Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    The Japanese poet Ishikawa Takuboku was Meiji Japan’s ‘Angry Young Man’[UPDATED: 4-4-2022]

    The Japanese poet Ishikawa Takuboku (1886-1912), famous for his modern free-style tanka, disliked the repressive and static atmosphere of the Meiji era (1868-1912). 

    The only son of a Buddhist priest, Takuboku was, according to historians, spoilt and arrogant, as well as highly precocious, and saw limited positive future outcomes for the individual or the nation, in the era’s political and intellectual climate. 

    In 1913 he wrote a famous, often cited essay, The Impasse of Our Age, Jidai Heisoku no Genjo, accusing naturalism and many other so-called ‘isms’ as inadequate, and some of his poetry reflects Japan’s changing society, as well as his own self-scorn and anger. 

    Takuboku has been called Japan’s Meiji Angry Young Man, and much else, including, for example, the first modern Japanese, a provincial romantic, as well as a shameless firebrand. But his poems are still enjoyed and cherished by many today. 

    His refusal to conform and his James Dean (1931-1955) like early death at the age of 26, has helped give him a cult like status in Japan.

    An example of one of his poems translated by Roger Pulvers is:

    FATHERS AND SONS

    Why is the air so thick between them?

    Apart in spirit when facing each other

    Close in absolute silence.

    The Japanese poet Ishikawa Takuboku was Meiji Japan’s ‘Angry Young Man’ Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The translation of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ triggered Japan’s first post-war obscenity trial, in 1951[UPDATED: 11-5-2021]

    After Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan in 1951, full sovereignty returned to Japan bringing the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945-1952) to an end.

    Japan had a new constitution, originally drafted in English that it was putting into place in translation. Legal responsibility for its implementation and new rules and regulations transferred back to Japanese control. This included the regulation of the press, publishers and the media. 

    During the occupation various controls existed including General Headquarters (GCQ), for instance, determining which foreign books could or could not be published in Japanese translation.

    Despite this, Japan’s new constitution, drawn up by GCQ and ratified in 1947, prohibited all forms of censorship and guaranteed freedom of expression. This was a major change to the regulations that governed publishing in Japan, which had seen very limited development since major changes to these laws were implemented in a flurry of new regulations in Japan’s Meiji Era (1868-1912), when newspaper and magazine publishing started to flourish. 

    The post-war, liberal Western-influenced and controlled, atmosphere had a major impact on Japan, even on its publishing. This encouraged the setting up of thousands of new publishing houses and new waves of books arriving in Japan in Japanese translation, often for the first time. 

    In June 1950, a new self-regulation body was established. This became known as the Publishing Morals Committee, Shuppan Butsu Fuki Iinkai. And it was established shortly after the publication in spring of the same year, of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in Japanese translation for the first time.

    The book by D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), which was first published in 1928, was translated into Japanese by Sei Ito (1905-1969) and published by Oyama Publishing. 

    The publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover tested these new laws and a trial took place on the grounds of Lady Chatterley’s Lover’s content being obscene. A trial that went all the way to Japan’s supreme court, setting a legal precedent that lasted for decades.

    The Supreme Court decision, in this first post-war obscenity trial, defined obscenity as anything “unnecessarily sexually stimulating, (which) damages the normal sexual sense of shame of ordinary people, or is against good sexual moral principles”. 

    According to Kristen Cather in The Art of Censorship in Postwar Japan,“ The Chatterley trial staged a very public struggle to define literary, cultural, and legal identity, engaging a far-reaching debate over the relationship of domestic Japanese and imported Western traditions”.  

    The Japanese Supreme Court concluded that parts of the book, consisting of about 80 pages, were obscene and banned those sections from publication and fined the translator and publisher in a landmark decision that concluded that the sex in Lady Chatterley’s Lover was not normal and was against good sexual moral principles. 

    Despite Japan’s long history of erotic publishing of woodblock prints including Shunpon and shunga in the Edo Period (1603-1688), erotic guidebooks and tales of man-eating demon women, this imported fictional prose about Lady Chatterley and the day-to-day life of her English gamekeeper, that in addition to their intimate adulterous relationship includes “peripheral” passages on pheasant raising and managing a shooting estate, was deemed obscene. 

    A subsequent trial relating to an abridged translation by Tatsuhiko Shibusawa (1928-1987) of a version of Histoire de Juliette by the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) also led to a successful conviction.

    Interestingly Shibusawa, a relative of Eiichi Shibusawa (1840-1931) one of Japan’s most influential early industrialists who helped found many companies including the first Western-style paper mill in Japan in 1875, had written his graduation thesis on the Marquis de Sade.

