Banana Yoshimoto wows fans at Taipei book fair

Staff writer, with CNA

Fri, Feb 01, 2013 - Page 4

Japanese writer Mahoko Yoshimoto, better known by her nom de plume Banana Yoshimoto, met with more than 100 fans yesterday at the Taipei International Book Exhibition.

Yoshimoto enjoys wide popularity in Taiwan through her unique descriptions of life’s frustrations.

Asked about her motivation for writing, she said she hopes to share with readers the different feelings in life and help them overcome their own difficulties through the power of words.

“I first practiced writing to heal myself, then I realized I might be able to reach others and help them as well,” she said, adding that her latest book, titled Sweet Hereafter, is aimed at delivering this kind of goodwill.

Dedicated to the people who lost loved ones in the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011, the book talks about the meaning of life and death, and how one can face them with courage.

“She is very special, just the kind of person I imagined,” said Irene Chiang, 22, who went to the exhibition specifically to see Yoshimoto.

Having read Yoshimoto’s books such as Kitchen and Goodbye Tsugumi, Chiang said she was impressed by the refreshing touches on serious topics in Yoshimoto’s stories.

The book fair, which runs through Monday at the Taipei World Trade Center, has attracted more than 700 publishers from more than 70 countries and 500 writers from home and abroad.

It also drew Oliver Zille, director of the Leipzig Book Fair, Germany’s second-largest after the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Book fairs in Germany and Taiwan are facing similar challenges from e-publishing and attracting readers to the fairs, Zille said yesterday on the sidelines of an international publishing forum.

He said one of the reasons he decided to visit the Taipei show was to learn more about new media and e-publishing.

He said he was “a little astonished” to find that there were not as many e-books on display as he had imagined.

Taiwan’s situation could be similar to that of Germany, where e-books account for just 1 percent of the total book market, he said.

However, there are high expectations in Germany for digital publications, which are expected to account for 15 percent of the market in five or six years, he said.

Providing e-books and digital content are key issues the Leipzig fair will have to resolve to attract readers, which is a continuing challenge, Zille said.

The Leipzig fair set up a comics pavilion 10 years ago and since 2005 has organized cosplay events in which visitors are encouraged to dress up as comic figures, he said, both of which attracted younger readers.

More than 8,000 cosplayers attended last year’s Leipzig fair, an increase from the 500 or so who attended the first cosplay events, and many of them end up visiting other book sections besides the comic books, he said.

“So we connect the manga scene, the cosplay scene, with the [traditional] reader scene,” he said.

He encouraged Taiwanese publishers to attend professional programs at the Leipzig Book Fair and to connect with German publishers to launch their books in German-speaking regions.

Taiwanese exhibitors have not attended the fair in the past, he said.

The Leipzig fair had 2,071 exhibitors from 44 countries and 163,500 visitors last year, Zille said.