Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    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
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    Two Japanese magazines, launched in the 1920s, played a critical role in the development of Science Fiction writing in Japan[UPDATED: 3-8-2018]

    Two magazines in the 1920s Shinseinen (New Youth) and Kagaku Gaho (Science Pictorial) played pivotal roles in the development and establishment of the modern Science Fiction genre in Japan. 

    New Youth, launched in 1920 was packed full of short stories targeting “urban modern men”, and quickly became an outlet and publishing platform for science-fiction-type stories and detective stories. 

    The editor of the magazine grouped these stories into two categories: 1) honkaku (classic) and 2) henkaku (irregular) stories.

    Science fiction fell into the latter and was, according to Robert Matthew in his book Japanese Science Fiction: A View of a Changing Society, initially categorized in Japan in its modern form as ‘irregular detective fiction’ 

    Science Pictorial, set up just after Amazing Stories, science fiction magazine launched in the United States in April 1926 by Hugo Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing, also played a critical role. Gernsback is generally credited for the first use of the term Science Fiction. Both magazines were the first in each country to be devoted solely to science fiction. 

    Science Pictorial ‘s mission at launch was to “seek revolutionary works of high literary value which are purely scientific in their material and do not lapse into the detective style ”. 

    The two Japanese magazines published stories such as: Jinzo Ningen (Artificial Human) by Hatsunosuke Hirabayashi (1892-1932), which is often cited by academics as a classic example of Japan’s so-called “early Showa robot literature”, which there was lots of. Other notable examples include: Chitei Jigoku (The Animal Kingdom Under the Earth) by Juran Kuze (1901-1946); and Shindoma (The Demon of Vibration) by Juza Unno (1897-1949), who is sometimes referred to as the Father of Japanese Science Fiction. 

    Despite this early creativity, the terms Science Fiction (Saiensufikushon), SF and Sci-Fi, however, only came into use in Japan after the Second World War. 

    Nevertheless, the words Kagaku Shosetsu (科学小説), which is still occasionally used today, alongside Kuusou Kagaku Shosetsu  (空想科学小説), meaning imaginary science novel, were coined as early as 1886 for the Japanese “scientific novel”. 

    The genre’s roots, however, go back much further in Japan to stories known as Mirai-ki. Nonetheless, the genesis of today’s science fiction writing in Japan is said to be the translation into Japanese of the French author and playwright Jules Verne’s (1828-1905) novels in the 1880s. 

    Verne’s books arrived during a period of rapid modernisation and change in Japan known as the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when Japan was opening up to Western influence after the resignation of the Shogun and more than two hundred years of self-imposed isolation.  Verne’s books and others like them had a major impact on readers and budding authors. 

    New Youth and Science Pictorial provided the platforms for Japanese writers interested in science and fiction, who grew up on these Western translations, to flourish and for the genre to develop with its own Japanese characteristics. 

    Subsequently, two commercially successful magazines, launched in the 1950s, Uchujin (1957-2009) and SF Magajin (1959-) played an equally important role for the next generation of Japanese authors, who are sometimes referred to by academic as “The First Generation Writers” of modern Japanese science fiction.

    This so-called first generation of authors includes writers such as Kobo Abe (1924-1993), Shinichi Hoshii (1926-1997), Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), Sakyo Komatsu (1931-2011) and Yasutaka Tsutsui, who was born in 1934.

    Science fiction has now become an important and popular genre in Japan that is still flourishing creatively and commercially today in all formats: book, animation, film and graphic novel.
    Two Japanese magazines, launched in the 1920s, played a critical role in the development of Science Fiction writing in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    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
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    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
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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