Jane Austen was Japanese?

We all react differently to Jane Austen’s books: some of us love them, obsess, and some think she just wrote really unrealistic love stories. Japan, however, developed a unique relationship with the famous writer. Unlike her fellow countrymen’s ambivalence about her talents, Austen was welcomed during the early Meiji Restoration period. Early Japanese scholars and authors believed Austen depicted her works so accurately that she must had been highly regarded in her time. Unbeknownst to them was the fact that Austen was largely unrecognized as a writer during her life; it was not until 1817 that her works amassed a larger readership building the path for what would later be dubbed Austenmania.


Japan was partially closed off under the Shogun rule until 1868 when it became open to Westerners again. Besides making its ports accessible, Japanese officials decided that the country needed to integrate Western ideas, customs, and business models. The campaign was meant to foster creativity and revive the country’s culture that had not contributed to the world ever since it exiled foreigners. Japan even expunged all foreign influence by relocating any Non-Japanese to Dejima, a 130-acre artificial island built in 1634 in Nagasaki. It sounds unlikely that Japanese during the Meiji restoration would even undertake translating or reading Austen’s works; after all, her focus centers on marriages, family dynamics, and social constrictions. How could the newly engaged Japan connect with these scenarios? The time frame between Jane Austen’s death in 1817 to Japan reopening its ports in 1868 is also another point that potentially could had stilted her fame from germinating as her works could had been lost, forgotten, or never been introduced to any eminent university in Japan.

Japanese students in Tokyo University were presented works by Flaubert and Zola and the social and existential ideas of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky that by the time Lafcadio Hearn, an early English literature professor at Tokyo University in 1896, gave lectures on Jane Austen’s “genius” Japanese students resisted him. They thought Austen works were outdated, trivial. Hearn also had his own reservations about introducing the Pride & Prejudice author to Japan, voicing: “I am not sure whether you [the Japanese] could like Austen or not. . . [T]he kind of life described, the suffering and the follies described, would probably seem very strange to most of you.” Hearn was obvious in signaling out that Japanese readers would not understand the nuances around marriages, proposals, and courtships because that was not the culture they followed. Austen’s descrition can muzzle any audience from understanding what is important because some relative background about the time period is needed to notice undertoned jokes. For example, in Emma, Jane Fairfax (the impoverished Miss Bates’s niece whom Emma dislikes) and her aunts arrive after the other guests have dined because they are impoverished gentry, but Emma can dine first as she is gentry. In other words, Emma is the cool lead in the lunch table and no one else can sit until she sits down. Not knowing the social customs, however, did not prevent Japanese readers from engaging with Austen’s wit.

Hearn campaigned for Jane Austen’s canonization in Japan, but it was Natsume Sōseki’s (夏目漱石) that established Japan’s love for her works. Sōseki had a tremendous impact on Japanese culture that he was honored by being printed on Japan’s currency until 2004. Sōseki considered Austen’s writing superior that of any “advanced writer,” declaring she captured reality’s undertone beauty. Sōseki fell for Austen’s writing because it mirrored his idea that nature (that is everyday life) must be presented to readers objectively rather than in florid banter and psychological runoffs. He nurtured Austen’s image in Japan and even based the literary ideal of 側転 きょうし (follow Heaven, forsake the self) on Austen’s novels.

Nogami Toyoichirō (野上 とよいちろう), under Sōseki’s tutelage, translated Pride & Prejudice (高慢と偏見) for a Japanese audience in 1926. Toyoichirō’s wife, who went under the pen name Yaeko Nagomi, proofread her husband’s translations because she read the original English version under Sōseki’s supervision and guidance. During the Meiji restoration, however, some Japanese worried that Western beliefs and customs were dominating their culture, suppressing Japanese from creating a new powerful identity. But Austen’s novels connected with Japanese readers because her works revolved on decision, using sense and logic, and finding happiness by keeping to one’s morals. At the time, the West was courting Japan similar to Mr. Wickham’s flirtations with Elizabeth Bennet: accepting a hasty proposal would only hinder Japan from contributing to the world. Possibly, it was this contrast between Austen’s novels and what the Japanese felt at the time that made her works popular. Yaeko Nagomi (やエコ 和み), for example, was so enamored with Austen’s writing style that she mimicked it for her novel, マチコ (Machiko). She wrote in her journal: “Every time I read [Pride & Prejudice], I admire it more than before…this is, indeed, a novel true to nature…I had hoped that the quality of my next novel would match at least that of Austen… If I reached such a level of accomplishment, I would surely congratulate myself.”

