Science fiction has been published in Japan for over a hundred years, the first to really influence were the novels of Jules Verne, with the translation of Around the world in 80 days, published in 1878-1880, followed by his other works all of which were immensely popular. In fact the word kagaku shōsetsu (科学小説) was coined as a translation of "scientific novel" as early as 1886. Sci-Fi by japanese writers started to appear around the start of the twentieth century, with writers such as Shunro Oshikawa (1877-1914) and Junro Unno (1897-1949) who, inspired by Verne and H.G.Wells, wrote military style adventures combined with aspects of science, such as Oshikawa’ s The undersea Warship (1900) & Unno’s The Floating Airfield (1938). Prior to world war two most japanese Science Fiction were pale imitations of western fiction, placing the emphasis on techno future, with it’s reliance on machinery to solve any problems and was considered a sub literary form, normally placed within the mystery genre. After the war with the American army an occupying force, the Japanese were introduced to a wide range of writers through the magazines & paperbacks carried by the G.I’s. Exposure to this material led to a widespread revival in the genre, followed by translations of the works of Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, which both made the bestsellers list.
Two major events occurred in the development of Japanese Sci-Fi in 1950’s, the first being the - now considered legendary - fanzine Cosmic dust (Uchu-jin, 宇宙塵) was founded, although the first science fiction magazine in Japan was Seiun (星雲) in 1954, but this was discontinued after only one issue. The second Hayakawa Shobo, began it’s series of Sci-Fi books and it’s Hayakawa's S-F Magazine (S-Fマガジン) with the February 1960 issue, appearing in bookshops at the end of 1959. Under the editorship of Masami Fukushima it started publishing translations of English Language stories, although later it would be prominent in the publication of original Japanese Science Fiction.
By the 1960’s Science Fiction’s popularity had increased to such an extent that in 1962 the first SF Convention (Nihon SF Taikai (日本SF大会 Japan SF Convention) was held in Tokyo, although originally the majority of the fiction published in this period was translations of works written in English, a new wave of Japanese writers were surfacing, with their own take on what Science fiction should be and were not content on just imitating western models.
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868 Japan went into a programme of modernisation, rapidly transforming itself into the nation it is today, possibly at a speed quicker than any other nation. This process has left it’s shadow on the culture and on the mind of the nation as a whole, giving rise to conflicting issues concerning the rise of modernity and the traditional Japanese values and is often reflected in it’s mainstream authors, with writers drawn up on both sides of the debate. Although represented as the literature of change and of the young, Science Fiction was in a perfect position to express the concerns of this dichotomy and, by referring to it’s own mythology combined with a technology that was in constant flux, the writers were able to reflect the uneasy alliance of the old and new. This new wave of writers, by reflecting the concerns prevalent in their nation, found expression on a wider stage, reflecting the concerns of a planet.
The first Japanese science fiction story to appear in English, was the short story Bokko-Chan by Shinichi Hoshi, which appeared in the June 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The first Japanese Sci-Fi novel to be Translated into English was Inter Ice Age 4 (1970) by Kobo Abe, the first first single author collection was Shinichi Hoshi’s The Spiteful Planet And Other Stories (1978). The first Anthology of Japanese Science Fiction Short Stories translated into English was
The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories
Editors: John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenburg Publication Year: 1997
Publisher: Barricade Books
The Flood – Kobo Abe, Cardboard Box – Ryo Hanmura, Tansui – Ryo Hanmura, Bokko-Chan – Shinichi Hoshi, He----y, come on ou---t – Shinichi Hoshi, The Road to the Sea – Takashi Ishikawa, The Empty Field – Morio Kita, The Savage Mouth – Sakyo Komatsu, Take your Choice - Sakyo Komatsu, Triceratops – Tensei Kono, Fnifmum – Taku Mayumura, Standing Woman – Yasutaka Tsutsui, The Legend of the Paper Spaceship – Tetsu Yano.
In the introduction to this anthology John L. Apostolou, gives us a brief history of this genre in Japan, some of which I’ve used here. He the goes on to say that apart from a few exceptions, before this book it was nigh on impossible to find Japanese Science Fiction, making this anthology most peoples first encounter with Japanese SF. The aim is to introduce people to the fantastic writers, major authors in their own country such as Hoshi Shinichi, Hanmura Ryō, and Komatsu Sakyō, hopefully gaining them the recognition they deserve. The Best Japanese Science Fiction title is a bit of a misnomer, Speculative Fiction might have been a better name, there are no space battles, Aliens are thin on the ground, and the science seems to be hidden or kept to a minimum, these are quiet tales. Still if you want an introduction to Japanese SF, this is still the place to start there are a couple of others (Speculative Japan 1 & 2) which I aim to read at some point, but this is the source, there are thirteen tales here and they all offer an interesting take on the genre.
Nihon Distractions (The Best Japanese Sci-Fi)
PDF, From science fictional Japan to Japanese science fiction
PDF Hoshi Shinichi & The Space Age Fable
Very interesting post. I will start reading this collection in June when JL6 begins
Many thanks for this post, I'd highly recommend the Speculative Japan anthologies published by Kurodahan Press, I think the third is being published at the end of the year.
I haven't read a Japanese sci-fi for years. You made a wonderful post, tracing admirably the beginnings of Japanese sci-fi and providing recommends. I will endeavor to acquire a copy of "The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories". Thanks!
re: the misnomer - isn't it funny how certain genre names are bandied about as a one-size-fits-all sort of thing?
Curious--why are there spaces in the title of this story? -> He----y, come on ou---t – Shinichi Hosh
Thanks for a fantastic post on an area of SF with which I am pretty unfamiliar. I will pursue some of these works as part of my ongoing SF reading. I will also share this with our SF discussion group who will likely find it just as interesting as I do.
An interesting history of SciFi in Japan, I would have thought Sci Fi would have been found in Japan a lot earlier than history records.
Thanks for sharing!
Shelleyrae @ book'd Out
Hi Mel, will be interested in your response to these tales.
Hello Me, definitely interested in the speculative series & aim to try at least a couple of them.
Hi Nancy, Thanks, it's quite easy to find, if interested.
Hi Gina, The old pin the donkey on the tale syndrome, as to the spacing I think it's merely Heeeey come on out.
Hello James thanks & check out the PDFs for some more points of interest, for example the Jedi connection & Japan.
Hi Shelleyrae, It can be traced back further through certain myths & tales such as Urashima Tarō", which has an early example of time travel & was described in the Nihon Shoki( 720. Another example is the 10th century Japanese narrative The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter which concerns a moon princess sent to earth for safety during a celestial war. Sci Fi as recognised today did not begin until the Meiji Restoration and the importation of Western ideas. for more info ....
I'm not a big fan of SF myself, but you've certainly gone into detail here :)
Hi Tony, used to read a lot of this genre, when I was a lot younger & thought it would be fun to reinvestigate it, as one of my challenges this year. Also have some great J-lit examples to read.
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