Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Books in Japan generally published as tanko-bon, bunko-bon or both[UPDATED: 5-19-2018]

    There are two standard book formats in Japan tanko-bon and bunko-bon. Most works of fiction are initially published as tanko-bon and then after a given period, that can sometimes range from 1 to 4 years, as bunko-bon.

    The content of a book and the publisher may also differ across the two editions. Some books, however, are only published as tanko-bon.

    Bunko or bunko-bon is the widely used Japanese term for a book that is a small-format paperback book designed to be affordable, portable and not take up too much shelf space. The format has a long and interesting history going back to books designed to fit into the sleeves of kimonos in Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). 

    The direct translation of tanko is ‘standalone’ or ‘bound’ and bunko ‘storeroom for written works’ or ‘library’ and ‘bon’ is book. 

    The modern form bunko-bon emerged at the turn of the 20th century. Two publishing houses (Shincho Bunko in 1914 and Iwanami Shoten in 1927) are often cited as having pioneered the modern versions.

    According to International Book Publishing: An Encyclopedia, Iwanami Shoten developed the market for the current popular bunko format in Japan with its imprint the Bunko Classics Series. The imprint was modeled on the German publisher Reclam Verlag’s series Universal Library.

    The Bunko-bon format, in addition to ebooks, is now exploited by Japanese publishers, in a similar manner to mass-market paperbacks in the United States, as cheap editions of books that have already been published as tanko-bon.

    They are typically printed on hardwearing paper, bound in a similar manner to English-language books, and usually, as is the case with most books in Japan, have a detachable outer cover (dust jacket) over a plain cover.

    The vast majority of bunko-bon are A6 (105×148mm or 4.1″×5.8″) in size and are sometimes illustrated. On the other hand, the size of tanko-bon (which can be either hardcover or softcover) are much more varied. The typical tanko-bon size, however, generally mirrors standard A5 or B5 paper sizes.

    Despite the similarities in terms of print production unlike English-language books, most Japanese books are printed to be read top-to-bottom (with vertical lines of text as opposed to horizontal text) and from right to left.  
    Books in Japan generally published as tanko-bon, bunko-bon or both Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Totto-Chan is Japan’s all time bestselling novel[UPDATED: 3-27-2018]

    Japan’s all time bestselling novel is Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window, written by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi.

    It was originally published as a series of short stories by Kodansha in its magazine Young Women in 1979. At pixel time it has sold more than 5.8 million copies in Japan and has been translated into more than 16 languages including many local Indian languages, a country, like China and Japan, where the book has been very popular. 

    According to the Asahi Newspaper, sales of the Chinese edition have overtaken sales of the original Japanese edition, with sales of more than 10 million at pixel time.

    Initially, the local Chinese publisher, Thinkingdom, found it difficult to promote the title due to geopolitical issues between China and Japan, such as the ongoing dispute over the uninhabited Senkaku (also know as Diaoyutai) Islands in the East China Sea.

    Nevertheless, the book is now selling in extremely large numbers and the publisher is aiming to sell more than 50 million copies in China. In 2017, the book lead the charts for the bestselling translated children’s book in China; ahead of Charlotte’s Web by Elwlyn Brooks White (1899-1985) and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.

    This children’s book, by the actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, is sometimes classified as non-fiction or biography as it is considered as Kuroyanagi’s childhood memoir of her time at Tomoe Gakuen, an elementary school in Tokyo. 

    An English translation by Dorothy Britton was published in America in 1984.
    Totto-Chan is Japan’s all time bestselling novel Posted by Koji Chikatani
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    Japan’s oldest publishing house, Hozokan, is more than 400 years old[UPDATED: 3-22-2018]

    Hozokan, the Kyoto based Buddhist publisher can trace its roots back to 1602 and is considered to be Japan’s oldest publisher. It publishes books on Buddhism, targeting both specialists and general readers. 

    Hozokan’s longevity, and the nature of its subject specialism, has not stopped it embracing modern publishing marketing tools and techniques. It has an attractive website, and like most publishers today is embracing social media using, for instance, Twitter to promote its books. 

    The publisher started publishing the writings of Buddha just before Japan’s Tokugawa Period (1603-1868) commenced, in 1602. The same year that Oxford University’s Bodleian Library was opened, and the first performance of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was performed in London. Japan’s oldest book, Hokekyo gisho, a Buddhist text, was written almost a thousand years earlier, in 615. 

    Hozokan’s mission is to publish titles, mostly based on Buddhist teachings, that “will nurture moral and spiritual growth and foster a new age of spirituality in the 21st century”. It has benefited significantly from being based in Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, which is the home of many important temples. 

    The world’s oldest publisher is said to be Cambridge University Press, which was founded much earlier in 1534 after Henry VIII granted it permission to print “all manner of books”.
    Japan’s oldest publishing house, Hozokan, is more than 400 years old Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first commercial publishing emerged in Kyoto in the early 17th Century[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    Following the arrival from Korea of movable type technology and the printing of the first book using the technology in 1593, after Japan’s invasion of Korea, a new industry emerged in Japan -commercial publishing. 

