Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    The Shogun’s respect for publishing was a key factor that led to the Tokugawa-state lasting 265 years[UPDATED: 6-24-2020]

    Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) who founded a military state and a dynasty of shoguns that ruled for 265 years during what is known as Japan’s Tokugawa or Edo period (1603-1868), placed significant importance on literature, reading, books and publishing.

    Tokugawa sponsored the publication of books including Confucian classics and Buddhist texts and believed that encouraging the production and distribution of books was an essential part of good governance.

    Tokugawa famously said: ‘when people forget the moral requisites of humanity, order is lost, government declines, and there is no peace. The only way to deliver those morals to the people is through books. The first step of good government is to print books for a wide audience’. It’s interesting to note, too, that the Tokugawa period was the most stable and peaceful period in Japanese history.

    The books published under his leadership were generally practical and educational and not just theoretical and abstract texts. After he consolidated his power, books were gathered from across Japan and collected at Edo Castle. Over time, this lead to the building of an impressive collection of more than one hundred thousand books, most of which are now part of Japan’s National Archives and the Imperial library.

    In 1593 the first ‘Japanese book’ was printed using movable type, a decade before Tokugawa was appointed as Shogun. After retiring as Shogun, Tokugawa commissioned a large-scale publishing project that required the creation of copper metal type for more than a hundred thousand Chinese character types (logographic letters known as Kanji used in Japanese writing).

    The books printed with this type are known as the Suruga Editions and played an important role in the development of publishing and printing in Japan.

    Japan’s first commercial publishing emerged in Kyoto during this period and spread to Osaka and Edo, now Tokyo. The military class learnt to read and even produce literature. They were, in fact, encouraged to do so. 

    Some Samurai, mostly from the lower ranks, played an active and important role in the development of popular fiction. This included authors like Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653-1724) and Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831). 

    Literacy rates among men and women increased, becoming the highest in the world. However, there was only a limited amount of publishing actually conducted by the Shogunate authorities (the government) during this period. Much of it was outsourced to commercial publishers who would also have published calendars, maps and directories. 

    Commercial publishers dominated the industry not just through contract publishing for the authorities and the selling of books but also by commissioning the engraving of print blocks, and haiku books, for example. 

    This helped commercial publishing grow and flourish. By 1693, according to historians, the number of commercial publishers in Japan had increased to around 400 publishers with 7,800 titles published in that year alone. There are currently around 3,500 publishers in Japan publishing more than 70,000 books per year.

    Just as is the case today, only a small number of commercial publishers dominated the industry back in the Edo Period, with half of all the books being published by less than 10 percent of the publishers.

    Analysis indicates that the number of books available in Japan during the latter half of the 17thcentury when authors like Chikamatsu, who is considered by some to be Japan’s Shakespeare, were in their writing prime were double the number from when these authors were learning to read.

    Books, reading and writing had already enjoyed a long history in Japan, but the importance that Tokugawa placed on books cannot be overstated. Indeed, many, including Tsunenari Tokugawa, the eighteenth head of the Tokugawa family, believed that this was a key factor in the longevity of the state and system of government that Tokugawa initiated.

    Tsunenari Tokugawa writes in his book, The Edo Inheritance, published in English translation in 2009: ‘Ieyasu, while no liberal, asserted that the publication of classics and dissemination of knowledge are the heart of good government and followed up this assertion with action four centuries ago. I think this alone makes him a great historical figure.’

    Tokugawa’s actions helped create so-called ‘Pax Tokugawa’ as well as a new generation of samurai authors, a book loving public and a vibrant reading culture with what some academics have described as ‘epic levels of book consumption’.

    Chikamatsu, author of Love Suicides at Somezaki  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 – something the first Tokugawa Shogun would have been delighted by.

    The Shogun’s respect for publishing was a key factor that led to the Tokugawa-state lasting 265 years Posted by Richard Nathan
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    A series of publications in 1912 introduced psychoanalysis to Japan[UPDATED: 5-29-2020]

    Seventeen years after Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) first used the term psychoanalysis to describe his new method, the concept was introduced to Japan in 1912, according to Perversion and Modern Japan: Psychoanalysis, Literature and Culture, in a series of articles.

