Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    The first bilingual English-Japanese dictionary was compiled in 1830 by someone who had never visited Japan[UPDATED: 2-23-2018]

    The English missionary Walter H. Medhurst (1796-1857), who never actually visited Japan, compiled the first bilingual ‘dictionary’ An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English Vocabulary in 1830. 

    The 334-page book was printed in Batavia (Jakarta) Indonesia, where Medhurst was based with his family. It contains Japanese printed in both Roman (Latin) and Japanese letters (characters) together with their English equivalents. Medhurst wrote at the time of publication that the word vocabulary was used in the book’s title as it was “preferred to that of Dictionary, as the work does not profess to include every word in either language”. The book’s second part does, however, contain nearly seven thousand words and is thus considered by some experts to fall within the definition of a dictionary. 

    Medhurst was one of the early translators of the Bible into Chinese and complied Chinese-English and English-Chinese dictionaries. He was also proficient in Malay, but not Japanese and had to rely on exiting dictionaries and other documents to compile his Vocabulary. 

    Medhurst wrote in the book’s introduction: “The following compilation is with diffidence offered to the public, principally because the author has never been to Japan, and has never had an opportunity of conversing with the natives: but having through the kindness of several gentlemen from Japan, obtained the sight of some native books, particularly in the Japanese and Chinese character combined, the author has been enabled, from his knowledge of the latter language, to compile the following vocabulary”. 

    The Japanese translator Hori Tatsunosuke (1823-1892), who initially acted as a Dutch-Japanese translator before learning English is said to have compiled the first “proper” and widely used English–Japanese dictionary, Ei-Wa taiyaku  Shuchin jisho (A Pocket Dictionary of the English and Japanese Language), which was published 30 years later in 1862. It was mostly based upon English-Dutch and Dutch-Japanese bilingual dictionaries including sections of A New Pocket Dictionary of the English-Dutch and Dutch-English Languages, and contained about 35,000 headwords and consisted of about a thousand pages. 

    Another early dictionary was the six-thousand word English-Japanese dictionary, Angeria gorin taisei, compiled on behalf of the Japanese authorities by the Nagasaki-based Dutch interpreter Motoki Shozaemon in 1814, which also drew on Japan ‘s early exposure to the Dutch language. Unlike Medhurst’s 1830 Vocabulary, it was not a two-way bilingual dictionary. 

    The first Dutch-Japanese dictionary, the Edo Halma, was complied in 1796 by Sanpaku Inamura (1758-1811) using a Dutch–French dictionary published in 1708 by the Dutch printer and publisher Francois Halma (1653-1722) as its base. Dutch helped accelerate Japan’s knowledge of the English language and its study significantly. 

    However, the earliest Japanese bilingual dictionaries offering translations of Japanese into a Western language were in fact Portuguese-Japanese dictionaries, including the often celebrated Vocabylario da lingoa Iapam compiled in 1603 by Jesuit missionaries.
    The first bilingual English-Japanese dictionary was compiled in 1830 by someone who had never visited Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    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
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    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
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    Yukio Mishima chose his pen name when he was just 16[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), one of Japan’s most famous writers, chose his pen name when he was just 16.

    The discovery of a draft of his book Hana Zakari no Mori, The forest in full bloom, has his name, Kimitake Hiraoka, crossed out and the name Yukio Mishima written alongside it. This early draft was written when he was 16.

    The draft was found in Kumamoto in 2016. The forest in full bloom was published in 1941 in the literary journal Bungei Bunka.

    Mishima, who was reportedly considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964 and on at least two other occasions, committed suicide in 1970.
    Yukio Mishima chose his pen name when he was just 16 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first medical textbook, written in 984, is considered Asia’s first book on medical ethics[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Japan’s first medical textbook was written in 984 by Yasunori Tamba (912- 995), who is sometimes referred to as the Hypocrates of Japan, during Japan’s Heian Period (794-1185). 

    The book, known as Ishimpo or Ishinpo was written in kanbun, the Chinese writing system used during this period in Japan, and presented to the Emperor of Japan. 

    The text consisting of 30-volumes is a systemised compilation of medical knowledge, theory, techniques and practice. It is partly based on and cites ancient Chinese texts, which no longer exist. 

    It covers sexual disease and practice, dental and oral problems – such as bad breath, cleft palate, toothache, and tooth decay – as well as pharmacology, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, moxibustion and acupuncture. 

    The Cambridge World History of Medical Ethics lists the Ishimpo as the first Asian text in its 77-page Chronology of Medical Ethics, which starts from 4,000 BCE. 

