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Korean and Japanese Publishers Join Hands

The Joy of Working Together




Jinbocho, located in Tokyo, Japan, is famous for being the center of bookstores. About 130 old bookstores are lined up, and bookstores – both big franchises and independents – can be easily found in every alley. Old bookstores on the first floor set out a little table in front of them every morning to display books, and the alleys are soon crowded with people looking to buy books. This place has many publishing houses as well. People say Jinbocho has become famous as a hub for bookstores because there have been many educational institutions in the area since the 1600s. In addition, many prominent universities still exist in this region. As such, Jinbocho is a town of 100-year-old bookstores and publishing houses.
I myself am writing books, running a bookstore, and working as a book broker in this town where writers, producers, and readers all naturally gather around. In this article, I would like to talk about a project where three books by one writer were translated and published by three publishers in Japan simultaneously. Another project was led by a Japanese editor who worked with a Korean publisher to publish a book at the same time, starting by requesting stories from novelists in different Asian countries.


Good books make our hearts flutter.


After majoring in literature in Korea, I came to Japan to study further. Currently, I’m working with Korean and Japanese publishers as a broker between the two countres’ content, while running my own publishing house CUON, and a book cafe Chekccori, which sells Korean books. As CUON and Chekccori are located in Jinbocho, they have been benefiting a lot from the local infrastructure.
One day, Masahiro Oga, the head of publisher Shogakukan, dropped by Chekccori. He was holding the book I Love My Family for Who They Are (家族だから愛したんじゃなくて、愛したのが家族だった), written by Nami Kishida and published by Shogakukan in 2020. While he was a regular at my bookstore who would always buy a book every time he visited, he was also a book lover that would recommend me to read books that he had read. This book was an essay about the writer’s family, where her mother was in a wheelchair, and her younger brother had Down Syndrome. Even though the stories were heavy, featuring a family with disabled members and the sudden death of her father, the writer chose to write them in a light, joyful way, making the readers think as if they were looking at well-made characters in fiction. The book does not have “enlightening” stories teaching lessons about the disabled or resentment over social perspective and lack of social infrastructure for the disabled, which other content of this type usually does. However, these critical thoughts do exist behind the witty sentences. The sentences had multiple layers, and the book gave me a lingering impression after I finished the book. Maybe this is why the book was already a bestseller in Japan.



I Love My Family for Who They Are, a bestseller in Japan



Then I began to wonder if there were any books on the subject in Korea as well. So I began searching for similar Korean content to present to Japanese publishers, a true but universal story written by a person with a disability. Then, I found The Case for “Wrongful Life” (Sakyejul Publishing), published in 2018. This is a book written by Kim Won-Young, who has a grade 1 physical disability but has become a lawyer. Kim brings the question, “Could it be that I/he/she was born wrong?” asked by so many people who think of people with disability, or even the disabled themselves, to the forum for discussion of our society. And, taking examples from around the world, he tries to defend himself by proving that even those who are called “disqualified lives” are dignified and worthy of their existence. His stories are highly logical, compared to Nami’s sentimental book, but they gave me the same heartrending impression. I mean, can you be heartbroken while reading a lawyer’s reasoned argument? So I wanted to see more of Kim Won-Young’s books.
The next book written by Kim Won-Young is Desire Instead of Hope (Prunsoop Publishing), published in 2019, a story about his own experience as a disabled person. It covers the course of Kim entering Seoul National University and becoming a lawyer, including the moments when he just had to watch his friends go to school from his room, wait for his grandmother to return from the field, leave home to go to the dormitory for the disabled, and ultimately enter an ordinary school to study. It is a coming-of-age story of a young, weak boy who was regarded as an “invisible being” in a society growing up to stand on the stage called the world. Published in 2019, this book is the revised edition of Hot Desire Over Cold Hope, written in 2010 when the writer was 28 years old. Adding a prologue and epilogue to the revised edition, writer Kim spoke about the changes that have occurred in Korean society and himself over the past decade. It truly has the unique beauty of a revised edition.
Meanwhile, in his other book, Becoming a Cyborg (Sakyejul Publishing), published in 2021, he fiercely debates with SF novelist Kim Cho-Yeop, who wears a hearing aid, as a lawyer in a wheelchair about the point where the human body combines with science and technology. Both do not demand “better technology for the disabled” - they talk about how our bodies, technology, and society should be reshaped.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 50 – Go to the interview of writer Kim Won-Young


