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Kanki Publishing’s Successful Import Cases of Korean Books

The Korean Books Japanese Readers are Looking for






Current status of the publishing market in Japan


It began with writer Cho Nam-joo’s Kim Ji Young, Born 1982 (Minumsa) published at the end of 2018, which was then translated by Saito Mariko and published by Chikuma Shobō in Japan, that Korean literature started to see positive outcomes in Japan. Korean books that have been translated and published in Japan for the past 3 years are Almonds (Changbi), I Decided to Live as Myself (Woods of Mind’s Books), I Want to Die but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki (Heun), I Almost Lived Too Hard (Woongjin Thinkbig), Every Moments Were You (Wisdomhouse), and I Look at You Like a Flower (Ji Hye). As various Korean novels, essays, and poem collections are steadily translated into Japanese, the two countries’ languages and cultures seem to get closer. The books mentioned earlier share one common thing – they are the favorite books of K-pop artists such as BTS, TVXQ, and Black Pink. If we trace back to the beginning of such a trend, you will realize that K-pop and books are closely related to each other.




Shelves displaying Korean books in Japanese bookstores



Every popular Korean book is displayed with an advertisement such as “V (BTS)” or “Jisoo (Black Pink).” Also, many bookstores have a large, separate sector with a banner “K-pop artists’ favorite books.” Specialized staff members that have good knowledge about K-pop search and introduce Korean books that K-pop artists have fallen in love with and sometimes relevant analysis is referred to as well. People’s love toward K-pop artists was regarded as a short-lived literary boom, but today, almost all the bookstores have a Korean literature sector, drawing great anticipation from booksellers.


Importing Korean Books – Sales and editing strategies taking K-pop fans into consideration


Kanki Publishing published The Power of Language (HangseongB) (Japanese title: 世界の古典と賢者の知恵に学ぶ 言葉の力) in April 2020, which was well-known as the favorite book of V of BTS. The original book has been at the center of his fans’ attention as a photo of him holding the book at an airport went viral on social media even before signing the translation rights contract. So, we worked really hard to edit the book as fast as possible to present it to the fans after signing it. In Japan, it is typical to wrap a belly band, a tiny jacket around a book outside the jacket for promotional purposes. Therefore, while observing the tide of the market mentioned earlier, Kanki Publishing sought to appeal to the fans through the relationship between the artist and the book.



Cover of The Power of Language, Japanese edition


On the belly band that covers more than one-third of the book’s front cover, “BTS V’s Favorite Book” is written in a large font. There were other color options for the design as well, including white, orange, and pink, but we came down to “purple,” which was the “special color that connects BTS and their fans.”
While most of the books loved by K-pop stars have been novels or essays, this book is a self-help book where a humanist and a Korean language teacher talk about “what it means to have a golden tongue” based on Western and Eastern classics and wise men’s stories. We were quite worried at first regarding the readers’ response, but when we checked our phone in the morning about 10 days before its release, the book was ranked third on Amazon Japan’s bestsellers. We made a press release the day before, but as BTS fans (called “ARMY”) living in other countries found the article overnight, it went wild across social media and among Japanese fans.
The impetus behind the book’s success was BTS fans’ social media that had many followers. In particular, BTS’s fandom “ARMY” is known to have a very powerful bond across the world. They were indeed the strongest promoters of the book. Since then, we asked the ARMY who use Twitter and Blogs to read the book and upload their reviews on their account through Kanki Publishing’s official social media.
With this approach, while securing the young readership through social media, we collected recommendations from Japanese influencers such as business people aged over 40 who are deemed as major readers of self-help books to raise the book’s awareness in the market even more.
The title of the book is The Power of Language, but it is not solely focused on language but also offers an important implication for doubting existing perceptions and opening the new world. Also, there are plenty of books about “speaking” already, but this book is unique in that “speaking” starts from “cultivating and honing oneself.” The book’s universal content lets anyone, regardless of generation, relate to it, making it easier to gain empathy from Japanese readers. We are aiming to make the book a steady-seller.
The Power of Language was published when the Japanese government declared a state of emergency nationwide, but through social media, its sales have exceeded 40 thousand copies up to date.




