Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
If you would like to contribute to this compendium please submit your ideas here.
All will be considered for publication by our expert panel.
  • Share

    Japan’s oldest surviving cookbook was published in 1643[UPDATED: 2-4-2019]

    According to historians, Japan’s first modern cookbook Ryori Monogatari, Accounts of Cooking, was published just as the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), came to power in 1603, and Japan’s Edo Period began (1603-1863). 

    Tokugawa was a supporter of publishing and in particular books that provided practical guidance. The oldest surviving example of Accounts of Cooking, was printed in 1643.  The author of the book, which has 20 different sections organised in two parts, is unknown.

    A copy is now part of The Tokyo National Museum’s collection and another copy of an edition, published by Fukuda Bunko, can be found in the National Diet Library.

    The 1643 edition is an unusual cookbook as it includes recipes for game at a time when eating meat was viewed by most as a taboo. Some, however, considered game as medicinal.

    Interestingly, Japan is currently experiencing a mini-boom in restaurants serving deer and wild boar following a relaxation of regulations and the extension of the Japanese hunting season.

    The 1643 book includes recipes for grilling venison, wild-hare, wild boar, and even raccoon dog and dog.  As well as recipes for shark, whale and more typical dishes such as sashimi, sushi, udon and yakitori that are now popular dishes eaten around the world.

    That said, a hand copied edition of a 13thcentury document about cooking, Chuji-ruiki, Kitchenry Enyclopedia, is believed to be the oldest Japanese document describing practical cooking techniques, according to The History and Culture of Japanese Food by Naomichi Ishige. The document from the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) is sometimes described by academics as an ancient cookbook.

    Other books including the Nihon ShokiThe Chronicles of Japan, one of Japan’s oldest books, refer to hunting, food and the dishes preferred by emperors, but the 1643 edition of Ryori Monogatari, Accounts of Cooking, is believed to be the boldest surviving Japanese cookbook.

     

    Japan’s oldest surviving cookbook was published in 1643 Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    Japan’s most expensive book was published in 1984 with a retail price of US$17,000[UPDATED: 1-5-2019]

    Japan’s most expensive book, an edited collection of manuscripts by Claudius Ptolemaeus (100-168), was published in two-volumes by the Japanese publisher Iwanami Shoten in 1984, just before Japan’s infamous economic bubble (1986-1991), with a retail price of 1,930,000 yen.

    Ptolemaeus’ astronomical treatise, an astronomy textbook and star catalogue, is generally referred to as the Almagest.

    Copies of the extremely expensive Japanese edition, Uchushi, Cosmography, a collection of reproductions of Ptolemaeus manuscripts, including analysis and commentary by Torataro Shimomura (1902-1995), a philosopher and a science historian and others, are available at the National Diet Library in Tokyo.

    One of the volumes that can be viewed at the National Diet Library, which consists mostly of maps, is numbered as the 239th of a limited edition.

    According to information contained within the book, which is large and heavy, the volume was printed in Germany in 1983 and is based on an original edition published in 1472. The publication of the 1984 Iwanami Shoten edition was arranged by Uni Agency Inc.

    Ptolemaeus, of Greek-Egyptian heritage, was one of the most influential ancient astronomers. He is famous for his mathematics and geography and his earth-centred cosmology.

    His cosmological theory (hypothesis) that the earth was the centre of the universe was held for 1,400 years; until it was refuted by Nicolas Copernicus (1473- 1543) in 1530. When Copernicus wrote De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, in which he argued that the earth, in fact, rotated around the sun. The theory was published in 1543, the year of his death.
    Japan’s most expensive book was published in 1984 with a retail price of US$17,000 Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    Digital developments forced Japan to update its copyright legislation in 2014 and then again in 2018[UPDATED: 12-9-2018]

    Japanese copyright law was updated in 2014 under the Revised Copyright Act and then revised again in 2018.

    Publishing rights, which have traditionally been limited in Japan to print or paper medium publications, were extended to cover e-books and the Internet for the first time under the new Act in 2014.

    The new Act came into force in January 2015, 146 years after Japan’s first copyright legislation in 1869. And was then partially revised again in 2018, a set of revision that included amongst other things a revision that extended the copyright period on books and other works from 50 years to 70 years.

