Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    • Crime

    Japan’s first detective story was published in 1889[UPDATED: 3-17-2018]

    Ruiko Kuroiwa (1862-1913), who founded a newspaper and edited several others, is widely thought and cited as having written Japan’s first detective story, a classic whodunit short story titled Muzan (In Cold Blood), nine years after the first modern Japanese short story, Dancing Girl, by Ogai Mori, was published in 1890. 

    Kuroiwa was part of the new literary class that emerged in Japan’s Meiji Era (1868-1912), a period of rapid modernisation and change when Japan was opening up to Western influence after the resignation of the Shogun and more than two hundred years of self-imposed isolation.  

    Kuroiwa initially joined others in translating European books, such as Jules Verne’s (1828-1905) Le Voyage dans la lune, before penning Japan’s first detective story. He also translated The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells (1866-1946).

    However, it was Taro Hirai (1894-1965), writing under the pen name Edogawa Rampo, who established the modern genre in Japan and popularized it by combing scientific method with Japanese sentiment, as well as the suspense-type narratives that had been popular in Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). 

    Several years after graduating from Wasada University, where subsequently many famous authors studied, he published his debut work: The Two-Sen Copper Coin (二銭銅貨 Nisen doka).

    Somewhat like Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) after the Second World War, Hirai had the rare ability to bridge and blend the new rapidly urbanising Meiji Japan with the old Japan, helping readers of his generation deal with transitioning society through fiction.

    He was and is still highly influential and a prize (The Edogawa Rampo Prize) named after him has been awarded every year since 1955.
    Japan’s first detective story was published in 1889 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    • Crime

    Winning the 1987 Japan Mystery Writers Association Prize put Miyuki Miyabe on the literary map triggering a boom in female crime writing in Japan[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    Miyuki Miyabe’s short story Warera no rinjin was hannin (Our Neighbour is a Criminal) won the 1987 Japan Mystery Writers Association Prize, announcing her arrival as a writer in Japan. 

    Her success, especially her 1992 novel Kasha (All She Was Worth) about loan sharks, debt and the risks of a cashless society, as well as the success of similar books written by non-Japanese female authors published in translation in Japan encouraged a new generation of Japanese women to try their hand at the genre. 

    Some went on to enjoy major success and something of a publishing boom developed in Miyabe’s wake. Such authors as Natsuo Karino and Kaoru Takamura whose profiles are now growing outside Japan. 

    Karino’s prize-winning 1997 novel Out (アウト) has been described as a “dark, feminist, horror and probably not like anything you’ve read”. The book is about a group of women working together at a factory who find themselves coming together to cover up a murder, but not everyone “handles the guilt well”. Other notable and successful Japanese female crime fiction authors include: Asa Nonami and Yoshiki Shibata. 

    Interestingly, crime fiction written in the 90s by women in the US and the UK also saw a similar surge in popularity. 

    Though there have always been female writers of whodunits finding success in translation; Agatha Christie (1890-1976) being perhaps the best known, Japanese media has tended to play up the authors’ gender to promote the books by using titles like the crime fiction “Queen”, or “Princess”, or some such moniker. 

    As the trend evolved and gained momentum, names of strong female characters started appearing in the narratives themselves and not just on the covers of the books. Books like Out would feature female detectives and criminals, as well as dark, grisly stories whose narratives included violence done by and to women. 

    As their writing careers have progressed some of these Japanese authors have followed Miyabe’s example by branching out into other genres including science fiction and historical fiction. 

    The phenomena, like other Japanese popular culture trends, has even created an opportunity for academic study with the publication of such papers as Woman uncovered: pornography and power in the detective fiction of Kirino Natsuo; and monographs such as Bodies of Evidence: Women Society, and Detective Fiction in 1990s Japan.
    Winning the 1987 Japan Mystery Writers Association Prize put Miyuki Miyabe on the literary map triggering a boom in female crime writing in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    In 2017 JK Rowling was overtaken by a Japanese crime fiction writer as the top royalty-earning international author in China[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    In 2017 the Japanese crime fiction master Keigo Higashino, author of The Devotion of Suspect X and many other titles, overtook JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series as the highest non-Chinese royalty-earning author in China. 

