A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
If you would like to contribute to this compendium please submit your ideas here.
All will be considered for publication by our expert panel.
  • Share
    • Industry

    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
  • Share
    • Industry

    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
  • Share
    • Industry

    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
  • Share
    • Industry

    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
  • Share
    • Industry

    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
  • Share
    • Industry

    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
  • Share
    • Industry

    Limited consolidation within Japan’s publishing industry[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) amongst Japanese publishers is very rare, unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom where the big story is consolidation.

    The vast majority of Japan’s publishing houses are small or medium sized. 60% of publishers in Japan employ less than 10 people.

    Only 30 publishers employ more than 1,000 people across all forms of publishing and the five largest Japanese publishers are all relatively small when compared to the largest international publishing houses. 

    Currently, there are about 3,700 publishers in Japan. The top 500 publishers account for more than 90 percent of sales.
    Limited consolidation within Japan’s publishing industry Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Industry

    The two best-known living Japanese authors[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Outside Japan, in most of the world, the two best-known living Japanese authors are probably currently Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto.

    Haruki Murakami published his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, in 1979, in the June issue of Gunzo, a Japanese literary magazine. Banana Yoshimoto’s first novel, Kitchen was published in Japan in 1988 and initially internationally in Italian. She has now been published in 36 different languages, while works Murakami have been translated into 50 languages.

    However, Keigo Higashino, the brilliant Japanese crime fiction writer, is the most famous and most read Japanese author in China, where he regularly heads the lists of bestselling authors. Currently, outside China and Japan he is much less well-known.  
    The two best-known living Japanese authors Posted by Richard Nathan