Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Japan’s most important library, The National Diet Library, serves Library Curry in its canteen[UPDATED: 8-19-2019]

    Japan’s National Diet Library (NDL), founded in 1948, is the library of Japan’s parliament, The National Diet (Kokkai), and the nation’s national library. It is not only one of the most important libraries in Japan, but also one of the largest libraries in the world.

    It was set up to assist members of Japan’s parliament with research and policy-making and now has a similar function as the Library of Congress and the British Library.

    It functions as a national deposit library and copies of all books published in Japan can be found within its collection of books. The motto: ‘The Firm Conviction that Truth Makes Us Free’ is engraved in Japanese and Greek in the hall of its main building in Tokyo. 

    Within the library’s large collection Japan’s oldest surviving cookbook can be found, published in 1643, as well as many historically important books about Japan’s early culinary exchanges with other countries and cultures.

    This includes a book by Robun Kanagaki (1829-1894), a well-known author and journalist, that contains the first recipe in Japanese for making curry, published in 1872. 

    Curry-rice, now a very popular Japanese dish, has not just found its way into the pages of the National Diet Library’s collection of around 10 million books. It also appears as Library Curry –the signature dish of the 4thfloor cafeteria of the library in Tokyo, which is located between the headquarters building of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) and the National Diet.

    This popular beef curry served with rice and pickles costs 550 yen upwards depending on which version you order. Vouchers are purchased using a vending machine found next to a display of plastic models of all the dishes the cafeteria offers.  

    After handing over your voucher to kitchen staff, you are served the signature Library Curry, which has been reviewed positively by appreciative patrons of the library and its canteen on websites like Tripadvisor

    On average, just under 2,000 people visit the Tokyo library every day. Registration is required, but the library, which has published a newsletter in English on its services and collections since 1958, welcomes international visitors. 

    It’s
    not possible to estimate how many servings of curry are consumed on a typical day, but 9.9 billion servings of curry are reportedly served nationally each year in all its varied Japanese forms. This equates to 78 meals per person. In comparison, about 1 billion books, of which only about 640 million are actually purchased, are distributed annually in Japan.

    This said, every year 1.5 million photocopies are made at the National Diet Library and 21 million individuals access the library’s website through which the cover of the book, The Expert on Western Cookerycontaining Japan’s first recipe for curry-rice can be viewed. 

    Japan’s most important library, The National Diet Library, serves Library Curry in its canteen Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan runs a major trade deficit in books and publications[UPDATED: 12-25-2018]

    Despite the growing interest in Japanese culture, Japan’s exports of publications, including books, is under half of the value of its imports, according to Ministry of Finance data.

    The top three nations Japan buys books and publications from, according to figures based on publications shipped as cargo, are: 1) the United States, which represents 31 percent of imports; 2) China, 22 percent ; and 3) the United Kingdom, 21 percent.

    These figures include books printed for Japanese publishers and others in China. Many British educational publishers, for example, now arrange for their titles to be printed in China.

    The top three export nations for Japanese books and publications account for almost half of all of Japan’s exports. Japan’s top three export markets are: 1) the United States with 23 percent; 2) Taiwan, 14 percent; and 3) South Korea, 11 percent.

    According to the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) the majority of exports are to Japanese bookstores based in the United State and East Asia. Exports volumes and patterns, are said to, mirror trends in the number of Japanese being posted overseas.

    These data do not include the import or export of digital content and ebooks. Japanese universities and companies purchase online access to content and research databases. Japan is one of the largest markets for international academic and professional database publishers so when these sales are factored in the ‘content’ trade deficit is even higher.
    Japan runs a major trade deficit in books and publications Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Honnomushi is Japanese for bookworm and there are hundreds of thousands of them in Japan[UPDATED: 11-8-2018]

    The Japanese for an avid and devoted reader, honnomushi (本の虫), is similar to the word used in English and many other languages, bookworm. The direct translation of honnomushi is book insect or bug. 