    The lengthy nine year trial dragged in several famous Japanese authors as witnesses including Shusaku Endo (1923-1996), Shohei Ooka (1909-1988) and the Nobel Prize-winner Kenzaburo Oe helping increase Shibusawa’s public profile.

    For some Japanese critics, even today, pornography and the publication of materials that are on the periphery of falling within scope of Japan’s official definition of the obscene is seen as a subversive tool through which to resist the authorities and assert a type of cultural national independence.

    That said, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, howeverwas not just controversial in Japan. It was banned in the United Kingdom until Penguin books won a landmark obscenity trial in 1960 allowing its full publication in English. This decision had a profound cultural and social impact in Britain.

    It was only in 1996 that the full book was finally published in Japan in Japanese, which allowed newspapers in Britain and America to report on this publishing breakthrough with such headlines as: Japanese to see more of ‘Lady Chatterley’ and Chatterley’ to bare all in Japan.  

    As academic interest in historically ‘obscene books’, many of which seem unremarkable in today’s light, increases, libraries like the British Library are starting to digitise their online collections and are making them available to researchers worldwide through collections like the Gale’s Archives of Sexuality and Gender.

    These books are no longer concealed in special sections in libraries and are just a click away for some subscribers and library users.

    The translation of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ triggered Japan’s first post-war obscenity trial, in 1951 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The translation of Harry Potter triggered a major tax investigation and fine in Japan[UPDATED: 4-21-2021]

    Yuko Matsuoka, the multi-millionaire Japanese translator and publisher of the Harry Potter novels in Japan, lost a case with the Japanese authorities, who sent her an extraordinary additional tax demand for 700 million yen, US$7 million, for undeclared income of more than $29 million.  

    The Japanese tax authorities alleged that Matsuoka, 62, received more than US$29 million between 2001 and 2004 in undisclosed income. She argued that, as she had been resident in Switzerland since 2001 no tax was in fact due in Japan. After consultation with the Swiss authorities she lost the case, as she had spent too much time in Japan during the period to qualify as non-resident in Japan for tax purposes.
    The translation of Harry Potter triggered a major tax investigation and fine in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Two of Japan’s most famous authors Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Yukio Mishima translated ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ into Japanese[UPDATED: 3-8-2021]

    Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in English in 1865, has been translated into Japanese more times than any other language, and two of Japan’s most famous authors; Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927), after whom one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes is named; and Japan’s most notorious author Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), have translated the story into Japanese.

    Akutagawa’s translation of Lewis’s story was published in 1927. It was a collaborative effort with others and had the Japanese title Arisu Monogatari; and Mishima’s translation was published in 1952, with illustrations by Goro Kumada  (1911-2009), with the title Fushiginokuni Arisu

    Rendering and adapting Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into brilliant and readable Japanese, that reflects the nuances of the original story, is a rabbit hole of a challenge that many have tried and continue to try, since at least 1895, not just these two famous and highly regarded authors.

    Two of Japan’s most famous authors Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Yukio Mishima translated ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ into Japanese Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The Long Winter, the sixth book in the Little House series, was the first book approved for translation and publication in Japan after World War II[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    During the American occupation of Japan, after the Second World War (1945-1952), all publications were reviewed by General Douglas MacArthur’s team at GHQ (General Headquarters). MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), recommended The Long Winter, the sixth book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series for publication. It was published in 1949, under the title Nagai Fuyu by Kosumoporitan-sha (Cosmopolitan Publishing) translated by Aya Ishida. 

    Nagai Fuyu is generally cited as the first translated book to be granted permission for publication by SCAP. During the war the publication, distribution and reading of books in English were prohibited in Japan and more than a thousand books were banned or censored. 

    The Long Winter is about the Ingalls family in the Little House series surviving being snowed in with limited food supplies during a long eight-month winter. The Long Winter was apparently chosen to aid “democratization” and to “buoy the morale of a defeated and starving people”. 

    One of the stated strategic goals of the occupation was “to build a future for the people of Japan based upon considerations of realism and justice” and “to infuse into the hearts and minds of the Japanese people principles of liberty and right heretofore unknown to them.” 

    Learning about American values and America was part of this. GHQ actively encouraged the book’s distribution to public, and school libraries across Japan. German translations were published in a similar effort. 

    Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a special message, dated 8 July 1948, to the children of Japan, which appeared in the book. It ran as follows: “things of real value do not change with the passing of years nor in going from one country to another.  These I am sure you have.  It is always best to be honest and truthful, to make the most of what we have, to be happy with simple pleasures, to be cheerful in adversity and have courage in danger”. The book was very popular. 