Machiko tells the story of a modern Japanese Elizabeth Bennet, Machiko, who must decide whether to marry the cultural industrialist Kawai (Mr. Darcy) whom she “judg[es] to be incapable of distinguishing” his friends from his enemies or the revolutionary activist Seki (Mr. Wickham), who “attracts her strongly both ideologically and physically.” Machiko, however, unlike Pride and Prejudice, uses the industrial Japan in the throes of economic crisis and workers’ militancy as the main background that propels Machiko to decide between being a industrialist or a revolutionary. Yaeko’s Machiko is one of the earliest spinoffs of Jane Austen’s work in Japan. The second was Kurahashi Yumiko’s 夢の浮橋 (The Bridge of Dreams, 1971) where she fused the Austen story with classical Japanese narratives.

In Japan, it was not until 1950 that Iwanami, a prestigious publishing house, made available a second Pride & Prejudice translation by Akira Tomita. This particular translator saw the book as an educational novel and “the best social novel in the world.” Though Japanese admired Austen’s works and satirical voice, they also made dialogue changes to fit verbal expressions that a Japanese audience would understand better. These translations were commercially successful because they maintained Austen’s witty spirit without changing the entire novel’s flow or adding any archaic language.

The history of Austen’s translated adaptations is important because it let’s us see that even though we are different ethnicities, culturally we value similar customs: morality, justice, and marriage.. Japan made Austen Japanese because her works connected with their literary and cultural beliefs. It was her early admirers and translators that initiated her fame that had it not been for them she would had remained unknown in Japan. Today it seems unrealistic for someone to not know Austen. Japan made her their own, Spain the same, and Americans too, nurturing new readerships and even greater devotees.

Akihabara: The One Stop Japan Spot for Otakus

Japan is notable for its many splendour tourist spots such as Shibuya, Okina and Kyoto. However, if there is one spot Otaku’s from all over the world wish to visit and this would be none other than Akihabara. Akihabara has been considered Japan’s one-stop-shop for all anime lovers and enthusiasts.

Where in Japan:

Located in Sotokanda, Tokyo Prefectur, Akihabara (秋葉原) is two stations north of Tokyo Station. Locals call the area Akiba after the local shrine. This area has gained quite the recognition from all over the world due to its diehard otaku culture. Major developments have already occurred thanks to the Akihabara Crossfield complex that promotes Akihabara as the centre for global electronics technology and trade.

How to Get There:

It’s easy to head to Akihabra thanks to Japans’ complex train systems plus their trains give meaning to “faster than a speeding bullet.” There are two options of which are as follows:

  1. From Tokyo Station: Akihabara is located two stations north of Tokyo Station by Keihin-Tohoku or JR Yamanote Line. The trip costs 130 yen and will only take three minutes. However, during the weekdays, Keihin-Tohoku line skips one station between Akihabara and Tokyo which will cut off a few seconds off travel time.
  2. From Shinjuku Station: Travellers should take the JR Chuo Line (colour orange) from Shinjuku to Ochanomizu Station of which takes approximately ten minutes. After, take a quick transfer to JR Sobu line (colour yellow) for one more station headed to Akihabara. This trip takes two minutes max. Alternate options also include taking the yellow train without transfer from Shinjuku to Akihabara for seventeen minutes trip. The fare costs 160 yen for either case.

