Factbook

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
    • Prizes

    Kobo Abe is said to be the Kafka of Japan[UPDATED: 11-22-2019]

    Kobo Abe (1924-1992) is said to be ‘The Kafka of Japan’. He is best known for: The Road Sign at the End of the Street (1948), The Woman in the Dunes (1962), as well as being avant-garde, being expelled from the Japanese Communist Party, and collecting insects.

    His novella, The Wall, won the Akutagawa Prize and established his reputation. His best friend was Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) and he was also a friend of Harold Pinter (1930-2008).

    He didn’t give many interviews, but an interesting conversation with him is reported in the New York Times under the headline: Japan’s Kafka Goes on the Road, where his experimental theatre group is discussed. 

    He and his book The Woman in the Dunes in particular are still popular today amongst some of Japan’s most talented and creative individuals such as the up-and-coming film director Yuka Eda, director and screenwriter of the 2018 crowd-funded film Shojo Kaiko, Girls’ Encounter, and the 2019 drama 21st Century Girl

    Eda cites Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes as one of the books that has had the most influence on her and one she returns to when she is looking for inspiration. She says she admires the novel’s kafkaesque tone and narrative style.
    Kobo Abe is said to be the Kafka of Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Prizes

    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
  • Share
    • Prizes

    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
  • Share
    • Prizes

    Japan’s first detective story was published in 1889[UPDATED: 3-17-2018]

    Ruiko Kuroiwa (1862-1913), who founded a newspaper and edited several others, is widely thought and cited as having written Japan’s first detective story, a classic whodunit short story titled Muzan (In Cold Blood), nine years after the first modern Japanese short story, Dancing Girl, by Ogai Mori, was published in 1890. 

    Kuroiwa was part of the new literary class that emerged in Japan’s Meiji Era (1868-1912), a period of rapid modernisation and change when Japan was opening up to Western influence after the resignation of the Shogun and more than two hundred years of self-imposed isolation.  

    Kuroiwa initially joined others in translating European books, such as Jules Verne’s (1828-1905) Le Voyage dans la lune, before penning Japan’s first detective story. He also translated The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells (1866-1946).

    However, it was Taro Hirai (1894-1965), writing under the pen name Edogawa Rampo, who established the modern genre in Japan and popularized it by combing scientific method with Japanese sentiment, as well as the suspense-type narratives that had been popular in Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). 

    Several years after graduating from Wasada University, where subsequently many famous authors studied, he published his debut work: The Two-Sen Copper Coin (二銭銅貨 Nisen doka).

    Somewhat like Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) after the Second World War, Hirai had the rare ability to bridge and blend the new rapidly urbanising Meiji Japan with the old Japan, helping readers of his generation deal with transitioning society through fiction.

    He was and is still highly influential and a prize (The Edogawa Rampo Prize) named after him has been awarded every year since 1955.
    Japan’s first detective story was published in 1889 Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Prizes

    The translation of the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1923 led to a robot literature boom in Japan[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    The play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek (1890–1938), written in 1920 and first performed in Prague in 1921, had a major impact in Japan in the 1920s and 30s after its arrival in translation. 

    The play not only popularised the word robot worldwide, but also triggered a flurry of robot stories in Japan; sometimes described by academics as “Early Showa Robot Literature”. Jinzo Ningen (Artificial Human) by Hatsunosuke Hirabayashi (1892-1932) is often cited as a classic example of this genre. 

    The Robot and the Weight of The Bed by Sunjugo Naoki (1891-1934), who the Naoki Literary Prize – one of Japan’s most important literary awards – is named after, is another example. This story written in 1931 is about a dying man’s plan to leave a robot to look after his wife after he has departed this world. It is set in the future when Japan has electrically controlled cars (not dissimilar to the electronic and autonomous cars being developed today) that automatically avoid accidents. The story is about a robot designed to make sure a wife remains faithful to her husband after his death. Other stories from this period feature enhanced or modified humans as well as robots and dolls. 

    The rapid industrialization Japan was experiencing at the time and the arrival of new developing technologies generated creative angst as well as concerns amongst the general population. 