    According to academics, such as Donald Keene, professor of Japanese at Columbia University, “printing soon developed into the hobby or extravagance of the rich, and many examples of Japanese literature began to appear in small editions,” with commercial publishing only arriving about a decade later in 1609, in Kyoto, at the start of Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). 

    According to The History of the Book in East Asia, by Cynthia Brokaw and Peter Kornicki, the Kyoto-based publishers mostly didn’t use movable type, even though the technology helped trigger the birth of the industry 

    Three publishing hubs in Kyoto, Osaka and Edo (later known as Tokyo) developed over time, with Edo initially being a market for books, as opposed to an originator of them. 

    There was only a limited amount of publishing conducted by the Shogunate authorities (the government) during this period. Some of their publishing needs, such as the printing of calendars, maps and directories, were outsourced to commercial publishers. Commercial publishers dominated the industry, commissioning the engraving of print blocks and selling titles.
    Japan’s first commercial publishing emerged in Kyoto in the early 17th Century Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Since 1947 the Japanese government has approved and paid for all Japanese school level student textbooks[UPDATED: 3-2-2018]

    The Japanese government pays for all student textbooks for the millions of students participating in its compulsory education system. It sets guidelines for certified publishers and approves textbooks before publication. Schools, teachers and local educational boards, depending on the type of school, are free to select which publishers’ textbook they want to adopt and use in their classes. 

    The current system for textbook approval, which is open and transparent, was created after the Second World War in 1947, when Japan was occupied by US forces and run by Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). 

    Under this system, like other countries, the government sets curriculum guidelines and certified publishers in the private sector submit their books for approval. Mexico, for example, has a very similar system, which like Japan also requires all books to be printed locally. It is known locally as CONALITEG. Revisions are sometimes requested, but in Japan most books are generally approved. 

    Japan has one of the world’s highest school participation rates of 99.8% and nine years of compulsory education, generally from age 6 to 15. With more than 6 million students attending elementary schools and more than 3 million lower secondary, this means that the Japanese government is one of the largest book buyers in Japan. 

    Despite the system being very similar to that in other countries, it is not uncontroversial, as textbooks that do not cover history in the manner that some of Japan’s neighbours would like or think appropriate, have been approved in the past. And some criticise these particular books for ignoring Japan’s actions in Asia during the Second World War. 

    The textbook market is competitive and there is considerable choice of textbooks to choose from. Commonly used textbooks do mention and reference the Nanking Massacre for instance; and schools often do not select the more controversial history textbooks generally published by nationalist groups seeking attention and controversy, which the media often focus on. The issue has become so sensitive that Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs now publishes information on its website in English, Korean and Chinese on how textbooks are approved and distributed in Japan to help clarify the situation.
    Since 1947 the Japanese government has approved and paid for all Japanese school level student textbooks Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s publishers not ranked as global players[UPDATED: 3-1-2018]

    No Japanese publisher features in the ranking of the top ten publishers by revenue produced by the International Publishers Association (IPA). Despite Japan being the world’s 4th largest publishing market, according to the IPA.

    Publishers from all of the largest five country markets, except Japan, appear in the IPA’s top ten ranking, 4 from the United States, 2 from China, 2 from the United Kingdom and one for Germany.

    Pearson, headquartered in London, is ranked as the world’s largest and is more than twice the size of the three largest Japanese publishers combined.

    Japan’s largest publishers are Shueisha, Kodansha and Kadokawa, which were founded in 1925, 1938 and 1945 respectively. They publish thousands of new books every year as well as manga and other publications.
    Japan’s publishers not ranked as global players Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The first Japanese dictionary was published in 682[UPDATED: 2-28-2018]

    According to the Nihon Shoki, Japan’s second oldest history book often translated as The Chronicles of Japan, the Japanese Emperor Tenmu (631-686) was given a dictionary in 682 titled Niina (New Characters). Early Japanese dictionaries like this one were actually dictionaries of Chinese characters (letters) written in Chinese and annotated in Japanese. 

    The first full-scale multi-volume Japanese dictionary Wakun no Shiori (Guidebook to Japanese Pronunciations), was published in 1887. However, Genkai  (Sea of Words) compiled between 1889 and 1891 by Fumihiko Otsuki, modeled on Webster’s dictionary, is considered by lexicographers as the “first modern Japanese dictionary”. 

    In comparison, the first modern and most influential early English dictionary, A Dictionary of the English Language, was published more than 130 years earlier in 1755. It was written and compiled by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Earlier English dictionaries existed, but were considered inferior. 

    Noah Webster published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, said to be the first truly American dictionary, in 1806. While The Oxford English Dictionary was first published in 1884, three years before the Guidebook to Japanese Pronunciations, Japan’s “first” dictionary.  
    The first Japanese dictionary was published in 682 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan has around 500 different literary prizes[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    Japan has around 500 different literary prizes. Some literary prizes target new writers, others specific genres such as the Seiun Award for the best science fiction, awarded by the Federation of Science Fiction Fan Groups of Japan (FSFFGJ). Two of the most coveted awards are the Akutagawa and the Naoki prizes.
    Japan has around 500 different literary prizes Posted by Richard Nathan