liked that I had strong nerves and got hired to join the company as a mid-career hire.
- I started working for Itochu Trading Company in the Business Development Division. My main job was consulting on art and culture for local governing bodies and companies. My job ranged from consulting on a newly constructed museum to building an art collection through art dealings and organizing art exhibits. I was going around numerous prefectures selling art, miraculously negotiating with collectors worldwide, gallerists, and museums by solely having the nerve to just do it.
- Minoru Mori who was the President of Mori Building was a client of ours at the time. He asked us whether they can hire us to be their consultant for a museum that will be built within a huge urban redevelopment project in Roppongi. As a chief consultant, I initiated to propose feasibility studies in creating the “Mori Museum.”
- Although I was quite satisfied being an art consultant, my heart sought to become a curator. I took an entrance exam to enter Waseda University School of Humanities and Social Sciences to study art history (transferrable from Junior year). At the time, I was living in Nishi Waseda in the Shinjuku area and thought I could attend school after work if the courses were offered at night and on Saturdays. I studied really hard (as I have never studied this much in my life!) and passed the exam after a fierce competition with the probability of passing only 1 in 40 students. My major was 20th Century Art and my thesis was “The Theory of Painting by Le Corbusier.” I have finally obtained my license to become a curator.
- Mr. Mori invited me to join his company and I left Itochu Trading Company. I became part of the up and running Mori Museum pre-opening office. Since then, I went abroad with Mr. and Mrs. Mori to inspect numerous museums worldwide. Once again, my strong nerves helped me make my way through meeting art celebrities and I was involved in almost all the work related to the establishment of the museum.
- I graduated Waseda University.
- I was asked to come to the President’s office one time and was pointed out that my English was downtown English (which I believe he meant by saying broken English). He quickly understood that I had pushed my way through with my broken English and I was at a loss for words. He had generously offered to attend a school for interpreters. I challenged myself to study English as hard as I could and passed the beginner’s course. I have acquired business interpreting skills and since then, I became more confident in becoming an interpreter for Mr. Mori.
- In 2000, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) partnered with Mori Building. As a part of an exchange program, I had the opportunity to go to MoMA and reside to learn for 6 months. Being part of the MoMA International Program, I researched in depth about museum operation, special exhibits, and International art exhibit planning.
- Upon the appointment of the new Director for the Mori Museum, I thought to myself, “What do I really want to do in life?” I was to become 40 years old this year and I considered “40 is the prime age to do what I really want to do.” I then bravely quit my job and freelanced, without a plan in mind.
I participated in the “R Project,” an urban renewal project launched around this time. I’ve encountered numerous emerging architects, designers, and creators whom I still respect and work to this day.
Written and published “R the Transformer,” a book on New Urban Theory with Masataka Baba, an architect. With this new connection, I freelanced, working on cultural consulting and corporate branding for urban development companies.
- I met an editor, Masanobu Sugatsuke through the R project. At the time, Mr. Sugatsuke was the editor-in-chief for the magazine, “Invitation” and approached me out of the blue saying, “I believe you were living in New York and met many creators there. We are planning to do a featured article on New York. Would you like to go and do this assignment with me?” Again, I daringly rode the waves. Three days after the Iraq war I got on the empty American Airline and flew to New York. I interviewed over 20 creators and wrote a featured article of almost 30 pages. This was the beginning of my career as a cultural writer. In connection with the design event, “Tokyo Designers Block,” we started “Central East Tokyo (CET),” with the intention to block an area for creators on the East side of Tokyo, producing an event similar to the art event in the Chelsea district in New York. Close to 200 artists participated and transformed vacant building spaces around Nihonbashi, Bakurocho, and Asakusabashi into creative endeavors of art.
- I was involved in the “CET04 VISION QUEST” exhibit and drew audiences of almost 20,000 people.
I happened to meet an editor from Kadokawa publishing company and was asked to co-write “interview articles on working women.” I was asked to interview a CEO, a woman who lives in Okinawa and flew to the island. I was getting used to writing more and more and even vaguely thinking of writing a novel of my own. After the interview, I went to Yambaru and heard from the landlady of the guest house about Izena Island. I decided to go. I didn’t have the slightest idea how the visit to this island was going to change the course of my life.