    Nonetheless, the actual first official use of the word psychoanalysis in Japanese or English, which many argue was a term coined by Freud, is unclear. Freud is reported to have used the word initially in a letter in 1896 and subsequently in his book The Interpretation of Dreams, which was published in German in 1899 with an initial print run of 600 copies; and subsequently in English translation in 1913.

    The concept of psychoanalysis was, however, by 1913 fully introduced and used in Japan, just as the first English translation of The Interpretation of Dreams was being published by Macmillan in the United Kingdom. This introduction was made by Morooka Son, an academic at Kyushu Imperial University, in a series of papers in the Japanese literary journal Eniguma, the first of which was published in 1912.

    Son published a Japanese translation of Dream of an unmarried woman with notes and commentary; and wrote a Freudian analysis of a European novel as well as a local one, The Tale of Genji, thought to be the world’s oldest novelin three separate papers, according to Perversion and Modern Japan: Psychoanalysis, Literature and Culture edited by Keith Vincent, Nina Cornyetz. 

    The links between psychoanalysis, folklore, classical literature, narrative texts and mythology are well known and documented since at least 1899 when Freud drew on Greek myths using the term Oedipus Complex in his book The Interpretation of Dreams to analyse a particular dynamic of the relationship between a child and a parent of the opposite-sex. 

    Even before the arrival of Freud and psychoanalysis in Japan, during the nation’s modernising Meiji era (1868-1912), Japanese intellectuals including the Buddhist philosopher Inoue Enryo (1858-1919) were already analysing Japanese literature, especially narratives that depicted the weird, magical or supernatural; to help explain Japanese society and to debunk long held superstitions while highlighting the need for Japan to change.

    Enryo, applied rational analysis to Japan’s literature of the extraordinary, creating taxonomies of ghosts and monsters, as metaphors for psychological disorders, and attributing their appearance to symptoms of ‘nerves’.

    Despite the relatively early arrival of the concept of psychoanalysis in Japan, different folklore and mythologies, as well as the Japanese language itself and local religious beliefs, led some early highly prominent psychoanalysts outside Japan, such as the influential French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacque Lacan (1901-1981), to conclude that: the Japanese were unanalysable; probably didn’t require psychoanalysis; or that psychoanalysis and Japan were a poor match.

    This in turn has allowed others to continue to argue the case of the uniqueness of Japan, the Japanese, and Japanese culture – even though psychoanalysis has continued to evolve as a discipline in Japan

    It may have also helped reinforce the view held by some outside Japan and some within, that Japan is at times unfathomably perverse, and generally impossible to understand.  

    These perceptions have created a field day for journalists who frequently extol Japan’s unique weirdness or unfathomable perversions; not to mention cultural theorists looking to attain research grants to deconstruct Japan’s ‘unique’ foibles.

    In various and often delightfully unpredictable ways this has inspired authors and many others in the Japanese creative arts, including Japan’s talented animators and video game makers, to adapt or modernise ancient tales of the extraordinary or to blend them with the influences of European gothic fiction, as well as advances in technology, to create new creative products and works.

    Some contemporary Japanese authors, such as the Akutagawa prize-nominated Kanji Hanawa, have specialised in exploring human psychology and complex relationships with the aim of exposing the pressures and challenges of life in modern day Japan.

    A good example of this is Hanawa’s work Backlightwhich frames the abandonment of a seven-year-old boy in the woods of Hokkaido, and his relationship with his family, through the lens of psychology while also exploring folklore, identity and cultural analysis, at times with scorn and subtle indignation.

    Another interesting example is the animator Hayao Miyazaki, famous for the folklore inspired Spirited Away and many other films, who often explores humanities relationship with nature, an important theme in early Japanese literature, in his work.

