Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Long before the Internet magnified content about suicide, Japanese publishers and authors, including some of the nation’s most renowned, wrote about suicide helping the narrative of death proliferate[UPDATED: 5-4-2022]

    Japan is often associated with suicide partly due to its Kamikaze pilots in World War II and stories about famous and loyal Samurai warriors and their legacy-making honorable deaths.

    The Complete Manual of Suicide, Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaru, by Wataru Tsurumi published in 1993 is, however, probably Japan’s best known and most successful book on the topic. The 198-page book, which details 11 categories of suicide from hanging to freezing, has sold more than a million copies. A publishing success that encouraged the author to issue an immediate follow-on second volume in 1994.

    Research shows that at least 54 Japanese authors have committed suicide since 1900. This includes some of Japan’s most famous and highly-regarded authors and one of its two Nobel prize winners, Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), as well as Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) after whom one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes is named. As well as Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) whose very public suicide helped cement his reputation as Japan’s most notorious author around the world.

    That said, Japan does, in fact, have a higher suicide rate than many nations. According to OECD data, Japan’s suicide rate is 18.7 per 100,000 one of the world’s highest rates amongst the nations surveyed by the OECD, and about 60 percent higher than the world average, but behind South Korea, which has an even higher rate at 28.7.

    An estimated 800,000 people commit suicide annually worldwide. In 2020 in Japan, according to initial figures at pixel time from the country’s health ministry, there were 21,077 cases of suicide.

    So perhaps it is unsurprising that suicide is often portrayed in Japanese books, and popular media and often features as a plot motif in narrative fiction.

    Two of the internationally best-known living Japanese authors Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto, amongst many other contemporary and historical Japanese storytellers, have featured deaths by suicide or attempted suicides in their works.

    Suicide features in Murakami’s breakthrough 1987 novel Norwegian Wood, Noruwei no Mori, a tale about loss, coming-of-age and sexuality. Toru’s the book’s somewhat aimless protagonist is haunted by the suicide of his best friend Kizuki. Yoshimoto’s 1994 novel Amrita, amurita, the title of which is sanskrit for immortality, also features a suicide connected to the protagonist. In its case the protagonist’s sister, a substance-abusing actress.

    Two other famous examples of suicide featuring works from two of the most renowned Japanese authors of the past include Natsume Soseki’s (1867-1916) Kokoro and No Longer Human, Ningen Shikkaku, by Osamu Dazai (1909-1948). The latter, published in 1948 is often cited by many of Japan’s most interesting and creative contemporary writers as their favourite book or one that had a huge influence on them. These two bestsellers top the nation’s book sales rankings.

    The number of such publications and author deaths has made this a topic of academic enquiry with research papers being written on the topic such as ‘The Portrayal of Suicide in Postmodern Japanese Literature and Popular Media Culture’.

    People often cite Japan’s long tradition of an ‘honourable suicide’ as one of the main reasons for the high rate and also the lack of the Christian concept of sin – suicide being one such sin. However, other important factors behind these tragic deaths include concerns over identity, the need to conform, self-sacrifice for others, marginalization, abuse, bullying, loneliness and disconnection, as well as economic concerns.

    Japan has regulations and policies to prevent suicide and the rate had been falling. Something that experts have put down to the improving economy after Japan’s so-called post-economic bubble lost decades, but the rate is now sadly back on the increase, especially amongst school children.

    The launch of the World Wide Web in 1989, four years before the publication of the bestseller The Complete Manual of Suicide, and the subsequent development of social media sites with the associated memes; as well as nefarious individuals that attract the attention of impressionable school children online and disseminate content about suicide, are no doubt factors in these dreadful numbers.

    Long before the Internet magnified content about suicide, Japanese publishers and authors, including some of the nation’s most renowned, wrote about suicide helping the narrative of death proliferate Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s most expensive book was published in 1984 with a retail price of US$17,000[UPDATED: 11-5-2021]

    Japan’s most expensive book, an edited collection of manuscripts by Claudius Ptolemaeus (100-168), was published in two-volumes by the Japanese publisher Iwanami Shoten in 1984, just before Japan’s infamous economic bubble (1986-1991), with a retail price of 1,930,000 yen.

    Ptolemaeus’ astronomical treatise, an astronomy textbook and star catalogue, is generally referred to as the Almagest.

