Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Japanese literature and novels littered with cats[UPDATED: 9-18-2020]

    There is a long tradition of cats within Japanese literature, folk stories and art. Many ‘cat books’ feature amongst the ranks of Japan’s bestselling titles.

    Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) wrote a highly regarded satirical account of the Meiji Era in Japan titled: I am a Cat, for example, in 1905. Junichiro Tanazaki (1886-1965) who is held in similar regard wrote the novella A Cat, A Man and Two Women in 1936 when he was in the process of adapting The Tale of Genji into modern Japanese.

    Another example is the highly successful series initially published in 1978 Calico Cat Holmes Series by the mystery writer Jiro Akagawa, which now consists of more than 30 novels and 14 collections of short stories.

    The first winner of the Agatha Christie Award, The Black Cat Takes a Stroll by Akimaro Mori, yet another example, very successfully uses the feline form to describe its professor protagonist. 

    The publication of books about cats or with cats as a narrative motif is a continuing trend. Analysis shows that the number of books with the word cat in their title has been steadily increasing in Japan since the 1990s and the rate of publication continues to rise.
    Japanese literature and novels littered with cats Posted by Richard Nathan
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    More than 50 Japanese authors have killed themselves since 1900[UPDATED: 9-11-2020]

    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), Izumi Suzuki (1949-1986) 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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    The Japanese word for novel entered the Japanese language in 1754 via China[UPDATED: 7-13-2020]

    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.  

    Nevertheless, the word, Shosetsu, is very flexible in Japanese. Its use now covers works of only a few lines to hundreds or even thousands of pages. 

    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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    Many of Japan’s most interesting creative writers cite ‘No Longer Human’ by Osamu Dazai as their favourite book or one that had a huge influence on them[UPDATED: 5-29-2020]

    According to Fuminori Nakamura, one of the most exciting new generation of Japanese authors, his only escape when he was young was reading, and the one book that really resonated for him, was No Longer Human (Ningen shikkaku), by Osamu Dazai (1909-1948). 

    Many other leading Japanese authors say something similar when asked about influential books or authors. The multi award-winning author Shusuke Michio, for instance admits that No Longer Human was the first novel he read after his “bookworm girlfriend” in high school gave him a copy changing the course of his life. Up until that point he had been more interested in music and being in a band than books. 

    Dazai is an author who seems to fascinate many of Japan’s commercially successful and brilliantly creative male contemporary writers. They seem to find echoes of themselves in him and this novel in particular about a reclusive young man who feels “disqualified from being human” but finds solace in literature. 

    Ryu Murakami, author of Tokyo Decadence and Coin Locker Babies, who is from an older generation than Michio and Nakamura, is another example of a high profile award-winning author who has been influenced by Dazai.

    Reviewers have described him as: “Dazai’s true spiritual heir: a worldly, unshockable writer whose natural milieu lurks in the degeneracy of the world around him”, a moniker that he would no doubt be delighted by.  
    Many of Japan’s most interesting creative writers cite ‘No Longer Human’ by Osamu Dazai as their favourite book or one that had a huge influence on them Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Santa’s first documented Christmas appearance in Japan was in 1900 when he arrived as Santa Kuro in the pages of a children’s book[UPDATED: 12-9-2019]

    Christianity arrived in Japan in 1549 with Francis Xavier (1506-1552) and the first Christmas Mass in Japan was reportedly celebrated at Yamaguchi Church in 1552. However, Santa Claus, probably one of the most recognised icons and characters associated with Christmas celebrations around the world today, did not make a documented appearance in Japan for another 348 years. 

    After its arrival in Japan, Christianity and Christians were repressed and the religion was subsequently banned in 1614. Christianity only really started flourishing again when Japan opened up to the West, after more than 250 years of isolation, during Japan’s Meiji era (1868-1912) when freedom of religion was allowed from 1871 onwards. 

    It was during this period when Japan was exposed to more and more Western influences, including dinners and banquets arranged by non-Japanese families celebrating Christmas in Japan, that Santa Claus finally made his first appearance in the land of the rising sun.

    His very first appearance in Japan may well have been have been in the book, Santa Kuro, published by Shindo Nobuyoshi, in 1900.

    A black and white drawing of a familiar, but slim-looking Santa Claus appears on Santa Kuro’s inside cover.

    This early image of the legendary bearer of gifts, as well as the book itself, can be viewed online at the National Diet Library of Japan

    The tale of Santa Kuro is set in Nagano in Japan, where many years later the Winter Olympic Games were held in 1998, and tells the story of a poor Christian farming family who save a farmer from a distant village.

    This unknown farmer subsequently saves their Christmas when they fall on hard times by bringing gifts for the family’s son and a message of thanks for their belief in God and for their kind act of saving an unknown stranger. 

    Another book published in 1914, Kodomo No Tomo (The Children’s Friend), which includes a more traditional looking Santa Claus, wearing a red and white coat and a red and white hat, is also cited as an early Japanese Santa Claus book.

    By this time regular citing of Santa Claus were taking place in Japan. In 1912, for example, a familiar looking Santa Claus, rendered by the pioneering Japanese graphic designer Hisui Sugiura (1876-1965) was even featured in Mitsukoshi magazine, the famous department store’s house magazine.

    Kodomo No Tomo is, however, often included in pictorial histories of Santa Claus and analysis of the curious evolution and history of Santa Claus and his varied depictions around the world in different cultures.

