Japanese book review: “文藝年鑑” (Literature Yearbook) [an important guide for acquiring rights to publish Japanese works]

By | September 5, 2018

In the process of researching how to obtain official legal permission to translate and publish certain Japanese authors, I discovered the book “文藝年鑑” (bungei nenkan), which can be translated as “Literature Yearbook”. In this post I’d like to review this important reference guide, especially useful to translators and those deeply interested in Japanese literature. (By the way, the word “文藝” is a more elaborate way to express “literature”, which can also be written as “文芸”)

文藝年鑑 is a book that is published yearly by Shinchosha (新潮社) and contains a variety of information about Japanese literature, authors, translators, editors, publishers, awards, and other related topics. It is edited by The Japan Writers’ Association (日本文芸家協会). I purchased the 2018 edition from Amazon Japan here, and the rest of this review will focus on that edition, though I presume previous editions have similar material. It would be nice if there was an E-book edition of this but I was unable to find one.

The book has a unique structure: it consists of two parts, one which is meant to read from the right to left (page wise) and one the left to the right, such that the ends of the two parts meet somewhere in the middle.

The first part, starting at the rightmost part of the book, begins with a few pages of photographs of important people in the field of Japanese literature, such as authors who won literary awards in 2017. Next is a series of short essays on various topics, such as 詩 (poems), 短歌 (tanka), 俳句 (haiku), and then essays about trends in various genres: 推理小説 (detective novels), SF (science fiction), 児童文学 (children’s literature), ノンフィクション (nonfiction), etc. After that is a section with various essays on overseas literature, including British, American, Russian, and Chinese literature. That is followed by winners of overseas literary awards and prizes, and then important literary figures that have passed away (訃報), with a brief profile of each. At the end of the first part is a bunch of lists about what works were published in what magazines (雑誌掲載作品), divided up by genre (tanka/haiku, theater, children’s literature, etc.)

The second section, which starts at the leftmost page of the book, is called 便覧 (“catalog”) and gives a few lists of information. The two largest sections are 文化各界人 (cultural/literary figures) and 著作権問い合わせ先 (contacts for obtaining information about copyrights). Following that is a list of cultural organizations (文化団体), newspaper companies (新聞社), and publishers (出版社). The second part of the book ends with a list of cultural museums (文学館) and libraries (図書館・文庫), and a section on literary magazines (同人雑誌).

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the main reason I became interested in this book was as a reference for obtaining translation/publishing rights for Japanese authors, and the “contacts for obtaining information about copyrights” section exists expressly for that purpose. There was one specific author I was looking for and I found his information in a matter of minutes (using a book like this gives you a chance to practice your hiragana-ordering, which is a skill you may not use a daily basis). However, beware that there are probably many authors who are not listed here at all, and even for those that are listed sometimes there is very minimal information, like only date of birth and death. Although it’s not uncommon to have a phone number and address listed, email addresses are quite rare, so be prepared to write a letter. At first, I thought it was odd that so many people don’t use email, but (while surely some of the older generations do fit in that category), my feeling is that many people hesitate to give their email address out since all it takes is one person with bad intention and they will receive a flood of spam.

To be sure, this is a reference guide––nothing you would just read through cover-to-cover, though I did read parts of some of the essays in the first part. They had some interesting information about recent trends in Japanese literature or related fields, though there are surely many other books, magazines, and websites out there to give similar information. However, if you work in the field of Japanese literature, I gather you would want to purchase this book each year and read all the related articles just to make sure you don’t miss anything.

If you just have a minor interest in Japanese literature (and can read Japanese relatively fluently), getting this book for around $50 USD may not be worth it for you. However, if you live and breathe Japanese literature I think this is an indispensable guide. Even for me, if I manage to get one translation project as a result of the information in this book, it will be well worth it.

Just a side note, even if you don’t have this book you can generally contact The Japan Writers’ Association and they may be able to supply you with the contact information (if that have it, that is). Generally, I recommend contacting them in Japanese, as I am not sure if they have people with strong English reading and writing skills on their staff.

On a final note, it seems that The Japan Writers’ Association has additional information that is not publicly published in this book, so even if you buy this book you may end up having to contact them. But if you frequently have a need to contact Japanese publishers, authors, or related parties, this book will likely save you some time tracking down contact information.

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