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
    • Religion

    Japan’s oldest publishing house, Hozokan, is more than 400 years old[UPDATED: 3-22-2018]

    Hozokan, the Kyoto based Buddhist publisher can trace its roots back to 1602 and is considered to be Japan’s oldest publisher. It publishes books on Buddhism, targeting both specialists and general readers. 

    Hozokan’s longevity, and the nature of its subject specialism, has not stopped it embracing modern publishing marketing tools and techniques. It has an attractive website, and like most publishers today is embracing social media using, for instance, Twitter to promote its books. 

    The publisher started publishing the writings of Buddha just before Japan’s Tokugawa Period (1603-1868) commenced, in 1602. The same year that Oxford University’s Bodleian Library was opened, and the first performance of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was performed in London. Japan’s oldest book, Hokekyo gisho, a Buddhist text, was written almost a thousand years earlier, in 615. 

    Hozokan’s mission is to publish titles, mostly based on Buddhist teachings, that “will nurture moral and spiritual growth and foster a new age of spirituality in the 21st century”. It has benefited significantly from being based in Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, which is the home of many important temples. 

    The world’s oldest publisher is said to be Cambridge University Press, which was founded much earlier in 1534 after Henry VIII granted it permission to print “all manner of books”.
    Japan’s oldest publishing house, Hozokan, is more than 400 years old Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Religion

    The first Japanese translation of the bible was produced around 1549[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    St. Francis Xavier is said to have brought a Japanese translation of sections of The Gospel According to Matthew with him when he arrived in Japan in 1549. The translation was done by a young Japanese man called Yajiro, who is generally reported to have been the first Japanese person to convert to Christianity. He converted while living in Goa, India. 

    Subsequently, in 1837, Karl Gutzlaff (1803-1851) translated, with the help of several Japanese people, The Gospel and Epistles of John into Japanese. This translation is sometimes cited as the first Protestant translation. 

    When Japan opened up to the West in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) the American missionaries James. C. Hepburn (1815-1911) and Samuel. R. Brown (1810-1880) worked on a new complete Japanese translation of the Bible, which was published in 1880. Hepburn also compiled an English-Japanese dictionary consisting of twenty thousand words published in 1867. 

    In comparison, the famous Gutenberg Bible, the first major Western book printed using movable metal type in Europe was published in 1452, and England’s first printed bible was published in 1535.
    The first Japanese translation of the bible was produced around 1549 Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Religion

    Some believe that the origin of one of Japan’s four alphabets, Katakana, is ancient Hebrew[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    Japanese uses multiple syllabary (alphabets) and has a special phonetic alphabet for foreign words: katakana, which has helped it manage the impact of foreign words entering its language. It is used for loanwords that enter the Japanese language, such as beer. The other alphabets used are Kanji, Hiragana and Romaji

    Some believe that katakanas origins are ancient Hebrew as there is some similarity between some of the letters, which are also pronounced in a similar manner, such as the letter Ka and Kaph for instance. 

    These similarities are often cited as evidence by proponents of the theory that one of the lost 10 tribes of Israel ended up in Japan. Books have been published in English on the topic and Japanese television programmes have also explored the subject. 

    However, most academics believe that katakana is in fact based on Kanji (Chinese characters) and was developed over a thousand years ago in Japan’s Heian Period (794-1185) by Japanese monks to annotate Chinese texts – mostly Buddhist texts; so they could be read by Japanese readers. The alphabet subsequently became used for non-Chinese loanwords as Japan became exposed to other countries, languages and cultures.

    The so-called lost tribes of Israel reportedly started leaving and disappearing from Israel following the conquest of its northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BCE.  
    Some believe that the origin of one of Japan’s four alphabets, Katakana, is ancient Hebrew Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Religion

    Japan’s oldest book is a religious text[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Japan’s oldest surviving book is a religious Buddhist text called the Hokekyo gisho, the authorship of which is generally attributed to Shotoku Taishi (574-622) in 615.

    It is a commentary, that stresses the importance of faith, on the Lotus sutra from the Asuka Period (538-710), a period when Buddhism first arrived in Japan from Korea and China.

    It is owned by the Imperial Family and is sometimes also cited as an example of the oldest Japanese calligraphy.
    Japan’s oldest book is a religious text Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share
    • Religion

    Many influential Japanese authors have been Christians[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Leading Japanese authors have been influenced by Christianity and have expressed a fascination with the lives of missionaries in Japan; Japan’s Christian Century (1546-1638); and the search for meaning immediately after the Second World War. 

    Despite being few in number, Japan’s Christian authors have had an important and lasting impact on Japanese literature and publishing. Japan’s most internationally famous Christian author is probably Shusaku Endo (1923-1996), whose prize-winning novel Silence, written in 1966, was adapted for film by Martin Scorsese in 2016. 

    Japan’s Christian’s writers and publishers made a major contribution before the Second World War as well as after it. Yoshikazu Hani (1880-1955) and his wife Motoko Hani (1873-1957), for example, launched Japan’s first women’s magazine in 1903. The novelist Doppo Kunikida (1871-1908), who also founded a women’s magazine, which is still published today, as well as a publishing house, was also Christian. 

    Other notable Christian authors include: Shiina Rinzo (1911-1973), Toshio Shimao (1917-1986), Ayako Miura (1922-1999), Sawako Ariyoshi (1931-1984) and Hisashi Inoue (1934-2010). They wrote about: managing guilt while searching for love after surviving the atomic bomb; mental illness; sacrifice; abortion; domestic violence; and aging. Many of their works have been dramatised for television and film. Three examples are: The Sting of Death, The Face of Jizo and Freezing Point

    Another more contemporary author is Ayako Sono, the sometimes-controversial conservative columnist and author. A devout Catholic, she was one of the first female writers to gain prominence immediately after the Second World War with her short story Guests From Afar, about the occupation. She also wrote Herod the Mad; as well as the highly regarded short story Long, Dark, Winter.
    Many influential Japanese authors have been Christians Posted by Richard Nathan