    Bookworm and honnomushi, as well as being the common informal term for bibliophiles, is used in both languages to describe any insect that is thought to bore through books.

    Actual book-borers, unlike avid book buying readers in Japan, are actually uncommon. The Oxford Dictionary defines them as: “the larva of a wood-boring beetle which feeds on the paper and glue in books”. 

    These pesky creatures that librarians have hated for centuries are sometimes referred to as booklouse (Liposcelis divinatorius). There are also some types of moths that are attracted to book bindings. 

    Japan has one of the world’s highest literary rates and the average Japanese person reads for four hours per week – making the country very fertile ground for nurturing metaphorical bookworms. 

    The term honnomushi is used regularly by Japanese bloggers in writing about the books they are reading. And there are many publications depicting book-loving bookworm characters, often girls, such as Bungaku Shojo (Literature Girl), a 16-volume light novel series by Mizuki Nomura about members of a high school literature club that has sold more than a million copies. 

    There are many different terms in Japanese that use the word bug or insect; not just honnomushi. Other interesting examples include: mushinoshirase (message from a bug) meaning foreboding, hunch, a gut feeling; and mushinoiki (breath of a bug) meaning lifeless or barely alive, to list just two. 

    Various theories exist about the origin of these phrases, but experts believe most of them may come from Koshin-Shinko, a type of Japanese folklore based on Taoist-beliefs including the belief that we are all born with three bugs or worms in our stomachs, which require careful management.
    Honnomushi is Japanese for bookworm and there are hundreds of thousands of them in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Tsundoku a unique Japanese expression for buying books and leaving them to pile up unread[UPDATED: 7-30-2018]

    Tsundoku, is a unique Japanese expression for buying books and magazines and leaving them to pile up unread; something that many book buyers around the world appear to have in common. But unlike Japanese, most languages don’t have a specific phrase or word to describe this.  

    The word is a combination of two characters ‘pile up’ and ‘read’. As it has no similar synonym in English it has been listed as one of ten interesting words for book lovers on Oxford Dictionary’s Blog. 

    According to Professor Andrew Gerstle at the University of London, the term was used as far back as 1879, in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912), or Meiji 12 as it is known in Japan.

    For reference this was the year that the Taisho Emperor (1879-1926) and the author Nagai Kafu (1879-1956) were born and the first Blackwell’s bookshop was opened in Oxford in the United Kingdom. 

    The Japanese word for novel shosetsu written using two characters meaning ‘small’ and ‘talk’ first came into use as a Japanese term for fiction in 1754; following the successful translation and adaptation of Chinese books such as Sui-Hu Chuan (The Water Margin), pronounced Suikoden in Japanese. 

    In the 1880s Shoyo Tsubouchi (1859-1935), a Japanese writer and translator and professor at Waseda University, first proposed that the term shosetsu be adopted as the standard Japanese translation for the English word novel and the French word roman in his paper titled: Shosetsu shinzui (The Essence of the Novel)

    During the 125 years between the word shosetsu entering the Japanese language and the word tsundoku being coined and finding wide use a considerable number of books were written and published in Japan, and in the Meiji Period many books were translated into Japanese from English and other languages for the first time, no doubt, creating some rather impressive reading piles.

    Tsundoku a unique Japanese expression for buying books and leaving them to pile up unread Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first national library was set up following a legal decree in 702[UPDATED: 2-28-2018]

    According to historians, the first libraries in Japan were set up by by Shotoku Taishi (574-622) – The Prince of Holy Virtue – a regent and author also known as Prince Umayado (Prince of the Stables). 

    The Horyuji Temple, in Nara, founded in 607, is believed to have been the location of Japan’s first library, which was within the Prince’s ‘study’ at the temple. Subsequently, many temples across Japan started collections of manuscripts and important texts including copies of the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), one of Japan’s first written accounts of the nation’s history.