    Miyazaki’s animations have been praised for how they depict the unconscious anxiety of children and have even been deconstructed from the perspective of psychoanalysis in academic papers such as Fantasy and reality in Miyazaki’s animated world

    This psychoanalysis inspired creativity, despite Japan still being considered unanalysable by some, has helped generate new forms of Japanese surrealism and suggestive storytelling that are at times both compelling and highly imaginative, while also being accessible, entertaining and uncanny.

    A series of publications in 1912 introduced psychoanalysis to Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first magazine, and the first in Asia, dedicated to gay men, Barazoku, was launched in 1971[UPDATED: 2-28-2020]

    Japan’s first commercial magazine targeting gay men was launched in 1971.

    Barazoku, which is thought to have been Asia’s as well as Japan’s first commercial gay magazine, was not just sold in specialist bookshops and clubs. The magazine was distributed by the two major Japanese book and magazine distributors, Tohan and Nippan, making the magazine a national one and available in most major Japanese cities.

    The magazine whose name is made up of two words rose, bara, and tribe, zokui s no longer published in print, but during the 33 years when it was, Barazoku survived disapproval, legal injunctions, and numerous arrests of its founder and editor, Bungaku Ito, who was not himself gay.

    Ito was an opportunistic publisher. Initially, he published a book on lesbianism titled Resubian Tekunikku, Lesbian Technique, the commercial success of which led him to publish a second book – Homo Technique, which contained some male nude photographs.

    Both were authored by Masami Akiyama, according to
    Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age by Mark J. McClelland.

    Much of the Barazoku’s revenue came from classified and personal advertisements. The magazine was published bimonthly and was generally about 70-pages in length. In its early years the magazine followed the typical format of Japanese magazines with articles, short stories, advice, interviews, and news as well as its popular and important classifieds section.

    Barazoku reportedly published anonymous work by some of Japan’s most famous poets and authors.

    Despite the demise of the print magazine itself, the term Barazoku is still sometimes used in Japan today as a term for gay men and its use is considered either controversial or old-fashioned by some.

    There is, however, also a website, which claims to be the official site of Barazoku, trying to keep the name alive for a new generation of readers.

     

    Japan’s first magazine, and the first in Asia, dedicated to gay men, Barazoku, was launched in 1971 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    An Italian who came to Japan to design the nation’s first modern banknotes helped found one of the country’s most important printers[UPDATED: 11-21-2019]

    Edoardo Chiossone (1833-1898) an Italian painter, engraver and lithographer arrived in Japan in 1875 at the height of Japan’s period of rapid modernisation, known as the Meiji Era (1868-1912), to help design and create the country’s first modern banknotes. 

    He designed banknotes including: a 5-Yen banknote; the 1878 1-Yen banknote, the first modern Japanese banknote to include an image of an individual the legendary Empress Jingu (170-269); and a banknote with the image of Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) an important Heian Period (794-1185) poet and politician, for example.

    The image Chiossone created for the 1-Yen banknote depicts a somewhat European-looking Empress Jingu, wearing heavy ornate necklaces in an oval on the righthand side of the banknote.

    In total Chiossone created 500 plates that were used to print bonds, stamps, securities, as well as banknotes for use in Japan. Initially, many were printed outside Japan.

    Chiossone, who stayed for 23 years and died in Japan, had a major influence on the world of printing, publishing and even on how the world saw Japan and its Emperor at the time, the Meiji Emperor (1852-1912).

    He is also credited with helping found the printing company Toppan Insatsu by training its two founders, as well as training many individuals who went on to transform Japanese printing and publishing.

    He worked very closely with Enkichi Kimura (1853-1911), for example, and others helping them to subsequently found Toppan, which has now become a global printing company and runs the Printing Museum, Tokyo. Among other things, the museum proudly displays the world’s smallest printed book, printed by Toppan in 2013. 

    Modern printing may have taken off much more slowly in Japan had it not been for Chiossone’s important contribution. He lived in Japan during a period when many new newspapers and magazines were launched and printing, like the Internet today, was a transformational technology. 

