This Naoki Prize-winning work is a personal yet precise account of the lives of working women in the Edo period (1600-1868). In the latter half of the Edo period, the warrior caste was finding itself pushed out of the top echelons of society by the rising merchant class, and repeated famines swept the countryside. Against this backdrop, a small number of women vigorously built themselves independent lives with unusual careers--working as designers of ornamental hairpins, or even scribes--in the male-dominated society of the day. The stories in The Budding Tree recount the conditions in which these women lived.
Aiko Kitahara (1938-) began to write fiction while working as a copywriter. She emerged on the literary scene in 1969 when her novella Kona yuki mau (Powder Snow Flies) was runner-up for the Shosetsu Gendai Prize for New Writers and her novel-length Mama wa shiranakattanoyo (Mama Didn't Know) was awarded the first Shincho Prize for New Writers. For the next two decades she continued to publish short stories in popular fiction magazines, finally publishing her first volume in book form, the historical novel Kasuga no Tsubone (Lady Kasuga), in 1988. She was awarded the Izumi Kyoka Prize in 1989 for Fukagawa Miodori kidobangoya (Fukagawa Mio Street Gatehouse) and won the Naoki Prize in 1993 for Koiwasuregusa (Forget-Me-Not; translated and published in English under the title The Budding Tree), a series of six linked short stories. In 2005 Yo no akeru made (Until Dawn), the fourth volume of the Fukagawa Miodori kidobangoya series, received the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Literature. Keijiro engawa nikki (Keijiro's Diary, 1998-), a series about an Edo-period detective, is immensely popular; now at volume 13, it has been turned into a TV series.