    Copies of the extremely expensive Japanese edition, Uchushi, Cosmography, a collection of reproductions of Ptolemaeus manuscripts, including analysis and commentary by Torataro Shimomura (1902-1995), a philosopher and a science historian and others, are available at the National Diet Library in Tokyo.

    One of the volumes that can be viewed at the National Diet Library, which consists mostly of maps, is numbered as the 239th of a limited edition.

    According to information contained within the book, which is large and heavy, the volume was printed in Germany in 1983 and is based on an original edition published in 1472. The publication of the 1984 Iwanami Shoten edition was arranged by Uni Agency Inc.

    Ptolemaeus, of Greek-Egyptian heritage, was one of the most influential ancient astronomers. He is famous for his mathematics and geography and his earth-centred cosmology.

    His cosmological theory (hypothesis) that the earth was the centre of the universe was held for 1,400 years; until it was refuted by Nicolas Copernicus (1473- 1543) in 1530. When Copernicus wrote De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, in which he argued that the earth, in fact, rotated around the sun. The theory was published in 1543, the year of his death. Despite this local Japanese publishing milestone, one of the most expensive books ever bought was Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519 ) Codex Leicester, a hand-drawn manuscript, which the founder of Microsoft Bill Gates purchased in 1994 for US$30.8 million.
    Japan’s most expensive book was published in 1984 with a retail price of US$17,000 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Manga magazines and books generate more than half of all publishing revenues in Japan[UPDATED: 6-2-2021]

    According to The All Japan Magazine and Book Publisher’s and Editor’s Association (AJPEA) manga magazines and books generate more than half of all publishing revenues, which are estimated at 1.4 trillion yen (US$14 billion), in Japan.

    Manga magazines and books generate more than half of all publishing revenues in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The ‘best Japanese work of fiction’ published in Japanese during Japan’s Heisei era was ‘IQ84’ by Haruki Murakami[UPDATED: 1-13-2021]

    In 2019 Japan’s imperial age known as the Hesei era (1989-2019) ended and a new era began called the Reiwa era. The inception of a new era and the end of another led to the media reflecting on the highlights of the last era and trying to identify the best of everything of that era including, for example, the best works of Japanese fiction.

    The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s most prestigious national newspapers, surveyed 120 experts, who had contributed book reviews to this important newspaper about their choice for the best book from the Heisei period. 

    1Q84 by Murakami topped their list. It is probably far too early to determine the ‘best’ novel from the Heisei era, and no doubt everyone has their own favourite Murakami novel, but it is still very interesting to know which book was considered by some to be ‘the best’ in the final year of the period.

    Unsurprisingly, journalists, academics and filmmakers from outside Japan, from Denmark and the United Kingdom for example, often look to Japanese authors and their works, especially Murakami’s, in order to explain and explore contemporary Japan and frame its Heisei era (1989-2019) in particular.

    Murakami’s works are seen as both an interpretation and reflection of this time, and is no doubt a trend that will continue no matter the merits of such an approach. A trend he and the media are helping propagate in interviews.. In one such interview in the Asahi Shimbun, at the time of the publication of their survey, Murakami talks about the Heisei era, as well as his journey as a writer and his books.

    The ‘best Japanese work of fiction’ published in Japanese during Japan’s Heisei era was ‘IQ84’ by Haruki Murakami Posted by Richard Nathan
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    More than 50 Japanese authors have killed themselves since 1900[UPDATED: 9-11-2020]

    Research shows that at least 54 Japanese authors have committed suicide since 1900. This includes some of Japan’s most famous and highly regarded authors and one of its two Nobel prize winners, Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), as well as Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) after whom one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes is named. 

    Another very well known example is Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) who famously and publicly committed suicide. His spectacular death, age 45, in November two month before his birthday, made international news and confirmed his position as Japan’s most internationally famous individual and notorious author.

    Osamu Dazai (1909-1948) author of the novel No Longer Human, which alongside Dazai himself, is often cited by contemporary male Japanese writers as their favorite, also killed himself. Dazai, who attempted suicide several times from an early age, idolized Ryunosuke Akutagawa, whose death in 1927 had a very profound and terrible impact on him. 

    Sadly, Dazai’s own death in turn had a terrible impact on Hidemitsu Tanaka (1913-1949), the Olympic rower and novelist he mentored, who also killed himself. Tanaka wrote two Olympic related novels Orinposu no Kajitsu, The Fruit of Olympus, (1940) and Tantei Soshu, The Boat Rower, (1944). Tanaka killed himself at Dazai’s grave the year after Dazai’s death. 