    In 1975, a Japanese anime version of the series was launched under the title: Sogen no sojo Laura (Laura the Prairie Girl). And like many other countries around the world the television series Little House on the Prairie, based on the third book in the series, was broadcast in Japan from 1975-1982. The books were originally written during the Great Depression with the first in the series published in 1932.
    The Long Winter, the sixth book in the Little House series, was the first book approved for translation and publication in Japan after World War II Posted by Richard Nathan
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    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
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    Haruki Murakami, who loves cats, ran a jazz bar and coffee shop called Peter Cat before making his debut as a writer[UPDATED: 2-26-2018]

    While studying at Waseda University in Tokyo Haruki Murakami, probably the best known contemporary Japanese writer in the English speaking world, met his wife Yoko, while working in a record store and set up a jazz bar and coffee shop called Peter Cat

    He and his wife ran Peter Cat together between 1974 and 1981. He published his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, in 1979. 

    Like the name of his jazz bar, cats also often feature prominently in some of his novels. He is on record as being a cat lover, like many other high profile Japanese authors, such as Kazufumi Shiraishi and Mitsuyo Kakuta. 

    Cats also play important roles in some of his best novels. Novels like The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleKafka on the Shore and a story titled: Town of Cats, included in IQ84, which was published in 2011. 

    Murakami’s books have been translated into more than 50 languages and have sold millions of copies in Japan and internationally.
    Haruki Murakami, who loves cats, ran a jazz bar and coffee shop called Peter Cat before making his debut as a writer Posted by Richard Nathan
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    The first bilingual English-Japanese dictionary was compiled in 1830 by someone who had never visited Japan[UPDATED: 2-23-2018]

    The English missionary Walter H. Medhurst (1796-1857), who never actually visited Japan, compiled the first bilingual ‘dictionary’ An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English Vocabulary in 1830. 

    The 334-page book was printed in Batavia (Jakarta) Indonesia, where Medhurst was based with his family. It contains Japanese printed in both Roman (Latin) and Japanese letters (characters) together with their English equivalents. Medhurst wrote at the time of publication that the word vocabulary was used in the book’s title as it was “preferred to that of Dictionary, as the work does not profess to include every word in either language”. The book’s second part does, however, contain nearly seven thousand words and is thus considered by some experts to fall within the definition of a dictionary. 

    Medhurst was one of the early translators of the Bible into Chinese and complied Chinese-English and English-Chinese dictionaries. He was also proficient in Malay, but not Japanese and had to rely on exiting dictionaries and other documents to compile his Vocabulary. 

    Medhurst wrote in the book’s introduction: “The following compilation is with diffidence offered to the public, principally because the author has never been to Japan, and has never had an opportunity of conversing with the natives: but having through the kindness of several gentlemen from Japan, obtained the sight of some native books, particularly in the Japanese and Chinese character combined, the author has been enabled, from his knowledge of the latter language, to compile the following vocabulary”. 

    The Japanese translator Hori Tatsunosuke (1823-1892), who initially acted as a Dutch-Japanese translator before learning English is said to have compiled the first “proper” and widely used English–Japanese dictionary, Ei-Wa taiyaku  Shuchin jisho (A Pocket Dictionary of the English and Japanese Language), which was published 30 years later in 1862. It was mostly based upon English-Dutch and Dutch-Japanese bilingual dictionaries including sections of A New Pocket Dictionary of the English-Dutch and Dutch-English Languages, and contained about 35,000 headwords and consisted of about a thousand pages. 

    Another early dictionary was the six-thousand word English-Japanese dictionary, Angeria gorin taisei, compiled on behalf of the Japanese authorities by the Nagasaki-based Dutch interpreter Motoki Shozaemon in 1814, which also drew on Japan ‘s early exposure to the Dutch language. Unlike Medhurst’s 1830 Vocabulary, it was not a two-way bilingual dictionary. 

    The first Dutch-Japanese dictionary, the Edo Halma, was complied in 1796 by Sanpaku Inamura (1758-1811) using a Dutch–French dictionary published in 1708 by the Dutch printer and publisher Francois Halma (1653-1722) as its base. Dutch helped accelerate Japan’s knowledge of the English language and its study significantly. 

    However, the earliest Japanese bilingual dictionaries offering translations of Japanese into a Western language were in fact Portuguese-Japanese dictionaries, including the often celebrated Vocabylario da lingoa Iapam compiled in 1603 by Jesuit missionaries.
    The first bilingual English-Japanese dictionary was compiled in 1830 by someone who had never visited Japan Posted by Richard Nathan