    Chiossone is also remembered for his famous 1888 widely circulated portrait of the Meiji Emperor, and his impressive personal collection of Japanese art, which is now housed at the Museum of Japanese Art ‘Edoardo Chiossone’ in Genova.

    An Italian who came to Japan to design the nation’s first modern banknotes helped found one of the country’s most important printers Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first rugby book published in 1909 criticised baseball, arguing that rugby was the superior sport[UPDATED: 9-11-2019]

    Japan’s first book on rugby, Ragubi Shiki Futoboru (Rugby-Style Football), was published in 1909, a digital copy of which can be accessed online at Japan’s National Diet Library

    The book not only introduced the game and its rules to Japanese readers for the first time, but it also critiqued baseball, insisting that rugby was superior in terms of its sportsmanship.

    Let’s play rugby, not baseball!’ its foreword states, which then also goes on to quote a famous Japanese baseball player of the era Shin Hashido (1879-1936), who apparently held similar views, saying that, ‘In the future, I will play rugby instead of baseball’.

    Baseball, despite its popularity, was controversial and considered harmful by some sections of the Japanese press and society, which argued that playing the sport would turn students into ‘non-achievers’ and ‘delinquents’, and not the disciplined loyal heroes Japan wanted to develop. Baseball arrived in Japan in advance of rugby in 1872 while rugby only arrived on Japanese shores in the 1890s.

    Japanese books of this period mostly focused on introducing new sports and their rules to readers, and not on tactics and game-winning strategies or inspiring narratives associated with the sport. 

    Since the publication of Japan’s first book on the sport, rugby and sports literature in general have grown considerably in Japan to the extent that one can now find inspiring narratives, heroic tales of winning teams and individuals, as well as multiple formats and styles including anime, mangaas well as books.

    Japan’s first rugby book published in 1909 criticised baseball, arguing that rugby was the superior sport Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s oldest surviving cookbook was published in 1643[UPDATED: 8-26-2019]

    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 oldest surviving Japanese cookbook.

     

    Japan’s oldest surviving cookbook was published in 1643 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Long before Europe, papermaking know-how arrived in Japan[UPDATED: 7-5-2019]

    Papermaking arrived in Japan via Korea from China in 610 when Japan was ruled by Shotoku Taishi (574-622), an important historical figure in Japan and still admired today as one of Japan’s early pioneers and modernisers.

    The so-called Prince of Holy Virtue, a regent and author, is credited with many things including developing Japan’s first set of laws, establishing Japan’s first national library, authoring Japan’s oldest book, the Hokekyo gisho, as well as helping create Japan’s book loving culture

    He did many things, but his encouragement of the development of papermaking, through which he aimed to promulgate Buddhism in Japan, acted as facilitator for much of what he achieved and importantly led to the lasting records of his achievements surviving until today. 

    Paper was required for copying Buddhist texts. Initially, according to Kiyofusa Narita (1884-1979) Director of the Paper Museum in Tokyo and a former executive of Oji Paper Company Limited, the paper made using the newly imported methods was too brittle for this use and new approaches to papermaking were required using the bark of Kozo (paper mulberry) trees.

    The term Kozo is a loose one that can in fact be used to describe at least three different plants whose inner bark are used in traditional Japanese papermaking.

    This innovative enhancement is sometimes credited to the Prince himself who also encouraged the cultivation of Kozo trees in Japan.

    These and new subsequent innovations and enhancements led to the development of Washi, Japanese paper, which is now famous around the world, and is said in some of its forms to last over a thousand years

    It is held in high regard by artist and artisans, Rembrandt (1606-1669) is even said to have created works using Japanese paper.

    Some of the Buddhist charms, that were mass produced and printed under the Prince’s guidance and placed in pagodas and temples in Japan to bring peace to the nation, are regarded by experts to be some of the oldest, if not the oldest, printed matter extant in the world.

    UNESCO, in 2014, included Japanese handmade paper, Washi, to its list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. This recognition would be something hard for Shotoku Taishi to fathom, but if it were explained to him, he would no doubt be delighted by the recognition.