    There is no doubt over how these four famous authors died, but Kawabata’s suicide is considered by some, including his wife, as accidental. Nevertheless, his death and the circumstances were reported widely and internationally as suicide in publications such as The New York Times, for instance. 

    Kawabata helped Mishima at several important points in his life and the two were close. Kawabata officiated at Mishima’s funeral, which was attended by thousands. However, unlike Mishima, Kawabata was at the end for his career and in poor heath when he died on the 16 April 1972, 17 months after Mishima. 

    Other well known Japanese authors included in the list of more than 50 authors who reportedly killed themselves are Takeo Arishima (1878-1923), Tamaki Hara (1905-1951) Ashihei Hino (1907-1960), Izumi Suzuki (1949-1986) and Hisashi Nozawa (1960-2004). And no doubt other lesser known and aspiring authors make have also taken their own lives.

    Japan is often associated with suicide partly due to its Kamikaze pilots in the war and stories about famous Samurai warriors. However, it does, in fact have a higher suicide rate than many nations.

    According to OECD data, Japan’s suicide rate is 18.7 per 100,000 one of the world’s highest rates amongst the nations surveyed by the OECD, and about 60 percent higher than the world average, but behind South Korea, which has an even higher rate at 28.7.

    People often cite Japan’s long tradition of an ‘honourable suicide’ as one reason for the high rate and also the lack of the Christian concept of sin and suicide being one such sin.
    More than 50 Japanese authors have killed themselves since 1900 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The Shogun’s respect for publishing was a key factor that led to the Tokugawa-state lasting 265 years[UPDATED: 6-24-2020]

    Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) who founded a military state and a dynasty of shoguns that ruled for 265 years during what is known as Japan’s Tokugawa or Edo period (1603-1868), placed significant importance on literature, reading, books and publishing.

    Tokugawa sponsored the publication of books including Confucian classics and Buddhist texts and believed that encouraging the production and distribution of books was an essential part of good governance.

    Tokugawa famously said: ‘when people forget the moral requisites of humanity, order is lost, government declines, and there is no peace. The only way to deliver those morals to the people is through books. The first step of good government is to print books for a wide audience’. It’s interesting to note, too, that the Tokugawa period was the most stable and peaceful period in Japanese history.

    The books published under his leadership were generally practical and educational and not just theoretical and abstract texts. After he consolidated his power, books were gathered from across Japan and collected at Edo Castle. Over time, this lead to the building of an impressive collection of more than one hundred thousand books, most of which are now part of Japan’s National Archives and the Imperial library.

    In 1593 the first ‘Japanese book’ was printed using movable type, a decade before Tokugawa was appointed as Shogun. After retiring as Shogun, Tokugawa commissioned a large-scale publishing project that required the creation of copper metal type for more than a hundred thousand Chinese character types (logographic letters known as Kanji used in Japanese writing).

    The books printed with this type are known as the Suruga Editions and played an important role in the development of publishing and printing in Japan.

    Japan’s first commercial publishing emerged in Kyoto during this period and spread to Osaka and Edo, now Tokyo. The military class learnt to read and even produce literature. They were, in fact, encouraged to do so. 

    Some Samurai, mostly from the lower ranks, played an active and important role in the development of popular fiction. This included authors like Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653-1724) and Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831). 

    Literacy rates among men and women increased, becoming the highest in the world. However, there was only a limited amount of publishing actually conducted by the Shogunate authorities (the government) during this period. Much of it was outsourced to commercial publishers who would also have published calendars, maps and directories. 

    Commercial publishers dominated the industry not just through contract publishing for the authorities and the selling of books but also by commissioning the engraving of print blocks, and haiku books, for example. 

    This helped commercial publishing grow and flourish. By 1693, according to historians, the number of commercial publishers in Japan had increased to around 400 publishers with 7,800 titles published in that year alone. There are currently around 3,500 publishers in Japan publishing more than 70,000 books per year.

    Just as is the case today, only a small number of commercial publishers dominated the industry back in the Edo Period, with half of all the books being published by less than 10 percent of the publishers.

    Analysis indicates that the number of books available in Japan during the latter half of the 17thcentury when authors like Chikamatsu, who is considered by some to be Japan’s Shakespeare, were in their writing prime were double the number from when these authors were learning to read.