Japanese edition of I Look at You Like a Flower (left), the book displayed in a Japanese bookstore (right)


Also, we would like to introduce I Look at You Like a Flower (Ji Hye) (Japanese title: 花を見るように君を見る). Published at the end of 2020, its sales hit 50 thousand in only three months. The book was also already famous among fans as it was known to be the favorite book of K-pop stars, including RM and J-HOPE of BTS and Jisoo of Black Pink. Just like we did for The Power of Language, we put effort into the belly band to advertise it to K-pop fans.
We tried to use the design of the original book for the cover design as much as we could, as we thought that fans usually like to have the same thing as the artist they like. We thought it would be the same for books, just like they want to buy the same clothes their favorite stars wear.
The book also appeared in a famous Korean TV drama “Encounter,” and became a bestseller in Korea, selling more than 500 thousand copies. What’s more, as the Japanese people spent more time at home as they worked from home due to the pandemic that broke out at the beginning of 2020, the popularity of online video services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video soared, and Korean content was among the most-watched. Other Korean works among the Top 10 were “Crash Landing on You,” “Itaewon Class,” and “Record of Youth” - it is real evidence of the fourth “Hallyu” (Korean Wave).
Meanwhile, as the book Every Moments Were You (Wisdom House) that appeared in the drama “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?” that aired in May 2020 was published in Japan, the number of copies sold hit 100 thousand. Looking at the purchasing trend of buyers, we set up a hypothesis that the book will also be a hit if we target Korean drama fans, particularly those of famous lead actors or actresses. And we also went closer to the fandoms of actors such as Park Bo-Gum and Lee Jong-Suk (who did not star in the drama, but is known as an avid fan of writer Na Tae-Joo, uploading his poems to his Instagram).
The strong advantage of books that appear in dramas is that there are reruns starting at different times of the day. Then you can secure new fans each time the drama is rerun. Right now the drama “Encounter” is airing in Japan, and as the publication of the original book’s translated edition and the drama kind of overlapped, more of the drama’s fans have moved on to reading the book.


Korean books are very popular in Japan where they are marketed as the “favorite books of K-pop artists” and “Hallyu” (Korean Wave).


However, one tricky part is that the Japanese do not have a poem-reading culture. Nonetheless, poems that explicitly describe affection toward special people and ardent love for loved ones gradually drew empathy among the public. In fact, there are a number of reviews such as, “My heart was cleansed by the boldness and pureness of being able to verbally express how you feel about the other” and “I had a warming feeling that cannot be felt in daily life.”
Korean romance is infused in the works, which Japanese people might find embarrassing and too much. However, I have had such feelings from the lines in Korean dramas as well. Behind the Korean dramas’ success in Japan, perhaps there was aspiration towards Korean romance.
Meanwhile, as Japanese people do not share the same culture or language as Koreans, the content of books should be universal. On the other hand, we could also think that Japanese readers are looking for Korean books to learn more about Korea and Korean culture.
Wrapping up, we believe that there are still so many marvelous and entertaining books in Korea that have yet to be brought into the limelight. We hope they could continue to be introduced in Japan. Also, we would like to thank Korean publishers and agencies who are doing a great job in cooperating in regards to importing Korean books.


Written by Eri Watanabe (Editorial Department for Copyrights in Asia, Kanki Publishing Co., Ltd.)
Translated from Japanese into Korean by Oh Kyeong-Soon (Adjunct Professor of Japanese Language & Culture at Catholic University of Korea)


Eri Watanabe (Editorial Department for Copyrights in Asia, Kanki Publishing Co., Ltd.)

#Kanki Publishing#Japan#The Power of Language#I Look at You Like a Flower
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