    Kodomo No Tomo‘s rendering of Santa Claus is much more Western, with a much less slim Santa, and less Japanese looking one than when he first appeared in Japan a decade or more earlier, as Santa Kuro.  

    Japan’s Christian community is small and Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, but Santa Claus, and his associated motifs, have had a major impact and continue to play an important role in Japan; as have many Christian authors, writers and publishers .

     

    Santa’s first documented Christmas appearance in Japan was in 1900 when he arrived as Santa Kuro in the pages of a children’s book Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Kobo Abe is said to be the Kafka of Japan[UPDATED: 11-22-2019]

    Kobo Abe (1924-1992) is said to be ‘The Kafka of Japan’. He is best known for: The Road Sign at the End of the Street (1948), The Woman in the Dunes (1962), as well as being avant-garde, being expelled from the Japanese Communist Party, and collecting insects.

    His novella, The Wall, won the Akutagawa Prize and established his reputation. His best friend was Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) and he was also a friend of Harold Pinter (1930-2008).

    He didn’t give many interviews, but an interesting conversation with him is reported in the New York Times under the headline: Japan’s Kafka Goes on the Road, where his experimental theatre group is discussed. 

    He and his book The Woman in the Dunes in particular are still popular today amongst some of Japan’s most talented and creative individuals such as the up-and-coming film director Yuka Eda, director and screenwriter of the 2018 crowd-funded film Shojo Kaiko, Girls’ Encounter, and the 2019 drama 21st Century Girl

    Eda cites Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes as one of the books that has had the most influence on her and one she returns to when she is looking for inspiration. She says she admires the novel’s kafkaesque tone and narrative style.
    Kobo Abe is said to be the Kafka of Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Kafka a popular author and name amongst Japan’s creatives[UPDATED: 8-28-2019]

    Kafka is a popular author and name amongst creatives in Japan. In 2007, an animated version of Franz Kafka’s (1883-1924) 1917 short story A Country Doctor was produced by Koji Yamamura and the author’s name also famously appeared in Haruki Murakami’s bestselling 2002 book titled: Kafka on the Shore, a novel in which the protagonist renames himself Kafka after his favourite author.

    Two high profile Japanese people use the name in their pen names Kafka Shishido, a female drummer and singer; and Kafka Asasiri, the author of the manga series Bungo Stray Dogs, a series about the members of a very specialist detective agency; in which the main characters are named after famous authors: such as Agatha Christie (1890-1976), Osamu Dazai(1909-1948), Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965), and Akiko Yosano (1878-1942).

    Another example is a character called Kafuka Fu’ura in the award winning manga series and subsequent spin-off anime Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei (Goodbye, Mr. Despair), where the characters have nicknames coined after social issues. The name Kafuka Fu’ura is apparently a conscious reference to Franz Kafka while the character’s actual real name is said to be An Akagi a pun on the Japanese translation of the title of the book Ann of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery (1874-1942).

    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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    Japan’s most important library, The National Diet Library, serves Library Curry in its canteen[UPDATED: 8-19-2019]

    Japan’s National Diet Library (NDL), founded in 1948, is the library of Japan’s parliament, The National Diet (Kokkai), and the nation’s national library. It is not only one of the most important libraries in Japan, but also one of the largest libraries in the world.

    It was set up to assist members of Japan’s parliament with research and policy-making and now has a similar function as the Library of Congress and the British Library.

    It functions as a national deposit library and copies of all books published in Japan can be found within its collection of books. The motto: ‘The Firm Conviction that Truth Makes Us Free’ is engraved in Japanese and Greek in the hall of its main building in Tokyo. 

    Within the library’s large collection Japan’s oldest surviving cookbook can be found, published in 1643, as well as many historically important books about Japan’s early culinary exchanges with other countries and cultures.

    This includes a book by Robun Kanagaki (1829-1894), a well-known author and journalist, that contains the first recipe in Japanese for making curry, published in 1872. 

    Curry-rice, now a very popular Japanese dish, has not just found its way into the pages of the National Diet Library’s collection of around 10 million books. It also appears as Library Curry –the signature dish of the 4thfloor cafeteria of the library in Tokyo, which is located between the headquarters building of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) and the National Diet.

    This popular beef curry served with rice and pickles costs 550 yen upwards depending on which version you order. Vouchers are purchased using a vending machine found next to a display of plastic models of all the dishes the cafeteria offers.  

    After handing over your voucher to kitchen staff, you are served the signature Library Curry, which has been reviewed positively by appreciative patrons of the library and its canteen on websites like Tripadvisor

    On average, just under 2,000 people visit the Tokyo library every day. Registration is required, but the library, which has published a newsletter in English on its services and collections since 1958, welcomes international visitors. 

    It’s
    not possible to estimate how many servings of curry are consumed on a typical day, but 9.9 billion servings of curry are reportedly served nationally each year in all its varied Japanese forms. This equates to 78 meals per person. In comparison, about 1 billion books, of which only about 640 million are actually purchased, are distributed annually in Japan.

    This said, every year 1.5 million photocopies are made at the National Diet Library and 21 million individuals access the library’s website through which the cover of the book, The Expert on Western Cookerycontaining Japan’s first recipe for curry-rice can be viewed. 

    Japan’s most important library, The National Diet Library, serves Library Curry in its canteen Posted by Richard Nathan