What to See:

As mentioned, Akihabara is the centre for Otaku enthusiasts and lovers. From maid cafes to Tokyo anime centres selling merchandise and games, everything can be found here. It’s best to load up the wallet because the merchandise scattered around can easily lure Otakus in.

  1. Maid Cafes: Cosplay themed restaurants abound where food is served basically by waitresses in frilly and colourful attires. These “maids” also engage in fun activities with the guests.
  2. drinks

  3. Tokyo Anime Center: This is found on the UDX building of Akihabara Crossfield where anime related exhibitions are held.
  4. akihabara-2

  5. Gundam Café is extremely popular where food is served in gundam themes. A gift shop is also connected where visitors may purchase souvenirs and goods.


Why Visit Akihabara:

While Akihabara is heaven on earth for Otakus, some visit the area for real steals when it comes to the latest gadgets and electronics. Various centres offer whopping deals that are definitely a real steal as compared to any other place in Japan or overseas.

When to Visit:

Akihabara is open all year round! Take a trip to one of Japan’s busiest and most Otaku-friendly place on earth.

Important Reminders:

Japanese don’t like tourists taking photos inside stores. Unless you’re a famous celebrity or you’ve got special permission, keep the trigger happy camera’s to yourself or outside the store.

Haruki Murakami – Next novel has 500,000 pre-release print run

The eagerly-awaited new novel from Haruki Murakami set for release this week will have an initial hardback printrun of half a million copies, the Japanese publisher said Tuesday.

The new novel is expected to hit bookstores on Friday, with major outlets planning to open early at 8:00 am (2300 GMT, Thursday), while at least one large seller in Tokyo will fling open its doors at midnight.

Online book giant Amazon Japan had received more than 20,000 pre-orders for the new novel as of Saturday, faster than any other book by Murakami, publishing house Bungeishunju Ltd. said.

Half a million copies is the largest initial hardback printrun for the Japanese publisher, one of the country’s biggest.

The new book’s title is only available in Japanese for now: “Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to Kare no Junrei no Toshi.” An unofficial translation renders it: “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and the Year of his Pilgrimage.”

Read the rest of the story: Murakami novel has 500,000 pre-release print run.

Apple to sell ebooks in Japan

Apple will launch a fully fledged iBookstore in Japan this year, Japanese newspaper The Nikkei reports [paywall, only a snippet is free]. While iBooks has been available there since 2010, Apple and other e-reading companies faced reluctant publishers.

Now, with Kindle , Kobo, Google and Sony all selling ebooks in Japan, Apple reportedly has agreements with Japanese publishers Shogakukan, Kodansha and Kadokawa.

The timing of the launch is unclear. While The Nikkei says it could happen as early as this month,…

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Maki Kashimada and Mizuki Tsujimura honored with Akutagawa and Naoki prizes

Maki Kashimada has won the 147th Akutagawa Prize for up-and-coming authors of serious fiction for her work "Meido Meguri," while the 147th Naoki Prize, mainly for midlevel popular fiction writers, has gone to Mizuki Tsujimura for "Kagi no Nai Yume o Miru," the awards’ selection committees have announced.

The title of Kashimada’s work translates literally as "Touring the land of the dead," while Tsujimura’s title translates as "Having a dream without a key."

Tokyo native Kashimada, 35, began her career as a professional writer in 1998 while a student at Shirayuri College, winning Kawade Shobo Shinsha’s Bungei Prize for "Nihiki" (Two animals).


Ito Hideaki Goes Crazy Teacher in “Aku no Kyoten”

Kishi Yusuke’s bestselling suspense novel “Aku no Kyoten” (“Lesson of the Evil”) is being turned into a live-action movie. The movie will star actor Ito Hideaki (36) and be directed by Miike Takashi (51), bringing them together again for the first time since “Sukiyaki Western Django” in 2007.

The novel was published in 2010 and ranked #1 in both the “Kono Mystery ga Sugoi!” and the “Shukan Bunshun Mystery Best 10″ rankings.

