Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    The Japanese word for novel entered the Japanese language in 1754 via China[UPDATED: 4-14-2019]

    The Japanese word shosetsu written using two letters or characters meaning ‘small’ and ‘talk ’ first came into use as a Japanese term for fiction in 1754; following the successful translation and adaptation of Chinese books such as Sui-Hu Chuan (The Water Margin), pronounced Suikoden in Japanese. 

    The first ten chapters of Suikoden were published in 1727 and another 10 chapters in 1759 in Japan in translation with Japanese annotations. 

    The word, shosetsu, was initially used only for works of fiction translated from Chinese, but was subsequently used for fiction in general, due to the success of these publications. 

    In the 1880s Shoyo Tsubouchi (1859-1935), a Japanese writer and translator and professor at Waseda University, first proposed that the term shosetsu be adopted as the standard Japanese translation for the English word novel and the French word roman in his paper titled: Shosetsu shinzui (The Essence of the Novel)

    Shosetsu thus become the accepted word used to translate the English word and Western concept of novel into Japanese. 

    Subsequently it was used to mean a novel or any form of prose narrative fiction, story, tale, or romance. Modifiers were added to this old term to differentiate the type of book or prose: tanpen (short or brief edit) to create short-story; and tantei for detective novels. 

    The word shosetsu, however, is in fact a Chinese word with its own long history. It was, according to research, used much earlier than the 1750s in Japan and reportedly as early as 1484, but generally as a term of derision of another’s opinion or work – meaning trivial history, small talk or street rumor, not a work of fiction or novel as we know them today; be they Chinese translations, English translations or Japanese originals.
    The Japanese word for novel entered the Japanese language in 1754 via China Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first commercial publishing emerged in Kyoto in the early 17th century[UPDATED: 4-14-2019]

    Following the arrival from Korea of movable type technology and the printing of the first book using the technology in 1593, after Japan’s invasion of Korea, a new industry emerged in Japan – commercial publishing. 

    According to academics, such as Donald Keene, professor of Japanese at Columbia University, “printing soon developed into the hobby or extravagance of the rich, and many examples of Japanese literature began to appear in small editions,” with commercial publishing only arriving about a decade later in 1609, in Kyoto, at the start of Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). 

    According to The History of the Book in East Asia, by Cynthia Brokaw and Peter Kornicki, the Kyoto-based publishers mostly didn’t use movable type, even though the technology helped trigger the birth of the industry 

    Three publishing hubs in Kyoto, Osaka and Edo (later known as Tokyo) developed over time, with Edo initially being a market for books, as opposed to an originator of them. 

    There was only a limited amount of publishing conducted by the Shogunate authorities (the government) during this period. Some of their publishing needs, such as the printing of calendars, maps and directories, were outsourced to commercial publishers. Commercial publishers dominated the industry, commissioning the engraving of print blocks and selling titles.
    Japan’s first commercial publishing emerged in Kyoto in the early 17th century Posted by Richard Nathan
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    The Long Winter, the sixth book in the Little House series, was the first book approved for translation and publication in Japan after World War II[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    During the American occupation of Japan, after the Second World War (1945-1952), all publications were reviewed by General Douglas MacArthur’s team at GHQ (General Headquarters). MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), recommended The Long Winter, the sixth book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series for publication. It was published in 1949, under the title Nagai Fuyu by Kosumoporitan-sha (Cosmopolitan Publishing) translated by Aya Ishida. 

    Nagai Fuyu is generally cited as the first translated book to be granted permission for publication by SCAP. During the war the publication, distribution and reading of books in English were prohibited in Japan and more than a thousand books were banned or censored. 

    The Long Winter is about the Ingalls family in the Little House series surviving being snowed in with limited food supplies during a long eight-month winter. The Long Winter was apparently chosen to aid “democratization” and to “buoy the morale of a defeated and starving people”. 

