Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Despite being rivals for the Nobel Prize, Kawabata and Mishima were friends[UPDATED: 2-25-2018]

    Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) became the first Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968, ahead of Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) who was nominated more than once for the prize and throughout the 1960s was considered a very strong candidate. 

    The two men first met in 1946 when Mishima, a brilliant student considered the best or one of the best nationally, was still a student at Tokyo University before he joined the Ministry of Finance on graduation in 1947. 

    Mishima was looking for support and contacts in the world of publishing to get his short stories published and Kawabata kindly offered to help when Mishima turned up at his house. Subsequently, Kawabata wrote a highly supportive preface to Mishima’s novel Theieves, published in 1948, a novel about a young couple that kill themselves on their wedding night. The novel was not a major critical success and did not gain much if any attention. 

    However, the encounter eventually led to the publication of Mishima’s first full-length major novel Confessions of a Mask, the following year in 1949, which quickly established him as a major literary talent and the literary wunderkind of his generation; by that time he had already quit his job, after nine months at the ministry, to concentrate full-time on creative writing with the hope of becoming a well regarded professional author. 

    Kawabata played an important role throughout Mishima’s life at very key moments: formally introducing Mishima to his future wife Yuko, after Kawabata’s adopted daughter had been briefly thought of as a potential bride by Mishima: and also giving the eulogy at Mishima’s funeral after he dramatically killed himself. He also had a formal role at Mishima’s wedding in 1958 at International House in Tokyo. 

    According to an article in The New Times published the day after his death, Harold Strauss, his long-time editor at Alfred Knopf, said: “Mishima was torn apart by the Japanese transition” and “had one foot in the past and one in the future. He was able to articulate this change as no other Japanese novelist was able to do. Older writers such as Yasunari Kawabata can write only of the past and younger writers such as Kobo Abe can write only of the present.” 

    Mishima was also a close friend of Kobo Abe (1924-1933) considered by some to be Japan’s Kafka. Unlike Mishima and Kawabata, who died two years after Mishima having gassed himself, Abe died in hospital after a brief illness of heart failure.
    Despite being rivals for the Nobel Prize, Kawabata and Mishima were friends Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The Book of Tea, published in 1906, provides guidance on how to appreciate not just tea, but Japanese literature and all that is pure and refined[UPDATED: 2-23-2018]

    “The tiny incidents of daily routine are as much a commentary of radical ideals as the highest flight of philosophy or poetry”, writes Tenshin Okakura (1862-1913) in his highly influential and acclaimed essay: The Book of Tea, in which he argues that tea has influenced much in Japan: homes, habits, porcelain, art and the country’s literature and aesthetic. 

    Japanese literature, like the periods and schools of Tea (Boiled Tea, Whipped Tea and Steeped Tea), has its own periods and genres that developed often in their own unique local manner in isolation, and each preparation of narrative prose like tea “leaves” has its own “individuality, its own special affinity with water and heat, its hereditary memories to recall, its own method of telling a story”. 

    According to The Book of Tea, which was originally written in English targeting an audience outside Japan: “art is only of value to the extent that it speaks to us. It might be a universal language if we ourselves were universal in our sympathies”. 

    The essay, which outlines the Zen principles of simplicity, incompleteness and the importance of the concealment of beauty that may be discovered, also provides useful advice for authors, creative writers, and critics. 

    Okakura writes that according to Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725), who he considered to be Japan’s Shakespeare, one of the first principles of dramatic composition is “the importance of taking the audience into the confidence of the author”. And a masterpiece, be it a tea ceremony, the architecture of a tea room (some of which influenced Frank Lloyd Wright), a novel or short story” is a symphony played upon our finest feelings”.
    The Book of Tea, published in 1906, provides guidance on how to appreciate not just tea, but Japanese literature and all that is pure and refined Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The first Western commercial fiction was translated into Japanese in 1879[UPDATED: 2-19-2018]

    It took 32 years, from the first publication of a work of Japanese fiction in a European language until an important Western work of fiction was published in Japanese translation, in 1879. 

    The first “important” title, according to the scholar Donald Keane was the novel Ernest Maltravers (1837) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), the bestselling British author who is famous for having coined phrases such as; “the great unwashed,” “it was a dark and stormy night” and “the pen is mightier than the sword”. 

    The novel, translated by Junichiro Niwa, a former Edinburgh University law student, was published in Japanese under the title Karyū shunwa (A Spring Tale of Blossoms and Willows), and sold extremely well. A Japanese translation of a Jules Verne novel, by Chunosuke Kawashima was also published that year in Japan.
    The first Western commercial fiction was translated into Japanese in 1879 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s oldest book is a religious text[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Japan’s oldest surviving book is a religious Buddhist text called the Hokekyo gisho, the authorship of which is generally attributed to Shotoku Taishi (574-622) in 615.

    It is a commentary, that stresses the importance of faith, on the Lotus sutra from the Asuka Period (538-710), a period when Buddhism first arrived in Japan from Korea and China.

    It is owned by the Imperial Family and is sometimes also cited as an example of the oldest Japanese calligraphy.
    Japan’s oldest book is a religious text Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Yukio Mishima chose his pen name when he was just 16[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), one of Japan’s most famous writers, chose his pen name when he was just 16.

    The discovery of a draft of his book Hana Zakari no Mori, The forest in full bloom, has his name, Kimitake Hiraoka, crossed out and the name Yukio Mishima written alongside it. This early draft was written when he was 16.

    The draft was found in Kumamoto in 2016. The forest in full bloom was published in 1941 in the literary journal Bungei Bunka.

