Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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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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    Japan introduced its first copyright legislation in 1869[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    The Publishing Ordinance of 1869 was Japan’s first legislation on copyright. The regulations in the ordinance covered both the protection of copyright and the regulation of publishers. Prior to this, despite property rights generally being linked to the ownership (legal title) to the print blocks used to print books, the concept of and protection of author rights in Japan was very limited. 

    The ordinance of 1869 was updated becoming the Copyright Law (now known as the old Copyright Law) to comply with the Berne Convention in 1899, and is considered to be Japan’s first modern copyright law, as it complied with the international standard and norms on copyright protection. 

    The United States Copyright Office, in comparison, was created by Congress in 1897. Both nations were relatively slow to develop and adopt the legal frameworks to protect author rights. 

    In contrast, the United Kingdom, which publishes more books per capita than any other nation worldwide and is a major exporter of books and publications, can trace its copyright legislation back to the Statute of Anne 1709. Under that Statute, probably the world’s oldest, copyright lasted for 14 years with a second optional 14 period of renewal, a much shorter term than the current author’s life plus 70 years in the United Kingdom, and 50 years in Japan.
    Japan introduced its first copyright legislation in 1869 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first magazine targeting women, Katei-no-Tomo, was launched in 1903[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    It took 36 years from the launch of Japan’s first western-style magazine in 1867, Seiyo-Zasshi (Western Magazine), for a magazine exclusively targeting Japanese women to be published. Katei-no-Tomo, The Family Friend, was launched in 1903 by Yoshikazu Hani (1880-1955) and his wife Motoko Hani (1873-1957). Motoko is widely recognized as Japan’s first female journalist. She met her husband (her second), while working as a reporter for the Hochi Shimbun

    The magazine was rebranded eventually becoming Fujin-no-Tomo, Women’s Friend, in 1908 and is still published today under that name. The couple, both Christians, tried to encourage women through the publication, which was non-political, to develop their own identities and act as equals within their households. The couple also founded a private girls school in Tokyo, which the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) designed for them in 1921. 

    Fujin-Gaho, The Woman’s Illustrated Gazette, was launched two years after Katei-no-Tomo in 1905, by the novelist Doppo Kunikida (1871-1908). As it is still published under the same name today it is probably technically Japan oldest continuously published women’s magazine. 

    Kunikida, who was a fan of William Wordsworth (1770-1850), studied English at Tokyo Senmon Gakko, which became Waseda University and is now famous for its many author alumni such as Haruki Murakami, Mitsuyo Kakuta and Kazufumi Shiraishi among others. All these high profile contemporary authors successfully completed their studies, unlike Kunikida who was expelled. Kunikida, also a Christian, is known for his romantic poetry and his novel Aru Onna, A Certain Woman. He also founded a literary magazine and a publishing company despite an early death at 36 from tuberculosis. 

    Another interesting magazine launched around this time by five pioneering feminists, was Seito, Blue Stocking, in September 1911. It was named after the 18th Century British Blue Stocking Society. In its first issue Raicho Hiratsuka (1886-1971) wrote: “In the beginning Woman was the Sun. She was the genuine being. Now woman is the Moon. She lives through others and glitters through the mastery of others. She has a pallor like that of the ill. Now we must restore our hidden Sun”. The publication was extremely controversial with several issues being banned by the authorities. It folded in February 1916.
    Japan’s first magazine targeting women, Katei-no-Tomo, was launched in 1903 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    One of Japan’s major bookshop chains is named after a highly innovative trendsetting publisher of woodblock prints[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Juzaburo Tsutaya (1750-1797) was an Edo Period (1603-1867) publisher of woodblock prints with the Midas touch. He nurtured many of Japan’s most famous ukiyo-e (woodblock) artists and authors and had a “discerning eye for discovering new talent” as well as an amazing talent for promotion. 

    He successfully mentored many including: the polymath Santo Kyoden (1761-1816), the highly regarded Utamaro Kitagawa (1753-1806) and the somewhat mysterious Sharaku Toshusai who was only active for a 10-month period during which he created many iconic prints that helped define the genre, and are now familiar images worldwide. 

    Tsutaya is probably most famous for turning Kusazoshi books (genres of popular woodblock-printed illustrated literature) and ukiyo-e into fashionable, must-have items. And has been described as one of the most important Edo Period trendsetters. He also published and distributed the Yoshiwara saiken, an extremely popular guidebook to the Yoshiwara licensed “pleasure district”. 

    Tsutaya, currently one of Japan’s trendiest retailers and bookshops, founded by Muneaki Musada, takes its name from a business owned by its founder’s grandfather, which was called Tsutaya in homage of the trendsetting risk-taking Juzaburo Tsutaya. 

    According to the company’s website: “Though many years fall between our times and the Edo Period” Culture Convenience Club (the name of the corporate owner of the bookstore chain) has the stated goal to “become the premiere Planning Company for Information Distribution” emulating “the achievements of Juzaburo Tsutaya”. 

    This is a hard act to emulate as the historical Tsutaya had the rare combination of having a brilliant knack for promotion as well as being able to manage highly creative talent. 

    Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831), the bestselling author and illustrator of titles such as the comic novel Shank’s Mare, which follows two amiable scoundrels on a madcap trip along the Tokaido highway leading from Tokyo to Kyoto, is another example of a highly creative individual who formed part of the Tsutaya talent pool. 

    Ikku, who was born in Shizoka, lived with Tsutaya as a young man and acknowledged that this experience and the diverse range of people he met at Tsutaya’s house helped him develop his stories and become probably the most successful author of his generation. He was reportedly the first person in Japan to be able to support himself on literary earnings alone. 

    The modern-day Tsutaya opened its first shop in 1983 in Osaka and the “Planning Company” now runs Japan’s largest bookstore and movie, music and game-rental chain. Its founder has become one of Japan’s richest men; something that would probably delight his grandfather who admired Juzaburo Tsutaya so much.
    One of Japan’s major bookshop chains is named after a highly innovative trendsetting publisher of woodblock prints Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan has 12 different literary prizes for mystery writers[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Japan has 12 different prizes for mystery writers including The Agatha Christie Award, which was launched in 2010 on the 120th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth for unpublished novels. The first winner was Akimaro Mori for The Black Cat Takes a Stroll

    Some other notable prizes include: the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, the Edogawa Rampo Prize and the Honkaku Mystery Award.  
    Japan has 12 different literary prizes for mystery writers 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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    The number of bookstores in Japan is 60% higher than the typical print run of a newly published title[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    For newly published titles to be stocked at all book retailing outlets in Japan, initial print runs of  16,000 are often said to be required. However, most new books have print runs of less than 10,000.

    The number of stores as well as the size of initial print runs have been falling, the number of bookshops, for example, has fallen by almost 40 percent since the 1990s.
    The number of bookstores in Japan is 60% higher than the typical print run of a newly published title Posted by Koji Chikatani
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    The Path, by the founder of Panasonic, has outsold Harry Potter in Japan[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Japan’s second bestselling book is The Path, by Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic.

    The Path has sold more than 5.2 million copies in Japan since it was first published in March 1981 by PHP Research.

    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first title in JK Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, published in Japanese in December 1999, is the third bestselling title in Japan with sales of more than 5.1 million at pixel time. 

    Japan’s all time bestselling novel is Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi.
    The Path, by the founder of Panasonic, has outsold Harry Potter in Japan Posted by Koji Chikatani