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 oldest poetry anthology is over a thousand years old[UPDATED: 4-14-2019]

    The Manyoshu, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves is Japan’s oldest surviving book of poetry. It was compiled during Japan’s Nara Period (710-794) when Japan’s capital was located in Nara.

    The Japanese capital subsequently shifted to Kyoto at the start of the Heian Period (794-1185), a period when many famous Japanese works of literature, including the first novel The Tale of Genji, were written. 

    The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves consists of 20 parts or books with different forms of poetry including thousands of tanka (short form poems that predated haiku), as well as kanshi, poems written in Chinese. It was compiled in about 759, but contains poems written even earlier. Some apparently may originate from as far back as the 5th Century. 

    The anthology contains poems about love, travel, nature and more. There is, however, considerable debate about its various editors, authors and compilers, Otomo no Yakamochi (718-785), known for his waka poetry, is widely thought by academics to have been one of the compilers. The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves contains many poems written by him. 

    Interestingly, the name of the new Japanese era, Reiwa, that started on 1 May 2019 and is officially translated as beautiful harmony, was inspired by this collection of Japanese poems. Rei is the first character from the word reigetsu, an auspicious month, used in a poem about an early spring breeze and plum blossom. This new Imperial era name is the first to have its roots within Japanese literature as opposed to classical Chinese literature. 

    Two examples of poems in the collection, both translated by Donald Keene (1922-2019), are: “Will ever there be, Someone else who will rest, Her head on my arms, As once my beloved wife, Made her pillow there?” and Keeping glum silence, In the role of a wise man, Is still not as good, As drinking one’s own sake, And weeping drunken tears”. 

    An English language edition of love poems from the collection, published by Overlook Press in 2005, describes the collection as: “the great literary work of eighth-century Japan, a collection comprised of work from more than four hundred known contributors. Its spectacular richness and diversity–noble sentiments of those residing in the court found next to the rustic expressions of frontier guards stationed at lonely outposts–have made the Manyoshu an object of literary fascination for centuries”.
    Japan’s oldest poetry anthology is over a thousand years old Posted by Richard Nathan
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    More than 50 Japanese authors have killed themselves since 1900[UPDATED: 12-27-2018]

    Research shows that at least 54 Japanese authors have committed suicide since 1900. This includes some of Japan’s most famous and highly regarded authors and one of its two Nobel prize winners, Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), as well as Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) after whom one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes is named. 

    Another very well known example is Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) who famously and publicly committed suicide. His spectacular death, age 45, in November two month before his birthday, made international news and confirmed his position as Japan’s most internationally famous individual and notorious author.

    Osamu Dazai (1909-1948) author of the novel No Longer Human, which alongside Dazai himself, is often cited by contemporary male Japanese writers as their favorite, also killed himself. Dazai, who attempted suicide several times from an early age, idolized Ryunosuke Akutagawa, whose death in 1927 had a very profound and terrible impact on him. 

    Sadly, Dazai’s own death in turn had a terrible impact on Hidemitsu Tanaka (1913-1949), the Olympic rower and novelist he mentored, who also killed himself. Tanaka wrote two Olympic related novels Orinposu no Kajitsu, The Fruit of Olympus, (1940) and Tantei Soshu, The Boat Rower, (1944). Tanaka killed himself at Dazai’s grave the year after Dazai’s death. 

    There is no doubt over how these four famous authors died, but Kawabata’s suicide is considered by some, including his wife, as accidental. Nevertheless, his death and the circumstances were reported widely and internationally as suicide in publications such as The New York Times, for instance. 

    Kawabata helped Mishima at several important points in his life and the two were close. Kawabata officiated at Mishima’s funeral, which was attended by thousands. However, unlike Mishima, Kawabata was at the end for his career and in poor heath when he died on the 16 April 1972, 17 months after Mishima. 

    Other well known Japanese authors included in the list of more than 50 authors who reportedly killed themselves are Takeo Arishima (1878-1923), Tamaki Hara (1905-1951) Ashihei Hino (1907-1960) and Hisashi Nozawa (1960-2004). And no doubt other lesser known and aspiring authors make have also taken their own lives.

    Japan is often associated with suicide partly due to its Kamikaze pilots in the war and stories about famous Samurai warriors. However, it does, in fact have a higher suicide rate than many nations.

    According to OECD data, Japan’s suicide rate is 18.7 per 100,000 one of the world’s highest rates amongst the nations surveyed by the OECD, and about 60 percent higher than the world average, but behind South Korea, which has an even higher rate at 28.7.

    People often cite Japan’s long tradition of an ‘honourable suicide’ as one reason for the high rate and also the lack of the Christian concept of sin and suicide being one such sin.
    More than 50 Japanese authors have killed themselves since 1900 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Honnomushi is Japanese for bookworm and there are hundreds of thousands of them in Japan[UPDATED: 11-8-2018]

    The Japanese for an avid and devoted reader, honnomushi (本の虫), is similar to the word used in English and many other languages, bookworm. The direct translation of honnomushi is book insect or bug. 

    Bookworm and honnomushi, as well as being the common informal term for bibliophiles, is used in both languages to describe any insect that is thought to bore through books.

    Actual book-borers, unlike avid book buying readers in Japan, are actually uncommon. The Oxford Dictionary defines them as: “the larva of a wood-boring beetle which feeds on the paper and glue in books”. 

    These pesky creatures that librarians have hated for centuries are sometimes referred to as booklouse (Liposcelis divinatorius). There are also some types of moths that are attracted to book bindings. 

    Japan has one of the world’s highest literary rates and the average Japanese person reads for four hours per week – making the country very fertile ground for nurturing metaphorical bookworms. 

