Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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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
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    Most Japanese literary prizes are linked to publishers[UPDATED: 2-22-2018]

    Many of Japan’s literary prizes were set up by publishers or have links to publishing companies. The two most prestigious prizes: the Akutagawa Prize and the Naoki Prize were both set up by Kan Kikuchi the founder of Bungeishinju, one of Japan’s leading magazines. 

    The Noma Prize is run by Kodansha, Japan’s largest publisher and is named after its founder Seiji Noma (1878-1938). It was set up in 1941 in accordance with the final wishes of Seiji Noma. The prize is worth 3 million yen, three times the prize money for the Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes. 

    Editors from the publisher Bungeishinju select the short list that the judging panel of 9 judges, choose from for the Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes. Judges in Japan, who sit on the panels of the most prestigious prizes, often want to see more than one title from an author so they can consider their overall potential before the author, as opposed to their book, is picked as the winner.

    Apparently, these two prizes are sometimes awarded to increase the profile of authors even if the work is “problematic” according to Manufacturing Modern Japanese Literature: Publishing, Prizes, and the Ascription of Literary Value, by Edward Mack. Sometimes winners are chosen “on the expectation of more and better work in the future” which is not the case for many international prizes, such as the Man Booker Prize, where only the merit of an individual title is judged and not the career potential and marketability of an author. 

    In 2004, the Honya Taisho Award (Japan Booksellers’ Award) was launched in response. The winning book is selected by staff working at bookshops and not a panel of judges. Past winners have included: Yoko Ogawa’s The House Keeper and Professor and Woman on the Other Shore and The Eighth Day, by Mitsuyo Kakuta. The award uses the slogan “Nationwide Booksellers’ Most Recommended Books” and prides itself on the open, public and transparent process it runs in selecting its winners. Titles that win the Honya Taisho Award, unlike many Akutagawa and Naoki Prize winners, go on to sell in very large numbers. 

    Nevertheless, publishers still run and promote their own awards. Kodansha awards The Edogawa Rampo Prize, established in 1955, named after the famous Japanese author who pioneered detective fiction in Japan. Taro Hirai (1984-1965), the author which the prize honors wrote under the name of Edogawa Rampo, as he was an admirer of the American writer Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849). The company also sponsors The Kenzaburō Ōe Prize, named after one of Japan’s two winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

    Another example of a publisher backed prize is The Shosetsu Subaru Prize, launched in 1988, by another leading publisher Shueisha. It is awarded to new writers of unpublished works. 

    Others notable prizes set up by publishers include the Yukio Mishima Prize and the Shugoro Yamamoto Prize, which were both set up in 1988 by Shinchosha another publisher. 

    Many of Japan’s newspaper groups, which often own magazine companies and publishing companies also award literary prizes – the most prestigious of which is probably the Yomiuri Prize for literature, set up in 1949 by the publisher of Japan’s oldest and bestselling newspaper. Haruki Murakami and Yuko Mishima have both won the Yomiuri Prize.
    Most Japanese literary prizes are linked to publishers Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first magazine, Seiyo-Zasshi, was launched in October 1867[UPDATED: 2-21-2018]

    Seiyo-Zasshi, Japan’s first magazine was launched by Shunzo Yanagawa in October 1867. The magazine’s name means Western Magazine.

    The 10-page magazine, which consisted of a collection of translations of western scholarly articles, was published in booklet format, printed on Japanese paper, using woodblocks, with a folio binding. 

    The definition of the word magazine is “a periodical publication containing articles and illustrations, often on a particular subject or aimed at a particular readership”. Before the digital age it generally referred to publications with paper covers.

    The word magazine comes from the French word magasin which itself comes from the Italian word magazzino, meaning store or storehouse. Seiyo-Zasshi clearly fell within this definition of a magazine and certainly aspired to become one. 

    According to historians, the earliest international example of a magazine is said to be Erbauliche Monaths Unterredungen, Edifying Monthly Discussions, a literary and philosophy magazine, launched in 1663 in Hamburg almost 200 years before Japan’s first such publication. 

    The Gentleman’s Magazine, is generally cited as the world’s first general-interest magazine. Its first issue was published in London in 1731; its publication continued for almost 200 years.

    In contrast, the life span of Japan’s first magazine, Seiyo-Zasshi, was much more short lived. The original plan was for it to become a monthly publication as it became established, but the magazine folded after just 6 issues in September 1869, two months before the international journal of science, Nature, was launched in London that year. 

    Despite its short life and lack of commercial success, Seiyo-Zasshi’s publication was an important historic milestone that coined the Japanese term used for magazine Zasshi, which is made up for two letters (characters) – ‘mixture’ and ‘to note or register’. The publication may no longer exit, but its name lives on.
    Japan’s first magazine, Seiyo-Zasshi, was launched in October 1867 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s oldest continuously published magazines are Chuo-Koron and Toyo-Keizai launched in 1887 and 1895[UPDATED: 2-21-2018]

    Toyo-Keizai is technically the oldest continuously published magazine in Japan. It was launched in 1895 as Toyo-Keizai-Shimpo, Oriental Economic News, modeling itself on The Economist, which was launched more than 50 years earlier, in September 1843.  