Ito plays Hasumi Seiji, a teacher beloved by his students and trusted by his peers. However, in reality he is a psychopath who was born without the ability to empathize with others. Surrounded by various typical school problems such as bullying, he determines that the most effective way to resolve them is to murder his students one by one.

Filming is scheduled to last between April and June, with the aim of having the movie completed in time for the possibility of screening at the Venice International Film Festival in August. Theatrical release in Japan is scheduled for November.

Steve Jobs book sales top 1 million copies in Japan

In its first week on sale in Japan, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs is flying off the shelves. Japan’s publisher Kodansha announced that sales of the book, titled “Steve Jobs,” has exceeded 1 million copies as of November 2.

“It sold at an exceptional speed,” said a spokesman for Kodansha. “It is Steve Jobs’ ability, strength and appeal that attracted readers.”

Volume 1 of the book that came out on October 24, has sold 550,000 copies, and Volume 2 has sold 470,000 copies.

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Lost for Haruki Murakami

I prepared for my first-ever trip to Japan, this summer, almost entirely by immersing myself in the work of Haruki Murakami. This turned out to be a horrible idea. Under the influence of Murakami, I arrived in Tokyo expecting Barcelona or Paris or Berlin — a cosmopolitan world capital whose straight-talking citizens were fluent not only in English but also in all the nooks and crannies of Western culture: jazz, theater, literature, sitcoms, film noir, opera, rock ’n’ roll. But this, as really anyone else in the world could have told you, is not what Japan is like at all. Japan — real, actual, visitable Japan — turned out to be intensely, inflexibly, unapologetically Japanese.

Read the rest of the story: The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami.

Minato Kanae’s Kyogu to star Matsuyuki Yasuko

It was recently announced that two works by author Minato Kanae (“Kokuhaku”) are getting live-action adaptations. Today, yet another one has been announced, based on her newest novel before the book has even been released.

Titled “Kyogu,” the novel is scheduled for release next month on October 7th. TV Asahi will air a drama special with the same title sometime this winter, starring actresses Matsuyuki Yasuko and Ryo. The drama will be directed by award-winning movie director Wakamatsu Setsuro (“Shizumanu Taiyo”).

Matsuyuki plays Yoko, a mother of a 5-year-old boy. She wins a new writer’s prize for a children’s picture book she wrote, based on the memories of her close friend Harumi (Ryo). Both of them were abandoned by their parents at a young age and raised in an orphanage.

Meanwhile, Yoko’s husband (Sawamura Ikki), a local politician, is suspected of receiving illegal campaign contributions, so his mother (Shirakawa Yumi) and his head supporter (Kishibe Ittoku) are desperate to push Yoko to popularity. The reluctant Yoko receives some encouragement from Harumi, but one day her son Yuta is suddenly kidnapped. She receives a letter demanding her to “reveal the truth” if she wants Yuta back safely. Unable to contact the police for help, she turns to Harumi for help.

The cast also includes Ishida Ayumi, Tabata Tomoko, Ichikawa Yui, Tanimura Mitsuki, Nishimura Masahiko, Azusa Mikihisa, Nogiwa Yoko, Nagura Jun, and Ashina Sei.

Before the drama is broadcast this winter, TV Asahi is releasing a spinoff drama titled “Mou Hitotsu no Kyogu” through the show’s official website. Set in an orphanage, the 7-episode story stars Duncan as a staff worker. The first episode was made available today.

Book recalls Japan tsunami through children’s eyes

Remembering Japan’s quake-tsunami disaster, one child writes how the earth rumbled and roared, another recalls that the black wave stank and a third, who lost her friend, calls the tsunami "greedy".

The stories — simply written, touching and often heart-breaking — are among a collection of children’s essays published in a book titled "Tsunami" that has touched a nerve in the traumatised nation.

The language is often innocent and unpolished, but the stories are so direct and powerful that to many readers they convey the horror of the disaster as deeply as anything else that has been written about March 11.

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