Factbook

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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 translation of the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1923 led to a robot literature boom in Japan[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    The play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek (1890–1938), written in 1920 and first performed in Prague in 1921, had a major impact in Japan in the 1920s and 30s after its arrival in translation. 

    The play not only popularised the word robot worldwide, but also triggered a flurry of robot stories in Japan; sometimes described by academics as “Early Showa Robot Literature”. Jinzo Ningen (Artificial Human) by Hatsunosuke Hirabayashi (1892-1932) is often cited as a classic example of this genre. 

    The Robot and the Weight of The Bed by Sunjugo Naoki (1891-1934), who the Naoki Literary Prize – one of Japan’s most important literary awards – is named after, is another example. This story written in 1931 is about a dying man’s plan to leave a robot to look after his wife after he has departed this world. It is set in the future when Japan has electrically controlled cars (not dissimilar to the electronic and autonomous cars being developed today) that automatically avoid accidents. The story is about a robot designed to make sure a wife remains faithful to her husband after his death. Other stories from this period feature enhanced or modified humans as well as robots and dolls. 

    The rapid industrialization Japan was experiencing at the time and the arrival of new developing technologies generated creative angst as well as concerns amongst the general population. 

    Robots were not considered by these authors as merely tools to serve humans; they were also seen as potential threats to human and biological life. Japanese authors developed narratives reflecting the growing concerns about mechanization; similar to the fears often articulated in the media today, about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the current generation of robots (actual not imagined), and the prospect of so-called technological singularity, artificial super-intelligence that leads to runaway technological growth, changing our society beyond recognition, perhaps in an uncontrollable unforeseen way.
    The translation of the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1923 led to a robot literature boom in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The first professional Japanese author who generated enough literary earnings to live from was born in 1765[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831) the prolific bestselling author and illustrator of titles such as the Shank’s Mare, a comic novel that follows two amiable scoundrels on a madcap road trip adventure along the great highway leading from Tokyo to Kyoto (Tokaido), was reportedly the first creative individual in Japan to be able to support himself on literary earnings alone. Shank’s Mare was published in instalments over many years. 

    As a young man at an early stage of his career, Ikku lived with Juzaburo Tsutaya (1750-1797), a highly innovative trendsetting publisher of woodblock prints in Edo, the world’s largest city at that time. Ikku, like many, was drawn to the city seeking opportunity and success. He was born in Shizoka. 

    His experience at Tsutaya’s residence helped him, after some earlier false starts, tremendously. He acknowledged that his time residing with Tsutaya allowed him to see Tsutaya in action close up, meet his connections and friends, and witness his approach to publishing. 

    Tsutaya was the publisher and distributor of many titles including the Yoshiwara saiken, a very popular guidebook to the Yoshiwara pleasure district where prostitution was legal. All the different types of people Ikku met at Tsutaya’s house or through him and his guidebook helped Ikku develop his narratives and become one of the most commercially successful authors of his generation. The Shank’s Mare, which is still readable today, is available in English translation from Amazon.
    The first professional Japanese author who generated enough literary earnings to live from was born in 1765 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
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    The first modern Japanese short story was written by Ogai Mori and published in 1890[UPDATED: 3-3-2018]

    The modern short story in Japan was a Western import that arrived at the turn of the 20th century in the 1890s. It is hard to confirm what was the very first modern authentic Japanese short story, but academics often attribute this honor to Maihime (The Dancing Girl) by Ogai Mori (1862-1922). 

    The Dancing Girl is about the relationship between a dancer, Elise, and a Japanese exchange student in Germany who is forced to choose between love, and career and duty. The narrative is sometimes compared to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly with the roles reversed. The student decides to prioritize his career and leave Elise, alone and pregnant, and return to Japan from Berlin with tragic consequences. 

    Its very first sentence in the translation by Richard Bowring is: “They have finished loading the coal, and the tables here in the second-class saloon stand silent” and the short story ends “I also left some money to pay for the birth of the child that I had left in the womb of the poor mad girl. Friends like Aizawa Kenkichi are rare indeed, and yet to this very day there remains a part of me that curses him”. 

    The story, which is said to be partly autobiographical, was Mori’s first published work of fiction. It was written in 1890 and initially published in the relatively new and influential magazine Kokumin no Tomo (The Nation’s Friend), after he had spent 4 years in Germany between 1884 and 1888. 

    Mori and this short story helped modernize Japanese literature, not just introducing the new format, but also a new style of prose that included character development, psychology, and realism based on personal experience. 

    Mori, who came from a family of doctors, was influenced by both Shakespeare and Goethe, and this moving emotional short story featuring a long suffering woman and abandonment would have been a familiar narrative to Japanese readers at the time, but the added dimension of personal psychology highlighting the protagonist’s view of his actions, not just the actions themselves, was completely new. 

