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Successful Import Case of Korean Literature in Japan

Publishing status of translated Korean literature

 

2022.03.07

 

Hayakawa Publishing has been translating and publishing original novels of Korean dramas that succeeded in Japan since the mid-2000s. For example, we published Physician Janggeum (Greenboat Magics) by Kim Sang-Hyeon in 2004 and Seodongyo (Knowledge Smith) by Jung Jae-In and Kim Young-Hyun in 2006. We have been selling novels of successful Korean history and romance dramas in Japan to Japanese K-drama fans.
Then, the mega-hit of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (Minumsa Publishing) by Cho Nam-Joo in 2018, and Almonds (Changbi Publishers) of Sohn Won-Pyung in 2019 worked as a game-changer in the overseas literature market in Japan, transforming and expanding it. These two books were also massively popular in Korea and highly appraised, with fun storylines. So, the reason behind their popularity in Japan can be largely put to two as below.
First, the situation in Japan has changed a lot during the past 20 years. As Korean dramas and films, let alone K-pop, spread across the world, more Japanese people became fans of Korean culture and began to learn Korean. This trend laid out a good groundwork for introducing Korean culture to Japan. Second, these two books cover topics such as the “#MeToo Movement” that aims to protect women’s rights, SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), respecting human rights, and the establishment of a “diversity” culture to root out discrimination against minorities. In short, they are books written by authors of the new generation that approach topics that are global hot potatoes. We believe that these books could spread among the general readership in Japan, let alone people interested in Korean culture as such topics – universal and multidimensional – stimulate sympathy among people.

 

Hayakawa Publishing has also published genre fiction such as Sci-Fi, mystery, and fantasy. We have been recently paying attention to Korean genre fiction, where the critical mind of the new generation mentioned above has readily taken root. For example, our mystery label published The Good Son (EunHaengNaMu Publishing) by Jeong You-Jeong in 2019, If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light (East-Asia Publishing) by Kim Cho-Yeop in 2020, and Sci-Fi fiction A Thousand Blues (East-Asia Publishing) by Cheon Seon-Ran in 2021, which all were positively reviewed by Japanese readers.
In particular, when we were planning to publish A Thousand Blues, we chose not to use sharp images that remind us of cutting-edge technologies or mechanics that commonly appear on the cover page of Sci-Fi titles. Instead, we used an abstract illustrative image that softly touched the book’s characters or motif, which is a similar strategy taken for general literary novels. Maybe that’s why young and female readers showed more reaction to the book, not male readers aged in their 30s and above, who were traditionally the main readership of Sci-Fi in Japan.

 

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Korean (left) and Japanese (right) covers of A Thousand Blues

 

 

Now, let us introduce other publishing cases of Hayakawa Publishing, taking If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light as an example, which was published in December 2020.
This book is a short-story collection containing the grand prize winner and runner-ups of the 4th Korean Science Literature Award. The fact that this book sold 170 thousand copies in Korea with great love from not only Sci-Fi fans but also general readers and that it includes the story for the next production of film director Kim Bo-Ra (the news was announced while the book was being translated) was enough to make the book appealing to readers other than Sci-Fi fans in Japan.
So, after careful discussions on “appealing to female readers who like foreign literature,” “making readers know that the book includes non-daily elements like science, future, and space,” and “making sure that it clearly receives attention from the existing Sci-Fi fans,” we chose the illustrator that will take charge of the book’s cover.
As a result, we requested illustrator Kashiwai (カシワイ), who has a bit of a mystery element and mood that is between a painterly touch and a cartoon character style, to draw the cover page. And as we expected, Kashiwai drew a lyrical cover that matches the book’s content. As a result, this cover received quite a good review from Japanese readers and was posted on books or websites that introduce book designs of published books a number of times.

 

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Korean (left) and Japanese (right) cover of If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light

 

 

Also, we asked the Korean publisher several things in advance, including if they could share with us an analysis of the Korean readership and what kind of books the readers of this book are reading, and got a reply. The gender ratio was 2(male):8(female), and the major age groups were the 20s-40s (mainly the 20s and 30s). So, we added flesh to the catchphrase based on this data. Regarding the promotion, as we thought that advertising using Social Media would be more effective to fans of foreign literature and Sci-Fi rather than using newspapers or magazines, we put more effort into such channels.
In Japanese bookstores, if a good staff member thinks a book is fun, he/she makes a POP (B6-sized mini-billboard) of the book him/herself or writes an introduction of the book on paper. Such an example of “If your bookstore becomes the starting point of advertisement, draw attention, and bring about a nationwide sensation, success is yours” can be found commonly in the market. The recent development of Social Media has added fuel to this trend. So, making staff members learn the fun of If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light, who then sent us encouragement even before the book was published, was a highly effective marketing strategy. We could also boost sales by letting staff members that love foreign literature read the revised edition in advance of the publication.
In addition, we opened one of the stories on our website for free after receiving permission from the Korean publisher. And, we made and sent a booklet including one of the stories to renowned critics that have been serializing reviews on a magazine or newspaper. We also sent it to celebrities and people in the cultural circle known to be book-lovers.
In Japan, a group of publishers that publish many Korean literary books hosts “Publishers’ Joint Korean Literature Fair (出版社合同韓国文学フェア)” together at a bookstore during a set period. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it on a large scale for the recent two years due to the pandemic, but instead, we have put more effort into carrying out an online event titled “K-Book Festival in Japan (K-BOOK フェスティバル in Japan).” We have been hosting other online events as well, such as the one where the sales managers of each publisher promotes books they would like to recommend. Hayakawa Publishing has also reaped fruition by raising awareness of If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light by participating in online events.

 

It clearly seems that the book If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light is selling well among Sci-Fi fans, too, seeing how it ranks 4th in the international version of “Best SF 2021,” which is posted on I Want to Read SF! (SFが読みたい!), Sci-Fi fiction rankings we publish every year.
A Thousand Blues, published a year after If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light, is also a winner of the Korean Science Literature Award. In addition, we learned from the Korean publisher that this book's Korean readership is not that different from If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light. So, as we used the same promotion strategies, we felt that A Thousand Blues was also well-read among Japanese readers (we didn’t do prerelease on the website or make a booklet as it was a full-length novel).
We ask for your continued interest in Hayakawa Publishing, as we will continue publishing Korean novels. We would also like to thank the Literature Translation Institute of Korea (LTI) for supporting us in translating and publishing Korean books in Japan.

 

 


Written by IDE Satoshi (Hayakawa Publishing)

 

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IDE Satoshi (Hayakawa Publishing)

#Japan#Hayakawa Publishing#If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light#A Thousand Blues
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