    Robots were not considered by these authors as merely tools to serve humans; they were also seen as potential threats to human and biological life. Japanese authors developed narratives reflecting the growing concerns about mechanization; similar to the fears often articulated in the media today, about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the current generation of robots (actual not imagined), and the prospect of so-called technological singularity, artificial super-intelligence that leads to runaway technological growth, changing our society beyond recognition, perhaps in an uncontrollable unforeseen way.
    The translation of the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1923 led to a robot literature boom in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Prizes

    Winning the 1987 Japan Mystery Writers Association Prize put Miyuki Miyabe on the literary map triggering a boom in female crime writing in Japan[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    Miyuki Miyabe’s short story Warera no rinjin was hannin (Our Neighbour is a Criminal) won the 1987 Japan Mystery Writers Association Prize, announcing her arrival as a writer in Japan. 

    Her success, especially her 1992 novel Kasha (All She Was Worth) about loan sharks, debt and the risks of a cashless society, as well as the success of similar books written by non-Japanese female authors published in translation in Japan encouraged a new generation of Japanese women to try their hand at the genre. 

    Some went on to enjoy major success and something of a publishing boom developed in Miyabe’s wake. Such authors as Natsuo Karino and Kaoru Takamura whose profiles are now growing outside Japan. 

    Karino’s prize-winning 1997 novel Out (アウト) has been described as a “dark, feminist, horror and probably not like anything you’ve read”. The book is about a group of women working together at a factory who find themselves coming together to cover up a murder, but not everyone “handles the guilt well”. Other notable and successful Japanese female crime fiction authors include: Asa Nonami and Yoshiki Shibata. 

    Interestingly, crime fiction written in the 90s by women in the US and the UK also saw a similar surge in popularity. 

    Though there have always been female writers of whodunits finding success in translation; Agatha Christie (1890-1976) being perhaps the best known, Japanese media has tended to play up the authors’ gender to promote the books by using titles like the crime fiction “Queen”, or “Princess”, or some such moniker. 

    As the trend evolved and gained momentum, names of strong female characters started appearing in the narratives themselves and not just on the covers of the books. Books like Out would feature female detectives and criminals, as well as dark, grisly stories whose narratives included violence done by and to women. 

    As their writing careers have progressed some of these Japanese authors have followed Miyabe’s example by branching out into other genres including science fiction and historical fiction. 

    The phenomena, like other Japanese popular culture trends, has even created an opportunity for academic study with the publication of such papers as Woman uncovered: pornography and power in the detective fiction of Kirino Natsuo; and monographs such as Bodies of Evidence: Women Society, and Detective Fiction in 1990s Japan.
    Winning the 1987 Japan Mystery Writers Association Prize put Miyuki Miyabe on the literary map triggering a boom in female crime writing in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Prizes

    In 1964 after Junichiro Tanizaki was nominated and shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature, AFP announced in error that he had won[UPDATED: 2-28-2018]

    In 1964 four Japanese authors were amongst the 76 candidates nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature; Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965), Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) and Junzaburo Nishiwaki (1894-1982). 

    That year there were 19 new candidates for the prize including two nominated for the first time who went on to win in subsequent years: the Guatemalan author Miguel Angel Asturias (1899-1974) and the Spanish writer Camilla José Cela (1916-2002). They won in 1967 and 1987 respectively. 

    Junichiro Tanizaki was one of six candidates that the Nobel Committee for Literature “considered most relevant” to win in 1964, including the winner that year – the French author Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980).

    In the media frenzy leading up to the official announcement by the Nobel Committee the French news agency L’Agence-France-Presse (AFP) announced in error that Junichiro Tanizaki had won. 

    The Japanese media flocked to Tanizaki’s house to document and report his reaction. It was all, in fact a mistake; he never actually won the prize, and tragically died in July the following year. The prize, which is generally announced in October, is only awarded to living authors. Sartre, however, having won famously refused to accept the prize saying that the Writer should “refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution”. 

    Four years later in 1968 Yasunari Kawabata won, becoming the first Japanese author to win the prize and the first Asian author to win it since Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) in 1913, who was the first Non-European to win the prize.
    In 1964 after Junichiro Tanizaki was nominated and shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature, AFP announced in error that he had won Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Prizes

    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