    Mori is probably best known today for his novel Gan (The Wild Geeese). Mori wrote two other novels: Seinen (Youth) and Kaijin (Ashes), which was unfinished. He is better known and regarded for his novella and short stories. 

    However, he also published translations including a Japanese translation of The Improvisatore (Sokkyo Shijin) the debut novel by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), who is better known today for his children’s books. Andersen’s novel, like The Dancing Girl, was semi-autobiographical. It took Mori nine years to complete the translation. 

    Short-form fiction and prose existed in Japan before The Dancing Girl was published, but the styles and formats of the Edo Period (1603-1868) and earlier were very different. At the time of the publication of The Dancing Girl no Japanese term existed to describe the new format and the Japanese term for short story, as it is used today, Tanpen Shosetsu (literally short or brief edit novel), came into use for the first time. 

    The Dancing Girl is still influential and studied by students and academics today. As can been seen from this quote from the 2009 novel Real World, by the multi-award-winning crime writer Natsuo Kirino: “when we got to be seniors our Japanese teacher assigned us to write an essay on Ogai’s story The Dancing Girl.” An English translation of the section of her brilliant but disturbing novel including this quote can be read in The New York Times here

    A memorial museum was opened in Tokyo in 2012 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Mori’s birth. Interestingly, his daughter Mari Mori (1903-1987) also became a well-known author and is credited with helping start her own new publishing trend and movement, novels about male homosexual passion written by women.
    The first modern Japanese short story was written by Ogai Mori and published in 1890 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    David Bowie’s favourite novel by Yukio Mishima, an author he was fascinated by, was The Sailor Who Fell from Grace from the Sea[UPDATED: 2-28-2018]

    It is well known that David Bowie (1947-2016), the British singer songwriter and actor, was a fan of the Japanese author Yukio Mishima (1925-1970). He painted his portrait, included his name in the lyrics of at least one of his songs; and Yukio Mishima was one of only two Japanese writers included in Bowie’s list of his favourite 100 books, alongside Tadanori Yokoo, the artist and graphic designer sometimes described as Japan’s Andy Warhol. 

    Mishima’s novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace from the Sea (午後の曳航), published in 1963, was Bowie’s favourite. It tells the tale of a band of delinquent boys in a Yokohama suburb; who reject the adult world “as illusory, hypocritical and sentimental”, and train themselves in “a brutal callousness they call objectivity.” When the Westernised mother of one of them begins an affair with a ship’s officer, Ryuji, the friends initially idealize the sailor; but subsequently decide that he is in fact soft and romantic, a betrayal that requires a violent response. 

    The novel was made into a film, directed by Lewis John Carlino in 1979 after Mishima, who was no doubt the most famous Japanese man of his generation internationally and perhaps the most famous that had ever lived at that point in time, committed suicide in a highly stage-managed public manner, instantly making him notorious worldwide.  
    David Bowie’s favourite novel by Yukio Mishima, an author he was fascinated by, was The Sailor Who Fell from Grace from the Sea Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first national library was set up following a legal decree in 702[UPDATED: 2-28-2018]

    According to historians, the first libraries in Japan were set up by by Shotoku Taishi (574-622) – The Prince of Holy Virtue – a regent and author also known as Prince Umayado (Prince of the Stables). 

    The Horyuji Temple, in Nara, founded in 607, is believed to have been the location of Japan’s first library, which was within the Prince’s ‘study’ at the temple. Subsequently, many temples across Japan started collections of manuscripts and important texts including copies of the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), one of Japan’s first written accounts of the nation’s history.

    Shotoku Taishi is an important historical figure in Japan and still admired today. His image was included on 10,000 yen notes issued until 1986, and he is credited with developing Japan’s first set of laws – a set of 17 rules – which stress the importance of harmony in the community. The rules have been described as an early type of constitution. 

    According to the Encyclopedia of Library History, Japan’s first national library, Zushoryo, was set up about one hundred years later in the 8th century following new legislation issued in 702, Formalising and standardising the trend started by Shotoku Taishi. 

    The library was modelled on a library in China and run by a government ministry. It was Japan’s official national archive and therefore didn’t need to buy books; five copies of every book written or copied in temples were supposed to be lodged there. 

    The library was also responsible for collecting and conserving both Buddhist and Confucian books and was required to compile official histories of Japan. According to historians, it had a staff of 4 papermakers, 10 brushmakers, 4 inkmakers and 20 copyists. It continued this work until the 11th century.
    Japan’s first national library was set up following a legal decree in 702 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: 2-27-2018]

    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 is 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