Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Japan’s most expensive book was published in 1984 with a retail price of US$17,000[UPDATED: 2-26-2018]

    Japan’s most expensive book, an edited collection of manuscripts by Claudius Ptolemaeus (100-168), was published in two-volumes by the Japanese publisher Iwanami Shoten in 1984, just before Japan’s infamous economic bubble (1986-1991), with a retail price of 1,930,000 yen.

    Ptolemaeus’ astronomical treatise, an astronomy textbook and star catalogue, is generally referred to as the Almagest. Copies of the extremely expensive Japanese editon, Uchushi, Cosmography, a collection of reproductions of Ptolemaeus manuscripts, including analysis and commentary by Torataro Shimomura (1902-1995), a philosopher and a science historian and others, are available at the National Diet Library in Tokyo.

    Ptolemaeus, of Greek-Egyptian heritage, was one of the most influential ancient astronomers. He is famous for his mathematics and geography and his earth-centred cosmology.

    His cosmological theory (hypothesis) that the earth was the centre of the universe was held for 1,400 years; until it was refuted by Nicolas Copernicus (1473- 1543) in 1530. When Copernicus wrote De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, in which he argued that the earth, in fact, rotated around the sun. The theory was published in 1543, the year of his death.
    Japan’s most expensive book was published in 1984 with a retail price of US$17,000 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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    Japan’s most prolific male and female author have written 1,000 books[UPDATED: 2-21-2018]

    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 author have written 1,000 books Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan has a popular product category (hybrid books and magazines) called Mukku[UPDATED: 2-21-2018]

    The definition of a Mook is a: “publication, which is physically similar to a magazine, but is intended to remain on bookstore shelves for longer periods than traditional magazines” in a similar manner to a book. They are known as mukku in Japan. 

    The word was apparently first used in 1971 at a Fédération Internationale de la Presse Périodique (FIPP) conference. 

    The format is particularly popular in Japan. Designers (mostly fashion designers) successfully use the format to promote their brands. The Wall Street Journal has reported on the phenomenon calling the ”brand mook” a Japanese publishing hotspot. 

    The format and the word were embraced in Japan, which is often mistakenly credited with coining the term. The continued success and use of the format in Japan has insured the word’s survival and continuation of the format. 

    Many English language dictionaries do not list the word under this definition and often only include a definition of the slang expression spelt the same way meaning: “a foolish, insignificant, or contemptible person”.
    Japan has a popular product category (hybrid books and magazines) called Mukku Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Book prices in Japan are fixed[UPDATED: 2-14-2018]

    Despite Japan’s 1953 Anti-Monopoly Law, books published in Japan are still sold at fixed prices, as was the case before the Second World War.

    Japan’s Anti-Monopoly Law has an exception for publications. Under the Resale Price Maintenance System publications, including books, must be sold across Japan at a fixed price.

    According to the industry “this enables the distribution of a wide variety of titles in small volumes and allows for royalties to be paid on books with small initial print runs”.

    It has, however, created opportunities for secondhand booksellers like Book-Off, that sell titles that are technically secondhand, but are in almost new condition.

    At pixel time Book-Off, founded in 1991, has more than 1,000 stores and annual sales of 52 billion yen. Other opportunists, wanting to sell books at low prices, exploit Amazon Marketplace.

    In Japan books are not exempt from Consumption (sales) Tax, as is the case in some countries. However, e-books sold into Japan by international (non-Japan-based) retailers are exempt from this tax.
    Book prices in Japan are fixed 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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    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