After I arrived at Izena Island, I ran into a guy who was playing with his Labrador Retriever at the beach. Curious by nature, I asked “What is the name of your dog?” He said, “Kafu.” “What does it mean?” I asked. The moment he mentioned, “It means happiness, in Okinawan,” I had a revelation. I came across a dog named happiness on a beach on a remote island. On my way back in my rental car, I already had the plot for my first novel.
If the name of the dog was “Shisa,” I would not have thought to write a novel. I sincerely thank Mr. Tamio Naka for his keen sense of naming dogs.
- So as to not forget this memorable day, on January 1st, I started to write my novel.
In June, I co-published “Soul Job.” I continued to write my novel and had a friend of mine and editor at Kadokawa Publishing Company read what I had written so far.
End of July, I happened to read the Nikkei Newspaper which I normally wouldn’t read. I was at a hotel lobby in Makkari village in Hokkaido traveling with a friend of mine. In it I came across “Love stories are in boom right now…” “Japan Love Story Competition” “The winner of the competition will be cinematized” This is it! I ripped the page in the newspaper and brought it back home.
September 13th: I have completed “Waiting for Good News,” just in time for the deadline in two days. I sent it off from the Nihonbashi Post Office.
Around this time, my 11 year old golden retriever Machek got spleen cancer and his condition got worse. I desperately looked after him. Preparation began with “CET05.” Looking back, I do not recall how I got through this time.
October 1st: “CET05 Office Vacant” starts. Historic record attendance of 50,000 people.
October 31st: I received notice from Takarajima Publishing Company that my novel was nominated in the final selection in the Japan Love Story Competition. Machek’s condition gets worse by the day.
November 1st: Opened “TRIggER,” a 60s clothing and accessories store in Ebisu (currently closed).
November 2nd: Machek passes away… I cannot stop crying.
November 30th: I received a call from Takarajima Publishing Company that I won the Japan Love Story Competition. I was shocked and appalled with everything that was happening.
December 9th: I attended the award ceremony. I was so calm and kept my cool that I was being lead to the presenter’s waiting room instead. I happily, accepted the award.
- On March 20th, after 13 proofreads, “Waiting for Good News” was published and I debuted as a writer. My brother, who is an experienced novelist praised my effort, but said “Do not spoil yourself, be serious.” After my debut, I had my first autograph session (at Maruzen, Marunouchi main store) and invited many of my friends which created a long line of about 100 people.
I brought my published book to Izena Island where the story of my book began. After they greeted me with a welcome party at the local village gathering, I handed my handmade business card that was written “Maha” to the elderly visitors. One of them told me “You have a good name, Matahachi-san.” Hence after this, my pen name for the senryu verse became Matahachi.
- After my heartbroken separation with Machek, I wrote my second novel, “Only One Minute” which was devoted to him. On the cover of my book was a photograph that Ryohei Akimoto took of Vivi, a beloved dog of Mr. and Mrs. Hirayama in Okazaki City. Later, Mio Mizuki, a comic book artist, wrote a manga titled, “Ai’s Lila.” Founded “Lila’s Association” with Mr. and Mrs. Hirayama, Mio Mizuki, and Mr. Akimoto and we have continued our dear relationship until now.
- I started writing for various literary magazines and just focused on writing as if this was my “muscle training to write.”
As a result, I have accomplished at a high speed, publishing 7 new novels in one year.
A short story, “The End of Her,” cell phone novel, “Runway Beat,” “Sorry,” written about a rural setting (the pocket edition title had changed to “Mourn Summer”), Love story “#9,” written while staying in Shanghai for one month (cover photo by contemporary artist, Miwa Yanagi), “God of Kinema,” that depicts a father and daughter’s love for cinema, and etc. I avidly started traveling within Japan and abroad to seek the next seed of a story.
- I was interested in an untold story where “Nippon Go,” a Japanese made aircraft flew around the world, which was shared by Mr. Toshio Yabe, an aviation fanatic and co-worker at Mori Building. I wrote “Wings to Fly,” my first fiction based on historical facts.