     

    Long before Europe, papermaking know-how arrived in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    For over a thousand years many of Japan’s emperors have played an active role in publishing: writing poems, books and even scientific papers[UPDATED: 5-2-2019]

    Since Japan’s first book on the nation’s history was commissioned by Emperor Temmu, Japan’s 40th emperor, and published in 712 after his death, Japanese emperors have been intimately involved in many important publishing milestones in Japan.

    The nation’s first book to be produced using moveable type was, for example, chosen by another emperor for printing in 1593.

    The Japanese Imperial Family has had a very long association with the literary arts, especially poetry.

    Japanese emperors have not only encouraged and patronised the poetic arts and Japanese verse known as waka and tanka in particularbut have also written thousands of poems themselves.

    The Meiji Emperor (1852-1912) who ruled over a period in history when Japan opened up to the West, after more than 250 years of self-imposed isolation, wrote over 100,000 waka and tanka poems and was known as ‘the sage of poetry’.

    The Meiji Emperor learnt the art of writing poetry from his father Emperor Komei (1831-1867). His era was an age of transformation and a crisis of modernisation.

    To s
    ome that must have seemed mind-boggling at the time, with the arrival of railways for instance, that transformed Japanese society. Writing poetry appears to have helped him process these changes.

    He wrote many different types of poems, describing his reaction to the arrival of these new technologies in Japan including photography, trains and telescopes. Some experts also believe that his writing indicates that he wished to avoid war and had a pacifist streak.

    The following poem by the Meiji Emperor was published in English translation by Harold Wright in the Kyoto Journal:

     

    Being all alone

    And consoling our own heart

    for this one day,

    The time was spent quietly

    in the writing of poems

     

    Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989) also penned many poems and new rare caches of his creative outputs are still coming to light decades after his death.

    New waka poems, including poems that show Japan’s role in World War II, occupied his thoughts as he aged, and have made their way into the public domain as recently as 2019

    Emperor Akihito, his son now known as Emperor Emeritus, and his wife Michiko have also written and published books and poetry, including a collection of more than 300 poems titled Tomoshibi Light , which was published in English in 1991. The collection was originally published in Japanese in 1986 when Akihito was still Crown Prince.

    Many anticipate that the new Emperor, Naruhito, who took up the position on 1 May 2019, will continue this long tradition, but most doubt he will write multiple poems on a daily basis like his predecessor, the Meiji Emperor.

    That said, a book written by him about his experience as a student at Oxford University has been published in English, translated by Sir Hugh Cortazzi (1924-2018), a former British Ambassador to Japan, The Thames and I: A Memoir of Two Years at Oxford

    In addition to writing books and poetry, some emperors are known to have had much broader interests that have led to them subscribing to international magazines and publications long before this was possible for most in Japan. 

    In 1875, Emperor Komei, for example, was listed amongst the names of the subscribers to the Illustrated London News (1842-1971), the world’s first illustrated weekly news magazine. Two recent emperors, Akihito and Hirohito, have subscribed to international magazines including another British publication, Nature, the weekly science journal.  

    In fact, Emperor Akihito, who has a species of goby fished named after him, has done much more than just write poems and read about the latest scientific research trends alongside fulfilling his role as a constitutional monarch. He has published 38 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals including the world’s most prestigious ones, Nature and Science and has even been seen at one or two scientific conferences in Japan. 

    At times, Japan’s Imperial Literature and creative writing has even stretched into science fiction with one member of the Emperor’s family penning books that helped develop the genre now known as ‘cyberpunk’ using the pen name Bien Fu in the 1960s.

    Literary and publishing genes continue to flourish in the family. And in 2017, an essay by the Emperor’s daughter Princess Aiko, titled Praying for Peace in the World, was widely praised for its literary style and content. The Princess wrote the essay for the yearbook commemorating her graduation from Gakushuin Girls’ Junior High School.

     

    For over a thousand years many of Japan’s emperors have played an active role in publishing: writing poems, books and even scientific papers Posted by Richard Nathan