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Japanese Publications Winning Over Growing International Readership (October 22, 2003)

International interest in Japanese publications like manga (comic books), fashion magazines, and novels is rising sharply. This trend has spurred growth in the business of publishing translations of Japanese originals, not only within Japan but also in other countries, and there has been growing competition for translation and publication rights in the United States and some Asian countries. Japan's written culture, it appears, has become the nation's latest hit export.

Rising Circulation Figures
Japan has a strong tradition of mass-market magazines that carry multiple serial comic strips, a genre that had not existed in the United States before leading Japanese publisher Shueisha launched an edition of its weekly Shukan Shonen Jump, Japan's biggest periodical in the genre, for the American market in autumn 2002. The inaugural edition featured a selection of works that inspired the anime (animated films) that are well-known in the United States. Today, though, the popular magazine carries more works that have never been made into anime.

"There are no national borders to the things kids find fun and amusing," proclaims a spokesperson for the publisher of the American edition of Jump. "As the young [American] readers grow up, hopefully they'll continue to feel an affinity for manga. At that point we'll be able to say that Japanese manga have truly penetrated the international market." Circulation, initially 250,000, had risen to 320,000 by May 2003; Shueisha has set a target of 1 million.

Before multiple-title magazines like Jump made waves outside of Japan, a number of comic books were sold overseas as individual titles. Tokyopop, which has operations in Japan and the United States, has been obtaining translation rights for Japanese manga and publishing foreign editions (mainly in the United States) since its founding in 1996. So far it has issued overseas editions of about 100 titles, including Mobile Suit Gundam and Lupin III.

"Japanese manga are visually excellent, and the story lines are compelling too," a Tokyopop representative pointed out. "There are now signs of a new Japanese design craze, fueled by TV games." Tokyopop's sales have been doubling every year, and in May 2003 the company founded a British subsidiary as its second corporate entity outside of Japan.

Ring Goes into Multiple Printings
Other Japanese magazines and books are also moving briskly around the globe. Publishers in Beijing and Shanghai have issued local editions of Japanese women's magazines through arrangements with Kodansha, another leading Japanese publisher, that guarantee Kodansha a percentage of magazine sales and advertising revenues. Under these contracts, the Chinese edition of ViVi was launched by the Beijing publisher in 2001 and the Chinese version of With by the Shanghai publisher at the end of 2002. Selling for 15 yuan (about $1.80 at 8.3 yuan to the dollar), a copy of With costs a Chinese reader about as much as a meal in a restaurant. Despite the hefty price tag, With is the most popular women's magazine in Shanghai, selling about 80,000 copies a month. Chinese publishers are now negotiating for the rights to publish local editions of Style in Shanghai and Voce in Beijing.

About 70% of the articles in the Chinese editions of ViVi and With are translations from the Japanese edition. Photos are also mainly from the Japanese original, with many shots featuring trendy Tokyo districts like Shibuya and Harajuku. One might think the readers of a women's magazine would be looking for information a bit closer to home, but the Chinese publishers say their readers are eager to know all about trends in Japan.

In April 2003, Vertical, a New York-based publisher that specializes in translating contemporary Japanese books into English, released four new novels, including Ring by Suzuki Koji and Ashes by Kitakata Kenzo. Ring's first printing of 10,000 copies sold out in a month, and the company has already decided on a second printing. Under a contract it has signed with a large British agency, Vertical expects in the near future to expand its sales channels to Britain and to former British territories in Asia. A spokesperson for Vertical notes with confidence, "With the right translation, the right binding, and the right distribution network, Japanese content can be very competitive in the global publishing market."

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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