Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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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
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    Japan’s oldest novel and perhaps even the world’s oldest is The Tale of Genji[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    The Tale of Genji written by Murasaki Shikibu, in 1010, during Japan’s Heian Period (794-1185) is said to be Japan’s oldest novel and perhaps even the world’s oldest novel, if a novel is defined as prose narrative of significant length.

    However, there were also many poets and writers during this period and earlier including many notable women who wrote autobiographical narratives in diaries, memoirs and poetic writings and essays such as the Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon.

    Fragments from the original scroll The Tale of Genji was written on have survived and are preserved at two Japanese museums.
    Japan’s oldest novel and perhaps even the world’s oldest is The Tale of Genji Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japanese folk tales contain stories of time travel & shape-shifting animals[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Japanese folk tales contain stories of time travel, shape-shifting animals – sometimes a Crane considered a National Treasure in Japan but more often foxes – as well as many different types of supernatural creatures. Some claim that a least one of these stories is the first reported account of an extra terrestrial visitation.
    Japanese folk tales contain stories of time travel & shape-shifting animals Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s ‘first modern novel’ was written by Futabatei Shimei in 1887[UPDATED: 2-5-2018]

    Ukigumo, The Drifting Cloud, by Futabatei Shimei (1864-1909) is considered by academics as Japan’s ‘first modern novel’ due to its realism and focus on the psychology and personalities of the novel’s four characters, as opposed to being a chronicle of deeds and actions.  

    An English translation, by Marleigh Grayer Ryan, was published in 1967 by Columbia University Press as Japan’s first modern novel: Ukigumo of Futabatei Shimei.  

    Futabatei Shimei, born Tatsunosuke Hasegawa, a student of Russian literature, wrote in a colloquial style about the society around him. The Drifting Cloud was published in three volumes in 1887 and 1888 and was in fact never completed. Nevertheless, its realism, style and critique of growing materialism in Japan were highly influential.  
    Japan’s ‘first modern novel’ was written by Futabatei Shimei in 1887 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The most famous Japanese folk tales are: Princess Kaguya, The Grateful Crane and Urashima Taro[UPDATED: 12-20-2017]

    Three famous Japanese folk tales are: Princess Kaguya (extra-terrestrial supernatural creature); The Grateful Crane (shape-shifting bird); and Urashima Taro (time travel). Perhaps, Princess Kaguya a story from the 10th Century, which is now very well-known outside Japan after the release of the Studio Ghibli animated film in 2013, has had the biggest impact. A Japanese spacecraft named after the Princess orbited the Moon between 2007-2009 taking photos of the Moon in Ultra-High Definition.
    The most famous Japanese folk tales are: Princess Kaguya, The Grateful Crane and Urashima Taro Posted by Koji Chikatani
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    Most Japanese folk stories don’t have ‘Happily Ever Afters’[UPDATED: 5-31-2017]

    The narrative tradition of Mukashibanashi, Japanese folk tales, include accounts of epic journeys, secret rooms and unusual treasure; as is the case in story telling and literature of many countries. But Japanese tales differ significantly from Western fairy and folk stories as most don’t end happily.
    Most Japanese folk stories don’t have ‘Happily Ever Afters’ Posted by Richard Nathan