Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Only one author, Yoriko Shono, has won Japan’s Triple Crown of literary prizes to date[UPDATED: 4-17-2019]

    The so-called Triple Crown of Japanese literary prizes for new authors consists of the Akutagawa Prize, the Yukio Mishima Prize and the Noma Prize.

    Yoriko Shono, author of Time Slip Kombinat, who describes her style of writing as ‘avant-pop’, is the only author to-date to have achieved the Triple Crown by being awarded all three prizes. 

    A common theme of her work is ‘cyborg-identity’ a narrative that alongside more traditional robot fiction has a long history in Japan and has been used in cyborg feminists novels, and subversive fiction to, for example, ridicule and question society.
    Only one author, Yoriko Shono, has won Japan’s Triple Crown of literary prizes to date Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first commercial publishing emerged in Kyoto in the early 17th century[UPDATED: 4-14-2019]

    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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    Japan’s most expensive book was published in 1984 with a retail price of US$17,000[UPDATED: 1-5-2019]

    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.
    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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    More than 50 Japanese authors have killed themselves since 1900[UPDATED: 12-27-2018]

    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) 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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    Japan’s most prolific male and female authors have written 1,000 books[UPDATED: 12-27-2018]

    Jiro Akagawa and Kaoru Kurimoto are Japan’s most prolific authors and have written around 1,000 titles between them. 

    Akagawa has written more than 530 books and sold millions of copies. His first published short story in 1976 Yūrei Ressha, Ghost Train, which was awarded the All Yomimono Mystery Prize for New Writers, helped launch his career.  

    Akagawa’s two major series are: the Mike-Neko Holmes, Holmes, the Tortoiseshell Cat, series, which contains 35 novels and 14 collections of short-stories and the series; Three Sisters Investigates, which includes 23 novels. He has won and been nominated for many important literary prizes and had his books adapted for film and made into video games. At pixel time he continues to write. 

    Kaoru Kurimoto (1953-2009) wrote more than 400 books, but also had a second pen name Azusa Nakajima. When books published under both names are added together she probably wrote approximately 500 titles. Her most famous series is a 130-volume series called Guin Saga. The series has sold in the millions.

    Like many other famous Japanese authors, she studied literature at Wasada University. She wrote across different genres and won several literary prizes including the Edogawa Rampo Prize and the Gunzo Prize for New Writers. 

    Another prolific Japanese author from a much earlier period is Kyokutei Bakin (1767-1848) who wrote 470 books with titles such as: Strange Tales of the Crescent Moon and The Chronicles of the Eight Dog Heroes of the Satomi Clan of Nanos, which took almost three decades to compete and consists of 106 volumes. This work by Bakin has been highly influential and adapted many times. Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), for example, one of Japan’s most internationally famous authors, adapted it for kabuki, and it has been adapted for anime as well. 

    In comparison, the British author Barbara Cartland (1901-2000) published 722 books, an estimated one book every 40 days during her career. Agatha Christie (1890-1979), another British author, who is often cited as the World’s most published and translated author, wrote 19 plays and 69 books. 

    Christie is reported to have sold 4 billion books, four times the number of books distributed in Japan each year. Cartland and Christie are both listed in the Guinness Book of Records.

    Corin Telledo (1927-2009) is also listed and is considered the most read author in the Spanish language and successful author in terms of the number of Spanish language books written and sold. She published thousands of novellas during her career, mostly romances.  
    Japan’s most prolific male and female authors have written 1,000 books Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan runs a major trade deficit in books and publications[UPDATED: 12-25-2018]

    Despite the growing interest in Japanese culture, Japan’s exports of publications, including books, is under half of the value of its imports, according to Ministry of Finance data.

    The top three nations Japan buys books and publications from, according to figures based on publications shipped as cargo, are: 1) the United States, which represents 31 percent of imports; 2) China, 22 percent ; and 3) the United Kingdom, 21 percent.

    These figures include books printed for Japanese publishers and others in China. Many British educational publishers, for example, now arrange for their titles to be printed in China.

    The top three export nations for Japanese books and publications account for almost half of all of Japan’s exports. Japan’s top three export markets are: 1) the United States with 23 percent; 2) Taiwan, 14 percent; and 3) South Korea, 11 percent.

    According to the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) the majority of exports are to Japanese bookstores based in the United State and East Asia. Exports volumes and patterns, are said to, mirror trends in the number of Japanese being posted overseas.

    These data do not include the import or export of digital content and ebooks. Japanese universities and companies purchase online access to content and research databases. Japan is one of the largest markets for international academic and professional database publishers so when these sales are factored in the ‘content’ trade deficit is even higher.
    Japan runs a major trade deficit in books and publications Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Digital developments forced Japan to update its copyright legislation in 2014 and then again in 2018[UPDATED: 12-9-2018]

    Japanese copyright law was updated in 2014 under the Revised Copyright Act and then revised again in 2018.

    Publishing rights, which have traditionally been limited in Japan to print or paper medium publications, were extended to cover e-books and the Internet for the first time under the new Act in 2014.

    The new Act came into force in January 2015, 146 years after Japan’s first copyright legislation in 1869. And was then partially revised again in 2018, a set of revision that included amongst other things a revision that extended the copyright period on books and other works from 50 years to 70 years.

    The new Act covers: the right of publication; as well as the right to terminate the right of publication; the obligation to publish or transmit online within a six-month period of receipt of manuscript, and other updates required for electronic publishing.
    Digital developments forced Japan to update its copyright legislation in 2014 and then again in 2018 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Honnomushi is Japanese for bookworm and there are hundreds of thousands of them in Japan[UPDATED: 11-8-2018]

    The Japanese for an avid and devoted reader, honnomushi (本の虫), is similar to the word used in English and many other languages, bookworm. The direct translation of honnomushi is book insect or bug. 

    Bookworm and honnomushi, as well as being the common informal term for bibliophiles, is used in both languages to describe any insect that is thought to bore through books.

    Actual book-borers, unlike avid book buying readers in Japan, are actually uncommon. The Oxford Dictionary defines them as: “the larva of a wood-boring beetle which feeds on the paper and glue in books”. 

    These pesky creatures that librarians have hated for centuries are sometimes referred to as booklouse (Liposcelis divinatorius). There are also some types of moths that are attracted to book bindings. 

    Japan has one of the world’s highest literary rates and the average Japanese person reads for four hours per week – making the country very fertile ground for nurturing metaphorical bookworms. 

    The term honnomushi is used regularly by Japanese bloggers in writing about the books they are reading. And there are many publications depicting book-loving bookworm characters, often girls, such as Bungaku Shojo (Literature Girl), a 16-volume light novel series by Mizuki Nomura about members of a high school literature club that has sold more than a million copies. 

    There are many different terms in Japanese that use the word bug or insect; not just honnomushi. Other interesting examples include: mushinoshirase (message from a bug) meaning foreboding, hunch, a gut feeling; and mushinoiki (breath of a bug) meaning lifeless or barely alive, to list just two. 

    Various theories exist about the origin of these phrases, but experts believe most of them may come from Koshin-Shinko, a type of Japanese folklore based on Taoist-beliefs including the belief that we are all born with three bugs or worms in our stomachs, which require careful management.
    Honnomushi is Japanese for bookworm and there are hundreds of thousands of them in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan