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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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    At least one Japanese literary prize rewards its judging panel and prize-winners equally[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    The Akutagawa Prize, one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes founded in 1935 in honour of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927), reportedly pays each of its nine judges an annual retainer of 1 million yen to select the winner twice a year. In contrast, the prize awarded twice a year (for the best published literary fiction by a new or rising author) is worth the same amount – 1 million yen, about US$10,000. Winners of the prize also receive a high-end pocket watch. 

    Judges have no fixed term. Some of the longest serving judges have remained as judges for decades. The haiku poet Kosaku Takii (1894-1984), for example was an Akutagawa Prize judge for 47 years, between 1935 and 1982. The judges select from a shortlist of 5-7 nominees presented to them by Bungeishinju editors, whose founder set up the prize. 

    In contrast, the Man Booker Prize, a prestigious British literary prize sponsored by a hedge fund, has 5 judges who read more than a hundred novels each from which they select the longlist of 12-13 novels, from these they select a shortlist generally 6, announced about 3 months after the longest, and then finally the winner.

    The judges are generally appointed to only judge the prize once by the prize’s advisory committee and are paid about half that of the Akutagawa Prize judges. Occasionally a judge may be on the panel for two years, but that is the exception not the rule. The Man Booker Prize is awarded once a year, not twice like the Akutagawa, in October after the shortlist is announced normally a month before. The Prize is worth more than 15 times the amount its judges are paid.
    At least one Japanese literary prize rewards its judging panel and prize-winners equally Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The Akutagawa Prize has had some major controversies[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    The Akutagawa Prize founded in 1935 may be one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, but it hasn’t escaped serious criticism or indeed controversy. It and its prize-winners have been accused of many things over the years including anti-Semitism, plagiarism and collusion. 

    An expose of it and other Japanese literary prizes was published in 2004, under the title Bungakusho Mettagiri. It criticized amongst other things the selection process and its transparency. One award winner from the 1970s was accused of plagiarism; this being Akio Miyahara’s Derek ga sawatta, Someone touched it, the winner in 1972. 

    A decade later in 1987, Shusaku Endo (1923-1996), one of Japan’s most famous authors, and a member of the judging panel for the prize, felt obliged to write to the New York Times after Passover, by Fumiko Kometani, a book deemed by critics to be anti-Semitic, won the prize in 1986. 

    Endo wrote stating that there was no head of the judging panel and that he had not in fact voted for the prize-winning novel, which was a story about an unhappy Jewish-Japanese marriage. Endo wrote in his letter to the newspaper: “There is no head among the jury of the Akutagawa Prize. As one member of the selection committee, I objected to selecting ”Passover.” That I did not place a high value on this novel is clear from my comments on selection”. 

    The Akutagawa Prize was set-up in the 1930s by Kan Kikuchi (1888-1948), while he was editor of Bungeishinju, one of Japan’s leading literary magazines in honor of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927). The prize is awarded twice a year (for the best published literary fiction by a new or rising author) and is worth – 1 million yen, about US$10,000. 

    Kikuchi has had a major impact on the Japanese literary scene. Not only did he found Bungeishinju in 1923, he also founded the Naoki Prize in 1935. The Akutagawa and Naoki prizes are sponsored by the publisher of Bungeishinju, which also organizes the Kikuchi Prize, named after Kan Kikuchi, the Matsumoto Seicho Prize and the Oya Soichi Non-Fiction Prize.
    The Akutagawa Prize has had some major controversies Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Mishima, who was “openly gay”, married at the age of 33 after considering a number of prominent women as ‘marriage candidates’[UPDATED: 2-26-2018]

    Despite living “openly” as a homosexual the brilliant Japanese author Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) had a “conventional marriage” to Yoko Sugiyama and had two children, a boy and a girl. 

    They married in June 1958 at a ceremony at International House in Roppongi, Tokyo. A central location, with a traditional Japanese garden where the Meiji Emperor and Empress attended Kabuki plays. it is still used for weddings today. 

    The Nobel Prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) formally introduced Mishima to his future wife Yoko, after Kawabata’s adopted daughter had been briefly considered by Mishima for the role. According to Mishima’s biographers, he also considered a partnership with Michiko, currently wife of Emperor Akihito. 

    Mishima had a series of important conditions that any future bride had to meet: she had to be shorter than him (his height was 152 cms), she would need to respect his privacy, allow him to continue bodybuilding and be attractive (something he is on record saying he thought she was). 

