Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
If you would like to contribute to this compendium please submit your ideas here.
All will be considered for publication by our expert panel.
  • Share
    • Culture

    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
  • Share
    • Culture

    Japan’s oldest book is a religious text[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Japan’s oldest surviving book is a religious Buddhist text called the Hokekyo gisho, the authorship of which is generally attributed to Shotoku Taishi (574-622) in 615.

    It is a commentary, that stresses the importance of faith, on the Lotus sutra from the Asuka Period (538-710), a period when Buddhism first arrived in Japan from Korea and China.

    It is owned by the Imperial Family and is sometimes also cited as an example of the oldest Japanese calligraphy.
    Japan’s oldest book is a religious text Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Culture

    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
  • Share
    • Culture

    Kobo Abe is said to be the Kafka of Japan[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    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.
    Kobo Abe is said to be the Kafka of Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Culture

    Japan’s oldest novel and perhaps even the world’s oldest is The Tale of Genji[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    The Tale of Genji written by Murasaki Shikibu, in 1010, during Japan’s Heian Period (794-1185) is said to be Japan’s oldest novel and perhaps even the world’s oldest novel, if a novel is defined as prose narrative of significant length.

    However, there were also many poets and writers during this period and earlier including many notable women who wrote autobiographical narratives in diaries, memoirs and poetic writings and essays such as the Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon.

    Fragments from the original scroll The Tale of Genji was written on have survived and are preserved at two Japanese museums.
    Japan’s oldest novel and perhaps even the world’s oldest is The Tale of Genji Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Culture

    Japanese folk tales contain stories of time travel & shape-shifting animals[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Japanese folk tales contain stories of time travel, shape-shifting animals – sometimes a Crane considered a National Treasure in Japan but more often foxes – as well as many different types of supernatural creatures. Some claim that a least one of these stories is the first reported account of an extra terrestrial visitation.
    Japanese folk tales contain stories of time travel & shape-shifting animals Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Culture

    In the 17th century Japan experienced the world’s first camellia publishing boom[UPDATED: 2-9-2018]

    A confluence of events created Japan’s, and probably the world’s first, camellia publishing boom in the second quarter of the 17th century. 

    The arrival from Korea of movable type technology and the printing of the first Japanese book using the technology in 1593 was the catalyst for the commercial publishing that kicked off about a decade later in 1609, in Kyoto, at the start of the Edo Period (1603-1868). Interestingly, most commercial publishers reverted to traditional methods and did not use the new movable type technologies as the local publishing market developed and expanded. 

    The Shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), who initiated the Edo Period when he took control of the country, loved flowers and his successor Hidetada Tokugawa (1579-1632), the next Tokugawa Shogun, was particularly fond of camellias. Interest spread to feudal lords and then onwards creating the Kan’ei Era (1624-1644) boom in camellias. Dozens of books, and illustrated guides were produced, at a time before these plants had even arrived in Europe. A similar boom happened in Europe after the arrival of Camellia japonica in the 1830s. 

    Some of the illustrated guides that still exist today are impressive and beautiful as they must have been when produced more than 300 years ago and would not look out of place in a European art museum displayed alongside modern pictures. 

    One of the best examples of these amazingly beautiful Japanese publications is: One Hundred Camellias, attributed to Kano Sanraku (1559-1635), which was created in the midst of this unprecedented camellia gardening boom at the start of the Edo Period. 

    It is 24-meters long and consists of two scrolls and commences with an introduction consisting of prose and poems from 40 different individuals including members of the Japanese imperial family. Camellias are painted and drawn in vivid colours in different containers; baskets, vases, trays, and tea-bowls to name just a few. Following its donation it is displayed annually to welcome in the New Year at The Nezu Museum in Tokyo. 

    One of the best places to witness the long-term effects of this publishing boom is the garden of the central Tokyo hotel Chinzan-so. The hotel’s name means “mountain of camellias” and houses about a hundred different varieties from across Japan with exotic names such as Camellia Akashigata, Kingyohatsubaki, Yokogumo and Hikaru Genji. The famous Haiku poet Mastuo Basho (1644-1694) is said to have lived in a hut facing the garden for four years, long before the hotel was built.  
    In the 17th century Japan experienced the world’s first camellia publishing boom Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Culture

    David Bowie was a Yukio Mishima fan, and painted his portrait in 1970[UPDATED: 2-8-2018]

    David Bowie (1947-2016), the British singer songwriter and actor, was a fan of the Japanese author Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), especially his novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace from the Sea, published in 1963.  

    The novel was made into a film, directed by Lewis John Carlino in 1979 after Mishima famously committed ritual suicide in a highly stage-managed public manner. The novel was listed amongst David Bowie’s favourite 100 books.  

    David Bowie, who also painted, painted a portrait of Yukio Mishima in 1977, which was exhibited at the “David Bowie” exhibition in 2014 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum in Berlin. The portrait was apparently hung on the wall of Bowie’s flat in Berlin. 

    Bowie also owned a sculpture of Mishima by the Scottish pop artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005). The sculpture was sold at auction for 47,500 pounds after Bowie’s death.

    In 2013, Bowie included Mishima’s name in the lyric of his song Heat from the album The Next Day, his first album in a decade and his penultimate one. “Then we saw Mishima’s dog, Trapped between the rocks, Blocking the waterfall, The songs of dust, The World would end, And night was always falling. The peacock in the snow”.

    Another interesting musical connection is the vocal version of the theme song composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylivian for the 1983 film, Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, directed by Nagisa Oshima (1932-2013) starring Bowie. It is titled “Forbidden Colours” in reference to Mishima.


    David Bowie was a Yukio Mishima fan, and painted his portrait in 1970 Posted by Richard Nathan