In the fall, the movie “Waiting for Good News” came out based on the original novel. Akio was played by Tetsuji Tamayama and Sachi was played by Maiko. I was strongly moved by the amazing performance by Kafu, played by the black Labrador Retriever.
I originally came up with the idea of a novel titled “La toile du paradis” about Henri Rousseau and Pablo Picasso while I was still a student. I proposed the idea to numerous publishing companies, but they all replied, “Who’s Rousseau?” “Why do you need to write about him?” “I think love stories sell better than art stories.” There was hardly any good reaction to my proposal. When I talked briefly about the story to Shincho Publishing Company that publishes “Geijutsu Shincho,” they immediately sought interest in a story with Rousseau and Picasso and started the series. “I have one condition,” I said being elated. Please write on the wraparound band of the book, “25 years in the making.” “Ok, we understood, so please start writing!” Up until this time, I had not yet written a single word.
The spinoff of “Waiting for Good News” “Flowers,” short stories on love, “Gift” was published.
- Commemorating the 100th year after Rousseau’s passing, I started writing my novel “La toile du paradis” and lived in Paris for a lengthy amount of time. Before the move, I decided to pay a courtesy visit to the Ohara Museum in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture where the story starts. I had arranged to meet the Chief Director Mr. Kenichiro Ohara (at the time), and Director, Shuji Takashina. They both welcomed me. I said to them, “I have one wish. After this literary series, it will become in book form, then a pocket edition in three years time. I respectfully would like to ask Takashina sensei to write the commentary, please!” Once again, I was told, “Alright, but please start writing the book.” Still, nothing was written on paper.
February through April, I stayed in Paris. I temporarily rented an apartment within a minute walking distance to the Louvre, an unbelievably supreme location to see any collection at the Louvre, anytime. Claiming myself to be the neighbor of the Louvre, swinging my arms ready to write, yet what I began writing was “Majimu Island Dreamer” based on Minamidaito Island and “The Long Way Home,” a story on the Rebun Island.
In August, “Today is a Good Day” was published. Before the book came out, I was staying at my parents’ house and saw a dream early in the morning about red rice. I woke up with the sound of the chime “Ding!” of the rice cooker signaling when it was cooked. My mother was cooking red rice for breakfast and when I asked her the reason, she said, “Because it’s your birthday!” It was my idea to layout a photograph of red rice as you turn the page of the congratulatory envelope cover of the pocket edition of “Today is a Good Day.”
In September, the literary series of “I had a Dream (later retitled to La toile du paradis)” started in “Novel Shincho.”
In December, I went to inspect the Tateshina area with Mr. Yabe. He has a second home there and has been spending the weekends here while working weekdays in Tokyo. He was putting into practice the “two base residence” idea. “You should come live in Tateshina, it’s awesome, come visit.” After relentless efforts of casting a spell on me, I slowly transitioned my thoughts to thinking “It may be a good idea to do that.”
It was then that I conceived an idea for a story, “We Live” based on a revival journey of few young men through rice making in Tateshina.
“Independence Day” composed of 24 short series about life stories of women (later changed the title), “Pray for a Star,” love stories of families, a mom and daughter living in a rural area and “Majimu Island Dreamer" was published, which was based on a true story of a woman entrepreneur who created the Okinawan rum empire.
- In February, I participated in a natural rice making workshop organized by Mr. and Mrs. Kuroiwa who are friends of mine in Shinanokyo near Tateshina. Comic artist, Ms. Mio Mizuki also participated and contributed her experience to the essay comic “♡※ Love Comedy.”
March 11th: Great East Japan Earthquake. I wrote praying and continued to write “We Live,” relying only on the computer screen during a blackout.
After the nuclear plant accident, when fear and uneasiness took over Japan, I finished writing up “La toile du paradis,” praying whatever happens, may there be a light of hope.
In April, while on a trip in Kyoto, I came across many mothers and children who took shelter from the nuclear effect and moved from the Tokyo Metropolitan area. This inspired me to write “Foreigner.”
In May, we built a house in the middle of the forest in Tateshina and decided to move. We started our migration planning by setting it up as a cooperative project with a team of creators. We asked my friend and architect, Mr. Masataka Baba to design the house, for interior design, a partner unit, “gift,” Mr. Toshikazu Gotou and Ms. Fumiko Ikeda to pitch in their ideas, and for gardening, Ariichi Tsukada.