    Mishima, who was reportedly considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964 and on at least two other occasions, committed suicide in 1970.
    Yukio Mishima chose his pen name when he was just 16 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The first commercial translation of a work of Japanese fiction in any European language was published in Austria in 1847[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    According to Sepp Linhart, Professor of Japanology and Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna, the first commercial translation in any European language of a Japanese work of fiction was published in 1847, in German in Vienna, by its translator, 

    The book by Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842) was a late Edo Period gōkan, which were intricately plotted stories consisting of several volumes bound together and written in simple light language for the mass-market. 

    The translated title Ukiyo-gata rokumai-byobu (Floating world style Six-panel screens), originally published in Japanese 1821, was mainly about romantic misadventures and the final coming together of two lovers. It was translated and published by the Austrian polyglot, August Pfizmaier (1808-1887), as Sechs Wandschirme in Gestalten der verganglichen Welt in Vienna, in German in 1847. 

    Tanehiko’s real name was Takaya Hikoshiro. He was born into a lower level samurai family with sufficient income to allow him to get a good education. His books were written to reflect how people actually spoke, behaved and dressed. He is said to have been a genre pioneer and a master printer. He was a household name, and bestselling author in Japan in the late Edo and early Meiji periods. 

    A Country Genji by a Commoner Murasaki, an adaptation and modernization of The Tale of Genji, written by Tanehiko with illustrations by Utagawa Kunisada, the internationally famous ukio-e artist, was one of the most popular books of the Edo Period, selling more than 10,000 copies. After its first issue, published in 1829, a further 152 volumes followed over a 14 year period. The Japanese authorities, however, eventually put an end to this successful publishing venture by demanding in 1842 that Tanehiko ceased publication of what was considered a political parody, and confiscated the print blocks. He died shortly after his works were banned. 

    Despite the success of the literary work and author in Japan, the publication in German of Ukiyo-gata rokumai-byobu was a commercial failure and Pfizmaier subsequently published all his translations from Japanese in academic journals such as The Proceedings of The Austrian-Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The German translation was, however, used for translations into English, Italian and French. And apparently a new German edition was published 90 years later. 

    Despite Pfizmaier’s false start, the translation baton outside Japan was picked up 50 years later by Arthur Waley (1889-1966) who, according to academics, pioneered the modern tradition and trend of Japanese literature in the West increasing availability, interest and awareness. 

    Waley, a British translator of Chinese and Japanese literature, who interestingly never visited Asia, translated The Tale of Genji (1921-23), The Pillow Book (1928), Kutune Shirka also know as Itadorimaru no Kyoku (1951), as well as No plays and Japanese poetry. He focused his work on what he thought would interest the general public rather than academics. 

    Subsequently, Donald Keene, professor of Japanese at Columbia University and Edward Seidensticker (1921-2007), professor of Japanese at the University of Michigan have carried on this trend through translations and scholarship, further increasing awareness of and access to Japanese literature outside Japan.
    The first commercial translation of a work of Japanese fiction in any European language was published in Austria in 1847 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Many influential Japanese authors have been Christians[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Leading Japanese authors have been influenced by Christianity and have expressed a fascination with the lives of missionaries in Japan; Japan’s Christian Century (1546-1638); and the search for meaning immediately after the Second World War. 

    Despite being few in number, Japan’s Christian authors have had an important and lasting impact on Japanese literature and publishing. Japan’s most internationally famous Christian author is probably Shusaku Endo (1923-1996), whose prize-winning novel Silence, written in 1966, was adapted for film by Martin Scorsese in 2016. 

    Japan’s Christian’s writers and publishers made a major contribution before the Second World War as well as after it. Yoshikazu Hani (1880-1955) and his wife Motoko Hani (1873-1957), for example, launched Japan’s first women’s magazine in 1903. The novelist Doppo Kunikida (1871-1908), who also founded a women’s magazine, which is still published today, as well as a publishing house, was also Christian. 

    Other notable Christian authors include: Shiina Rinzo (1911-1973), Toshio Shimao (1917-1986), Ayako Miura (1922-1999), Sawako Ariyoshi (1931-1984) and Hisashi Inoue (1934-2010). They wrote about: managing guilt while searching for love after surviving the atomic bomb; mental illness; sacrifice; abortion; domestic violence; and aging. Many of their works have been dramatised for television and film. Three examples are: The Sting of Death, The Face of Jizo and Freezing Point

    Another more contemporary author is Ayako Sono, the sometimes-controversial conservative columnist and author. A devout Catholic, she was one of the first female writers to gain prominence immediately after the Second World War with her short story Guests From Afar, about the occupation. She also wrote Herod the Mad; as well as the highly regarded short story Long, Dark, Winter.
    Many influential Japanese authors have been Christians Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Oldest surviving book on Japan written in 712[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    The Kojiki, the Record of Ancient Things, compiled by Ono Yasumaru, was completed in 712 after the death of Emperor Temmu, Japan 40th emperor, who commissioned the book. The emperor is mentioned in the book’s preface.

    The Kojiki contains accounts of Japanese history including its origin and mythology that were probably considered ancient even at the time of the book’s compilation, as well as more than one hundred songs, Japan’s earliest recorded.

    The Kojiki is often studied and referenced in parallel with the Nihon Shoki, The Chronicles of Japan, completed 8 years later.

    According to Donald L. Philippi’s introduction to his 1968 translation of the Kojiki, only 32 copies of all or parts of the book still exist. The earliest of which, the Shimpuku-Ji manuscript, was produced between 1371-72. However, older copies of Nihon Shoki from the Heian Period (794-1185) exit.

    Interestingly, the oldest surviving Japanese book is not a book about Japan and its history, but a religious text written in 615 owned by Japan’s Imperial Family.
    Oldest surviving book on Japan written in 712 Posted by Richard Nathan