    The new Act covers: the right of publication; as well as the right to terminate the right of publication; the obligation to publish or transmit online within a six-month period of receipt of manuscript, and other updates required for electronic publishing.
    Digital developments forced Japan to update its copyright legislation in 2014 and then again in 2018 Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    The first Japanese book produced using movable type was printed in 1593[UPDATED: 11-2-2018]

    The first Japanese book printed using movable type was the Kobun Kokyo, Classic of Filial Piety. The book, was chosen by the Japanese Emperor to be the first printed using the new technology. It was printed in 1593, after the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-98) by Hideyoshi Toyotomi.  

    At this time, Japan already had a long history of publishing. Its oldest book was published in 615 and its oldest surviving book, owned by the Ishiyama-dera a temple in Shiga Prefecture, that includes a publication date, is inscribed 1052 in red ink, for instance.

    Nonetheless, following the invasion, a copper movable type printing press was brought back to Japan from Korea and presented to the Japanese Emperor, who ordered that copies of the Confucian treatise on obedience be printed using the looted machine.  

    Subsequently, about four years later, a Japanese version of the machine was developed, using wooden as opposed to metal type. It was used to produce a new print edition of the Nihon Shoki, The Chronicles of Japan, Japan’s second oldest history book written in 720, which contains within its 30 volumes mythical accounts and ancient stories including how Japan was created.

    Following its printing, hundreds of other books were printed using the new machine. The arrival of the new printing technology was the catalyst for the development of commercial publishing in Japan a decade later.

    Its arrival helped book production evolve and transform – whether it be the transcription of religious texts or the publication of commercial fiction.

    Interestingly, most commercial publishers reverted to traditional block printing methods and did not use the new movable type technologies as the local publishing market developed and expanded.  

    Academics give many reasons for this including the complexity of the Japanese language, the market demand for books to include illustrations, as well as portability and the ability to easily print-on-demand using block printing.  

    Jesuit priests are also said to have brought a press to Japan from Rome, at a similar time. Unlike Japan’s first generation of commercial publishers, who focused on demand and existing interests, the priests used their press to print religious books locally. They printed books to assist them in helping the spread of Christianity in Japan for two decades, from the early 1590s until the religion was banned in 1612.

    Many of the books produced, by the Jesuit Mission Press known as Kirishitan-ban, were burnt or destroyed. But a copy of one of these books, the Sanctos no gosagueo no uchi nuqigaqi (a Compendium of the Acts of the Saints), survives in Oxford University’s Bodleian Japanese Library.

    The book arrived at the library in 1659 as part of the English polymath and scholar John Selden’s (1584-1654) collection. This book printed two years before the first Japanese book in 1591 was the very first book printed from moveable type in Japan.  

    To put this in historical context, Johannes Gutenberg invented his metal movable type press in 1450 almost a 150 years before the first movable type technology arrived in Japan.  

    The first movable type, however, is now thought to have actually been invented in China by Bi Sheng (990-1051) hundreds of year before then, and not in Europe, in 1040. Interestingly, its type was made of porcelain, not metal.
    The first Japanese book produced using movable type was printed in 1593 Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    Books in Japan generally published as tanko-bon, bunko-bon or both[UPDATED: 5-19-2018]

    There are two standard book formats in Japan tanko-bon and bunko-bon. Most works of fiction are initially published as tanko-bon and then after a given period, that can sometimes range from 1 to 4 years, as bunko-bon.

    The content of a book and the publisher may also differ across the two editions. Some books, however, are only published as tanko-bon.

    Bunko or bunko-bon is the widely used Japanese term for a book that is a small-format paperback book designed to be affordable, portable and not take up too much shelf space. The format has a long and interesting history going back to books designed to fit into the sleeves of kimonos in Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). 

    The direct translation of tanko is ‘standalone’ or ‘bound’ and bunko ‘storeroom for written works’ or ‘library’ and ‘bon’ is book. 

    The modern form bunko-bon emerged at the turn of the 20th century. Two publishing houses (Shincho Bunko in 1914 and Iwanami Shoten in 1927) are often cited as having pioneered the modern versions.

    According to International Book Publishing: An Encyclopedia, Iwanami Shoten developed the market for the current popular bunko format in Japan with its imprint the Bunko Classics Series. The imprint was modeled on the German publisher Reclam Verlag’s series Universal Library.

