Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Many of Japan’s most interesting creative writers cite ‘No Longer Human’ by Osamu Dazai as their favourite book or one that had a huge influence on them[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    According to Fuminori Nakamura, one of the most exciting new generation of Japanese authors, his only escape when he was young was reading, and the one book that really resonated for him, was No Longer Human (Ningen shikkaku), by Osamu Dazai (1909-1948). 

    Many other leading Japanese authors say something similar when asked about influential books or authors. The multi-award winning author Shusuke Michio, for instance admits that is No Longer Human was the first novel he read after his “bookworm girlfriend” in high school gave him a copy changing the course of his life. Up until that point he had been more interested in music and being in a band than books. 

    Dazai is an author who seems to fascinate many of Japan’s commercially successful and brilliantly creative male contemporary writers. They seem to find echoes of themselves in him and this novel in particular about a reclusive young man who feels “disqualified from being human” but finds solace in literature. 

    Ryu Murakami, author of Tokyo Decadence and Coin Locker Babies, who is from an older generation than Michio and Nakamura, is another example of a high profile award-winning author who has been influenced by Dazai. Reviewers have described him as: “Dazai’s true spiritual heir: a worldly, unshockable writer whose natural milieu lurks in the degeneracy of the world around him”, a moniker that he would no doubt be delighted by.  
    Many of Japan’s most interesting creative writers cite ‘No Longer Human’ by Osamu Dazai as their favourite book or one that had a huge influence on them Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Mishima, who was only active as a writer for 21 years after the publication of his first major novel, managed to write 40 novels, 18 plays and numerous essays during his short life[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) wrote 40 novels, 18 plays, 20 books of short stories, books of essays, hundreds of poems, as well as plays and film scripts before he died age 45, two months before his birthday. 

    His first full-length major novel Confessions of a Mask, was published in 1949. It quickly established him as a major literary talent and the wunderkind of his generation – allowing him to quit his job and concentrate full-time on his creative writing. The novel was translated into English by Meredith Weatherby in the 1950s. 

    According to his publisher’s website: “From then until his death he continued to publish novels, short stories, and plays each year. His crowning achievement, the Sea of Fertility tetralogy—which contains the novels Spring Snow (1969), Runaway Horses (1969), The Temple of Dawn (1970), and The Decay of the Angel (1971)—is considered one of the definitive works of twentieth-century Japanese fiction”. 

    Mishima was a natural writer, and amazingly prolific. Writing came easily to him. He was very disciplined and apparently never knowingly missed a deadline. He courted international editors, publishers and translators and could not understand why it took so long for his works to be translated and published. He wrote every night until dawn. 

    In 1970, the day after completing the last novel in the Fertility series and submitting his manuscript to his Japanese publisher, Mishima famously committed suicide in a highly stage-managed public manner. It was a spectacular performance like death that attracted worldwide attention instantly making; Mishima the man, the author, as well as his more than 100 literary works, a topic of fascination and study by academics and biographers.
    Mishima, who was only active as a writer for 21 years after the publication of his first major novel, managed to write 40 novels, 18 plays and numerous essays during his short life Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Some believe that the origin of one of Japan’s four alphabets, Katakana, is ancient Hebrew[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    Japanese uses multiple syllabary (alphabets) and has a special phonetic alphabet for foreign words: katakana, which has helped it manage the impact of foreign words entering its language. It is used for loanwords that enter the Japanese language, such as beer. The other alphabets used are Kanji, Hiragana and Romaji

    Some believe that katakanas origins are ancient Hebrew as there is some similarity between some of the letters, which are also pronounced in a similar manner, such as the letter Ka and Kaph for instance. 

    These similarities are often cited as evidence by proponents of the theory that one of the lost 10 tribes of Israel ended up in Japan. Books have been published in English on the topic and Japanese television programmes have also explored the subject. 

    However, most academics believe that katakana is in fact based on Kanji (Chinese characters) and was developed over a thousand years ago in Japan’s Heian Period (794-1185) by Japanese monks to annotate Chinese texts – mostly Buddhist texts; so they could be read by Japanese readers. The alphabet subsequently became used for non-Chinese loanwords as Japan became exposed to other countries, languages and cultures.

    The so-called lost tribes of Israel reportedly started leaving and disappearing from Israel following the conquest of its northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BCE.  
    Some believe that the origin of one of Japan’s four alphabets, Katakana, is ancient Hebrew Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Haruki Murakami, who loves cats, ran a jazz bar and coffee shop called Peter Cat before making his debut as a writer[UPDATED: 2-26-2018]

    While studying at Waseda University in Tokyo Haruki Murakami, probably the best known contemporary Japanese writer in the English speaking world, met his wife Yoko, while working in a record store and set up a jazz bar and coffee shop called Peter Cat

    He and his wife ran Peter Cat together between 1974 and 1981. He published his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, in 1979. 

    Like the name of his jazz bar, cats also often feature prominently in some of his novels. He is on record as being a cat lover, like many other high profile Japanese authors, such as Kazufumi Shiraishi and Mitsuyo Kakuta. 

    Cats also play important roles in some of his best novels. Novels like The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleKafka on the Shore and a story titled: Town of Cats, included in IQ84, which was published in 2011. 