In the fall, I reunited with my classmates from Sanyo Girls’ High School upon the publication of “Fantastic Girls, Okayama, 1980,” based on my hometown in Okayama. It was cinematized and released in 2015 in Okayama.
Published “The Eternal Consonance,” a story about a mother-in-law who is a cellist, and a daughter who had given up to become one.
- In January, “La toile du paradis” was released. I was overjoyed by the wraparound band of the book that depicted, as requested, “25 years in the making.”
In February, I was invited to Turkey for an event related to the International Women’s Day for the Turkey Authors’ Association and was immediately drawn to the historic city that blends East West cultures. After “La toile du paradis” was published and after incessant interviews, I quickly realized that the book had influenced many readers and was deeply impressed.
In April, my colleague and friend, Mizuki Takahashi, a curator for the Mito Museum (at the time) traveled to New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It was then that “La toile du paradis” got nominated for the Shugoro Yamamoto Award. “I know for sure your book will be awarded” said Mizuki. When I asked, “Why?” She said, “It was truly an absorbing story and also, your tenacity will come to fruition.”
In May, my book was honored for the Shugoro Yamamoto Award, just like Mizuki had predicted. In the press conference, I tried to loosen up my nervousness by responding to my own joke and the shot that captured that moment was used in the newspaper the next morning. I seemed really happy, which was totally my intention! At the end of June, I created and memorized a three minute speech for the awards ceremony, according to the 10 elements of speechwriting in my book “Today is a Good Day.” At the ceremony, I forgot to write “calm” on the palm of my hand before my speech, but I thought in the end I did pretty good.
Recognition of my novel “La toile du paradis” determined my will to continue writing more fiction books based on historical evidence and facts, which later on got categorized as a new literary genre as an “art fiction.”
In October, I was inspired to write “Romancier,” a romantic comedy novel surrounding the printing studio, “Idem” in Paris. Patrice, the owner of Idem was so excited and said to me repeatedly, “I really want to read how it’s written so please, please, translate the book in French ok?” While it was serialized in the Bungei Publishing magazine, “Kirara,” I sent it off to Idem as a mini manga series every month and had his assistant, Akiko Otsu translate it for him.
Published “The Long Way Home,” a warm-hearted story about a struggling entertainer in her 30s who loves to travel, and “We Live.”
- In January, I visited the wintry Saint Petersburg in Moscow for the press tour of “The Pushkin Museum of Art Exhibit.” On my first visit to Russia, I slipped and hit my head as I was utterly enthusiastic to see Rousseau’s “La muse inspirant le poet.” I was fine, in fact, I seem to think that hitting my head helped sharpen my writing skills.
During this time, our house in the woods in Tateshina had completed. My husband had tirelessly helped prepare for the move.
In February, as part of the Sunday Museum of Art project, I happened to interview regarding the “Lady and the Unicorn,” series of tapestries set in the Cluny Museum in Paris. A rare foreign showing in Japan inspired me to write “La Licorne - La volonte de George Sand.” It created new opportunities of linking my novels to current art exhibitions.
After I came back from Paris, I was due to move. Mr. Yabe told me that “Tateshina is cold and dry, but typically not much snow.” I was casually preparing for the move but on the day of it, it was snowing heavily and it was minus 15 degrees.
In April, I wrote a documentary novel “Ito - the Destined Puppy” and had the opportunity to adopt Jam, a Labrador who was a service dog in Aichi Prefecture about to retire. A service dog who is retiring is called the “career change dog.” Calm by nature and smart, Jam became our new family member since Machek.
In May, the “Une Table de Giverny” was published depicting lives of modern Impressionist artists, those enchanting “magnificent consummate fools.” Writing about real life masters give me joy and inspire to create more stories on artists I dearly respect.
In September, our home is complete in Tateshina. The architectural concept is “Home that nestles in the woods,” and the interior concept is “Northern Europe meets Japanese Folk Art.” Very, very satisfied.
Published “First Gentleman,” about love stories between Japan’s first female Prime Minister and her husband.
To be continued. New updates coming soon.
(Translation by Asako Tajima)