    Books, reading and writing had already enjoyed a long history in Japan, but the importance that Tokugawa placed on books cannot be overstated. Indeed, many, including Tsunenari Tokugawa, the eighteenth head of the Tokugawa family, believed that this was a key factor in the longevity of the state and system of government that Tokugawa initiated.

    Tsunenari Tokugawa writes in his book, The Edo Inheritance, published in English translation in 2009: ‘Ieyasu, while no liberal, asserted that the publication of classics and dissemination of knowledge are the heart of good government and followed up this assertion with action four centuries ago. I think this alone makes him a great historical figure.’

    Tokugawa’s actions helped create so-called ‘Pax Tokugawa’ as well as a new generation of samurai authors, a book loving public and a vibrant reading culture with what some academics have described as ‘epic levels of book consumption’.

    Chikamatsu, author of Love Suicides at Somezaki  and Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), often said to be the greatest master of haiku, were both born into samurai families and grew up as samurai before switching to the pen, or more accurately the ink brush – something the first Tokugawa Shogun would have been delighted by.

    The Shogun’s respect for publishing was a key factor that led to the Tokugawa-state lasting 265 years Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first magazine, and the first in Asia, dedicated to gay men, Barazoku, was launched in 1971[UPDATED: 2-28-2020]

    Japan’s first commercial magazine targeting gay men was launched in 1971.

    Barazoku, which is thought to have been Asia’s as well as Japan’s first commercial gay magazine, was not just sold in specialist bookshops and clubs. The magazine was distributed by the two major Japanese book and magazine distributors, Tohan and Nippan, making the magazine a national one and available in most major Japanese cities.

    The magazine whose name is made up of two words rose, bara, and tribe, zokui s no longer published in print, but during the 33 years when it was, Barazoku survived disapproval, legal injunctions, and numerous arrests of its founder and editor, Bungaku Ito, who was not himself gay.

    Ito was an opportunistic publisher. Initially, he published a book on lesbianism titled Resubian Tekunikku, Lesbian Technique, the commercial success of which led him to publish a second book – Homo Technique, which contained some male nude photographs.

    Both were authored by Masami Akiyama, according to
    Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age by Mark J. McClelland.

    Much of the Barazoku’s revenue came from classified and personal advertisements. The magazine was published bimonthly and was generally about 70-pages in length. In its early years the magazine followed the typical format of Japanese magazines with articles, short stories, advice, interviews, and news as well as its popular and important classifieds section.

    Barazoku reportedly published anonymous work by some of Japan’s most famous poets and authors.

    Despite the demise of the print magazine itself, the term Barazoku is still sometimes used in Japan today as a term for gay men and its use is considered either controversial or old-fashioned by some.

    There is, however, also a website, which claims to be the official site of Barazoku, trying to keep the name alive for a new generation of readers.

     

    Japan’s first magazine, and the first in Asia, dedicated to gay men, Barazoku, was launched in 1971 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan is the world’s fourth-largest publishing market[UPDATED: 12-29-2019]

    According to the International Publishers Association (IPA), Japan’s publishing market is the fourth-largest in the world, making it a very large domestic business sector, as publishing is a major global business. 

    The sector, however, is in fact underweight relative to other nations, as Japan’s overall economy is the world’s third-largest. 

    In comparison, for example, Japan is the second-largest country market for recorded music (Japanese people still buy a lot of CDs). Music, however, is a smaller overall market worldwide. 

    Not only is the Japanese publishing market underweight, it is shrinking and has been for two decades. In stark contrast to Japan, all the other markets in the global top 5 are either stable or growing.  

    China, is ranked number 2 in the world in terms of publishing market size, and like its overall economy, is growing the most rapidly at 9 percent. In fact, it is now almost three times the size of the Japanese market for books and publications. 

    The three other leading markets, however, are all stagnant experiencing zero overall growth; the United States the largest, Germany the third-largest, and France the firth largest, as measured by the IPA in its Global Publishing Monitor 2014 report. 

    The Japanese market is 76 percent the size of the German market, and 28 percent larger than the French market, while the United States’ market is five times bigger than Japan, according to the IPA.

    However, other IPA reports and analysis rank the markets differently including the United Kingdom in the top five and Japan as the firth not the fourth largest domestic market.
    Japan is the world’s fourth-largest publishing market Posted by Richard Nathan