    The term honnomushi is used regularly by Japanese bloggers in writing about the books they are reading. And there are many publications depicting book-loving bookworm characters, often girls, such as Bungaku Shojo (Literature Girl), a 16-volume light novel series by Mizuki Nomura about members of a high school literature club that has sold more than a million copies. 

    There are many different terms in Japanese that use the word bug or insect; not just honnomushi. Other interesting examples include: mushinoshirase (message from a bug) meaning foreboding, hunch, a gut feeling; and mushinoiki (breath of a bug) meaning lifeless or barely alive, to list just two. 

    Various theories exist about the origin of these phrases, but experts believe most of them may come from Koshin-Shinko, a type of Japanese folklore based on Taoist-beliefs including the belief that we are all born with three bugs or worms in our stomachs, which require careful management.
    Honnomushi is Japanese for bookworm and there are hundreds of thousands of them in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Tsundoku a unique Japanese expression for buying books and leaving them to pile up unread[UPDATED: 7-30-2018]

    Tsundoku, is a unique Japanese expression for buying books and magazines and leaving them to pile up unread; something that many book buyers around the world appear to have in common. But unlike Japanese, most languages don’t have a specific phrase or word to describe this.  

    The word is a combination of two characters ‘pile up’ and ‘read’. As it has no similar synonym in English it has been listed as one of ten interesting words for book lovers on Oxford Dictionary’s Blog. 

    According to Professor Andrew Gerstle at the University of London, the term was used as far back as 1879, in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912), or Meiji 12 as it is known in Japan.

    For reference this was the year that the Taisho Emperor (1879-1926) and the author Nagai Kafu (1879-1956) were born and the first Blackwell’s bookshop was opened in Oxford in the United Kingdom. 

    The Japanese word for novel shosetsu written using two 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. 

    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)

    During the 125 years between the word shosetsu entering the Japanese language and the word tsundoku being coined and finding wide use a considerable number of books were written and published in Japan, and in the Meiji Period many books were translated into Japanese from English and other languages for the first time, no doubt, creating some rather impressive reading piles.

    Tsundoku a unique Japanese expression for buying books and leaving them to pile up unread Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Kafka a popular author and name amongst Japan’s creatives[UPDATED: 6-9-2018]

    Kafka is a popular author and name amongst creatives in Japan. In 2007, an animated version of his 1917 short story A Country Doctor was produced by Koji Yamamura and the author’s name appeared in Haruki Murakami’s bestselling 2002 book titled: Kafka on the Shore.

    Two high profile people use the name in their pennames Kafka Shishido, a female drummer and singer; and Kafka Asasiri, the author of the manga series Bungo Stray Dogs. The series is about the members of a very specialist detective agency; in which the main characters are named after famous authors: such as Agatha Christie, Osamu Dazai, Kenji Miyazawa, Junichiro Tanazaki, and Akiko Yosano.

    There is also a character called Kafuka Fu’ura in the award winning manga series and subsequent anime Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei (Goodbye, Mr. Despair), where the characters have nicknames coined after social issues. Her name is apparently a conscious reference to Franz Kafka. The character’s real name is said to be An Akagi a pun on the Japanese translation of the title of the book Ann of Green Gables.

    Interestingly, a port and the main hub on a small Japanese island called Rebun, with a population of three thousand, north of Hokkaido is called Kafuka. Despite the name; it is not related to Shikoku, the Island, which features in Murakami’s book, Kafka on the Shore.
    Kafka a popular author and name amongst Japan’s creatives Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japanese literature and creative writing is being exploited cleverly to attract more tourists to the country[UPDATED: 5-28-2018]

    Literary tourism is now a growing part of what is known in Japan as kontentsu tsurizumu (contents tourism). The term is used to describe tourism inspired by popular culture and includes both literary tourism and film-induced tourism. 

    It is defined by academics, who run The International Journal of Contents Tourism, as “travel behaviour motivated fully or partially by narratives, characters, locations, and other creative elements of popular culture forms, including television, film, television dramas, manga, anime, novels, and computer games”. 

    Historically, books like Snow Country by the Nobel prize-winner Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) have been used to market hot spring resorts such as Yuzawa Onsen, in Niigata Prefecture, that feature in the book, but literature in all its forms is increasingly being used very creatively as part of the government’s Cool Japan branding campaign to project soft power and increase Japan’s inbound tourism. 

    The local government in Kagawa Prefecture, for example, sponsored a series of four romantic novels set in their prefecture, Japan’s smallest, by Thai authors titled: Kagawa, Let Love Lead

    Thailand is an important and growing market for Japanese fiction in translation, as well as a rapidly growing source for inbound tourists since visa restrictions were lifted in 2013. 

    Tourism has become a strategic priority and economically important to many regions in Japan. The number of tourists has trebled over the last five years, reaching an estimated 28.7 million in 2017. Local officials hope that the specially commissioned novels will increase awareness of their region and inspire more people to visit. 

    There are now a plethora of literature-related tours in Japan. You might for instance, want to follow the steps of haiku poets, discover the locations in Haruki Murakami’s novels, or go in search of those locations that feature in Japanese crime fiction popular in China.

    There are also countless websites and posts providing recommendations on social media sites for the world’s book lovers who plan to visit Japan. So much so that Kadokawa, one of Japan’s major publishers, has set up its own travel company, Cool Japan Travel, Inc to increase demand and provide those who have embarked on a literary pilgrimage to Japan, a better and more memorable experience.  
    Japanese literature and creative writing is being exploited cleverly to attract more tourists to the country 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