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Young and Old Producing Autobiographies

September 22, 2000
Any Japanese person who lived through the tumultuous times of the Showa era (1926-89) has his or her own story to tell. Japan is being swept by a craze that would seem to prove this assertion, as people throughout the country, young and old, write their life stories. Self-publishing one's autobiography and showing it to friends and relatives is not that new a pastime. For over 10 years local community centers have been offering lessons on how to write an autobiography. But recently there has been a new twist to the autobiographical trend: People are using computers, the Internet, and other electronic tools to publish "digital autobiographies," which are easier to put together than the paper variety.

Computer-Aided Autobiographies
This trend is believed to have been sparked by a Website created three years ago by Recruit Corp., which allows people to post autobiographical information online. The site, titled Jibunshi Kurabu (Autobiography Club) (Japanese only), has attracted visitors from a wide range of age groups. Because users can add new information any time, the site contains many journal-like contributions created by young people.

A software package that has been on the market since 1999 claims to make it easy for anyone, even those who do not feel they are good writers, to put together an autobiography. The software, known as Jibun Densetsu (Personal Legend), was jointly developed by the game maker Namco and the Nokai Life Education to the Research Institute Corporation located in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Following the instructions on the screen, the user records personal experiences and anecdotes, and voila, in no time at all the autobiography is complete. The software is reported to be particularly popular with baby boomers, who are used to using computers.

The program first presents the user with a chronological table in which to record landmark dates, such as date of birth and date of entering elementary school. Then, for each life stage (infancy, elementary school, twenties, thirties, and so on) the user answers questions that appear on the screen. From this data, the user compiles his or her autobiography. The software offers various tidbits of advice, for example, "Whether a written work will attract the reader's interest or not is determined by the first three lines."

Specialist Libraries Built
Several hundred self-published works (written in Japanese) are introduced at the Website of the Self-Publishing Network (Japanese only), which consists of over 160 companies, mostly printing companies, from all over Japan.

Bricks-and-mortar libraries devoted to autobiographical books are being established all over the country. One library of self-published autobiographies, located in the Shinagawa area of Tokyo, contains about 15,000 mostly autobiographical works. And in 1999 the city of Kasugai in Aichi Prefecture opened the Kasugai City Culture and Art Center, which has a library dedicated to autobiographies. In the city of Nagano, meanwhile, an advertising agency that also serves as the secretariat of an autobiography-writing group has formed a mini library at its offices holding about 200 autobiographies. In 1992, private individuals in the the city of Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, opened the Japan Library of Autobiographical Literature with 3,000 autobiographies.

Under the circumstances, it was inevitable that autobiography contests would be established, accompanied by a seemingly never-ending stream of prizes and awards such as the Autobiographical Literature Award sponsored by Kitakyushu City, the My Story--Japan Autobiographical Award sponsored by the Japan Autobiographical Society, and the Japan Self-Publishing Cultural Award given by the Japan Graphic Service Industry Association.

As an extension of the autobiographical self-publishing boom, people are recording their life stories on video, creating documentary films with themselves in the starring role. Even companies are getting in on the act. Tokyu Corporation, a railway and department-store giant, began its Anniversary Video project two years ago. The resulting work (which was produced by professionals, and therefore has a somewhat different flavor from a work created by amateurs) is a real work of art that has received a positive response.

It is only natural for people to want to learn about their own roots and tell their children and grandchildren how they have lived. The work of composing an autobiography gives people an invaluable opportunity to reexamine their lives--not only older people, who have an urge to talk about the ups and downs they have experienced, but also young people struggling to find their place in the world.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. 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.