    JK Rowling has headed the annual ranking for a number of years and Higashino is the first Japanese author to make it to the top of this list. His royalties surpassed US$3.5 million (2.2 million RNB) in 2017 – a year when the Chinese translation of his Miracles of the Namiya General Store was Amazon’s bestselling paperback in China, and the website’s third bestselling e-book. His novel Journey Under the Midnight Sun was also Amazon’s fourth bestselling paperback in 2017. 

    According to China Daily, Higashino’s novels have made it into Amazon’s top 10 bestseller rankings for four consecutive years since the Chinese edition of Miracles of the Namiya General Store was first published in 2014. 

    Born in Osaka, Higashino started writing novels while still working as an engineer at Nippon Denso Co, a leading supplier of advanced technology for the automobile industry. He won the coveted Edogawa Rampo Literary Prize, which is awarded annually to the finest mystery work, in 1985 aged 27, for his novel After School (Hokago). He subsequently quit his job to focus full-time on writing.
    In 2017 JK Rowling was overtaken by a Japanese crime fiction writer as the top royalty-earning international author in China Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Some believe that the origin of one of Japan’s four alphabets, Katakana, is ancient Hebrew[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    Japanese uses multiple syllabary (alphabets) and has a special phonetic alphabet for foreign words: katakana, which has helped it manage the impact of foreign words entering its language. It is used for loanwords that enter the Japanese language, such as beer. The other alphabets used are Kanji, Hiragana and Romaji

    Some believe that katakanas origins are ancient Hebrew as there is some similarity between some of the letters, which are also pronounced in a similar manner, such as the letter Ka and Kaph for instance. 

    These similarities are often cited as evidence by proponents of the theory that one of the lost 10 tribes of Israel ended up in Japan. Books have been published in English on the topic and Japanese television programmes have also explored the subject. 

    However, most academics believe that katakana is in fact based on Kanji (Chinese characters) and was developed over a thousand years ago in Japan’s Heian Period (794-1185) by Japanese monks to annotate Chinese texts – mostly Buddhist texts; so they could be read by Japanese readers. The alphabet subsequently became used for non-Chinese loanwords as Japan became exposed to other countries, languages and cultures.

    The so-called lost tribes of Israel reportedly started leaving and disappearing from Israel following the conquest of its northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BCE.  
    Some believe that the origin of one of Japan’s four alphabets, Katakana, is ancient Hebrew Posted by Richard Nathan
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    • Crime

    Despite large number of crime fiction titles being written Japan has one of the world’s lowest homicide rates[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Despite a large number of crime fiction titles or Suiri Shosetsu (Japanese detective fiction) being written and published each year, Japan has one of the world’s lowest homicide rates of 0.3 (the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants), according to the OECD. This compares with an OECD average of 4.1.
    Despite large number of crime fiction titles being written Japan has one of the world’s lowest homicide rates Posted by Richard Nathan
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    • Crime

    Keigo Higashino is the most popular contemporary Japanese author in China[UPDATED: 2-7-2018]

    The award-winning Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino is the most popular living Japanese author in China. His books regularly top the bestsellers lists in China. 

    The Chinese translation of Higashino’s Miracles of the Namiya General Store was Amazon’s bestselling paperback in China in 2017 and its third bestselling e-book. His novel Journey Under the Midnight Sun was the fourth bestselling paperback in 2017. 

    According to China Daily, Higashino’s novels have made it into the top 10 of these two rankings for four consecutive years since the Chinese edition of Miracles of the Namiya General Store was first published in 2014 in China. 

    His books aren’t just bought; they are also widely borrowed. In 2016, his novel by, Mysterious Night, was the third most frequently borrowed book at Peking University Library, the main library at China’s leading and most prestigious university.

    Higashino also had the two most requested and reserved books at the Library, The Miracles of the Namiya General Store, and Journey Under the Midnight Sun. The only other novel in the library’s top ten was Animal Farm, by George Orwell (1903-1950), the seventh most borrowed book from the library. 

    Higashino’s popularity is not just limited to China and Japan. In 2017, three of top ten bestselling novels in South Korea were also by him. Making him a massive hit in the world’s second, fourth and tenth largest markets respectively, as measured by the International Publishers Association (IPA).

    Journey Under the Midnight Sun, structured as a series of short stories, was initially published in serial format in a Japanese magazine (1997-1999) and in book format in 1999. It has been adapted for television, the stage, and for film in Japan and Korea.  
    Keigo Higashino is the most popular contemporary Japanese author in China Posted by Richard Nathan