* K-Book Trends Vol. 19 – Go to the interview of writer Kim Cho-Yeop





The Case for “Wrongful Life,” Desire Instead of Hope, and Becoming a Cyborg



After reading Kim Won-Young’s books, I began to mull over how I could translate and publish all three books in Japan at once. It was because each of the three books was totally different in context. So, upon finishing the three books, you can have a complete understanding of writer Kim Won-Young, and have your thoughts expanded on Korean society, what humans are, and what technology is for at the same time. And I became more convinced that readers who read Kim’s books for the first time would keep looking for his other books. So, I once thought, “What about signing three books and publishing them at the same time?” But, I was missing one important thing – CUON was a big dreamer with little financial capacity. So, I decided to look for publishers for the other two books, as CUON can manage to publish one book. Like this, good books motivate people.
First, I approached Yukiko Hori at Iwanami Shoten, a bookstore specializing in humanities books. She was one of the regulars of Chekccori, who was very interested in non-fiction, as opposed to other publishers. Her questions are detailed. For example, she asks, “Is there a book about mathematics written by a mathematician?” or “I’m looking for a book that interprets a particular historical incident. Do you have one?” So, one corner of my brain is full of books I want to recommend to her. Anyway, as soon as I told her that there was a book where two writers with disabilities debate over the technology and the device that supports them, her eyes shone. And my suggestion to publish the writer’s books at once and do marketing together was greatly welcomed. Then I asked Ayako Sakai in Shogakukan, which published Nami Kishida’s book, if she was interested in publishing Kim Won-Young’s third book. As an experienced editor, books she edited sold well in the market, no matter what genre they might be, giving her the nickname “best seller maker.” I even dreamed of Kim Won-Young becoming a bestselling author in Japan through Midas touch. So, talking about this dream with Ayako, I suggested she publish The Case of “Wrongful Life.”
Now, the three editors all got on the boat called Kim Won-Young. It was the summer of 2021. Thanks to the prompt and friendly cooperation of Prunsoop and Sakyejeol, publishers in Korea, the contract work, translation, and editing went smoothly. Translator Mika Makino who lives in Busan, took charge of translating books Becoming a Cyborg and Desire Instead of Hope. Maki Igarashi translated the last book, The Case of “Wrongful Life.” I recommended these two translators myself. This was possible because I was aware of the books’ characteristics and the translators’ styles. Mika said she even attended Kim’s lecture and his dance recital (he is also a wheelchair dancer) during the translation. As well, Mika is one of my close friends who keeps sides with the people she loves until the end.


The Korean and Japanese publishing industries are paying attention to a new attempt by
three publishers to publish and market an author’s book at the same time.


Meanwhile, publisher Shogakukan is a representative publishing house in Japan in terms of size and history (it was founded more than 100 years ago). It is mainly dedicated to making books that do not leave people with visual, auditory, or physical disabilities behind. In addition, Shogakukan has a special department for “accessibility,” which works to break down the barrier of reading for anyone who attempts to read. For example, Kim Won-Young’s The Case of “Wrongful Life” was published as an e-book and audiobook, and the publisher is currently working on the braille version. That’s why Shogakukan is a month late, as all three publishers are working on the simultaneous release in November 2022.
Ahead of the publication, the editors of the three publishers had several meetings both offline and online (through ZOOM) on how to introduce Kim Won-Young to Japanese readers. We made the staff at bookstores as well as opinion leaders, read the pilot version 4 months before the publication. We also had a book-reading session with readers who read the pilot version. It was like preliminary work to discover readers’ touching points.
Books Tokyodo in Jinbocho began to exhibit the posters of the three books even before the publication, as shown in the picture below. The publishing industries in both Korea and Japan are eyeing this new attempt, where three publishers publish and market three books by the same writer at the same time. The books have not yet been released as of November 20, but once they are available, you will be able to see more varied activities by writer Kim Won-Young.