    Ironically, unlike Toyo-Keizai, The Economist positioned itself as a newspaper in its launch prospectus and not as a magazine. The company that publishes The Economist today is called The Economist Newspaper Limited and The Economist is still considered by some as a magazine-format newspaper and not a magazine.  

    Toyo-Keizai,
    still published today, is published weekly by Toyo Keizai Shinposha and is considered one of Japan’s leading and most important business publications.  

    However, another magazine, Hanseikai-Zasshi, which later became Chuo-Koron, Central Review, was in fact launched one year before the Toyo-Keizai, in Kyoto in 1887. Twenty year after the launch of Japan’s first magazine Seiyo-Zasshi, Western Magazine, whose launch, despite its short publishing life of 6 issues, coined the Japanese world for magazine, Zasshi.  

    Hanseikai-Zasshi,
    which subsequently changed its name, is now published monthly by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. part of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper group and is based in Tokyo. It is technically not Japan’s oldest continuously published magazine due to its name change, but is one of Japan’s most prestigious and high profile literary magazines.  

    Hanseikai-Zasshi
    was launched by the Review Society, a group of academics and students, based at Ryukoku University, a private university in Kyoto that was originally founded as a school to educate Buddhist monks, by the Nishi Hongan-ji denomination, in 1639.  

    These two magazines, Japan’s ‘so-called two oldest continuously published magazines’ actually have very little in common apart from longevity. They focus on very distinct topics and interest groups: business and literature.  

    The subject matter of a magazine does not appear to be the magic key to longevity in magazine publishing.

    The oldest continuously published magazine in the United State, Scientific American, also a monthly publication, like Chuo-Koron, launched in 1845 (two years after The Economist) covers another altogether different interest group; science and technology.  
    Japan’s oldest continuously published magazines are Chuo-Koron and Toyo-Keizai launched in 1887 and 1895 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    It took Japan 20 years to sign up to the world’s first international copyright convention[UPDATED: 2-21-2018]

    It took Japan 20 years, from its launch, to join the first multi-national agreement on copyright.

    Japanese officials attended the 1886 Berne Convention on Copyright in Switzerland, considered to be one of the most important milestone in intellectual property right protection, as an observer, as did the United States. However, despite sending delegations to Switzerland neither nation signed the Berne convention, which led to the modernisation and internationalisation of author intellectual property rights.  

    The French author Victor Hugo (1802-1885), according to historians, was one of the key figures behind the initiative that led to the convention, which 10 countries signed. Other authors still famous today, including Mark Twain (1835-1910) and Charles Dickens (1812-1870), are also known to have lobbied and argued for author rights and better international protection of authors’ commercial interests.  

    Victor Hugo’s novels were first published in Japanese translation around this time, in the 1880s, as was Coningsby (also known as The New Generation), a novel by Benjami Disraeli (1804-1881), the two-time British Prime Minister. Coningsby was originally published in English in 1844.  

    It took Japan almost 20 years, one year longer than the United States, to adopt and become party to the Convention, which has since been updated and amended multiple times. Japan acceded to it in 1899.  

    The Berne Convention helped establish the concept of Country of Origin, stipulated a minimum mandatory term of 50 years of copyright after an author’s death; and provided protection for works published in translation or copies produced outside the country of initial publication.
    It took Japan 20 years to sign up to the world’s first international copyright convention Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The first Western commercial fiction was translated into Japanese in 1879[UPDATED: 2-19-2018]

    It took 32 years, from the first publication of a work of Japanese fiction in a European language until an important Western work of fiction was published in Japanese translation, in 1879. 

    The first “important” title, according to the scholar Donald Keane was the novel Ernest Maltravers (1837) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), the bestselling British author who is famous for having coined phrases such as; “the great unwashed,” “it was a dark and stormy night” and “the pen is mightier than the sword”. 

    The novel, translated by Junichiro Niwa, a former Edinburgh University law student, was published in Japanese under the title Karyū shunwa (A Spring Tale of Blossoms and Willows), and sold extremely well. A Japanese translation of a Jules Verne novel, by Chunosuke Kawashima was also published that year in Japan.
    The first Western commercial fiction was translated into Japanese in 1879 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Book prices in Japan are fixed[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Despite Japan’s 1953 Anti-Monopoly Law, books published in Japan are still sold at fixed prices, as was the case before the Second World War.

    Japan’s Anti-Monopoly Law has an exception for publications. Under the Resale Price Maintenance System publications, including books, must be sold across Japan at a fixed price.

    According to the industry “this enables the distribution of a wide variety of titles in small volumes and allows for royalties to be paid on books with small initial print runs”.

    It has, however, created opportunities for secondhand booksellers like Book-Off, that sell titles that are technically secondhand, but are in almost new condition.

    At pixel time Book-Off, founded in 1991, has more than 1,000 stores and annual sales of 52 billion yen. Other opportunists, wanting to sell books at low prices, exploit Amazon Marketplace.

    In Japan books are not exempt from Consumption (sales) Tax, as is the case in some countries. However, e-books sold into Japan by international (non-Japan-based) retailers are exempt from this tax.
    Book prices in Japan are fixed Posted by Richard Nathan