    The Bunko-bon format, in addition to ebooks, is now exploited by Japanese publishers, in a similar manner to mass-market paperbacks in the United States, as cheap editions of books that have already been published as tanko-bon.

    They are typically printed on hardwearing paper, bound in a similar manner to English-language books, and usually, as is the case with most books in Japan, have a detachable outer cover (dust jacket) over a plain cover.

    The vast majority of bunko-bon are A6 (105×148mm or 4.1″×5.8″) in size and are sometimes illustrated. On the other hand, the size of tanko-bon (which can be either hardcover or softcover) are much more varied. The typical tanko-bon size, however, generally mirrors standard A5 or B5 paper sizes.

    Despite the similarities in terms of print production unlike English-language books, most Japanese books are printed to be read top-to-bottom (with vertical lines of text as opposed to horizontal text) and from right to left.  
    Books in Japan generally published as tanko-bon, bunko-bon or both Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    Totto-Chan is Japan’s all time bestselling novel[UPDATED: 3-27-2018]

    Japan’s all time bestselling novel is Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window, written by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi.

    It was originally published as a series of short stories by Kodansha in its magazine Young Women in 1979. At pixel time it has sold more than 5.8 million copies in Japan and has been translated into more than 16 languages including many local Indian languages, a country, like China and Japan, where the book has been very popular. 

    According to the Asahi Newspaper, sales of the Chinese edition have overtaken sales of the original Japanese edition, with sales of more than 10 million at pixel time.

    Initially, the local Chinese publisher, Thinkingdom, found it difficult to promote the title due to geopolitical issues between China and Japan, such as the ongoing dispute over the uninhabited Senkaku (also know as Diaoyutai) Islands in the East China Sea.

    Nevertheless, the book is now selling in extremely large numbers and the publisher is aiming to sell more than 50 million copies in China. In 2017, the book lead the charts for the bestselling translated children’s book in China; ahead of Charlotte’s Web by Elwlyn Brooks White (1899-1985) and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.

    This children’s book, by the actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, is sometimes classified as non-fiction or biography as it is considered as Kuroyanagi’s childhood memoir of her time at Tomoe Gakuen, an elementary school in Tokyo. 

    An English translation by Dorothy Britton was published in America in 1984.
    Totto-Chan is Japan’s all time bestselling novel Posted by Koji Chikatani
  • Share

    Japan’s oldest publishing house, Hozokan, is more than 400 years old[UPDATED: 3-22-2018]

    Hozokan, the Kyoto based Buddhist publisher can trace its roots back to 1602 and is considered to be Japan’s oldest publisher. It publishes books on Buddhism, targeting both specialists and general readers. 

    Hozokan’s longevity, and the nature of its subject specialism, has not stopped it embracing modern publishing marketing tools and techniques. It has an attractive website, and like most publishers today is embracing social media using, for instance, Twitter to promote its books. 

    The publisher started publishing the writings of Buddha just before Japan’s Tokugawa Period (1603-1868) commenced, in 1602. The same year that Oxford University’s Bodleian Library was opened, and the first performance of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was performed in London. Japan’s oldest book, Hokekyo gisho, a Buddhist text, was written almost a thousand years earlier, in 615. 

    Hozokan’s mission is to publish titles, mostly based on Buddhist teachings, that “will nurture moral and spiritual growth and foster a new age of spirituality in the 21st century”. It has benefited significantly from being based in Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, which is the home of many important temples. 

    The world’s oldest publisher is said to be Cambridge University Press, which was founded much earlier in 1534 after Henry VIII granted it permission to print “all manner of books”.
    Japan’s oldest publishing house, Hozokan, is more than 400 years old Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    Encyclopedia, known as dictionaries of a hundred subjects, have been published in Japan for more than a thousand years[UPDATED: 3-22-2018]

    In Japan encyclopedia are called hyakka jiten (百科事典), which literally means “dictionary of a hundred subjects”. They have been compiled and published since Japan’s Heian Period (794-1185). 

    The first Japanese encyclopedia is said to be the Wamyo ruijusho published in 938. Other Japanese encyclopaedia are considered its descendants. It survives today in its 10 volume and 20 volume formats.
    Encyclopedia, known as dictionaries of a hundred subjects, have been published in Japan for more than a thousand years Posted by Richard Nathan