Posters displayed by Books Tokyodo



Moving on to the next project – making one book in Korea and Japan simultaneously. This project also began in an alley in Jinbocho. While taking a stroll around the village after lunch, I ran into editor Kosuke Kashiwabara. He used to make weekly magazines and is quite bright about what’s happening in Korea. He is currently learning Korean and is a big fan of Korean movies. Anyway, one day, he brought someone with him to Chekccori. She was a journalist at Mainichi Shimbun, one of the major newspapers in Japan. He said she was trying to write a script on artist Lee Jung-Seob and his wife. So, Kosuke was his editor, and they came together to find books about Lee Jung-Seob. This spared another corner of my brain for Lee Jung-Seob. I was a messenger telling Kosuke every time I heard about new books on art during the Japanese colonial period, as well as books about Lee Jung-Seob. Then, two years later, journalist Onuki – yes, the same journalist at Mainichi Shimbun - finally released the book. And even before the book was officially published, the news drew a lot of attention in Korea – her interview made a headline in The Chosun Ilbo, a news agency in Korea. Some books related to artist Lee Jung-Seob shown in the photo, were bought at Chekccori. And over time, CUON has had the privilege of becoming the exclusive broker of the book’s copyright.
While Kosuke and I were walking together, talking about this and that, I told him about the project where a Korean writer and a Japanese writer write fiction about a certain topic and make them into one book. Surprisingly, he already had writer Chung Se-Rang in mind. So, I asked him, “What about the Japanese writer?” And he scratched his head and said he hadn’t chosen one yet. So, I told him that we could first talk with writer Chung Se-Rang and ask her if there is a Japanese writer that she wants to work with. We were so deep in conversation that we didn’t know we had entered Kokyo (imperial palace). The hour-long walk was enough to narrow down our plan. So, we gave our suggestion to writer Chung Se-Rang, and she replied with an even more upgraded idea. It was to create an anthology where 7-9 millennial writers from Korea, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia write different stories with the same topic of Isolation. I thought it was a very editor-like idea, as she used to be an editor before. Anyway, this proposal has been steadily progressing since October 2020, and as of November 2022, we have received manuscripts from 9 writers. The book is scheduled to be released simultaneously in Korea and Japan.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 20 – Go to the interview of writer Chung Se-Rang


Writers of the anthology scheduled to be published simultaneously in Korea and Japan

Country Korea Japan Singapore China Thailand Hong Kong Tibet Vietnam Taiwan
Writer Chung Se-Rang Sayaka Murata
Alfian Sa’at Hao Jingfang
Han Lizhu
Ngoc Tu
Lian Mingwei


Kosuke’s passion and efforts in this book are surprising. First, he called upon experts knowledgeable about the culture of each country and received recommendations for writers. Then he asked the authors of the manuscripts, and as soon as he obtained them, he found a translator to translate them into Japanese. Also, other work than editing, such as signing a contract with each and every writer, were his job as well. He has written on the publisher’s website about the entire process of this project. Meanwhile, he was hoping to publish the book in Korea as well. Simultaneously, if possible. Here, editor Kim Young-Soo of Munhakdongne Publishing has volunteered to take his side. So, from August 2021, Kim and Kosuke exchanged emails and concentrated on making the Korean version. It was quite an experience to see two people from different countries making a book together only through the manuscripts. The Korean version has been translated from the Japanese version. As a referenced person in the emails, I could take a sneak peek at how the two editors from Korea and Japan talked about all sorts of things via email, including movies and dramas they’ve watched, and events that took place around the world, with the publication project at the center.
Around the time when the production almost reached the end, there was news that Japanese writer Sayaka Murata, one of the writers participating in the Isolation project, was coming to Seoul to attend the Seoul International Writers Festival (September 23-30). Kosuke rolled up his sleeves once again. He asked Sayaka Murata to spare some time and planned a meeting between her and Chung Se-Rang during her stay in Seoul. This meeting naturally became a promotional event for the Isolation project, as their discussion was published in both Korean and Japanese literary magazines. Kim Young-Soo and Chung Se-Rang agreed to join the meeting, and the two writers gathered in Seoul. It was also a time when both editors finally saw each other in person. I attended the meeting as well. The friendly conversations between the editors, who learned about each other quite a lot through emails exchanged for more than a year, seemed to have become another accomplishment of this project, let alone the in-depth discussion between the writers.
The process of young editors with different cultural backgrounds living in the contemporary era getting to know each other through the same project will live on to other projects in the future, and the world will grow and be a better place. And the reason why I could publish Korean literature in Japan and have fun as a broker between Korean and Japanese books is that I had so many of these heartwarming experiences as I worked.
Apart from the paper book, Kosuke made the audiobook (the video is for promotional purposes) version of the book cooperating with famous actors/actresses in Japan, where he received videos of writers talking about how they felt during the project. The editors will work on the videos again so that they are introduced into different media once the books are published. It shows how much effort the editors put into creating and promoting a single book. Of course, it is backed by the company’s support, but looking at Kosuke stride through complex and troublesome tasks sacrificing himself, I naturally came to root for him. Those who work hard and enjoy doing valuable things have many like-minded friends.




The Isolation project, ahead of simultaneous publication in Korea and Japan



It is too bad that I cannot give the reaction of Japanese readers to the books mentioned in the two episodes above, since they are not yet published. However, if I have the opportunity, I will talk later about the way each company marketed the books and how enthusiastic Japanese readers were.



Written by Kim Seung-Bok (Head of publisher CUON and book cafe Chekccori)



Kim Seung-Bok (Head of publisher CUON and book cafe Chekccori)

#Japan#CUON#Chekccori#Kim Won-Young#Kim Cho-Yeop#Chung Se-Rang
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