Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    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
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    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
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    Book rental and lending schemes have a very long history in Japan[UPDATED: 1-24-2018]

    Historically, book production and consumption in Japan was focused on the country’s aristocrats, Buddhist monks, Shinto priests and society’s upper classes not the mass market. However, in the early 1800s book lending shops started to appear.

    According to historians, their number grew from around 650 in Tokyo (or Edo as it was known then) in 1808 – expanding to meet demand – to 800 by 1832. These shops alongside increasingly high literary rates created demand that supported a very high ratio of approximately 1 lending shop per 1,500 people. The capital had a population of over 1 million at the time making it one of the world’s largest cities.

    Currently, the population per bookstore in Japan is high compared to other nations (estimated at 7,710 per store vs. 23,363 in the United States), but lower than lending shop ratios of the Edo Period. Records also show that there was in fact a book rental shop in Nagoya even earlier, as far back as 1767, which provided a continuous service for 130 years. It built up a collection of more than 20,000 titles during its operating life.
    Book rental and lending schemes have a very long history in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The most famous Japanese folk tales are: Princess Kaguya, The Grateful Crane and Urashima Taro[UPDATED: 12-20-2017]

    Three famous Japanese folk tales are: Princess Kaguya (extra-terrestrial supernatural creature); The Grateful Crane (shape-shifting bird); and Urashima Taro (time travel). Perhaps, Princess Kaguya a story from the 10th Century, which is now very well-known outside Japan after the release of the Studio Ghibli animated film in 2013, has had the biggest impact. A Japanese spacecraft named after the Princess orbited the Moon between 2007-2009 taking photos of the Moon in Ultra-High Definition.
    The most famous Japanese folk tales are: Princess Kaguya, The Grateful Crane and Urashima Taro Posted by Koji Chikatani
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    Japan’s creative industries inspired by its rich legacy of folk stories & tales of old[UPDATED: 6-24-2017]

    Japanese tales of old in their different versions have not only inspired and fueled science fiction, fantasy and other genre within Japanese literature, but other creative industries in Japan as well, including video game design. For instance, Pokemon (Pocket Monsters) draws on the rich world of mythical creatures found within Mukashibanashi (folk tales), as obviously does Yokai Watch, which is named after a class of monsters, supernatural beings and phantoms from these ancient stories.
    Japan’s creative industries inspired by its rich legacy of folk stories & tales of old Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japanese people spend over 4 hours per week reading[UPDATED: 5-31-2017]

    Japanese people spend over 4 hours per week reading.  This is only about half the time of Indians who are the world’s biggest bookworms, according to international surveys. The typical Japanese book buyer purchases 5.7 book per year and Japan has one of the world’s highest literacy rates.
    Japanese people spend over 4 hours per week reading Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japanese boys outscore girls on international literary benchmark tests[UPDATED: 5-31-2017]

    Japanese students score extremely highly on international literacy benchmark tests (540 compared with an average 497 amongst OECD nations) and unusually boys in Japan outscore girls by one percentage point on these tests, while in other countries girls generally outscore boys.
    Japanese boys outscore girls on international literary benchmark tests Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Most Japanese folk stories don’t have ‘Happily Ever Afters’[UPDATED: 5-31-2017]

    The narrative tradition of Mukashibanashi, Japanese folk tales, include accounts of epic journeys, secret rooms and unusual treasure; as is the case in story telling and literature of many countries. But Japanese tales differ significantly from Western fairy and folk stories as most don’t end happily.
    Most Japanese folk stories don’t have ‘Happily Ever Afters’ Posted by Richard Nathan