    Murakami’s books have been translated into more than 50 languages and have sold millions of copies in Japan and internationally.
    Haruki Murakami, who loves cats, ran a jazz bar and coffee shop called Peter Cat before making his debut as a writer Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Historically, many of Japan’s most creative authors started life as samurai[UPDATED: 2-25-2018]

    Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653-1725), author of Love Suicides at Somezaki who is considered to be Japan’s Shakespeare and Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), often said to be the greatest master of haiku, were both born into samurai families and grew up as samurai before switching to the pen or more accurately the ink brush. 

    During Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868) the military class learnt to read and even produce literature and were encouraged to do so; Chikamatsu and Basho are just two high profile examples. Unlike the West where the pen has often been said to mightier than the sword, in Japan people were encouraged to consider them as equal partners. In fact there is a Japanese expression for this 文武両道, bunbu-ryodo; roughly translated this means the way of sentences and warfare are equal, and highlights the importance of achieving some kind of balance in life. 

    Basho’s poetic travelogue, written hundreds of years ago, the Narrow Road to the North is still being read today and is now used to sell 100-day walking tours following the so-called ‘Basho Trail’ mimicking the poet’s pilgrimage route that winds through several of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

    The new era of samurai authorship that Basho was part of followed the arrival from Korea of movable type technology and the printing of the first Japanese book using the technology in 1593. Commercial publishing kicked off about a decade later in 1609, in Kyoto, at the start of the Edo Period, generating new career options for forward thinking samurai. 

    Edo, now known as Tokyo, also became a publishing centre with a growing market of readers to sell books to. The city grew in size becoming the world’s largest city with a population of a million by the 18th century, generating its own narratives and authors. 

    Until the middle of the 18th century most Japanese authors were from samurai backgrounds, but things began to change as literacy rates increased. Authors began selecting different target groups as readers; the warrior classes and intelligentsia, or the higher end of the emerging chonin (townspeople) class, the majority of who were merchants. The situation changed again during Japan’s Meiji Era (1868-1912) when the country rapidly modernised and opened up to the West. 

    However, the most famous true warrior samurai author is probably Musashi Miyamoto (1584-1645). He is primarily known in the West as the author of The Book of Five Rings. The book, which he wrote at the end of his life, is a guide to swordsmanship strategies. 

    Following an English translation by William Scott Wilson it became an essential business-strategy manual in the 1980s, when the Japanese economy was growing rapidly and Japanese influence was spreading worldwide. Unlike most Edo Period samurai authors who never drew their swords, Miyamoto very skilfully used his sword in battle and duals to kill opponents. 

    Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933) is another classic. Nitobe’s father was a retainer of a daimyo (warlord). Nitobe junior converted to Christianity and became a diplomat and international statesman and wrote his famous essay on samurai ethics in English in 1900. 

    The book, which was published in Japanese after its success in English, describes the sources of bushido (the way of the warrior) and the virtues most admired in Japan including self-control, duty and politeness. It had a major impact and influenced many including Former US President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), who bought copies for his friends. 

    Despite his image and reputation Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), who killed himself with a sword in a very public manner using a painful traditional samurai methodology, was not technically from a samurai background. He was not in fact “born a samurai” as his father and grandfather were not from a samurai family.

    Mishima’s paternal grandmother (Natsu Nagai), who brought him up, however was. She was raised in an aristocratic household and could trace her linage back to one of the first Shoguns Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), arguably Japan’s most important and influential samurai, through marriage.

    The Press Release announcing the award of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature to Kenzaburo Oe highlights his samurai background stating that he was “the scion of a prominent samurai family” from the Oe clan in Shikoku.
    Historically, many of Japan’s most creative authors started life as samurai Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Banana Yoshimoto chose the pen name banana as it was gender neutral[UPDATED: 2-22-2018]

    Banana Yoshimoto, one of the most internationally recognised contemporary female Japanese writers established her career in 1988 with her debut novel Kitchen, which was nominated for various prizes, instantly putting her on Japan’s literary map. She wrote the novel while working as a waitress in a golf club. 

    She chose her pen name while at college before graduation choosing banana to replace her given name Mahoko as she liked banana flowers and thought the name was memorable, “cute”, and  “purposefully androgynous.” 

    She comes from a very creative family. Her father Taaki Yoshimoto (1924-2012) was a well-known poet and literary critic and her sister is a well-known cartoonist.
    Banana Yoshimoto chose the pen name banana as it was gender neutral Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Despite large number of crime fiction titles being written Japan has one of the world’s lowest homicide rates[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Despite a large number of crime fiction titles or Suiri Shosetsu (Japanese detective fiction) being written and published each year, Japan has one of the world’s lowest homicide rates of 0.3 (the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants), according to the OECD. This compares with an OECD average of 4.1.
    Despite large number of crime fiction titles being written Japan has one of the world’s lowest homicide rates Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Kobo Abe is said to be the Kafka of Japan[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Kobo Abe (1924-1992) is said to be ‘The Kafka of Japan’. He is best known for: The Road Sign at the End of the Street (1948), The Woman in the Dunes (1962), as well as being avant-garde, being expelled from the Japanese Communist Party, and collecting insects.

    His novella, The Wall, won the Akutagawa Prize and established his reputation. His best friend was Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) and he was also a friend of Harold Pinter (1930-2008).

    He didn’t give many interviews, but an interesting conversation with him is reported in the New York Times under the headline: Japan’s Kafka Goes on the Road, where his experimental theatre group is discussed.
    Kobo Abe is said to be the Kafka of Japan Posted by Richard Nathan