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Book History 6 (2003) 109-125

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Japan and the Internationalization of the Serial Fiction Market

Graham Law and Norimasa Morita

The roman-feuilleton has a long history in Japan, perhaps even lengthier than in France, its country of origin. 1 Even today, all four of Japan's large general-interest national daily papers have a column permanently devoted to the shimbun shôsetsu (newspaper novel), a short numbered and illustrated installment from an original piece of fiction that runs an average of six months. These four papers claim a total daily circulation of nearly 25 million, while the longest running, the Yomiuri Shimbun (founded in 1874), alone prints nearly 10 million copies and is thus reckoned to be the world's best-selling daily newspaper. The current appetite in Japan for newspaper fiction is clearly not as fierce as it was around a century ago. Yet despite the rise of new mass narrative forms—such as enpon (the extremely popular series of paperbacks priced at a single yen) after the First World War, or the comic magazines (mangabon) after the Second, in addition, of course, [End Page 109] to the cinema and the broadcasting media—the survival of the tradition has never been in doubt. In fact, when NHK, the public broadcasting authority, began to transmit serial stories on radio and television in the mid-1930s and early 1960s, respectively, it was influenced by the form of the shimbun shôsetsu and paid tribute to this in the general titles chosen: rajio shôsetsu (radio novel) and renzoku terebi shôsetsu (serial TV novel). The years before and during the First World War were something of a golden age for the Japanese newspaper novel, after Natsume Sôseki was employed as a staff novelist of the Asahi Shimbun in 1907, and most of the modern classics of that period first appeared as newspaper novels, beginning with Sôseki's own Sanshirô in 1908. During the period of economic and ideological confusion after the end of the Second World War, a series of major works, including those by Tanizaki Jun'ichirô and Mishima Yukio, also appeared as serials in the daily papers. 2 At less stirring times, popular fiction remains the staple fare of the newspapers, and today's shimbun shôsetsu themselves tend to fall into mass-market genres such as tales of mystery, romance, and modern urban life, or concern themselves with folk heroes both historical and contemporary. The aim of this essay, though, is not so much to offer an account of the flourishing of Japanese newspaper fiction in the present day as to explore its sociocultural origins during the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

A decade ago Edward Said insisted that critics have no choice but to study the societies of colonizer and colonized "contrapuntally, as making up a set of ... intertwined and overlapping histories." 3 It is now becoming clear that this is also true of international relations other than those formally shaped by colonialism. Historians of publishing thus seem now to be beginning to recognize the value of research into the increasingly global nature of the book and periodical markets in the later decades of the nineteenth century. 4 This essay represents, then, only a single chapter in what we hope will become a detailed international study of the growth of a specific publishing practice—the serialization of fiction in the newspaper press—from the middle decades of the nineteenth century to the outbreak of the First World War. 5

As may be readily apparent, the framework of ideas underlying this project derives a good deal from an engagement with the work of Benedict Anderson and Franco Moretti concerning the impact of publishing history on cultural identity. Anderson, it may be remembered, finds a primary factor contributing to the origin and spread of nationalism in the development of "print-capitalism, which made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to others, in profoundly new ways." 6 He draws particular attention to the novel and [End Page...


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