    Shotoku Taishi is an important historical figure in Japan and still admired today. His image was included on 10,000 yen notes issued until 1986, and he is credited with developing Japan’s first set of laws – a set of 17 rules – which stress the importance of harmony in the community. The rules have been described as an early type of constitution. 

    According to the Encyclopedia of Library History, Japan’s first national library, Zushoryo, was set up about one hundred years later in the 8th century following new legislation issued in 702, Formalising and standardising the trend started by Shotoku Taishi. 

    The library was modelled on a library in China and run by a government ministry. It was Japan’s official national archive and therefore didn’t need to buy books; five copies of every book written or copied in temples were supposed to be lodged there. 

    The library was also responsible for collecting and conserving both Buddhist and Confucian books and was required to compile official histories of Japan. According to historians, it had a staff of 4 papermakers, 10 brushmakers, 4 inkmakers and 20 copyists. It continued this work until the 11th century.
    Japan’s first national library was set up following a legal decree in 702 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japanese libraries still major book buyers[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Despite falling budgets as in most countries, Japanese libraries are still major book buyers, but their purchasing now represents less than 2% of publisher sales. Nevertheless, libraries have been cleverly expanding their lending schemes using the Internet to highlight book availability and increase book borrowing rates.

    They have been criticized by authors and publishers for being too focused on bestselling and high profile titles and not collection management.

    Japanese public libraries are visited around 300 million times each year and 715 million books are lent out. The lending ratio is 5.8 books per visitor which compares to 5.7 books bought per annum by book buyers in Japan.

    The first public library in Japan was founded in 1872 and the Japan Library Association was established in 1892. Every Japanese city with a population of more than 50,000 has a public library.

    Currently, there are more than 3,000 public libraries across Japan, just over 20% the number of Japanese bookstores.
    Japanese libraries still major book buyers Posted by Koji Chikatani
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    Japan’s public libraries have the highest lending rates of public libraries within the G7[UPDATED: 1-24-2018]

    The number of public libraries in Japan is on the low side when compared to other G7 nations, the informal group of industrialized democracies (the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom) that meets annually to discuss issues such as economics, good governance, international security, and energy policy. However, Japan’s public libraries have the highest lending rates per service point of public libraries within the G7.

    Since the 1960s, Japan’s public libraries have focused on and generally had their performance measured on the number of books borrowed; something that has been prioritized above other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The libraries have focused on ‘demand’ something that had not been a priority up to that point.

    Critics including writers, authors and publishers argue that this has led to poor and unbalanced collection management and had a detrimental impact on book sales. The latest figures available at pixel time indicate that the lending ratio is 5.8 books lent per person compared to 5.7 books bought per book buyer per annum. This, they argue, is now being amplified by Japan’s aging population, who have more time to visit libraries, and the online rental schemes libraries have introduced to highlight book availability.
    Japan’s public libraries have the highest lending rates of public libraries within the G7 Posted by Koji Chikatani
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    Book rental and lending schemes have a very long history in Japan[UPDATED: 1-24-2018]

    Historically, book production and consumption in Japan was focused on the country’s aristocrats, Buddhist monks, Shinto priests and society’s upper classes not the mass market. However, in the early 1800s book lending shops started to appear.

    According to historians, their number grew from around 650 in Tokyo (or Edo as it was known then) in 1808 – expanding to meet demand – to 800 by 1832. These shops alongside increasingly high literary rates created demand that supported a very high ratio of approximately 1 lending shop per 1,500 people. The capital had a population of over 1 million at the time making it one of the world’s largest cities.

    Currently, the population per bookstore in Japan is high compared to other nations (estimated at 7,710 per store vs. 23,363 in the United States), but lower than lending shop ratios of the Edo Period. Records also show that there was in fact a book rental shop in Nagoya even earlier, as far back as 1767, which provided a continuous service for 130 years. It built up a collection of more than 20,000 titles during its operating life.
    Book rental and lending schemes have a very long history in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan