Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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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
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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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    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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    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
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    Two Japanese magazines, launched in the 1920s, played a critical role in the development of Science Fiction writing in Japan[UPDATED: 3-8-2018]

    Two magazines in the 1920s Shinseinen (New Youth) and Kagaku Gaho (Science Pictorial) played pivotal roles in the development and establishment of the modern Science Fiction genre in Japan. 

    New Youth, launched in 1920 was packed full of short stories targeting “urban modern men”, and quickly became an outlet and publishing platform for science-fiction-type stories and detective stories. 

    The editor of the magazine grouped these stories into two categories: 1) honkaku (classic) and 2) henkaku (irregular) stories.

    Science fiction fell into the latter and was, according to Robert Matthew in his book Japanese Science Fiction: A View of a Changing Society, initially categorized in Japan in its modern form as ‘irregular detective fiction’ 

    Science Pictorial, set up just after Amazing Stories, science fiction magazine launched in the United States in April 1926 by Hugo Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing, also played a critical role. Gernsback is generally credited for the first use of the term Science Fiction. Both magazines were the first in each country to be devoted solely to science fiction. 

    Science Pictorial ‘s mission at launch was to “seek revolutionary works of high literary value which are purely scientific in their material and do not lapse into the detective style ”. 

    The two Japanese magazines published stories such as: Jinzo Ningen (Artificial Human) by Hatsunosuke Hirabayashi (1892-1932), which is often cited by academics as a classic example of Japan’s so-called “early Showa robot literature”, which there was lots of. Other notable examples include: Chitei Jigoku (The Animal Kingdom Under the Earth) by Juran Kuze (1901-1946); and Shindoma (The Demon of Vibration) by Juza Unno (1897-1949), who is sometimes referred to as the Father of Japanese Science Fiction. 

    Despite this early creativity, the terms Science Fiction (Saiensufikushon), SF and Sci-Fi, however, only came into use in Japan after the Second World War. 

    Nevertheless, the words Kagaku Shosetsu (科学小説), which is still occasionally used today, alongside Kuusou Kagaku Shosetsu  (空想科学小説), meaning imaginary science novel, were coined as early as 1886 for the Japanese “scientific novel”. 

    The genre’s roots, however, go back much further in Japan to stories known as Mirai-ki. Nonetheless, the genesis of today’s science fiction writing in Japan is said to be the translation into Japanese of the French author and playwright Jules Verne’s (1828-1905) novels in the 1880s. 

    Verne’s books arrived during a period of rapid modernisation and change in Japan known as the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when Japan was opening up to Western influence after the resignation of the Shogun and more than two hundred years of self-imposed isolation.  Verne’s books and others like them had a major impact on readers and budding authors. 

    New Youth and Science Pictorial provided the platforms for Japanese writers interested in science and fiction, who grew up on these Western translations, to flourish and for the genre to develop with its own Japanese characteristics. 

    Subsequently, two commercially successful magazines, launched in the 1950s, Uchujin (1957-2009) and SF Magajin (1959-) played an equally important role for the next generation of Japanese authors, who are sometimes referred to by academic as “The First Generation Writers” of modern Japanese science fiction.

    This so-called first generation of authors includes writers such as Kobo Abe (1924-1993), Shinichi Hoshii (1926-1997), Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), Sakyo Komatsu (1931-2011) and Yasutaka Tsutsui, who was born in 1934.

    Science fiction has now become an important and popular genre in Japan that is still flourishing creatively and commercially today in all formats: book, animation, film and graphic novel.
    Two Japanese magazines, launched in the 1920s, played a critical role in the development of Science Fiction writing in Japan 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