    The first three individuals the chronology cites are: Moses (circa 1,200 BCE) Kong Qiu or Confucius (551-479 BCE) and Buddha (563-482 BCE). The first text included is the Hippocratic Corpus including its famous oath written in 400 BCE. 

    The type of traditional medical practice, including acupuncture and moxibustion, described in the Ishimpo now falls within the Japanese definition of Kampo (Chinese Medicine), which was originally used to distinguish this form of medical practice from Rampo (Dutch Medicine), the Western medical practices and techniques that Dutch traders and sailors brought with them to Japan in the 16th Century. 

    The oldest and most complete copy of the Ishimpo, which is illustrated in parts, is preserved at the Tokyo National Museum and is designated as a National Treasure of Japan.
    Japan’s first medical textbook, written in 984, is considered Asia’s first book on medical ethics Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The first commercial translation of a work of Japanese fiction in any European language was published in Austria in 1847[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    According to Sepp Linhart, Professor of Japanology and Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna, the first commercial translation in any European language of a Japanese work of fiction was published in 1847, in German in Vienna, by its translator, 

    The book by Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842) was a late Edo Period gōkan, which were intricately plotted stories consisting of several volumes bound together and written in simple light language for the mass-market. 

    The translated title Ukiyo-gata rokumai-byobu (Floating world style Six-panel screens), originally published in Japanese 1821, was mainly about romantic misadventures and the final coming together of two lovers. It was translated and published by the Austrian polyglot, August Pfizmaier (1808-1887), as Sechs Wandschirme in Gestalten der verganglichen Welt in Vienna, in German in 1847. 

    Tanehiko’s real name was Takaya Hikoshiro. He was born into a lower level samurai family with sufficient income to allow him to get a good education. His books were written to reflect how people actually spoke, behaved and dressed. He is said to have been a genre pioneer and a master printer. He was a household name, and bestselling author in Japan in the late Edo and early Meiji periods. 

    A Country Genji by a Commoner Murasaki, an adaptation and modernization of The Tale of Genji, written by Tanehiko with illustrations by Utagawa Kunisada, the internationally famous ukio-e artist, was one of the most popular books of the Edo Period, selling more than 10,000 copies. After its first issue, published in 1829, a further 152 volumes followed over a 14 year period. The Japanese authorities, however, eventually put an end to this successful publishing venture by demanding in 1842 that Tanehiko ceased publication of what was considered a political parody, and confiscated the print blocks. He died shortly after his works were banned. 

    Despite the success of the literary work and author in Japan, the publication in German of Ukiyo-gata rokumai-byobu was a commercial failure and Pfizmaier subsequently published all his translations from Japanese in academic journals such as The Proceedings of The Austrian-Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The German translation was, however, used for translations into English, Italian and French. And apparently a new German edition was published 90 years later. 

    Despite Pfizmaier’s false start, the translation baton outside Japan was picked up 50 years later by Arthur Waley (1889-1966) who, according to academics, pioneered the modern tradition and trend of Japanese literature in the West increasing availability, interest and awareness. 

    Waley, a British translator of Chinese and Japanese literature, who interestingly never visited Asia, translated The Tale of Genji (1921-23), The Pillow Book (1928), Kutune Shirka also know as Itadorimaru no Kyoku (1951), as well as No plays and Japanese poetry. He focused his work on what he thought would interest the general public rather than academics. 

    Subsequently, Donald Keene, professor of Japanese at Columbia University and Edward Seidensticker (1921-2007), professor of Japanese at the University of Michigan have carried on this trend through translations and scholarship, further increasing awareness of and access to Japanese literature outside Japan.
    The first commercial translation of a work of Japanese fiction in any European language was published in Austria in 1847 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Oldest surviving book on Japan written in 712[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    The Kojiki, the Record of Ancient Things, compiled by Ono Yasumaru, was completed in 712 after the death of Emperor Temmu, Japan 40th emperor, who commissioned the book. The emperor is mentioned in the book’s preface.

    The Kojiki contains accounts of Japanese history including its origin and mythology that were probably considered ancient even at the time of the book’s compilation, as well as more than one hundred songs, Japan’s earliest recorded.

    The Kojiki is often studied and referenced in parallel with the Nihon Shoki, The Chronicles of Japan, completed 8 years later.

    According to Donald L. Philippi’s introduction to his 1968 translation of the Kojiki, only 32 copies of all or parts of the book still exist. The earliest of which, the Shimpuku-Ji manuscript, was produced between 1371-72. However, older copies of Nihon Shoki from the Heian Period (794-1185) exit.

    Interestingly, the oldest surviving Japanese book is not a book about Japan and its history, but a religious text written in 615 owned by Japan’s Imperial Family.
    Oldest surviving book on Japan written in 712 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    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