    One of the stated strategic goals of the occupation was “to build a future for the people of Japan based upon considerations of realism and justice” and “to infuse into the hearts and minds of the Japanese people principles of liberty and right heretofore unknown to them.” 

    Learning about American values and America was part of this. GHQ actively encouraged the book’s distribution to public, and school libraries across Japan. German translations were published in a similar effort. 

    Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a special message, dated 8 July 1948, to the children of Japan, which appeared in the book. It ran as follows: “things of real value do not change with the passing of years nor in going from one country to another.  These I am sure you have.  It is always best to be honest and truthful, to make the most of what we have, to be happy with simple pleasures, to be cheerful in adversity and have courage in danger”. The book was very popular. 

    In 1975, a Japanese anime version of the series was launched under the title: Sogen no sojo Laura (Laura the Prairie Girl). And like many other countries around the world the television series Little House on the Prairie, based on the third book in the series, was broadcast in Japan from 1975-1982. The books were originally written during the Great Depression with the first in the series published in 1932.
    The Long Winter, the sixth book in the Little House series, was the first book approved for translation and publication in Japan after World War II Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The first Japanese translation of the bible was produced around 1549[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    St. Francis Xavier is said to have brought a Japanese translation of sections of The Gospel According to Matthew with him when he arrived in Japan in 1549. The translation was done by a young Japanese man called Yajiro, who is generally reported to have been the first Japanese person to convert to Christianity. He converted while living in Goa, India. 

    Subsequently, in 1837, Karl Gutzlaff (1803-1851) translated, with the help of several Japanese people, The Gospel and Epistles of John into Japanese. This translation is sometimes cited as the first Protestant translation. 

    When Japan opened up to the West in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) the American missionaries James. C. Hepburn (1815-1911) and Samuel. R. Brown (1810-1880) worked on a new complete Japanese translation of the Bible, which was published in 1880. Hepburn also compiled an English-Japanese dictionary consisting of twenty thousand words published in 1867. 

    In comparison, the famous Gutenberg Bible, the first major Western book printed using movable metal type in Europe was published in 1452, and England’s first printed bible was published in 1535.
    The first Japanese translation of the bible was produced around 1549 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first monthly book series for Kindergartens, launched in 1907, is still being published 90 years later[UPDATED: 2-22-2018]

    Kinderbook was launched in 1927 as the Observational Picture Books Kinder Book, by Froebel-Kan, a Tokyo based company named after the German educator Friedrich Wilhelm A. Froebel (1782-1852), who established the world’s first kindergarten, and coined the name for these learning centres.  

    The decision to launch Japan’s first monthly picture book series for pre-school age children followed the first Japanese regulations in 1926, known as the Kindergarten Ordinance, introducing new standards and teacher qualifications for kindergartens. 

    The first issue, published the year after the regulations were enacted, was titled: All About Rice. Illustrated books were published monthly, in a magazine style approach, and were and still are distributed directly to kindergartens across Japan. The number of which increased after the Ordinance, when about 6% of the population attended kindergarten. 

    Froebel-Kan, founded in 1906, now owned by one of Japan’s largest printing companies, Toppan Printing Co.Ltd, still publishes the series, which has evolved and developed over the last 90 years alongside new printing, design and educational techniques. 

    Many talented authors and illustrators have worked on the series including the famous Japanese poet Shuntaro Tanikawa. The books document in a very unique way Japan’s modernisation and some difficult periods that its authors, illustrators and publisher had to navigate including: the aftermath of natural disasters and war. 

    According to its publisher’s website, the series “gives children the power to live and to develop their future, and an abundance of spirit”. The company now also publishes a monthly childcare magazine, sells playground equipment, and helps design kindergartens and early learning centres. It also publishes the popular Japanese language editions of Where’s Wally, by the English illustrator Martin Handford.
    Japan’s first monthly book series for Kindergartens, launched in 1907, is still being published 90 years later Posted by Richard Nathan