    In 1958, according to John Nathan’s biography of Mishima, the year when both Mishima and the Crown Prince were married “a weekly magazine polled the nation’s young womenhood” with the question, “If the Crown Prince and Yukio Mishima were the only two men remaining on earth, which would you prefer to marry?” According to Nathan, “more than half of those who responded said they would prefer to commit suicide!” 

    Editors and publishers in New York and London who worked with Mishima were impressed by: his manners and politeness; his English; as well as his openness about being gay and visiting gay meeting spots. In 1960s London, for example, it was socially very hard to be so open and relaxed about one’s sexuality, as homosexuality was still illegal. Homosexual acts conducted in private between two men were only decriminalized in 1967 in the United Kingdom, when The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed into law. Both men had to be 21 or older for homosexual acts to be legal.

    In his book The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima Henry Scott Stoke describes their first meeting at a dinner at The Foreign Correspondences’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) in Tokyo in 1966 when he was working as the Tokyo correspondent for The Times. Mishima, attended the event at the Club with his wife. He writes that: “ Mishima spoke fluent English. Yoko was a complete contrast. Also small, she was ten years younger than her husband and looked it. Petite, with a round face, she kept her counsel and spoke little – she had by that time two very young children”. 

    Despite playing a role in the background and Mishima telling the cluster of foreign correspondents gathered at the FCCJ (a recording of which can be heard here) in 1966 that “ Yoko has no imagination”, she had a sharp mind; often accompanied him publicly (which was unusual for spouses in Japan then); helped Mishima professionally when he was alive; and worked hard after his death to manage his literary legacy.
    Mishima, who was “openly gay”, married at the age of 33 after considering a number of prominent women as ‘marriage candidates’ Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Despite being rivals for the Nobel Prize, Kawabata and Mishima were friends[UPDATED: 2-25-2018]

    Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) became the first Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968, ahead of Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) who was nominated more than once for the prize and throughout the 1960s was considered a very strong candidate. 

    The two men first met in 1946 when Mishima, a brilliant student considered the best or one of the best nationally, was still a student at Tokyo University before he joined the Ministry of Finance on graduation in 1947. 

    Mishima was looking for support and contacts in the world of publishing to get his short stories published and Kawabata kindly offered to help when Mishima turned up at his house. Subsequently, Kawabata wrote a highly supportive preface to Mishima’s novel Theieves, published in 1948, a novel about a young couple that kill themselves on their wedding night. The novel was not a major critical success and did not gain much if any attention. 

    However, the encounter eventually led to the publication of Mishima’s first full-length major novel Confessions of a Mask, the following year in 1949, which quickly established him as a major literary talent and the literary wunderkind of his generation; by that time he had already quit his job, after nine months at the ministry, to concentrate full-time on creative writing with the hope of becoming a well regarded professional author. 

    Kawabata played an important role throughout Mishima’s life at very key moments: formally introducing Mishima to his future wife Yuko, after Kawabata’s adopted daughter had been briefly thought of as a potential bride by Mishima: and also giving the eulogy at Mishima’s funeral after he dramatically killed himself. He also had a formal role at Mishima’s wedding in 1958 at International House in Tokyo. 

    According to an article in The New Times published the day after his death, Harold Strauss, his long-time editor at Alfred Knopf, said: “Mishima was torn apart by the Japanese transition” and “had one foot in the past and one in the future. He was able to articulate this change as no other Japanese novelist was able to do. Older writers such as Yasunari Kawabata can write only of the past and younger writers such as Kobo Abe can write only of the present.” 

    Mishima was also a close friend of Kobo Abe (1924-1933) considered by some to be Japan’s Kafka. Unlike Mishima and Kawabata, who died two years after Mishima having gassed himself, Abe died in hospital after a brief illness of heart failure.
    Despite being rivals for the Nobel Prize, Kawabata and Mishima were friends 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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    Yukio Mishima chose his pen name when he was just 16[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), one of Japan’s most famous writers, chose his pen name when he was just 16.

    The discovery of a draft of his book Hana Zakari no Mori, The forest in full bloom, has his name, Kimitake Hiraoka, crossed out and the name Yukio Mishima written alongside it. This early draft was written when he was 16.

    The draft was found in Kumamoto in 2016. The forest in full bloom was published in 1941 in the literary journal Bungei Bunka.

    Mishima, who was reportedly considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964 and on at least two other occasions, committed suicide in 1970.
    Yukio Mishima chose his pen name when he was just 16 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